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Google Apologizes After App Identifies Black People As Gorillas

Google Apologizes After App Identifies Black People As Gorillas

Photo gaffes bring up larger issues of diversity in Silicon Valley.

Published July 5, 2015

Tech giant Google is having to run some major damage control after one of the company's photo-sharing apps misidentified some Black people as — wait for it — gorillas.

Jacky Alciné, a Brooklyn-based programmer, tweeted a screenshot of photos he had uploaded to Google Photos of himself and a female friend, also Black, which the app automatically labeled "gorillas." Yontan Zunger, an engineer and the company's chief architect of Google+, wasted no time responding to Alciné's tweet. "This is 100% Not OK," he wrote, and promised that Google's Photos team was working on a fix. Still, Alciné had to wonder, "What kind of sample image data you collected that would result in this son?"

When a fix didn't do the trick, Google decided to just remove the "gorillas" tag altogether until a more permanent solution could be found.

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Google spokeswoman Katie Watson addressed the gaffe in a statement: "We're appalled and genuinely sorry that this happened. We are taking immediate action to prevent this type of result from appearing. There is still clearly a lot of work to do with automatic image labeling, and we're looking at how we can prevent these types of mistakes from happening in the future."

Still, Alciné pushed back by responding, "I understand HOW this happens; the problem is moreso on the WHY." He's referring to what many believe is Silicon Valley's lack of diversity: at Google, Blacks and latinos make up just 5% of the total work force (60% are white, 31% Asian and 70% are men). 

"It's hardly the first time that we've seen software show an implicit bias against people of color," he wrote.

Reprehensible as this gaffe is, it will hopefully force the company to address some of its racial blind spots.

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Written by Evelyn Diaz

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