Incident 19: Sexist and Racist Google Adsense Advertisements

Description: Advertisements chosen by Google Adsense are reported as producing sexist and racist results.


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Alleged: Google developed and deployed an AI system, which harmed Women and Minority Groups.

Incident Stats

Incident ID
Report Count
Incident Date
Sean McGregor

CSETv0 Taxonomy Classifications

Taxonomy Details

Full Description

Advertisements chosen by Google Adsense are reported as producing sexist and racist results. In a 2015 Carnegie Mellon study, 17,370 fake profiles were created to visit jobseeker sites, the profiles were shown around 600,000 advertisements. 1,852 male profiles received advertisements for high-paying executive jobs and career building while only 318 of the female profiles were shown the advertisements. Companies are allowed to filter who is shown their advertisements, which is attributed to this difference in male/female outcomes of advertising. In a separate instance, Harvard professor Latanya Sweeney released a 2013 study showing how black identifying names, when searched in Google, are more likely to return advertisments involving arrests. When testing 2,000 racially-sensitive names, black identifying names returned advertisements using the word "arrest" 81-95% of the time, while white identifying names did so 0-9% of the time. All of the ads were from, implying, again, the company's choice of who to target their advertising toward played a factor in the discriminatory results.

Short Description

Advertisements chosen by Google Adsense are reported as producing sexist and racist results.



Harm Distribution Basis

Race, Sex

Harm Type

Harm to social or political systems, Harm to civil liberties, Other:Reputational harm

AI System Description

Google Adsense, an algorithm used to target advertisements toward relevant audiences.

System Developer


Sector of Deployment

Information and communication

Relevant AI functions

Perception, Cognition, Action

AI Techniques

Google Adsense

AI Applications

targeted advertising



Named Entities

Google, Harvard University, Carnegie Mellon University,

Technology Purveyor

Google, Instant Checkmate

Beginning Date


Ending Date


Near Miss




Lives Lost


Data Inputs

Advertiser's preference, Google user's search history, Google user's purchase history

CSETv1 Taxonomy Classifications

Taxonomy Details

Harm Distribution Basis

race, sex

Sector of Deployment

information and communication

Discrimination in Online Ad Delivery · 2013

A Google search for a person's name, such as "Trevon Jones", may yield a personalized ad for public records about Trevon that may be neutral, such as "Looking for Trevon Jones?", or may be suggestive of an arrest record, such as "Trevon Jon… · 2013

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Isn't the arrest rate of blacks higher anyway?

The ads appear regardless of whether the company sponsoring the ad has a criminal record for the name. The appearance of the ads are not related to any arrest stati… · 2013

In 2013, Harvard professor Latanya Sweeney found that racial discrimination pervades online advertising delivery. In a study, she found that searches on black-identifying names such as Revon, Lakisha, and Darnell are 25% more likely to be s…

Google searches expose racial bias, says study of names · 2013

Image caption Prof Sweeney said technology could be used to counteract racial intolerance

A study of Google searches has found "significant discrimination" in advert results depending on the perceived race of names searched for.

Harvard pro…

Racism is Poisoning Online Ad Delivery, Says Harvard Professor · 2013

“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.”

Screenshot of a Google ad.

So begins …

Google a 'Black' Name, Get an Arrest Ad? · 2013

Pop a name into Google and you're likely to end up with corresponding advertisements alongside your results. Wild guess which types of names are more likely to yield arrest-related ads suggesting that the person searched for has a record.


Google search results 'show racial bias' · 2013

Names typically associated with black people are more likely to produce adverts related to criminal activity, according to the Harvard University paper .

A Google search for a name such as Tom Smith may bring up personalised public records,…

Google accused of racism after black names are 25% more likely to bring up adverts for criminal records checks · 2013

Google accused of racism after black names are 25% more likely to bring up adverts for criminal records checks

Professor finds 'significant discrimination' in ad results, with black names 25 per cent more likely to be linked to arrest recor…

Study Finds Google Search Ads Are Racially Biased · 2013

Ads pegged to Google search results can be racially biased because of how certain names are associated with blacks or whites, according to a new study.

Harvard University professor Latanya Sweeney found "statistically significant discrimina…

Harvard professor says 'black' names in Google searches more likely to offer arrest ads · 2013

Is Google biasing the ads it serves up based on whether a name sounds "black"?

