Google quietly changes image search for racially different results

Google has updated its algorithms in a bid to promote more racially diverse results in image searches – the tech giant’s latest attempt to eliminate bias from the world’s most popular search engine.

The recent change, implemented without an official announcement, aims to feature a variety of skin tones in beauty-related image queries, such as “beautiful skin” and “professional hairstyles,” as well as simpler related searches. to people like “woman”. or “happy family,” the Alphabet Inc.-owned company said on Tuesday.

“We’ve started rolling out a Google Images enhancement to promote greater diversity of skin tones, so more people can find relevant and useful results,” a Google spokeswoman said in a statement. “We are in the early stages of this effort and continue to experiment to provide a greater diversity of results.”

For years, Google has sought to avoid algorithmic racial bias, which has proven inconvenient to the company and offensive to users. In 2015, the tech giant apologized after its photo app misidentified black people as gorillas. Now Google is looking to address more subtle signs of bias, including image results that have reinforced European beauty standards and suggested dark hair is unprofessional.

Google announced a series of changes to its search engine in September, at an event called Search On, including a feature to add more context to results to help combat misinformation. While the skin color update was once supposed to be one of the announcements, it was taken off the agenda. Google said its racial inclusion efforts were a priority, though they weren’t announced at the event, and it rolled out more than 4,800 improvements to its search engine in 2020.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company said it hopes to improve the diversity of all people-related search queries, but the process requires many steps and it will roll out improvements when they’re ready.

Michael C. Garrison