Politics

Facebook to crack down on discriminatory job ads

Facebook is moving to prohibit advertisers from discriminating against some Canadians in ads for jobs, housing and credit based on things like age, gender or where they live. The move comes nine months after CBC News documented dozens of cases of Canadian employers posting job ads that often exclude older workers.

Online giant says it also will put all Canadian job, housing and credit ads in a library that can be viewed

Facebook is moving to prohibit advertisers from discriminating against Canadians on the basis of age, gender or postal codes. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Facebook is moving to prohibit advertisers from discriminating against some Canadians in ads for jobs, housing and credit services based on things like age, gender or where they live.

The company will announce later today that it's also going to make it easier for everyone to see job, housing and credit ads by putting them in a special library.

"We are going to restrict the ability for anyone to actually run housing, employment and credit ads based on age, gender or postal code, and we are also going to give a lot of transparency to anybody who wants to know what types of ads are running in these categories by creating a special section in the ad library for people to go and see at any time," said Kevin Chan, head of public policy for Facebook Canada.

The changes will go into effect across Canada later this year. Similar changes already have started rolling out in the United States.

Chan said that there is no plan at the moment to extend the changes to other countries.

The announcement comes nine months after CBC News documented how some employers across Canada, including government departments, agencies and police forces, were microtargeting job ads to specific age ranges.

While the texts of the ads themselves didn't mention age, the settings that determined who would see the ads often excluded older workers. That might mean, for example, that those over age 45 or 50 wouldn't see an ad for a job they might qualify for in their Facebook feeds.

A smaller number of ads were targeted specifically to women or men.

Under federal and provincial human rights laws in Canada, employers aren't allowed to restrict who sees job ads based on age, gender, race or religion, unless the restriction is a bona fide occupational requirement or is part of a specific initiative, like a student summer job program.

Facebook Canada's global director and head of public policy Kevin Chan says the changes are expected to roll out in late 2020. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

At the time, Facebook said its policies didn't allow discrimination but it had no plan to introduce changes to prohibit the practice in Canada.

In the wake of the report by CBC News, the Canadian and Ontario human rights commissions took the exceptional step of sending a joint letter to the social media giant urging it to take steps to prevent discriminatory advertising.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission welcomed the decision but says it will keep an eye on Facebook's planned changes.

"This announcement follows interventions by the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Ontario Human Rights Commission, over our respective concerns that Facebook's advertising platform facilitates discriminatory advertising in a manner contrary to Canada's federal and provincial human rights laws," the commission wrote in a statement. 

"We will be monitoring the implementation of these changes closely. We recognize Facebook for taking steps to eliminate discrimination and support an inclusive society."

In Montreal, an application for a class action suit against Facebook is before the courts.

The way Facebook handles ads for jobs, housing and credit services will change later this year.

"We are going to severely restrict the ability for anyone to even try to abuse the system by running potentially discriminatory ads," said Chan.

Chan said there is a place for job, housing and credit ads on its platform but Facebook's tools shouldn't be used to harm or exclude people.

In addition to educating advertisers about discriminatory ad practices, Facebook has eliminated "thousands" of categories that advertisers could use to target ads, said Chan.

The next step, he said, will be for Facebook's systems to detect discriminatory ads using artificial intellegence.

While it has taken some time to draft the changes, Chan said Facebook plans to have them in place across Canada in late 2020.

"We recognize that there's always potential for abuse, so the more we can limit bad actors and we can limit bad behaviour — again, knowingly or not — we should do our part."

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca

About the Author

Elizabeth Thompson

Senior Reporter

Award-winning reporter Elizabeth Thompson covers Parliament Hill. A veteran of the Montreal Gazette, Sun Media and iPolitics, she currently works with the CBC's Ottawa bureau, specializing in investigative reporting and data journalism. She can be reached at: elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca.

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