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Racism In Online Ad Targeting 474

Posted by Soulskill
from the perhaps-profiling-is-a-better-name dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Most of us are familiar with advertisements in online web searching, and by now we've grown accustomed to scrolling past the 'sponsored' results to get to the real responses to our query. And we know the ads are context-sensitive; for example, searching for our favorite Federation Starship will bring up ads for a similarly-named car-rental agency. But now a Harvard University professor has found a more disturbing trend in those contextual ads: racism. 'Sweeney says she has evidence that black identifying names are up to 25 per cent more likely to be served with an arrest-related ad. "There is discrimination in delivery of these ads," she concludes. 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 Google.com and Reuters.com 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).'"
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Racism In Online Ad Targeting

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  • Racism is a cause, (Score:4, Insightful)

    by YodasEvilTwin (2014446) on Monday February 04, 2013 @06:04PM (#42790017) Homepage
    not an effect. Making use of stats is not racism. Racism is denying the fact that many blacks in the US have been disadvantaged and largely as a result are more likely to commit crimes and get arrested. Pretending the numbers don't exist is horrible.
  • by hsmith (818216) on Monday February 04, 2013 @06:06PM (#42790049)
    Where people don't really understand what real racism actually is anymore.

    Which I guess is a good thing? But, it makes people that try to bend anything to be racism as complete fools.
  • Not Racism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 04, 2013 @06:06PM (#42790055)

    It's not racism if the ads were being generated purely on statistical models. It may be a sad reflection of the state of African-Americans, but unless you can show how people have manipulated the process for some reason, it's merely statistics.

  • by wmbetts (1306001) on Monday February 04, 2013 @06:10PM (#42790109)

    If these keywords weren't generating revenue for the ad buyers they wouldn't bid on them. It's really that simple. Those names make money for marketers with those ads.

  • by dehole (1577363) on Monday February 04, 2013 @06:13PM (#42790169)

    One cannot escape that in the US, there are more black inmates than white or hispanic. The reason for their incarceration may be race related (eg the popular DWB: driving while black, crime that many innocent people are charged with), but the fact remains that yes, a higher percentage of black people in the US are in US jails with respect to white people.

    Maybe we can take the time to find out why this is the case, and correct it, rather than pretend that using official stats is racist.

  • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojo AT world3 DOT net> on Monday February 04, 2013 @06:13PM (#42790177) Homepage

    The problem is that it re-enforces the stereotype and actually does cause certain behaviour. If you constantly tell one group they are a bunch of criminals and just assume they are probably up to no good then you shouldn't be surprised when it turns out they are.

    The point of treating everyone equally is to make it clear that regardless of race or gender or sexual orientation or whatever you have the same chance, the same opportunity to make something of yourself. Of course in reality not everyone has access to good schools or good jobs, but if you keep re-enforcing that imagine it strengthens it. We still need to push to level the playing field, despite all the progress that has been made.

  • by Daetrin (576516) on Monday February 04, 2013 @06:15PM (#42790203)
    "Racism is denying the fact that many blacks in the US have been disadvantaged and largely as a result are more likely to get arrested."

    Fixed that for you. Even when they haven't committed any crime non-white people in general and black people in particular are more likely to get harassed by cops. They're also more likely to be arrested if they have committed a crime and once arrested more likely to go to jail. That is especially the case if the crime is something relatively minor, say getting caught with pot. If you're white and well off that would probably be a wrist slap at worst. If you're black and poor however...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 04, 2013 @06:19PM (#42790279)

    I don't think you know what real racism is. Racism is merely the behaviors, viewpoints etc that result from Racial Theory. Racial theory is the idea than mankind is divided into distinct races, much like species in the animal world. This psuedo-science was so prevalent at one point that journals were published detailing the physical distinctions between races. So essentially it is racist to believe in the concept of race all together. In fact Any prejudicial behavior stemming from this Racial theory, should be called prejudice based on Racial Theory.

  • Re:Namism (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Archangel Michael (180766) on Monday February 04, 2013 @06:20PM (#42790297) Journal

    If I act like a stereotype, should I be upset when people treat me like a stereotype? But certain cultures eschew normalization in favor of maintaining stereo types, because it is a defining feature.

