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

CSET 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


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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