A software developer’s browser plug-in, created “for fun” to use analytics to calculate and display the age of a LinkedIn user based on profile content (even if no age is mentioned) was halted after just four days. Both LinkedIn and its customers cried foul, saying the app’s real function is to allow employers to screen out older workers.
The app displays the estimated age right next to the LinkedIn user’s profile picture, as if this were actually part of the real profile. The screenshot above is from an actual profile. That user is 34 years old, so the app’s prediction was spot on
The app, called “Age-Insight, “…is a tiny program that calculates the age of a person and then it shows that calculation on their LinkedIn Profiles,” according to its developer Juan Ramirez. But LinkedIn wasn’t having it. The site swiftly demanded Ramirez stop making the plug-in available, saying it was an unauthorized modification of their site. He did so on October 18, jut four days after he made it publicly available. But this will not prevent those who already have it from continuing to use it, and there is apparently no way for LinkedIn to otherwise detect its use.
Ramirez created the plug-in, he says, because “I just like to browse the profiles of other people who have similar backgrounds and experience as me, and just use the age benchmark to see how well I’m doing and to evaluate where I want to be when I’m 30, 35, 40, etc….”
Most everyone disagreed, fearing this was nothing more than an undetectable tool for employers to figure out just how old a job candidate is. LinkedIn, after all, is a site that is all about employment. Worse, the plug-in apparently has flaws and sometimes pegs people as 5-10 years older than they really are. But Ramirez’ decision to stop people from downloading the plug-in hardly shuts down this kind of tool. Microsoft created a website, http://how-old.net/, that allows anyone to upload a photo and the site will attempt to determine the person’s age. The company says the site will become more accurate as more users visit the site and add to the pool of data the algorithms can analyze. (You can, in addition to uploading anyone’s photo, also click on its “Get a Human Opinion” and other users currently on the site will attempt to guess your age.)
The plug-in reinforces the point I argue to judges and juries all the time. The fact that an employee hasn’t directly revealed their age hardly means the employer doesn’t know it. Sometimes employers learn from photos online, or by using graduation dates and years of experience. No rocket science there. And, sometimes, employers learn it from clever software that you don’t even know exists.