The automated testing and analysis of Google’s advertising system makes it clear that male job seekers are shown more online ads for the high-paying jobs. The female job seekers are likely to be shown lesser online ads on Google for such jobs in comparison to men, the researchers have found.
A team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon created an automated testing rig that is named AdFisher that pretended as male and female job seekers. A total of 17,370 fake profiles visited the jobseeker websites where 600,000 adverts where tracked and analyzed.
The authors of the study claimed that they found that men were shown online ads that encourage the seeking of coaching services for the high paying jobs more than women. An experiment showed that Google displayed the online ad for a career coaching for $200k+ executive jobs 1,852 times to the men group and only a meager 318 times to the women group. Also, an experiment held in July 2015 showed a similar trend.
The ad targeting system of Google is quite complex as its takes into account several factors such as browsing history, personal information, and internet activity. The fake users started with all fresh profiles and behaved similarly, and gender was the only factor that differentiated them.
Regarding this, a Google spokeswoman stated that the advertisers can choose the target audience that they want to reach. She added that they have policies that guide the type of interest based ads that are permitted.
The profiling is inherently discriminatory as it tries to treat people differently on the basis of their behavior and personal details. Of course, customization can be helpful showing more relevant ads to the users, but it can also have negative connotations.
The authors of the study further stated that the men get more encouragement to seek coaching services for the high paid jobs that further shows the gender pay gap that exists. Though it happens for the economic reasons, it is nothing by discrimination, they state.
Google lets users to opt out of the behavioral advertising and offers a system to see why the users were shown ads and customize their ad settings. However, the study states that there is overt discrimination issue in the landscape of advertising.
Of course, the television, print and radio advertisers were practicing discrimination for years by pushing ads that appeal to a specific gender or demographic. Now, this difference is obvious in the internet era. Furthermore, this could get worse with the in-depth profiling.
The researchers have investigated whether visiting websites of certain topics, adult content, mental disorders, substance abuse and disabilities affected the ads served to the fake profiles. On visiting websites with disability and substance abuse, there were statistically significant results. After visiting such substance abuse websites, the advert profile page of Google displayed no change to the interests listed, by the adverts displays to the user accounts changed with ads related to rehabilitation services.
Likewise, in the case of visiting the disability sites, the researchers found that the online ad interest profile changed for the test group, but it showed other interests that are not related to disability.
Furthermore, the researchers state that the online ad choices of Google that let users to remove some interests manually from the tracking profiles had their effect. The ad settings seem to give the users the ability to avoid the ads that they dislike or feel embarrassing, claim the authors of the study.