Report: Google let advertisers target racist keywords like “black people ruin everything”

Anyone who uses Google has seen internet ads pop up that bear an uncanny similarity to something they’ve been searching for. But that ad-targeting technology appears to have a dark side. Google, the largest advertising platform in the world, has allowed advertisers to target racist and bigoted keywords, according to a new report from BuzzFeed News.

The reporters discovered that Google suggests problematic keywords when certain phrases are typed in the company’s ad-buying tool.

When reporters typed “White people ruin …” the tool suggested targeting internet users searching “black people ruin everything,” “blacks destroy everything” and “black people ruin neighborhoods.” When they typed “Why do Jews ruin everything,” Google suggested running ads next to searches for “are jews evil,” “jews run the world” and “jews own everything.”

After BuzzFeed News notified Google about the problematic keywords, the company removed them from its advertising tool.

“This violates our policies against derogatory speech and we have removed it,” a Google spokesperson told the website.

Scott Spencer, Google’s director of product management in advertising, said the company took down 1.7 billion ads in 2016 that violated its advertising policies. “If you spent one second taking down each of those bad ads, it’d take you more than 50 years to finish. But our technology is built to work much faster,” Spencer wrote in a statement earlier this year.

The report comes just a day after ProPublica reported that Facebook allowed advertisers to target people who described themselves as “jew haters” or those who searched topics like “how to burn jews” and the history of “why jews ruin the world.”

ProPublica contacted Facebook about what it found and the company removed the anti-Semitic categories. Facebook said it would “explore ways to fix the problem.” 

In a statement to CBS News, Facebook explained that the ad categories were created automatically based off information users fill out in their Facebook profiles. 

“We don’t allow hate speech on Facebook … and we prohibit advertisers from discriminating against people based on religion and other attributes,” Facebook’s product management director Rob Leathern said. “We know we have more work to do, so we’re also building new guardrails in our product and review processes to prevent other issues like this from happening in the future.”

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