Category: Reports

Online Ads and Racial Bias

Have you ever been arrested? Imagine the question not appearing in the solitude of your thoughts as you read this paper, but appearing explicitly whenever someone queries your name in a search engine. […] 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.  Source

The above is the opening paragraph to Harvard University’s Prof. Latanya Sweeney‘s report on Discrimination in Online Ad Delivery.  According to the report

…names typically associated with black people were more likely to produce ads related to criminal activity.  Source: BBC News

Writing about how the research was conducted, Technology Review reports:

Sweeney gathered this evidence by collecting over 2000 names that were suggestive of race. For example, first names such as Trevon, Lakisha and Darnell suggest the owner is black while names like Laurie, Brendan and Katie suggest the owner is white.

She then entered these plus surnames into and and examined the ads they returned. Most names generated ads for public records. However, black-identifying names turned out to be much more likely than white-identifying names to generate ads that including the word “arrest” (60 per cent versus 48 per cent). Source

Though “there is less than a 0.1% probability” that these findings “can be explained by chance” the report does not explain why this discrimination occurs, partly because this is outside the scope of the research but also because more information about the workings of Google AdSense is required.

Read the full report


The Future of Identity

The UK Department for Business, Innovations and Skills has released a report entitled Future Identities -Changing identities in the UK: the next 10 years.

The report identifies key challenges for effective policy making and implementation in a rapidly changing, globalised, technology-rich, and densely networked UK. It focuses on implications for: crime prevention and criminal justice; health, the environment and wellbeing; skills, employment and education; preventing radicalisation and extremism; social mobility; and social integration.

According to the report, identity in the UK is changing and technology is one of several important drivers of this change. The report considers these changes “within a wider context of demographic change” and notes that the “increasing diversity of the UK’s population means that dual, ethnic and national identities will continue to become more important.

In its conclusion the report advises

For policy makers understanding the changing nature of identity in the UK will be increasingly important for effective policy making and implementation. Failure to do so may lead to missed opportunities to, for example, strengthen social integration, reduce exclusion, enhance open policy making, and make effective use of identities as a resource.Government would also benefit from drawing upon a deeper scientific understanding of people’s evolving identities when developing, implementing and testing policies

Read the report here