Facebook is letting job advertisers target only men

by Ariana Tobin & Jeremy B. Merrill, Ars Technica (via Propublica)

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Hundreds of thousands of Americans drive for Uber. And the company is looking for many more. It runs ads on Facebook that say, for example, “Driving toward something? Make extra money when it works for you and get there faster.” Another touts, “Earn $1,100 in Nashville for your first 200 Trips. Limited time guarantee! Terms apply.”

There’s just one catch: Many of those ads are not visible to women.

A ProPublica review of Facebook ads found that many purchased by Drive with Uber, the company’s recruiting arm, targeted only men in more than a dozen cities across the US. Our survey of 91 Uber ads found just one targeting only women; three did not target a specific sex.

They were all gathered as a part of our Facebook Political Ad Collector project, in which readers sign up to send us the ads they see in their News Feeds.

The review found Uber to be among 15 employers in the past year who have advertised jobs on Facebook exclusively to one sex. Many of the ads seem to target in accordance with stereotypes. The Pennsylvania State Police, for example, boosted a post targeted to men with text saying “Pennsylvania State Troopers earn a starting salary of $59,567 per year. Apply now.” A Michigan-based truck company took out ads targeting not just men, but men interested in college football. And a community health center in Idaho sought nurses and certified medical assistants–and limited its audience to women.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that it is illegal for an employer to take out job ads in newspapers with parameters such as “Help wanted–men.”

“The ads themselves are illegal,” Galen Sherwin, an ACLU lawyer, said. “It’s been established for five decades.”

The ACLU, the Communications Workers of America and the firm Outten & Golden filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Tuesday about Facebook’s practices. The filing, which is the first step before filing a lawsuit, names 10 employers who had advertised jobs only to men. The complaint argues that Facebook itself has broken the law by publishing the ads.

In a statement, Facebook spokesman Joe Osborne said, “There is no place for discrimination on Facebook; it’s strictly prohibited in our policies. We look forward to defending our practices once we have an opportunity to review the complaint.”

The company has previously said that giving advertisers the ability to target employment ads by sex and age does not facilitate discrimination.

In response to other suits, Facebook has argued that it is not liable for the content its users–in this case, advertisers–post on its platform.

In response to questions about the breakdown of its ads that target a specific sex, an Uber spokesperson said, “Driving with Uber is not typical 9 to 5 work, and the platform is available to anyone who is qualified–regardless of gender.” The spokesperson added, “We use a variety of channels to reach prospective drivers–both offline and online–with the goal of enabling more people, not fewer, to earn on their own schedule.”

Other advertisers say they use such tactics as part of larger recruiting efforts that include ads targeting men and women. ProPublica found an ad by Johnsonville Sausage, for example, targeting men ages 18 to 60 who are interested in hunting, but the company says it is only one ad in a greater recruiting campaign for men and women. Ryan Tarkowski, communications director for the Pennsylvania State Police, says their Facebook ad targeting men was part of a larger recruitment campaign that also targeted women and other groups.

Targeting by sex is just one way Facebook and other tech companies let advertisers focus on certain users–and exclude others. Based on rich data provided by users and deduced from their Web activity, that powerful targeting is key to Facebook’s massive popularity with advertisers, and it accounts for much of its revenue. It lets advertisers spend only on those they want to reach.

Read the rest at Ars Technica →