High-paying jobs’ ads shown less to women on Google, study finds

8 Jul 2015

While Google is well-known for targeting adverts on its services toward certain demographics, a new study has shown it might be somewhat discriminatory, with fewer women than men seeing ads for high-paying jobs.

The team who undertook the research from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) made the discovery after running a software tool developed at the university called AdFisher that generates gender-based user profiles.

The software then uses machine learning to identify major changes in online behaviour and how companies target them with services and advertising, and the team has now published a paper online on its findings.

According to CMU, the research team generated 1,000 user profiles split 50:50 in terms of gender and had them visit 100 of the top recruitment sites to see what Google adverts would pop up.

After reviewing the adverts, the team saw that the most common advert was for a career-coaching service for executives that pays US$200,000 annually.

Incredibly, the advert was shown six times less frequently on the generated female profiles: appearing 1,800 times in the male profiles, compared with 300 times in the female ones.

Google responds

The team, however, said it is unsure of what could be causing Google’s own advertising software to make such gender-discriminatory observations but, speaking to MIT Technology Review, one of the lead researchers in the study and developer of AdFisher, Anupam Datta, said that the findings are concerning.

“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,” he said. “This is concerning from a societal standpoint.”

Meanwhile, Google have said that their advertising software is completely transparent for people to see why they are being targeted with adverts.

“Advertisers can choose to target the audience they want to reach, and we have policies that guide the type of interest-based ads that are allowed,” said Google spokesperson Andrea Faville. “We provide transparency to users with ‘Why This Ad’ notices and Ads Settings, as well as the ability to opt out of interest-based ads.”

Woman on Google on her phone image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey
By Colm Gorey

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic. He joined in January 2014 and covered AI, IoT, science and anything that will get us to Mars quicker. When not trying to get his hands on the latest gaming release, he can be found lost in a sea of Wikipedia articles on obscure historic battles and countries that don't exist any more, or watching classic Simpsons episodes far too many times to count.

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