Google Accused of Racial Discrimination

by latifa.sa on February 11, 2013 - 1:32am

Google’s ads have been reported to be racially biased by Alyssa Newcomb in the ABC News on February 6, 2013. According to a study conducted by a Harvard professor, Latanya Sweeney, immigrant names, in particular black names such as Darnell and DeShwan, were more likely to generate ads telling the person has a criminal record than white names like Emma when searched in Google. The study used 2,184 names linked to racial discrimination by previous studies and professor Sweeney narrowed down her study to Google and a popular news website showing Google AdWords advertisements. When typing in the search engines names associated to black people, ads suggesting the person has a criminal record popped up in 81 to 86 percent of the searches in one engine and 95 to 95 percent in the other search engine. However, when typing names associated to white people, only 23 to 29 percent of ads displaying the word "arrest" appeared in one of the search engines and 0 to 60 percent in the other. This could have an impact on people looking for jobs according to Sweeney. In a statement, a Google spokesperson claimed Google AdWords is not responsible; it is the advertisers that select which keywords will be associated with their ads. The study produced more questions than answers and thus, more studies would be needed to understand her findings.


Because immigrant names produce more often ads suggesting a criminal record than white names, this could greatly impact immigrants’ job prospects. There is already discrimination in hiring practices making it difficult for immigrants to integrate themselves and this study shows leads to believe that discrimination is more grave and widespread than first thought. Google should have a policy that requires advertisers to use neutral keywords that are not discriminating to any races or groups of people.