Online advertising’s racism mess

Harvard University’s Latanya Sweeney discovered an odd thing after searching for her own name via Google last year. An advertisement from an outfit called Instant Checkmate appeared, featuring her name followed by the word “Arrested?”

For a subscription fee, Instant Checkmate searches public records for criminal records. Sweeney paid the fee, but found no evidence that she herself had been arrested.

A specialist in online privacy, Sweeney was intrigued and suspicious. So she created an experiment to test whether Google’s AdSense technology was delivering different advertisements depending on whether the name being searched for sounded black or white. Were searches for names like Latisha or Rasheed returning advertisements containing different language than searches for Greg and Meredith? (I first learned about Sweeney’s research from an article in Technology Review.)

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Online advertising’s racism mess

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