Google plunged into hot water this week when its new Photo app categorized people in an extremely racist manner. Last June 28th, Jacky Alcine, a computer programmer, found out that the new photo app tagged him and his girlfriend as “gorillas”. He posted on Twitter to ask Google what kind of imaging mechanism the company had used that would have caused such nasty mistake.
Google Photos, y'all fucked up. My friend's not a gorilla. pic.twitter.com/SMkMCsNVX4
— ?? y'all bugging (@jackyalcine) June 29, 2015
Yonatan Zunger, Google’s chief social architect, addressed swiftly the matter asking for forgiveness directly to the bug victim. This is his reply in Twitter:
@jackyalcine Holy fuck. G+ CA here. No, this is not how you determine someone's target market. This is 100% Not OK.
— (((Yonatan Zunger))) (@yonatanzunger) June 29, 2015
The new Photo app aims to tag and arrange automatically the users’ photos based on the objects in the image. For example, images of skyscrapers are all arranged in an album properly labeled as “skyscrapers.” The more data the tag feature receives, the more its method of identifying and categorizing objects develops. However, the feature has been flawed. This feature also have some troubles especially in categorizing things. See: Google Photos Keeps Tagging My Images Wrong And I Love It. This problem is not only limited to Google but also to other companies.
Before things got digitalized, Kodak had difficulties shooting darker skin tone because they used a coating on their film that favors Caucasian complexions. See also: Teaching The Camera To See My Skin
Like other major camera companies, Nikon also suffered allegations against showing bias to white faces in their facial recognition software. See also: Are Face-Detection Cameras Racist?
Zunger admits that Google encountered similar issues in recognizing faces on account of insufficiency of analysis of skin tones and lighting. “We used to have a problem with people (of all races) being tagged as dogs,” Zunger says.
Google tried to fix the algorithm, but in the end, they removed the gorilla label. Zunger assured the public that Google continues to work on long-term fixes that addresses the problem of face recognition and categorizing objects.