According to the Boston Globe, Sweeney stumbled onto the topic after a colleague showed her what appeared when Ms. Sweeney’s name was searched. The resulting advertisements for an arrest record shocked the professor, who has never been arrested.
The ads also inspired the computer scientist and specialist in data privacy to dig deeper into the matter. By comparing names like, “Trevon, Lakisha, and Darnell” to “Laurie, Brandon, and Katie,” Sweeney began to compile her data. More than 2,100 names later, she uncovered troubling news.
“Most names generated ads for public records. However, black-identifying names turned out to be much more likely than white-identifying names to generate ads that including [sic] the word 'arrest' (60 per cent versus 48 per cent). All came from www.instantcheckmate.com," says the study, as reported in the Wall Street Journal.
Sweeney concluded that there was a less than 1 percent chance that this was all by accident.
"There is discrimination in the delivery of these ads," Sweeney told BBC News. “Alongside news stories about high school athletes and children can be ads bearing the child's name and suggesting arrest. This seems concerning on many levels.”