AFRICANGLOBE – Names typically associated with Black people are more likely to produce adverts related to criminal activity, according to the Harvard University paper.
A Google search for a name such as Tom Smith may bring up personalised public records, such as “Looking for Tom Smith”, or may be suggestive of an arrest record, such as “Tom Smith, arrested?”.
According to the research, names given primarily to Black babies – such as DeShawn, Darnell and Jermaine – are more likely than those associated with White babies to produce adverts with links to website which offer criminal record checks.
Harvard professor Latanya Sweeney suggested that the Google results may expose “racial bias in society”.
The study analysed the type of advertisements that appeared on Google when certain names were searched for.
It looked at Google.com’s core search engine, as well as the search function of Reuters.com – which also displays Google’s advertising.
Prof Sweeney’s investigation suggests that names linked with Black people – as defined by a previous study into racial discrimination in the workplace – were 25 per cent more likely to have results that prompted the searcher to click on a link to search criminal record history.
Google’s advertising algorithms are based on keywords and user behaviour. They learn over time which as text gets the most clicks from the viewers of the advertisement.
Prof Sweeney did concede that the study “raises more questions than it answers”.
She said that further work was needed, but added that the “basic message [of her study] does not change. There is discrimination in delivery of these ads”.
In a statement, Google said: “AdWords does not conduct any racial profiling. We also have an “anti” and violence policy which states that we will not allow ads that advocate against an organisation, person or group of people. It is up to individual advertisers to decide which keywords they want to choose to trigger their ads.”