RENO, Nev. — A University of Nevada, Reno professor is working to understand why minority-owned businesses in Northern Nevada have less of a presence on Google Maps.
Earlier this year, Dr. Gi Woong Yun, director for the Center for Advanced Media Studies at the Reynolds School of Journalism, received a Google Research Award to delve into the barriers that might stand in the way of minority populations registering their businesses with Google, thus making them less visible to the average consumer.
“What are the major players that are preventing minority-owned businesses from registering with Google Maps?” Yun said in an interview with the Northern Nevada Business View. “There may be psychological barriers, cultural barriers, technical barriers or some resource issues. That’s what we’d like to find out.”
Yun and co-principal investigators Dr. Donica Mensing and Dr. Sung-Yeon Park are studying two specific areas in Northern Nevada: the Paiute Tribe in Pyramid Lake and the Hispanic business owners on Wells Avenue in Reno.
“It might be a possibility that they want to be less visible to the outside world. For the Native American population, that’s totally possible, but we don’t know right now,” said Yun. “If you search Pyramid Lake, only two businesses show up, and that can’t be right. There are about 1,700 people that live there.
“We’d like to know why. If they want to register and they can’t, then there is a problem with Google’s process that’s suppressing minority registration.”
Emma Guzman, treasurer of the former Latin American Chamber of Business, which is in the process of merging with the Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce, said that many of the Hispanic business owners in Reno rely on word of mouth within the Spanish-speaking community.
“It may be because they don’t get many non-Hispanic customers, and they are more comfortable talking to somebody in their own language,” said Guzman. “Also, a lot of the Hispanic business owners are older generations who aren’t comfortable with technology, but I am seeing a lot more of the younger generations start using Facebook and social media for business.”
Algorithms used in search engines rank by popularity, which is a hurdle for minority-owned businesses, according to Yun.
“That information is oftentimes biased not because they want to be biased — companies like Google want to be more objective — but by nature of the design, they are biased because popular information is at the top of the results,” explained Yun. “This information provided by (artificial narrow intelligence) through the search engines, they are in a sense biased against minorities because minority by nature — by definition — the information is less present in the data base.”
Yun and his research team also plan to create a more accurate online map of minority-owned businesses in Northern Nevada and propose solutions to overcoming the barriers preventing the businesses from having an online presence.
Of the 37,029 businesses in Washoe County, 5,881 are minority-owned, according to 2012 U.S. Census data, the latest on record for this metric.
“If we can find strategies that can improve minority business presence online, including maps, search and others, minority business owners can utilize such strategies to be more visible,” noted Yun.