More on the Google AdWords Controversy

A reader named Desmond Lawrence writes from London with further commentary on our "How Much Does Your Name Matter" podcast -- specifically, about Harvard computer scientist Latanya Sweeney's research which found that online searches for people with distinctively black names was 25% more likely to produce an ad suggesting the person had an arrest record – regardless of whether that person had actually been arrested:

So when I was listening to your podcast on “How Much Does Your Name Matter?” I was surprised to hear about Latanya and her story about these Google Ads that were being served.
Now as much as the company Instant Checkmate would like to say that they are not at fault here, I can guarantee that I know what has happened with their AdWords campaign.
When you set up an AdWords campaign you tend to do a fair bit of research. From there you will build a campaign around Broad match, phrase match or even exact match.
You can also do a thing called Dynamic keyword insertion. Now this is where I would suggest that Instant Checkmate went wrong. If you place the Dynamic keyword call code into an ad, it will place the keyword that has called the ad into the ad, thus increasing the effectiveness of the ad.

Discriminating Software

The Economist takes a look at the software that big companies are using to sort through job applicants. It finds that people who use Chrome and Firefox browsers are better employees, and people with criminal records are suited to work in call centers. One drawback to having a computer sort potential employees is that its algorithms may treat some variables as proxies for race, as discussed in our "How Much Does Your Name Matter?" podcast, in which the Harvard computer scientist Latanya Sweeney found that distinctively black names are more likely to draw ads that offer arrest records.