  • by rmdingler (1955220) on Monday February 04, 2013 @06:31PM (#42790439)
    However, I have a keen proficiency when it comes to grasping the obvious. Black people make better running backs than white people. Asian's named Nguyen are more likely than white's named Cletus to get academic scholarships. At a Bar, an Hispanic male in his 20's is a much better percentage bet for party favors than a 50-something white woman. Should I be offended that Google singles me out for testosterone supplements?
  • by arth1 (260657) on Monday February 04, 2013 @06:42PM (#42790593) Homepage Journal

    Black males between the ages of 13 and 30 commit more crimes per race than any other race

    How do you know this? The stats show higher arrest and conviction rates, which does not imply a higher commit rate.

  • by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortexNO@S ... t-retrograde.com> on Monday February 04, 2013 @06:45PM (#42790643) Homepage

    Maybe we can take the time to find out why this is the case, and correct it, rather than pretend that using official stats is racist.

    It's Self Correcting: For instance, I now realize the justice system is a farce, a sham, an actual injustice system in disguise -- I realized this after video footage of police having my car towed and accidentally dropping it on its side off a flat-bed trailer was disallowed by a judge in a case where I was being charged for leaving the scene of an accident: A "side-swipe" -- an event which never happened, and that I now have on my record.

    So, the correction is as follows: Don't see crime and arrest related things as "bad". They exist, and arrest related services are extremely necessary if you live in a damned police state. When "Thug Life" can be embraced by pasty white nerds such as I, then ads related to arrest statistics is fine, it's good, it's not racism, it's targeting a legitimate need of those who say, "Fuck the Police."

    What's racist is the "black identifying names" in TFA. Now that's racist. What? Because I'm a Caucasoid I can't be named a "black" name? Dark skinned folk can't be named "white" names? Fuck that. The "racism" their research discovers is due to self selecting phenomenon called: GIGO. Had they polled actual black identifying humans to discover their actual targeted advertising frequencies then their research may have had a shred of legitimacy.

    If you REALLY want real answers for "why this is the case" WRT why "a higher percentage of black people in the US are in US jails" then you need go no further than analyzing corruption (including racism) in the police forces. What's the racial distribution of the law enforcers? The law is disproportionately enforced.

    Copyright infringement is no longer a civil matter, it's been criminalized. You see? Police states eventually equalize the disproportionate felony frequency across all races: It's self correcting.

  • by PRMan (959735) on Monday February 04, 2013 @07:03PM (#42790909)
    Not to mention that most people in prison don't have father figures in their lives, which means that marriage has a strong positive effect on society. But most people don't want to hear that morals were invented by people who wanted better societies and that's why they should be followed, they want to do their own thing and screw everyone else.
  • by cayenne8 (626475) on Monday February 04, 2013 @07:07PM (#42790961) Homepage Journal

    This is exactly what I've said over and over. Honestly, I believe we don't go looking for the problem because we are afraid of what we might find. Well high time we find out why the stats are coming out like this and find the real problem.

    I don't suppose you would ever accept the answer being something along the lines of "because they are committing the majority of the crimes in the US"?

    Nah..it couldn't possibly be that simple.

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Monday February 04, 2013 @07:10PM (#42791007) Journal
    I am sympathetic to blacks who live in places with racist judges, however, it's important to remember that any attempt to equalize the incarceration rate is doomed to fail if it doesn't take into account that black people commit crime at a higher rate than white people. That's the unfortunate reality, and it's not racist unless you consider statistics to be racist.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 04, 2013 @07:32PM (#42791281)

    Then != Than

  • by Jerslan (1088525) on Monday February 04, 2013 @07:37PM (#42791353)
    Wow... More racism... I suppose anyone with an Irish last name can't be called "White" either...

    Historical Note: Less than 100 years ago Irish were still treated as a separate race from "real Whites".
  • by Daetrin (576516) on Monday February 04, 2013 @07:47PM (#42791469)
    I'm not going to argue that it's impossible that black people actually commit more crimes than white people, but i'm curious what statistics you're citing and how that data was gathered.

