Google ads discriminate based on gender, research shows

Google is more likely to advertise high paid executive level jobs to men than women, according to the latest research.

Individuals at Carnegie Mellon University and the International Computer Science Institute used a tool called AdFisher to analyse how adverts target their audience. It is common knowledge that advertisers use personal information, gathered from Internet cookies and other identifiers to tailor their marketing output, but until now this hadn't been investigated further.

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The specific algorithms used by ad platforms is not easily discerned, but researchers found that even when two jobs seekers were identical, aside from their gender, Google was more likely to offer top level jobs to men.

AdFisher is able to track differences between the ads served to men and women by simulating the actions of thousands of Internet users. It chooses specific websites to visit in order for Google Ads to determine particular interests. It then visits a news site that uses the search engine’s ad platform and records any differences between the adverts shown to men and women.

“I think our findings suggest that there are parts of the ad ecosystem where kinds of discrimination are beginning to emerge and there is a lack of transparency,” explained Anupam Datta, associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University. “This is concerning from a societal standpoint.”

The worry is that because Google has a great influence on the information we see, discrimination of this nature could reinforce negative gender stereotypes. Google has said that it will consider the outcome of the study and determine whether any changes need to be implemented.

Google uses its own transparency tool to help users understand how targeted ads are used, but the research suggests that this does not reveal the full picture. Google’s ad serving system is highly complex, but ad buyers can also use their own data systems to carry out additional targeting.

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Mr Datta and his fellow researchers are now working on a version of AdFisher to analyse ad targeting in Microsoft’s Bing search engine.