Google Inc. (GOOG) Playing Race Card in Search Adverts?

NOTE: This article was updated Thursday night with a statement from Instant Checkmate, an advertising partner with Google.

Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) has been dealing with a lot of heat over its business model – especially with its compilation of personal information, and of course its European antitrust investigation over Google’s Search results. But when it comes to the U.S., Google has been relatively unharmed. But does Google play the race card?

A recent study at Harvard University looked into the advertising algorithm at Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) – which determines what advertisements show up on Google Search pages based on the search topic – and the study makes the claim that Google’s algorithm has a “racial bias” to it. The claim is made by the study’s lead author, Latanya Sweeney, who conducted searches involving various names. She found that people with black-sounding names were 25 percent more likely to bring up ads promoting criminal background-checking firms than names with white-sounding names, which are more likely to call up ads selling ways to get the person’s address and phone number. This, Sweeney claims, indicates a “racial bias in society.”

Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)Sweeney did note that there were a share of white-sounding names that did call up Instant CheckMate – the site that promotes criminal records checking – but the black-sounding names were more likely to get the “Arrested?” question tacked onto the ad. Sweeney claims that this may affect the reputations of people involved in these searches.

“Appearing alongside your list of accomplishments is an advertisement implying you may have a criminal record, whether you actually have one or not. Worse, the ads don’t appear for your competitors,” Sweeney wrote. Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG), of course, says that AdWords does not engage in “racial profiling” n its ads. In a statement, the company wrote, “It is up to individual advertisers to decide which keywords they want to choose to trigger their ads.”

The company that partners with Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) for these ads, Instant Checkmate, sent a statement to Insider Monkey Thursday.