A new study that was partially funded by search engine Google and conducted by Harvard University researchers, finds that Google search ads show racial bias. In other words, personalized ads posted next to searches for common African-American names, such as “Trevon Jones,” were more likely to promote services related to criminal activity (e.g. background checks). According to the study, “Trevon Jones, Arrested?” was one of the ads that popped up.
Researchers utilized names predicative of race and Googled them to examine search engine ads that ran next to the results. Personalized ads that ran next to searches for names such as Geoffrey, Jill, and Emma were consistently neutral, according to the study. Google released a statement defending its reputation: “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.”
In the abstract of the study, researchers indicate: “[...] DeShawn, Darnell and Jermaine, generated ads suggestive of an arrest in 81 to 86 percent of name searches on one website and 92 to 95 percent on the other, while those assigned at birth primarily to whites, such as Geoffrey, Jill and Emma, generated more neutral copy: the word ‘arrest’ appeared in 23 to 29 percent of name searches on one site and 0 to 60 percent on the other. On the more ad trafficked website, a black-identifying name was 25% more likely to get an ad suggestive of an arrest record.” Click here to read a .pdf version of the study.