Professor Latanya Sweeney, a Harvard professor, said that when names which are more associated with black people were put into the search engine that Google would be more likely to come up with adverts associated with criminal activity.
The paper by the Professor found “significant discrimination” in searches and Professor Sweeney has gone so far as to suggest that Google performs searches with “racial bias in society”.
Google has responded to the accusations by stating that it “does not conduct any racial profiling”.
Speaking to the BBC, Google said: “We also have an “anti” and violence policy which states that we will not allow ads that advocate against an organisation, person or group of people.”
The statement continued: “it is up to individual advertisers to decide which keywords they want to choose to trigger ads.”
The study by Professor Sweeney looked at the different types of adverts on Google and the adverts that appeared when certain names were typed into the search engine.
The results of the study found that names linked to black people, as defined in a previous study into racial discrimination in the workplace, were found to have 25 percent more chance of showing an advert linked to a search criminal record history.
put simply when the names such as Leroy, Leisha and Kareem were put into the search engine adverts stating “Arrested?” would come up while when names such as Katie, Brad and Luke were entered these adverts did not appear.
Professor Sweeney concluded: “There is discrimination in the delivery of these ads. 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.”
The professor added that the chance of the findings being based on chance was less than 1 percent according to her study methods.
It is still not clear if these results come from Google or are actually defined by perceptions of society as adverts usually come up when popular links are clicked on through searches.
“Over time, as people tend to click one version of ad text over others, the weights change. So the ad text getting the most clicks eventually displays more frequently,” said Professor Sweeney.
She concluded: “In the broader picture, technology can do more to thwart discriminatory effects and harmonise with societal norms. Ads responding to name searches appear in a specific information context and technology controls that context.”