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February 5, 2013

Study alleges racial discrimination in Google ad delivery

'Black-sounding names' have been found more likely to generate adverts associated with criminal activity

By CBR Staff Writer

A study by a professor at Harvard University found that there has been ‘significant discrimination’ in Google’s search algorithms while searching for certain names.

The study by Latanya Sweeney at Harvard University found that Google searches involving ‘black-sounding’ names are more likely to serve up ads suggestive of a criminal record than ‘white-sounding’ names.

Professor Latanya Sweeney said that there is discrimination in the delivery of these ads. "Alongside news stories about high school athletes and children can be ads bearing the child’s name and suggesting arrest. This seems concerning on many levels," Sweeney said.

The advertising algorithms used by Google are based on keywords and user behaviour, and attempt to display ads likely to get the most clicks from the viewers of the advertisement.

Google told the BBC in a statement that the company does not conduct any racial profiling. "We also have an anti violence policy which states that we will not allow ads that advocate against an organisation, person or group of people," the search major said. "It is up to individual advertisers to decide which keywords they want to choose to trigger their ads."

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