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Google accused of racism after black names are 25% more likely to bring up adverts for criminal records checks


Google has been accused of racism after allegedly linking names usually associated with black people to adverts related to criminality.

A Harvard University professor found ‘significant discrimination’ after comparing the adverts which appear when searching a typically black name compared with those for typically white names.

Findings showed that names typically associated with black people were 25 per cent more likely to bring up adverts related to criminality.

The study by Latanya Sweeney contrasted online searches using names such as ‘Ebony’ and ‘DeShawn,’ with those such as ‘Jill’ and ‘Geoffrey.’

She found that adverts posted alongside search results for names likely to belong to black people were more likely to offer services like background checks for arrests and criminal records.

Searches using white-sounding names were less likely to result in advert results which suggested criminality, Professor Sweeney’s research indicated.

The findings are significant since Google searching the names of potential employees, clients or even friends and dates has become commonplace.

‘Advantages of knowing such information when hiring or engaging with a person relate to trustworthiness,’ Professor Sweeney writes in a paper published online in the journal arXiv.

Professor Sweeney gathered evidence by collecting more than 2,000 names which were suggestive of race.

She then entered these names plus surnames into Google and news agency Reuters’ Google-powered search engine and looked at which adverts the search results returned.

While most names brought back adverts for public records, typically black names were much more likely to bring back those that included the word ‘arrest’.

All the results came from background-checking service

In one particular case highlighted by Professor Sweeney, a search for the black-sounding names Latanya Farrell, Latanya Sweeney and Latanya Lockett all brought up adverts for arrest checking services.

However, subsequent investigation showed only one of the names, Latanya Lockett, had an arrest record linked to it.

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