Is Google’s algorithm sexist?
It’s not a good month for Google is it? Last week they were forced to issue an apology after their new Photos app misidentified black people as ‘gorillas’, and it wasn’t long ago that the news came out that if you search for ‘CEO’ on Google Images, the first woman that shows up is Barbie. Now fresh research has emerged that Google search results show fewer ads for high-paying executive jobs if you’re a woman.
A study carried out at the International Computer Science Institute and Carnegie Mellon University, both in the States, mapped out how Google Ads on third-party sites changed as they entered specific search terms. To do this they created several fake profiles, all of whom regularly visited job sites and nothing else. The only thing that differed between the profiles was the fact that some listed their gender as men and some as women.
The results were startling; Google showed ads for high-paying executive jobs to the male group 1,852 times, while only showing it to the female group a paltry 318 times – even though both groups had the same qualifications.
Is it Google’s fault or ours?
However, unlike the ‘gorillas’ tag – which has since been removed – we can’t blame all of this on Google. The search engine evolves around what we search for, what we enter into that little white box. I hope we’d all agree that it’s highly unlikely that there was an avid #Meninist in a cubicle in Silicon Valley somewhere, deciding he’d like to set back feminism a bit by changing the Google algorithm a bit.
We know that Google learns from user behavior, so the more we search and click in these racist, sexist ways, the more that Google is going to generate racist, sexist adverts it thinks we want to see. Sadly it’s a vicious cycle, but a cultural problem we need to address.
But Google needs to address it too. Google executive Yonatan Zunger said it was “High on my list of bugs you ‘never’ want to see happen.”
Google’s slow on the update
This research also comes out on the day that Facebook changed their ‘Add Friend’ button to show that women are no longer in the back; they stand shoulder to shoulder with men. If only Google could adopt that same attitude.