Color Blind

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“Ask The Experts” is written and provided by Scholarship Media. It does not reflect the views of The Collegian or its advertisers.

I keep seeing online ads for bail bondsmen. I am a college student, so why is the internet doing this?

You are not imagining this and the subject has become a hot issue for online retailers, advertisers and search engines. Once you inadvertently surrendered your privacy by simply giving your name and personal information, data compilers started tracking your online activity. So why do they think you need bail money?

Years ago, before the internet, a lot of research went into fair practices in the marketplace. One specific social study revealed that black and female buyers paid more for the same car than a white male. In the early days of digital marketing and mobile app development, racial and gender fairness were virtually guaranteed as transactions were conducted almost anonymously. A buyer could negotiate a purchase without revealing any personally identifying information until the deal had been made.

Today, online platforms do know whether you are black, white, male or female, and a lot more too. The internet has sometimes become an unwitting source of profiling. With their identities revealed, some groups can face issues in the marketplace as in the days before online commerce.

One issue with early internet commerce is that one side of the market knew things that the other side did not. Early eBay sellers could post up any description they chose and the buyer was none the wiser. Early online traders were new to the business and there were no regulators to assure buyers would not be cheated. Over time, feedback enabled sellers to either build up a good reputation, or go out of business.

With the prevalence of data mining today, many sellers and online services have access to far more personal information on their potential customers that ever before, in essence they can pick and choose their clients. From freelancing to ride sharing, sellers have discretion over their clients based upon the level of personal information that the platform has gleaned from its users.

In recent months, property rental website Airbnb has come under scrutiny for allowing landlords to accept or reject tenants based on their photo. Experiments were conducted on names alone, with accounts being created with half traditionally white names and half black names. The results confirmed that certain renters made decisions based on names alone.

Algorithms take things a step further, research has discovered that Google ads display different things for different names, which can be linked to the race of the user. Searches for black sounding names were more likely to generate ads offering to investigate possible arrest records or for bail bondsmen. This is not a step Google has made itself, the algorithm is at fault here by predicting search and click patterns from its wealth of personal profile data.

It ultimately comes down to each individual web platform and its management software controlling the information gathered from online activity. Companies have taken active steps to revise their software to reduce any online conflicts, as soon as they become aware of them.

“Just move to the Internet, it’s great here.” — John Green.