Both Zoom and Twitter found themselves under fire this weekend for their respective issues with algorithmic bias. On Zoom, it’s an issue with the video conferencing service’s virtual backgrounds and on Twitter, it’s an issue with the site’s photo cropping tool.
It started when Ph.D. student Colin Madland tweeted about a Black faculty member’s issues with Zoom. According to Madland, whenever said faculty member would use a virtual background, Zoom would remove his head.
“We have reached out directly to the user to investigate this issue,” a Zoom spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We’re committed to providing a platform that is inclusive for all.”
When discussing that issue on Twitter, however, the problems with algorithmic bias compounded when Twitter’s mobile app defaulted to only showing the image of Madland, the white guy, in preview.
“Our team did test for bias before shipping the model and did not find evidence of racial or gender bias in our testing,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch. “But it’s clear from these examples that we’ve got more analysis to do. We’ll continue to share what we learn, what actions we take, and will open source our analysis so others can review and replicate.”
Twitter pointed to a tweet from its chief design officer, Dantley Davis, who ran some of his own experiments. Davis posited Madland’s facial hair affected the result, so he removed his facial hair and the Black faculty member appeared in the cropped preview. In a later tweet, Davis said he’s “as irritated about this as everyone else. However, I’m in a position to fix it and I will.”
Twitter also pointed to an independent analysis from Vinay Prabhu, chief scientist at Carnegie Mellon. In his experiment, he sought to see if “the cropping bias is real.”
When Netflix recommends you watch “Grace and Frankie” after you’ve finished “Love,” an algorithm decided that would be the next logical thing for you to watch. And when Google shows you one search result ahead of another, an algorithm made a decision that one page was more important than the other. Oh, and when a photo app decides you’d look better with lighter skin, a seriously biased algorithm that a real person developed made that call.