Do Google Searches Show Racial Bias? A Harvard Professor Says ‘Yes’

February 5, 2013  |  


Although you may not be paying attention to the advertisements that come up during your Google search, one professor over at Harvard University have been studying them. And according to the scholars, when people type in names typically associated with black people during a Google search, the ads that pop up are more likely to be related to criminal activity. All the data has been collected by the Harvard University paper of Professor Latanya Sweeney.

Here is one example: A Google search for a name such as “Tom Smith” may bring up personalized public records, such as “Looking for Tom Smith,” or may be suggestive of an arrest record, such as “Tom Smith, arrested?” reports the UK Telegraph.  But plug in names that are more associated with black people, such as DeShawn, Darnell and Jermaine, and ads with links to websites that offer criminal record checks are produced.

Professor Sweeney suggested that the Google results may expose a “racial bias in society.”

“Prof. Sweeney’s investigation suggests that names linked with black people — as defined by a previous study into racial discrimination in the workplace – were 25 percent more likely to have results that prompted the searcher to click on a link to search criminal record history,” writes the newspaper.

Google responded to the Harvard findings: “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 organization, person or group of people. It is up to individual advertisers to decide which keywords they want to choose to trigger their ads.”

Have you ever noticed anything strange during a Google search?

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