Facebook and Google let advertisers target the audience they want to reach, that much is known. Less known is that both platforms perform another round of targeting, irrespective of the advertiser's wishes. 

A team of journalists bought ads for job listings for several occupations in France, Germany, Poland, Switzerland and Spain. In all countries, Facebook showed their ads for jobs of child care workers almost exclusively to women, while ads for jobs of truck drivers were shown almost exclusively to men (the effect was visible but possibly smaller on Google). 

This experiment replicates findings from the US, where researchers showed a similar "optimization" based on race, which could also happen in Europe. Advertisers who rely on such systems could run afoul of Europe's anti-discrimination legislation. Google did not answer the team's requests for comments but did, after they sent their questions, disable their advertiser account. Facebook did not answer their requests for comments but did, possibly in an attempt to intimidate, ask for the names of the journalists the team was working with.

Photo image: AlgorithmWatch

Team members

Nicolas Kayser-Bril

Nicolas Kayser-Bril is a French data journalist based in Berlin.

Moritz Zajonz

Moritz is a freelance data journalist working from Germany. 

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