Google searches expose racial bias

Do Google Ads Use Racial Profiling? Studies Suggest They Do

A recent study has suggested that Google ads use racial profiling. The study focused on advertisements that appeared after searching for names that are “typically associated with black people.”

Although Google contends that they do not use racial profiling, Harvard professor Latanya Sweeney in confident that her research proves otherwise. Sweeney’s research analyzed advertisements that appeared when certain names were entered into the traditional Google search engine along with Reuters, which also utilizes Google’s advertising.

As reported by BBC, the names used in the research, as typically associated with black people, were taken from a previous study. Searches including names such as Keisha, Kareem, and Leroy were found to produce advertisements that included the word “arrested,” and would offer links to search criminal records.

Similar searches including names like Luke and Brad did not produce the same results. Sweeney contends that these results are unlikely to be random and prove that Google ads are using racial profiling and bias.

Google defends the ad placement by pointing out that advertisers choose which keywords trigger the display of their ads.

Sweeney admits that the issue may lie within Google algorithms, which places advertisement based on user habits. This explanation suggests that ad placement may be based on general societal prejudices and bias, not those of Google.

An informal study conducted by Nathan Newman, founder of, found similar results when using Google to search for cars to purchase, information about higher education, and prayers. As reported by Huffington Post, the results varied depending on the perceived race as associated with the names used in the searches.

Neither study proves conclusively that Google ads use racial profiling or bias, but there is definitely a need to look into why it appears that way.