Readers, I hate it to break it to you, but according to Harvard the internet is racist. I suggest you stop using it immediately unless you want your patronage of Google et al to blacken your name. Actually, err, maybe wait until you finish reading..
A recent study of Google searches by Professor Latanya Sweeney has found “significant discrimination” in ad results depending on whether the name you’re Googling is, statistically speaking, more likely to belong to a white person or a black person. So while Googling an Emma will probably trigger nothing more sinister than an invitation to look up Emma’s phone number and address, searching for a Jermaine could generate an ad for a criminal record search. In fact, Sweeney’s research suggests that it’s 25% more likely you’ll get ads for criminal record searches from “black-identifying” names than white-sounding ones.
So what does this mean exactly? Does Google have some sort of racial profiling tool inlaid into its algorithms? Well, not exactly. Google has unequivocally stated that it “does not conduct any racial profiling” and the research paper itself admits that it’s probably not as insidious as that. Rather it posits that the demographic discrepancies probably come from “smart” algorithms which adapt ad placement based on mass-user habits. In short, writes Sweeney, the results raise “questions as to whether Google’s advertising technology exposes racial bias in society and how ad and search technology can develop to assure racial fairness”.
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They’d also like Rick Santorum to stop Googling them.