by Marie Boran
Originally published: June 1, 2017
In 2015, a group of US researchers with an interest in internet user privacy developed a tool to examine Google’s advertisement settings feature, which allows users to select for the type of online ads they see based on their interests. The goal was to determine what effect different browsing behaviours and user profiles had on the ads that popped up but they were not expecting what they found: gender discrimination was baked right into the user experience.
The researchers concluded: “Setting the gender to female resulted in getting fewer instances of an ad related to high-paying jobs than setting it to male”. Similarly, a 2015 study from the University of Washington found that despite 27 per cent of chief executive titles being held by women, a search for “CEO” using Google’s images tab returned results of which only 11 per cent depicted women.
What is going on here? Is Google evil? Are there sexist advertisers at work? Or is the algorithm to blame?