Google Ads: Based on Racial Profiling?

"Connor Erickson" and "DeShawn Washington" get very different results based on the same terms.

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ColorLines is reporting today on a study concluding that racial profiling based on names may determine the online advertisements you see. The preliminary investigation into this issue was conducted by Tech-Progress' Nathan Newman.

Google offers advertisers what it calls "highly relevant advertising," using specially designed programs to deliver relevant ads to users by analyzing what they've searched or read on the Internet. But according to the new study, the results can be very different according to the digital profile Google creates for you. And that's based not only on your online habits but also on information about your class and geographical location, and even on the ethnicity associated with your name.

ColorLines' Jorge Riveras explains that the investigation into the way your race may affect the ads you see used nine names and then associated each of them with a number of simple terms.

The three "white" names used were Connor Erickson, Jake Yoder and Molly Johnson. The three Latino names used were Diego Garcia, Juan Martinez and Maria Munoz. The three black names used were Malik Hakim, DeShawn Washington and Imani Jackson. (Read about the methodology.)

An example of the results: "Connor Erickson" uses Gmail to write an email with the subject "Arrested: need lawyer" and sees relevant ads for criminal and fraud attorneys. But when a user named "DeShawn Washington" creates the same email, he sees only ads for attorneys specializing in DUI cases. Similar patterns emerged when users conducted searches related to education and the purchase of new cars.

The takeaway seems to be that even the relative anonymity of the Internet doesn't provide a bias-free, level playing field when it comes to race. In a statement that echoes the way stereotypes and bias manifest themselves in so many other arenas, Newman concluded, "People do not live in the same online world, even when they use the same terms."

Read more at ColorLines.

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