Is Racial Stereotyping Part of Google AdSense

An interesting story was on the BBC News website¬†yesterday summarizing a report from Latanya Sweeney, a professor of government and technology at Harvard University and the director and founder of the Data Privacy Lab there. Professor Sweeney’s research suggests that when names commonly used by African Americans are part of a search query in Google, the results are accompanied by advertisements on the right column that are more likely to contain ads for companies that will help you locate arrest records from public records. Google’s search system has long been paired up with its AdSense program that offers ads on the side that are related in some way to your search words.

Take a look at the BBC News story, “Google Searches Expose Racial Bias, Says Study of Names” and at Professor Sweeney’s published report, “Discrimination in Online Ad Delivery” (pdf). What do you think of her findings? What could be making Google’s algorithms work this way? Can you think of any other places where seemingly “neutral” search tools might be encoded in such a way that reveals less-than-neutral assumptions about people based on race, class, gender, sexual preference, etc.?


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  1. Pingback: Newman Library Idea Lab » Encoding Race into Search Algorithms

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