That's the conclusion of a paper by Harvard professor Latanya Sweeney, who wrote in her paper that searches on names that may be identified as black brought up a…

Can Googling be racist? · 2013

Readers, I hate it to break it to you, but according to Harvard the internet is racist. I suggest you stop using it immediately unless you want your patronage of Google et al to blacken your name. Actually, err, maybe wait until you finish …

Online search ads expose racial bias, study finds · 2013

The Google search page appears on a computer screen in Washington on August 30, 2010. Ads pegged to Google search results can be racially biased because of how certain names are associated with blacks or whites, according to a new study.


Google's Online Ad Results Guilty Of Racial Profiling, According To New Study · 2013

Every job candidate lives in fear that a Google search could reveal incriminating indiscretions from a distant past. But a new study examining racial bias in the wording of online ads suggests that Google's advertising algorithms may be unf… · 2013

A Google search for a "racially associated name" is more likely to trigger advertisements suggesting the person has a criminal background, according to a study by a Harvard professor.

Latanya Sweeney, a professor of government and technolog…

Google Ads Reveal Bias Against African-Americans, Harvard University Study Reveals · 2013

February 6, 2013

'Arrest' Appears With Greater Frequency in Ads Featuring 'Black' Names

The delivery of Google ads has significant racial bias, according to a study by a Harvard University professor.

Professor Latanya Sweeney says names tha… · 2013

Web page results of ads that appeared on-screen when Harvard professor Latanya Sweeney typed her name in a google search. Ads featured services for arrest records. Sweeney conducted a study that concluded searches with "black sounding" name… · 2013

Is Google’s search algorithm guilty of racism? A study by a Harvard researcher found that it could be.

Professor Latanya Sweeney says she found "statistically significant discrimination" when comparing ads served with results from online se…

Is Google Racist Or Is It The Rest Of Us? · 2013

A lovely little piece of research that shows that the ads served up alongside Google searches could, if you were that way inclined, be seen as somewhat racist:

A recent study of Google searches by Professor Latanya Sweeney has found "signif…

Harvard Researcher: Google-Generated Ads Show Racial Bias · 2013

UPDATED: February 20, 2013, at 10:35 a.m.

A Harvard researcher has found that typically African-American names are more likely to be linked to a criminal record in Google-generated advertisements on the online search engine and on the news … · 2013

The January/February 2019 issue of acmqueue is out now

Subscribers and ACM Professional members login here


April 2, 2013

Volume 11, issue 3

Discrimination in Online Ad Delivery

Google ads, black names and white names, racial discriminat… · 2013

Latanya Sweeney, Racial Discrimination in Online Ad Delivery

Comment by: Margaret Hu

PLSC 2013

Published version available here:

Workshop draft abstract:

Investigating the appearanc…

How Much Does Your Name Matter? · 2013

Listen now:

Season 4, Episode 2

When Harvard professor Latanya Sweeney Googled her name one day, she noticed something strange: an ad for a background check website came up in the results, with the heading: “Latanya Sweeney, Arrested?” But … · 2015

That Google and other companies track our movements around the Web to target us with ads is well known. How exactly that information gets used is not—but a research paper presented last week suggests that some of the algorithmic judgments t…

Women less likely to be shown ads for high-paid jobs on Google, study shows · 2015

Female job seekers are much less likely to be shown adverts on Google for highly paid jobs than men, researchers have found.

The team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon built an automated testing rig called AdFisher that pretended to be a … · 2017

When Timnit Gebru attended a prestigious AI research conference last year, she counted 6 black people in the audience out of an estimated 8,500. And only one black woman: herself.

As a PhD candidate at Stanford University who has published …

Can computers be racist? Big data, inequality, and discrimination · 2018

It seems like everyone is talking about the power of big data and how it is helping companies, governments, and organizations make better and more efficient decisions. But rarely do they mention that big data can actually perpetuate and exa…

Google exposes racial discrimination in online ads delivery - study · 2019

Google’s search algorithms expose racial discrimination, a new study by Harvard professor purports. It claims ads related to criminal records are more likely to pop up when "black-sounding names" are ‘googled’.

­Latanya Sweeney, Professor o…


A "variant" is an incident that shares the same causative factors, produces similar harms, and involves the same intelligent systems as a known AI incident. Rather than index variants as entirely separate incidents, we list variations of incidents under the first similar incident submitted to the database. Unlike other submission types to the incident database, variants are not required to have reporting in evidence external to the Incident Database. Learn more from the research paper.

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