    Let's imagine some mythical town which is 50% white and 50% black and whose judicial system is entirely free from irrational racism. However they rationally note that last year statistics showed black people were more likely to commit crimes than white people. So the cops pull over more black people and send out more patrols to predominately black neighborhoods. That's the rational thing to do after all. And surprise surprise! More black people end up getting arrested. So the statistics next year show black people are more likely to commit crimes. However a closer look at the data shows that both blacks and whites were equally likely to end up getting arrested after getting pulled over, and patrols in white neighborhoods had the same average number of arrests as patrols in black neighborhoods. Without any intentional racism on anyone's part racism still exists in the system just because of people blindly following statistics.

    I'm not saying we need to mandate equal incarceration rates. But everyone should be treated equally regardless of what statistics might say about the likelihood of "someone like them" having committed a crime. And if there is some statistical evidence that one group is committing more crime and/or ending up in jail more then we shouldn't be using that as a justification for treating the two groups differently, we should instead be taking a long hard and in-depth look at why the statistics are that way.

    However we're still at the point where some groups are being punished disproportionately for the same crime on a nationwide basis.
  • by sycodon (149926) on Monday February 04, 2013 @07:51PM (#42791509)

    I don't supposed she checked out the names of all the folks arrested. She might find that there is evidence there that suggests Google is merely following the numbers.

    Now, she could argue that law enforcement is discriminatory. But that would be even more support for Google's efforts being evidence based and not a result of bias. It doesn't matter if you were arrested because of what you did or because of your name or color. You still need to make bail and get a lawyer.

  • by TsuruchiBrian (2731979) on Monday February 04, 2013 @08:01PM (#42791629)

    Not to mention that most people in prison don't have father figures in their lives, which means that marriage has a strong positive effect on society.

    Actually it doesn't mean that at all. It *could* be true. But it *could* just be a correlation. You have to do actual statistics to figure out if there is a causal relationship.

    A shockingly high percentage of people going to the hospital die within days of their visit. Clearly hospitals are bad for your health.

    It could simply be that some other factor is causing both the criminality and the lack of fathers. In which case, simply getting married, will not fix the problem of criminality. Just like how not going to the hospital will not keep you from dying.

    Morality was not invented by people who wanted better societies. Morality is not invented by anyone. Morality in humans is the result of billions of years of evolution. We are a social species and a moral compass is advantageous to the survival of the species. It also exists in different forms in other social animals. And it existed in humans well before any of the great philosophers like Rawls or Kant. They simply added to our collective understanding of morality.

    Some people conflate morality with some kind of "universal" Christian morality, but there is no objective set of moral axioms. It was moral for Inuits to kill their first baby if it was a girl. It was moral for Chistians and Muslims to have slaves. Morality evolves. There is no reason that marriage or fathers *should* have anything to do with morality.

  • by erroneus (253617) on Monday February 04, 2013 @08:26PM (#42791899) Homepage

    I know pathetically stupid, loser asian people. I know highly inteligent and educated black people. I know a lot of people who most definitely defy the stereotypes which we are all very aware of. But there was a time when I would have defended the practices being described. I will not defend them. It's rather disgusting if this is the truth.

    But all that said, stereotypes exist because of an overwhelming preponderance of anecdotal evidence. And in the end, advertisers want to get their ads in front of the people who would be the most interested in seeing them, So in "bad neighborhoods" we see billboards for bondsmen and lawyers among other things. And I have even seen this online when I am in areas with wifi in bad neighborhoods. While disgusting, it would not be practiced if it weren't also effective. So we shouldn't be asking "why are advertisers responding to statistical evidence?" We should be asking how can we make positive changes that result in a change in statistics!

    Because if we are seeing to have a practice which is largely based on statistical evidence, we are merely seeking to institutionalize denial of the truth. I'm just not inclined to deny a problem when solving it would seem more appropriate.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 04, 2013 @08:34PM (#42791983)

    your fantasy where every banker and politician is a rapist who can pay off any woman.

    Worked for Strass-Khan.

  • by Obfuscant (592200) on Monday February 04, 2013 @08:36PM (#42792015)

    Some parents may deliberately do this in order to provide "teachable moments" for both their own children and people who interact with their kids.

