WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — A study of Google searches found that names typically associated with black people were likely to produce advertisements tied to criminal activity and others that may expose “racial bias in society.”

In the recent Harvard study, Professor Latanya Sweeney found that Google searches had “significant discrimination,” especially related to searches where the perceived race of the person was black.

Sweeney conducted the research by inputting names found to be associated with black people in a previous study – such as Leroy, Kareem and Keisha – and then viewing the results. She found the results to be 25 percent more likely to direct the searcher towards a criminal history-related link.

Advertisements that read, “Arrested?” increased significantly.

Google responded to the study’s findings in an email to the BBC, saying it “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,” wrote Google to the BBC.

Companies that advertise with Google are allowed to specify keywords they would like to have targeted by searches.

“It is up to individual advertisers to decide which keywords they want to choose to trigger their ads,” the search giant said.

On the other hand, searches for the names “Brad, Luke and Katie” would link to websites that provided more general information on how to contact these individuals.

“There is discrimination in the delivery of these ads,” Sweeney concluded, who added that there was a less than 1 percent chance that the findings could be based on chance. “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.”

A 2012 Pew Research poll found that 65 percent of search engine users believe it is a bad thing if a search engine collected information about their searches and then used it to rank their future search results, because it may limit the information they could get online and what search results they could see.

Sixty-eight percent of all Internet users surveyed said they were “not okay” with targeted advertising because they don’t like their online behavior to be tracked or analyzed.


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