A Harvard University professor who ran a statistical analysis of online ads used by an Internet data broker website that suggested certain names may have arrest records uncovered what she described as possible racial profiling when she found the company’s advertising “disproportionately” used the word “arrested” for black-identifying names even when a person had no arrest record, according to the Huffington Post. The story is available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/25/racial-profiling-online-ads_n_2186409.html. The Huffington Post reports that Latanya Sweeney, a Harvard University professor of government with a doctorate in computer science, “ran more than 120,000 searches for names primarily given to either black or white children, testing ads delivered for 2,400 real names 50 times each” after learning from a colleague that her own name was in an online ad that read “Latanya Sweeney, arrested?” The preliminary results of Sweeny’s research of the data broker’s online ads uncovered the following:
- The name “Ebony Jefferson” often turned up on the online data broker’s ad reading “Ebony Jefferson, arrested?” but an ad for “Emily Jefferson” would read “We found Emily Jefferson.”
- Randomly chosen black-identifying first names such as “Deshawn,” “Latisha,” or “Latanya” often produced online ad copy with the words “arrest” or “arrested” while less ethnic-sounding first names matched with the same last names such as “Williams” or “Smith” typically did not.
- Names primarily used for African-American babies such as “Tyrone,” “Darnell,” and “Ebony” generated the word “arrest” in the online data broker’s ad copy between 75 percent and 96 percent of the time. Names assigned at birth primarily to whites led to the word “arrest” appearing only between zero and 9 percent of the time.
- A few names predominantly given to white babies fell outside of these patterns. For example, the name “Brad” produced an ad with the word “arrest” 62 percent to 65 percent of the time.
- The data broker’s ads appeared whether or not the name had an arrest record attached to it.