Google’s Job Search Software Needs Bias Training

Google’s Ad Settings software is engineered to deliver you online ads based on your interests, taking into account your prior searches, online activities, and demographic information. (It’s the reason you start to see a lot of cat food ads after watching one too many cat videos on YouTube.)Researchers at Carnegie Mellon recently ran a few tests on Ad Settings and discovered something eye-opening: Google Ad Settings, like the rest of us, is gender biased.Ad Settings shows male users high-paying jobs six times more frequently (!) than female users. Women are also more likely to get generic job ads. Call us crazy, but we’re pretty sure that’s not going to help close the wage gap.The researchers acknowledge that Google hasn’t violated any laws or policies with this practice (Google reserves the right to show different ads to different genders), nor do they think the results are intentional on Google’s part. However, they do characterize the practice as “discrimination.”They write: “Male candidates getting more encouragement to seek coaching services for high-paying jobs could further the current gender pay gap…Furthermore, we know of no justification for such customization of the ads in question…we would remain concerned if the cause of the discrimination was an algorithm run by Google and/or the advertiser automatically determining that males are more likely than females to click on the ads in question. The amoral status of an algorithm does not negate its effects on society.”For an insightful discussion of how recruiters and engineers can combat biases like this one in job search software, we highly recommend reading Lydia Dishman’s coverage at Fast Company.