AI innovation for whom, and at whose expense?

This fantastic article by Williams, Miceli and Gebru, describes how the methodological shift of AI systems to deep-learning-based models has required enormous amounts of “data” for models to learn from. Large volumes of time-consuming work, such as labelling millions of images, can now be broken down into smaller tasks and outsourced to data labourers across the globe. These data labourers have terribly low wagen, often working in dire working conditions.

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Algorithmic power and African indigenous languages: search engine autocomplete and the global multilingual Internet

Predictive language technologies – such as Google Search’s Autocomplete – constitute forms of algorithmic power that reflect and compound global power imbalances between Western technology companies and multilingual Internet users in the global South. Increasing attention is being paid to predictive language technologies and their impacts on individual users and public discourse. However, there is a lack of scholarship on how such technologies interact with African languages. Addressing this gap, the article presents data from experimentation with autocomplete predictions/suggestions for gendered or politicised keywords in Amharic, Kiswahili and Somali. It demonstrates that autocomplete functions for these languages and how users may be exposed to harmful content due to an apparent lack of filtering of problematic ‘predictions’. Drawing on debates on algorithmic power and digital colonialism, the article demonstrates that global power imbalances manifest here not through a lack of online African indigenous language content, but rather in regard to the moderation of content across diverse cultural and linguistic contexts. This raises dilemmas for actors invested in the multilingual Internet between risks of digital surveillance and effective platform oversight, which could prevent algorithmic harms to users engaging with platforms in a myriad of languages and diverse socio-cultural and political environments.

By Peter Chonka, Stephanie Diepeveen and Yidnekachew Haile for SAGE Journals on June 22, 2022

Meta forced to change its advertisement algorithm to address algorithmic discrimination

In his New York Times article, Mike Isaac describes how Meta is implementing a new system to automatically check whether the housing, employment and credit ads it hosts are shown to people equally. This is a move following a 111,054 US dollar fine the US Justice Department has issued Meta because its ad systems have been shown to discriminate its users by, amongst other things, excluding black people from seeing certain housing ads in predominately white neighbourhoods. This is the outcome of a long process, which we have written about previously.

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‘Race-blind’ content moderation disadvantages Black users

Over the past months a slew of leaks from the Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, has exposed how the company was aware of the disparate and harmful impact of its content moderation practices. Most damning is that in the majority of instances, Facebook failed to address these harms. In this Washington Post piece, one of the latest of such revelations is discussed in detail: Even though Facebook knew it would come at the expense of Black users, its algorithm to detect and remove hate speech was programmed to be ‘race-blind’.

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Racist Technology in Action: Facebook labels black men as ‘primates’

In the reckoning of the Black Lives Matter movement in summer 2020, a video that featured black men in altercation with the police and white civilians was posted by the Daily Mail, a British tabloid. In the New York Times, Ryan Mac reports how Facebook users who watched that video, saw an automated prompt that asked if they would like to “keep seeing videos about Primates,” despite there being no relatedness to primates or monkeys.

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Hera Hussain: ‘Decolonising digital rights’

For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt the duty of being that woman who sits in a meeting room in London, Geneva, New York, Berlin and Paris and talks about what digital rights mean for not just people of colour in Europe and North America, but across the rest of the world. Approximately 84% of the world’s poor live in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, and the digital divide remains steep but that’s only part of the story. These aren’t passive consumers of the web. They’re active prosumers. TikTok has been downloaded over 360 million times in South East Asia, a region of 658 million people. With social platforms, anyone with a phone can become a star, make money, connect with others, build a family of choice and acceptance, fall in love, and live a life they may not be allowed otherwise.

By Hera Hussain for Who Writes The Rules on August 23, 2021

Asha Allen: ‘The Brussels bubble: Advocating for the rights of marginalised women and girls in EU tech policy’

Since 2017, the issue of online violence against women and girls has increasingly crept up the EU political agenda. Thanks to the collective work of inspirational activists, I have the honour to work side-by-side with, making sure that the reality of the persistent harms racialised and marginalised women face is recognised as a marked win. This has not been without its challenges, particularly speaking as a young Black woman advocate in the Brussels political Bubble.

By Asha Allen for Who Writes The Rules on August 23, 2021

Big Tech is propped up by a globally exploited workforce

Behind the promise of automation, advances of machine learning and AI, often paraded by tech companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook and Tesla, lies a deeply exploitative industry of cheap, human labour. In an excerpt published on Rest of the World from his forthcoming book, “Work Without the Worker: Labour in the Age of Platform Capitalism,” Phil Jones illustrates how the hidden labour of automation is outsourced to marginalised, racialised and disenfranchised populations within the Global North, as well as in the Global South.

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Photo filters are keeping colorism alive

Many people use filters on social media to ‘beautify’ their pictures. In this article, Tate Ryan-Mosley discusses how these beauty filters can perpetuate colorism. Colorism has a long and complicated history, but can be summarised as a preference for whiter skin as opposed to darker skin. Ryan-Mosley explains that “though related to racism, it’s distinct in that it can affect people regardless of their race, and can have different effects on people of the same background.” The harmful effects of colorism, ranging from discrimination to mental health issues or the use of toxic skin-lightening products, are found across races and cultures.

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Uber-racist: Racial discrimination in dynamic pricing algorithms

Racial discrimination in dynamic pricing algorithms is neither surprising nor new. VentureBeat writes about another recent study that supports these findings, in the context of dynamic pricing algorithms used by ride-hailing companies such as Uber, Lyft and other apps. Neighbourhoods that were poorer and with larger non-white populations were significantly associated with higher fare prices. A similar issue was discovered in Airbnb’s ‘Smart Pricing’ feature which aims to help hosts secure more bookings. It turned out to be detrimental to black hosts leading to greater social inequality (even if unintentional).

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1 year, $3.8 billion later: How 2020’s race reckoning shook up Big Tech

A year ago, as our lives were being upended by the pandemic, Black Americans were simultaneously processing the emotional weight and tragedy of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others whose lives were cut short due to police brutality. The world watched as protest after protest erupted across the country over the summer of 2020. But, unlike previous collective actions, this moment felt different. Big Tech and corporate America—predominantly white environments—broke their silence. Companies started pledging to do things differently, claiming they would doggedly support Black workers, Black organizations, and Black companies via investments, donations, and hiring pledges. At The Plug, a subscription news and insights platform covering the Black innovation economy, we quickly began documenting the commitments made by tech CEOs, cross-referencing them with data points of what Black representation looked like across their workforces and boards. (You can view the original spreadsheet here.) A year later, we’re proud to continue that work, in partnership with Fast Company. Together we set out to try to understand—through data and first-person accounts—if anything really changed. How have the lives of Black tech workers, users, and citizens been altered by the bold commitments these companies made?

From Fast Company on June 16, 2021

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