Google Adwords Accused Of Racial Bias
Is Google’s search algorithm racist? One Harvard professor says, yes. Maybe not the page rank technology, but Latanya Sweeney found Adwords is 25 percent more likely to post ads related to criminal activity related to searches for traditionally-black names than searches for names that are traditionally associated with Caucasians.
Sweeney began her study after realizing a Google search for her own name generated an ad for a background checking service, implying she had an arrest record. She decided to investigate if race impacted online ad results, and searched more than 2,000 “racially associated names” to discover if names “previously identified by others as being assigned at birth to more black or white babies” generated results that indicate a criminal record. She focused her study on advertisements for background checks.
Sweeney found a significant increase in background-check ads when searching for names such as “Ebony” and “DeShawn,” than when searching for names such as “Bob” or “Karen.” For example, when searching for Latanya Farrell, Latanya Sweeney and Latanya Lockett, all names generated adverts for arrest-checking services. When investigating the names, however, only Latanya Lockett had an arrest record.
Meanwhile, searches for Kristen Haring, Kristen Sparrow and Kristen Lindquist did not generate any background-check adverts, even though both Kristen Sparrow and Kristen Lindquist had arrest records.
“Together, these hand-picked examples describe the suspected pattern – ads suggesting arrest tend to appear with names associated with blacks and neutral ads or no ads tend to appear with names associated with whites, regardless of whether the company has an arrest record associated with the name,” Sweeney said. It raises “questions as to whether Google’s advertising technology exposes racial bias in society and how ad and search technology can develop to assure racial fairness.”
[Image via Annette Shaff/Shutterstock]
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