Racist Technology in Action: The World Bank’s Poverty Targeting Algorithms Deprives People of Social Security

A system funded by the World Bank to assess who is most in need of support, is reported to not only be faulty but also discriminatory and depriving many of their right to social security. In a recent report titled “Automated Neglect: How The World Bank’s Push to Allocate Cash Assistance Using Algorithms Threatens Rights” Human Rights Watch outlines how specifically the system used in Joran should be abandoned.

The system financed by the World Bank in Jordan is called the “Unified Cash Transfer Program” or “Takaful” and has been operational for several years. Only families under the poverty line can apply, and of those families an algorithm applies 57 socio-economic factors to determine which families are most in need and should receive the money. However, both the process of application as well as the criteria used are rife with problems, exclude many, and pits households against each other.

The seemingly objective and fair system betrays a very crude model of poverty where most struggles faced by people become invisible. “The questions asked don’t reflect the reality we exist in,” one Jordian interviewed in the research commented. Moreover, several criteria are discriminatory. For example, children of Jordanian mothers and foreign fathers are not eligible and not counted in the household size as women cannot pass on citizenship.

As summarized by Amos Toh, senior technology and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch:

Many people in Jordan are not getting financial support because their hardships don’t fit an algorithm’s rigid model of what poverty should look like.

Instead, Human Rights Watch argues that the World Bank should put its efforts in supporting countries to make the shift to universal social protection through financing population registries and statistics databases.

See: Automated Neglect: How The World Bank’s Push to Allocate Cash Assistance Using Algorithms Threatens Rights at Human Rights Watch.

Image by Brian Stauffer, from the original Human Rights Watch piece.

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