names, Cody, Connor, Tanner, and
Wyatt retrieved results with those as
last names rather than first names;
the black male name, Kenya, was
confused with the country; and black
names Aaliyah, Deja, Diamond,
Hakim, Malik, Marquis, Nia, Precious, and
Rasheed retrieved fewer than 10 full
names. Only Diamond posed a problem with Peek You searches, seemingly confused with other online entities.
Diamond was therefore excluded from
Some black first names had perfect
predictions (100%): Aaliyah, DeAndre,
Imani, Jermaine, Lakisha, Latoya,
Malik, Tamika, and Trevon. The worst predictors of blacks were Jamal (48%) and
Leroy (50%). Among white first names,
12 of 31 names made perfect predictions: Brad, Brett, Cody, Dustin, Greg,
Jill, Katelyn, Katie, Kristen, Matthew,
Tanner, and Wyatt; the worst predictors of whites were Jay (78%) and
Brendan (83%). These findings strongly support the use of these names as racial
indicators in this study.
Sixty-two full names appeared in the
list twice even though the people were
not necessarily the same. No name
appeared more than twice. Overall,
Google and Peek You searches tended
to yield different names.
With this list of names suggestive of
race, I was ready to test which ads appear when these names are searched.
To do this, I examined ads delivered
on two sites, Google.com and Reuters.
com, in response to searches of each
full name, once at each site. The browser’s cache and cookies were cleared
before each search, and copies of Web
pages received were preserved. Figures
1, 2, 5, and 6 provide examples.
From September 24 through October 23, 2012, I searched 2,184 full
names on Google.com and Reuters.
com. The searches took place at different times of day, different days of the
week, with different IP and machine
addresses operating in different parts
of the United States using different
browsers. I manually searched 1,373
of the names and used automated
means17 for the remaining 812 names.
Here are nine observations.
1. Fewer ads appeared on Google.com
than Reuters.com—about five times
of the more
than 2,000 names
78% had at least
one ad for public
fewer. When ads did appear on Google.
com, typically only one ad showed,
compared with three ads routinely appearing on Reuters.com. This suggests
Google may be sensitive to the number
of ads appearing on Google.com.
2. Of 5,337 ads captured, 78% were for
government-collected information (
public records) about the person whose name
was searched. Public records in the U.S.
often include a person’s address, phone
number, and criminal history. Of the
more than 2,000 names searched, 78%
had at least one ad for public records
about the person being searched.
3. Four companies had more than half
of all the ads captured. These companies were Instant Checkmate, PublicRecords (which is owned by Intelius), PeopleSmart, and PeopleFinders, and all
their ads were selling public records.
Instant Checkmate ads appeared more
than any other: 29% of all ads. Ad distribution was different on Google’s site;
Instant Checkmate still had the most
ads (50%), but Intelius.com, while not
in the top four overall, had the second
most ads on Google.com. These companies dominate the advertising space
for online ads selling public records.
4. Ads for public records on a person appeared more often for those with
black-associated names than white-as-sociated names, regardless of company.
PeopleSmart ads appeared disproportionately higher for black-identifying
names—41% as opposed to 29% for
white names. PublicRecords ads appeared 10% more often for those with
black first names than white. Instant
Checkmate ads displayed only slightly
more often for black-associated names
(2% difference). This is an interesting
finding and it spawns the question:
Public records contain information on
everyone, so why more ads for black-associated names?
5. Instant Checkmate ads dominated
the topmost ad position. They occupied
that spot in almost half of all searches
on Reuters.com. This suggests Instant
Checkmate offers Google more money
or has higher quality scores than do its
6. Instant Checkmate had the largest
percentage of ads in virtually every firstname category, except for Kristen, Connor, and Tremayne. For those names,
Instant Checkmate had uncharacteristically fewer ads (less than 25%). Pub-