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After learning that a Google search for her own name surfaced an ad for a background check service hinting that she'd been arrested, Harvard University professor Latanya Sweeney set out to investigate whether race shaped online ad results. She searched over 2,000 "racially associated names" to determine if names "previously identified by others as being assigned at birth to more black or white babies" turned up ad results that indicated a criminal record. Specifically, she focused on ads purchased by companies that provide background checks used by employers.
Sweeney concluded that so-called black-identifying names were significantly more likely to be accompanied by text suggesting that person had an arrest record, regardless of whether a criminal record existed or not.
"There is discrimination in delivery of these ads," Sweeney writes in her report. "Notice that racism can result, even if not intentional, and that online activity may be so ubiquitous and intimately entwined with technology design that technologists may now have to think about societal consequences like structural racism in the technology they design."
As Sweeney notes, ads linking a person's name with criminal activity risk harming his or her reputation by suggesting wrongdoing when there is none. She asks readers to imagine that they're being evaluated by a potential employer, who's told to read up on their arrests when he or she searchers their name. "Worse," writes Sweeney, "The ads don't appear for your competitors."
Source: Black Voices | Bianca Bosker