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Blocked all your social media profiles and made sure you didn’t do anything stupid to land you in internet shame? Think a Google search will produce nada? Think again.

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A new study is claiming that the internet search giant Google is guilty of racially profiling through their Google ads.

According to the Huffington Post:

A new study examining racial bias in the wording of online ads suggests that Google’s advertising algorithms may be unfairly associating some individuals with wrongdoing they didn’t commit.


Harvard University professor Latanya Sweeny decided to investigate after she searched her own name in Google and an ad surfaced for a background check service hinting that she had been arrested. That’s when she decided to check if whether race shaped online ad results.

She searched over 2,000 “racially associated names” to determine if names “previously identified by others as being assigned at birth to more black or white babies” turned up ad results that indicated a criminal record. Specifically, she focused on ads purchased by companies that provide background checks used by employers.

Sweeney concluded that so-called black-identifying names were significantly more likely to be accompanied by text suggesting that person had an arrest record, regardless of whether a criminal record existed or not.

There is discrimination in delivery of these ads,” Sweeney writes in her report. “Notice that racism can result, even if not intentional, and that online activity may be so ubiquitous and intimately entwined with technology design that technologists may now have to think about societal consequences like structural racism in the technology they design.”

On the left, ads delivered for full name searches on, according to Sweeney’s study. On the right, ads delivered for full name searches done via, which offers Google results. Via Latanya Sweeney.

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A Google spokesperson told the Huffington Post that the company does not target its users based on race, noting that advertisers are free to choose the terms against which their ads appear.

Hmmm…could Google really be at fault? Or is it the user’s fault?

It might also be that Google users are to blame: when an advertiser first chooses ad copy, all options are equally weighted and have an equal probability of being shown in the search results. Yet over time, as certain templates are clicked more frequently than others, Google will attempt to optimize its customer’s ad by more frequently showing the ad that garners the most clicks.

The jury is still out. But if Google is indeed guilty of these accusations, they are going to be in some hot water…better hope they’ve been playing nice!

SOURCE: Huffington Post