Facebook faces possible class action lawsuit in Canada over discriminatory job ads
In this file photo Facebook, Messenger and Instagram apps are are displayed on an iPhone. In March, the social network agreed to pay about US$5 million to settle five lawsuits related to discriminatory advertising practices on its platform.
Nicole Bogart, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, April 12, 2019 12:38PM EDT
A Montreal law firm has accused Facebook of facilitating discrimination against prospective employees and housing tenants based on factors such as age and gender.
In an application to launch a class action lawsuit against the tech giant, IMK LLP alleges that Facebook facilitates discrimination by allowing advertisers to micro-target specific user groups while excluding others based on “race, sex, civil status, age, ethnic or national origin or social condition.”
The application – filed Thursday – has been made on behalf of Canadian Facebook users who were interested in pursuing employment, or seeking housing, and were excluded by Facebook’s advertising services.
The application specifically names 65-year-old legal assistant Lyse Beaulieu as the petitioner. The firm alleges that, despite being an active user on Facebook, Beaulieu did not receive job advertisements during a two-year job search because of her age.
“The claim alleges that Facebook facilitates discrimination in 3 different ways. The first is through micro targeting,” Audrey Boctor, one of the lawyers working on the case, told CTVNews.ca via email.
“For example, a prospective employer posting a job ad can choose to target the audience receiving the ad to people between the ages of 25-40, so people over 40 do not receive the ad.Second is in discriminatory language in the ads themselves. And third is through Facebook's own algorithm that delivers ads to subsets of users even if the ad itself was not micro targeted by the advertiser.”
The application, which Boctor said has been under development for months, was inspired by the success of similar class action lawsuits against Facebook in the U.S.
In March, the social network agreed to pay about US$5 million to settle five lawsuits related to discriminatory advertising practices on its platform. As part of the settlement, the company said it will no longer allow housing or employment ads that target people by age, gender, or location, and agreed to limit other targeting options that exclude people on the basis of race, ethnicity and other legally protected categories in the U.S.
The tech giant has previously commented that it is examining extending these requirements globally.
"Facebook has been violating the Quebec Charter (of Human Rights and Freedoms) and respective provincial human rights legislation across Canada persistently for years," the class action suit application reads.
"Making the matter worse, Facebook has acknowledged that its permissive targeting practices are being used in a discriminatory manner in the United States, and it has accordingly accepted to implement mechanisms in the United States to prevent such discriminatory practices going forward. At the same time, Facebook has completely failed to take any measures to cease the perpetuation of these discriminatory practices in Canada."
The application specifically mentions ads from IKEA, the National Arts Centre, and Ontario’s Seneca College,which the firm alleges discriminate users on the basis of age.
In a statement provided to CTVNews.ca, a Facebook spokesperson said the company is aware of IMK LLP’s complaint and will respond accordingly.
“There is no place for discrimination on Facebook; it’s strictly prohibited in our policies. Over the last year we’ve strengthened our systems to further protect against misuse,” read the emailed statement.
The platform encourages advertisers to create a “Custom Audience” by selecting personal characteristics they wish to target with their ad. They can then use an “audience narrowing” tool to include or exclude users who meet certain criteria.
However, Facebook’s advertising policies state that advertisements “must not discriminate or encourage discrimination against people based on personal attributes such as race, ethnicity, color, national origin, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, family status, disability, medical or genetic condition.”
In addition to damages, the potential lawsuit asks the court to order Facebook to end its discriminatory advertising practices.
The application covers the period between April 11, 2016 and the date when a ruling is issued in the case.
It must be approved by Quebec Superior Court before it can proceed.