Instant Checkmate Using Racial Profiling In Advertisements?
November 27, 2012
While your name might not show up with a criminal record in a background check, what if an advertisement for a background check service used your name stating, “John Smith, arrested.” Although there may be someone with a criminal record under that name, you don’t have a criminal record. How would you feel if you saw this advertised while doing a simple search on the internet?
A few cases have shown up recently for professionals with ethnic sounding names finding that their names are listed in Instant Checkmate’s advertisements typically with the word, “arrested” or something equally misleading. This points to suspicion that the website, Instantcheckmate.com is using profiling in their advertisements. One example is Ebony Jefferson. When her name was found in an Instant Checkmate advertisement, it read, “Ebony Jefferson, arrested?” But when a similar name, Emily Jefferson was listed in an ad, it simply said, “We found Emily Jefferson.” Coincidence? Perhaps. However there are many instances where similar results were found in relation to ethnic sounding names being associated with listing words like “arrest” with those names in particular. Another example is the case of Latanya Sweeney,a Harvard University professor of government, whose name was found by a colleague while searching for an article Sweeney published. The ad listed her name alongside, “arrested” much like Ebony Jefferson.
Per Reuters article, “A statistical analysis of the company’s advertising has found it has disproportionately used ad copy including the word “arrested” for black-identifying names, even when a person has no arrest record.” So for someone who has passed criminal background checks before and does not have a criminal record, it doesn’t seem quite right that they should find their name listed in an ad for a background screening company, especially as ads can be misleading.
In addition, this website is most likely purchasing names such as Ebony’s to be used in advertisements. One explanation of this could be that Instant Checkmate is able to purchase criminal records and personal data from internet firms. Therefore, the sole use of those purchased names could be for these advertisements. Through Google AdWords, individual names can be targeted for searches, however, it’s obvious that the name the advertisement lists and who actually has a criminal record may have no relationship, in addition to providing misleading information to the person doing a search of a name.
Generally, when tested, it was found that the names that are generated are slanted to state “arrested” in ethnic names, where as typical Caucasian names only result with the word “found” in the ads. Instant Checkmate did not have any comments on the situation after several attempts by Reuters to contact them. Legally, it’s uncertain if these actions are even against the law, “It’s disturbing,” Julie Brill, an FTC commissioner, said of Instant Checkmate’s advertising.” I don’t know if it’s illegal … It’s something that we’d need to study to see if any enforcement action is needed.”
You may also think, “I know I don’t have a criminal record, why does it matter?” While I hope most employers, or anyone for that matter, would not put a lot confidence in what an online advertisement says, it’s possible that someone might think that this information could be true, meaning that Instant Checkmate could (should) be held responsible for their marketing, especially when it comes to profiling.
Read Reuter’s article for more detailed information: