Google ads have racial bias: Study

(Sue Reeve/QMI Agency)

(Sue Reeve/QMI Agency)

QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:54 PM ET

When you Google a white sounding name, you're likely to generate an ad inviting you to look up that person's phone number and address. But when you Google a black sounding name, the ads will likely invite you to check the person's criminal history.

Those are the findings of a new study out of Harvard that suggests Google searches expose a "racial bias in society."

The study found that black-identifying names like DeShawn, Darnel and Jermaine were 25% more likely to generate ads for criminal record searches than white-sounding names like Geoffrey, Jill and Emma.

Lead author Latanya Sweeney was inspired to conduct the investigation after a Google search of her own name yielded an ad from InstantCheckMate that read: "Latanya Sweeney, Arrested? 1) Enter name and state 2) Access full background. Checks instantly."

The site confirmed Sweeney doesn't, in fact, have a record.

While some white-sounding names also generated ads for InstantCheckMate, most didn't come with the "Arrested?" line.

These kinds of ads could harm people's reputations as prospective employers, landlords or lovers search people online.

"Appearing alongside your list of accomplishments is an advertisement implying you may have a criminal record, whether you actually have one or not. Worse, the ads don't appear for your competitors," Sweeney wrote.

"AdWords does not conduct any racial profiling," Google said in a statement issued to Wired.com. "It is up to individual advertisers to decide which keywords they want to choose to trigger their ads."

"We have absolutely no technology in place to even connect a name with a race and have never made any attempt to do so," said InstantCheckMate spokeswoman Ashley Vergara in a statement. "The very idea is contrary to our company's most deeply held principles and values."


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