The Rise and Fall of Age-Insight: LinkedIn, and Age Discrimination

Currently, LinkedIn has an estimated 380 million registered users. As a professional network, LinkedIn requests pertinent information from users when they create a profile. Users are encouraged to list their industry, experience, and education. However, when listing work and education experience, users also list the time period and dates attended. However, unlike other forms of social networking, LinkedIn does not allow users to post their age.

Recently, a browser extension called Age-Sight was introduced as a Google Chrome ad-on.

The Age-Sight algorithm allows users to estimate an individual’s age when you visit their LinkedIn profile.

Age-Insight then displays the estimates on the LinkedIn profile page.

Age-Sight’s developer, Juan Ramirez, who built the extension in his spare time, says the algorithm is fairly simple. The extension calculates it’s best guess for an individual’s age based on their graduation year and other incorporated data, such as their name. An individual’s work experience and the number of jobs listed were also included in the algorithm. Within ten days of it’s release Age-Insight received mixed attention from the tech world.

One of the largest concerns with Age-Insight is the age discrimination that could follow.  Because LinkedIn is used almost explicitly for employment purposes, Age-Sight’s potential application is alarming and could even be illegal. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 “protects people who are 40 or older from discrimination based on age.” The law prohibits discrimination for hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, fringe benefits, and any other terms or condition of employment. While the Age Discrimination Employment Act does not actually prohibit an employer from asking an applicant about their age or date of birth, the law is in place to ensure inquires are for a lawful purpose. Specifically, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has clarified, “a request for date of birth or age on an employment application is not, in itself, a violation of the Age Discrimination Employment Act.”

In 2014, it was estimated over half of LinkedIn users were over fifty-years old. As a result, age discrimination became a topic for discussion among LinkedIn’s legal team when Age-Insight was released. After Age-Insight was featured on influential technology website, Product Hunt, LinkedIn sent a cease-and-desist order. A representative for LinkedIn claims Age-Insight violates LinkedIn’s terms of service. When Ramirez realized Age-Insight could be used for age discrimination he decided to shut down the extension.

However, because the software was made public, it may be difficult to take it back. LinkedIn provided, “members who downloaded Age-Insight should uninstall it immediately.

Furthermore, Age-Insight reveals an evolving trend in the tech world: applications that guess individual’s age. Earlier this year, another online tool was released that estimated an individual’s age and gender based on photographs. Microsoft’s How-Old.net analyzes uploaded photographs, searches for faces, and then provides an estimate of an individual’s gender and age. How-Old.net is not limited to personal photographs and therefore could potentially possess similar age discrimination capabilities. As age-estimating technologies continue to emerge and evolve, employers must ensure their recruiting and hiring procedures follow the Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 and their state’s civil rights legislation.