Most of us would do just about anything, even pay a little every month, if we could stop incessant ads from filling our phones, televisions, and computer screens. But now, one group claims that Facebook has denied them valuable services because it allows advertisers to discriminate by age.
Companies typically try to target their ads to their most likely buyers, like aiming Medicare Advantage plans at people over 65. Facebook allows companies to define their target market by age and gender. A group sued the social media giant claiming discrimination against older and female users by withholding advertising for financial services such as bank accounts, insurance, investments and loans.
According to the complaint filed in San Francisco federal court, Facebook persists in its willingness to let financial services advertisers “target” prospective customers by age and gender, despite a recent overhaul covering other kinds of ads.
Peter Romer-Friedman, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in an phone interview:
“The Internet is not a place where you can discriminate against people because of their age or gender, particularly in financial services opportunities. It would be like General Motors refusing to offer women or older people the same features on a car as men or younger people.”
His claim seems a bit disingenuous. Financial services companies, like GM, would love to sell their products to the most people possible. Not advertising to a specific group isn’t the same as not offering the same products to anyone interested in buying.
The complaint was filed seven months after Facebook agreed to overhaul its targeted ad system, including for Instagram and Messenger, to settle lawsuits by civil rights groups that it let employers, landlords and lenders discriminate by age, gender and zip code when placing job, housing and credit ads, which are decidedly different than product placement ads.
While Facebook has begun implementing the changes, the complaint said it still allows financial services ads limiting such services to “people ages 24 to 40,” “men ages 20 and older,” and other comparable groups.
Thursday’s complaint seeks damages for millions of Facebook users under California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which allows $4,000 of damages per violation.
It is led by Neutah Opiotennione, a 54-year-old woman from Washington, D.C. who said Facebook has deprived her of financial services ads and information because of her age and gender.
It sounds like the case involves finances, but more of a payoff than an equal chance to buy products.
The bigger question is, how can the rest of us get on the list of people who don’t receive advertising?