Is Google Racist?


Harvard University computer scientist LaTanya Sweeney was upset to see a Google AdWords ad questioning whether she had an arrest record. She went on to search for over 2,000 names on Google that were commonly given to one race more than another.

She determined...

"The common denominator was the so-called sounding black names. They were 25 percent more likely to yield an ad for a criminal records search."

Interesting, but I get those ads when searching for my name, too. 


Some people...

have too much free time :) I wouldn't even have noticed that ad!

Well, I could also argue that

Well, I could also argue that calling certain names "black sounding" would be racist and in this politically correct world we live in, I'm sure I would be able to draw an audience to it. ;)


In the book "Feakonomics" it describes how names have racial connotations, as the article points out as well. It's not an outlyer thought, or racist, to bring up the premise that there are "black sounding names." It was not long ago slaves had no last name at all, the evidence of which is with us here today with last names like Jackson and my own name Johnson (although I'm not black unless you go way back). Everyone has mixed varietal genes.

Very negative experiences have been shown by studies that were done over the phone (where racial background wasn't able to be determined by a person's presence). Racism is bad when it's subtle like that. Names and voices that sound black over the phone get doors that close, where whiter names and voices walk on down the hall like Jim Morrison. There are sources more than the book for these types of studies.

There is an entire chapter about the bias implications of one's name, espeically if one has a "black sounding name." The economics of having a "black sounding name" is definitely troubling, and reminiscient of this article about the Google ad. Deny it, they did, and it's racist all the same. There's no question about it in my mind. It's a passive sort of racism Google is committing by way of the advertiser. The keyword list probably matches felons, which have a high incidence of blacks, causing the result to be unintentional, subtle racism that reflects societal racism. Shucks!


Racism is a wonderful excuse for failure. Flame gear on.


The advertisements are being triggered, likely, by a well thought through Adwords campaign that determined conversion rates based on names as keywords. It is unfortunate that what this leads to is regular searchers, not interested in running criminal background checks, see ads suggesting they might want to in numbers disproportionately skewed towards names more common in African American communities. This can, to some degree, perpetuate the stigma.

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