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Should Google Introduce a Racist Patch or Remove it !

Latanya Sweeney, Harvard University
Professor Latanya Sweeney, Harvard University
Harvard's Professor Latanya Sweeney has published a research work revealing significant racism in the delivery of Google Adwords ads. According to her, it was clearly observed that names which were suggestive of black ethnicity were showing ads of criminal background checks, with ads clearly mentioning names, while same was not the case with names suggesting white ethnicity. Latanya Sweeney backed her claim citing several examples and also clearly showing how Google's own image search returns black and white people against those names.

It has raised a pertinent  question: Is Google's algorithm racist?

Google claims it does no racial profiling of names, and outcome may be because of clickability of names, given the context in which the ads appear. A plausible explanation from the algorithm company. It means it is the racist bias in the mind of end users, which is responsible for the racially skewed delivery of the ads.

Now the question is whether Google is honest in its claim? Sweeney suggests, whatever be the case the delivery has to be racially normalised, because this discrimination comes under the sociological definition of Racism, practicing which is illegal in modern societies across the world.

Prof. Latanya Sweeney is not a Google Advertising Professional, so she has little insight into why this happens. However, I have a similar observation to offer, while using names in ads.

Contrary to Prof. Sweeney's belief, people who create ads, don't manually insert different names into it. I have a similar experience with creating ads around names for a matrimonial website of somewhat dubious merit (So, name withheld). Here a template is created and generic ads are written, with a dynamic tag to fetch the names from a group of keywords, called adgroup in adwords terminology.  So, if I have put different names like, Rekha, Uma, Katrina... as keywords and make an ad like,  Marry {KeyWord:DefaultText} google will start serving ads like, Marry Rekha, Marry Uma...

The above example is a real case which I have myself observed. Whereas, Google served the ads Marry Rekha, Marry Uma... it served Marry DefaultText in case of katrina, which even stopped serving after sometime!! This is a somewhat 4 years old story & I couldn't fathom the reason behind it. Katrina, though suggestive of a white ethnicity is also a famous Indian actress. So, if Rekha & Uma could be served why Google didn't serve Katrina. It might had had got more clicks!! So, I don't buy Google's logic. Now, Prof. Sweeney has revealed which I had observed long back, some of you too may have observed this effect.

 photo credit: Kenya Allmond via photopin cc

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