    Unfortunately, what is often taught from this is not that there are some racist people and that you need to work around them because you will never be able to force them to change, but that every bad thing that ever happens to you is because everyone who is different than you is a racist towards you and they need to be forced to stop. As in, the reason you weren't hired for that job is because the employer is a different color than you are, not that you didn't graduate from second grade, you smoke a rock as soon as you get up in the morning just to get your day started right, have 83 tattoos counting the ones on your face alone, and can't spell the word "I".

    It's the same kind of lesson that the welfare system (and proponents) teaches: you can't succeed on your own, you need the government to give you things for free. (You don't need the baby daddy to stick around to support you, the government will do that. What do you mean the kid needs a father? That's trying to impose MORALS on someone!)

    That leads to things like kerfluffles over the use of the word "niggardly" [jacobsen.no], and "affirmative action" where the only reason one person was hired over another is fear of reprisals from a minority group and not because the person who was hired is more qualified for the job.

    If anyone does really name their children based on trying to teach them about racism, then those parents should have made better use of birth control.

  • by bitt3n (941736) on Monday February 04, 2013 @08:41PM (#42792065)

    The problem is that it re-enforces the stereotype and actually does cause certain behaviour. If you constantly tell one group they are a bunch of criminals and just assume they are probably up to no good then you shouldn't be surprised when it turns out they are.

    The point of treating everyone equally is to make it clear that regardless of race or gender or sexual orientation or whatever you have the same chance, the same opportunity to make something of yourself. Of course in reality not everyone has access to good schools or good jobs, but if you keep re-enforcing that imagine it strengthens it. We still need to push to level the playing field, despite all the progress that has been made.

    So what do you propose? That Google censor itself in the interest of inducing desired behavior (in this case, law-abidance) in some subsection of the population? Considering the types of organizations that historically have attempted to improve a society by controlling 'dangerous' information, that seems a dubious idea.

  • by clarkkent09 (1104833) on Monday February 04, 2013 @08:52PM (#42792167)

    Blacks were poor in the 50s but had the same rate of incarceration as whites even though they faced much greater discrimination than today: http://spiritofcontradiction.eu/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/incarceration.jpg [spiritofcontradiction.eu]

    The difference was that in the 50s the black family was as strong as white family (as measured by the number of children raised by single parents). Since the "sexual liberation" in the 60s the black family has basically disintegrated. The number of black kids raised by single matter went up from 20s% to >70%. White kids also started from around 20% but only went up to 35%. It corresponds very nicely with the difference in incarceration rates.

    The different response to the breakup of traditional family values can be explained by the fact that white families had greater roots in those traditions that were harder to break. It is the poorest who are always most vulnerable to great social change.

    Maybe centuries old traditions of religion and family life are not based on stupid superstitions as many people educated beyond the level of their intelligence seem to think these days, but on the experience of what works and what doesn't that evolved over many centuries?

  • by argStyopa (232550) on Monday February 04, 2013 @10:14PM (#42792781) Journal

    Let's apply the "look at all the blacks in prison, it MUST be racism" logic another way:

    What % of inmates are male? 90%? 95%?

    CLEARLY, that's a result of sexism on the part of the arresting officers, judges, juries and the entire system are biased against men, because if they weren't, a majority of the prison population would be women, right?

    Sounds stupid in that context doesn't it?

    Ask yourself why.

  • by pod (1103) on Monday February 04, 2013 @10:17PM (#42792803) Homepage

    "What's racist is the "black identifying names" in TFA. Now that's racist. What? Because I'm a Caucasoid I can't be named a "black" name? Dark skinned folk can't be named "white" names? Fuck that."

    Again, not racist, just numbers, statistics. A person named "Lakisha" is far far more likely to be black than white. Why are people getting angry at numbers? Is an expert or heuristic system "racist" when it determines this to be the case?

  • Re:OK, choose one: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tbird81 (946205) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @02:02AM (#42794021)

    I'm sure there is.

    It's just money.

  • by tbird81 (946205) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @02:07AM (#42794045)

    They lost money. It's not everything. They're still alive, and don't have PTSD and fear of leaving the house.

    Stop being obsessed with money! Jesus Christ, you can't take it with you.

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