Google Has Been Allowing Advertisers to Exclude Nonbinary People from Seeing Job Ads

Google’s advertising system allowed employers or landlords to discriminate against nonbinary and some transgender people, The Markup found.

Companies trying to run ads on YouTube or elsewhere on the web could direct Google not to show those ads to people of “unknown gender”—meaning people who have not identified themselves to Google as “male” or “female.” After being alerted to this by The Markup, Google pledged to crack down on the practice.

“We will be implementing an update to our policy and enforcement in the coming weeks to restrict advertisers from targeting or excluding users on the basis of the ‘gender unknown’ category,” Elijah Lawal, a spokesperson for Google said.

Google’s policies forbid ads targeting or excluding male or female people from jobs, housing, or financial products, in order to comply with federal anti-discrimination laws. But until The Markup alerted Google, the company gave advertisers the option of keeping their ads from being shown to people of “unknown gender”—effectively allowing employers and landlords to either inadvertently or purposefully discriminate against people who identify as nonbinary, transgender, or anything other than male or female.

The Markup found two such job ads on YouTube, which is owned by Google—one for jobs at FedEx and the other for Dewey Pest Control, a California-based chain. In both cases, Google’s ad targeting explanations, collected by New York University’s Ad Observer, indicated that the employer had targeted the ad based on gender but that the data did not specify which gender was targeted. In those cases, Lawal said, the advertiser had chosen to exclude people of unknown gender from seeing the ads. Upon further review, Lawal said, the company “identified approximately 100 advertisers out of many thousands” who had done the same for housing, credit, or job ads.

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By Jeremy B. Merrill February 11, 2021 08:00 ET
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