Google searches for new measure of skin tones to curb bias in products

Google says that it's pursuing better measures for classifying skin tones. (File/AFP)
Google says that it's pursuing better measures for classifying skin tones. (File/AFP)
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Updated 18 June 2021

Google searches for new measure of skin tones to curb bias in products

Google says that it's pursuing better measures for classifying skin tones. (File/AFP)
  • Google developing new measure for classifying skin tones in attempt to combat biases against people of color.
  • Companies know their products can be faulty for groups that are under-represented in research and testing data.

Alphabet Inc’s Google told Reuters this week it is developing an alternative to the industry standard method for classifying skin tones, which a growing chorus of technology researchers and dermatologists says is inadequate for assessing whether products are biased against people of color.
At issue is a six-color scale known as Fitzpatrick Skin Type (FST), which dermatologists have used since the 1970s. Tech companies now rely on it to categorize people and measure whether products such as facial recognition systems or smartwatch heart-rate sensors perform equally well across skin tones.
Critics say FST, which includes four categories for “white” skin and one apiece for “black” and “brown,” disregards diversity among people of color. Researchers at the US Department of Homeland Security, during a federal technology standards conference last October, recommended abandoning FST for evaluating facial recognition because it poorly represents color range in diverse populations.
In response to Reuters’ questions about FST, Google, for the first time and ahead of peers, said that it has been quietly pursuing better measures.
“We are working on alternative, more inclusive, measures that could be useful in the development of our products, and will collaborate with scientific and medical experts, as well as groups working with communities of color,” the company said, declining to offer details on the effort.
The controversy is part of a larger reckoning over racism and diversity in the tech industry, where the workforce is more white than in sectors like finance. Ensuring technology works well for all skin colors, as well different ages and genders, is assuming greater importance as new products, often powered by artificial intelligence (AI), extend into sensitive and regulated areas such as health care and law enforcement.
Companies know their products can be faulty for groups that are under-represented in research and testing data. The concern over FST is that its limited scale for darker skin could lead to technology that, for instance, works for golden brown skin but fails for espresso red tones.
Numerous types of products offer palettes far richer than FST. Crayola last year launched 24 skin tone crayons, and Mattel Inc’s Barbie Fashionistas dolls this year cover nine tones.
The issue is far from academic for Google. When the company announced in February that cameras on some Android phones could measure pulse rates via a fingertip, it said readings on average would err by 1.8 percent regardless of whether users had light or dark skin.
The company later gave similar warranties that skin type would not noticeably affect results of a feature for filtering backgrounds on Meet video conferences, nor of an upcoming web tool for identifying skin conditions, informally dubbed Derm Assist.
Those conclusions derived from testing with the six-tone FST.
’STARTING POINT’
The late Harvard University dermatologist Dr. Thomas Fitzpatrick invented the scale to personalize ultraviolet radiation treatment for psoriasis, an itchy skin condition. He grouped the skin of “white” people as Roman numerals I to IV by asking how much sunburn or tan they developed after certain periods in sun.
A decade later came type V for “brown” skin and VI for “black.” The scale is still part of US regulations for testing sunblock products, and it remains a popular dermatology standard for assessing patients’ cancer risk and more.
Some dermatologists say the scale is a poor and overused measure for care, and often conflated with race and ethnicity.
“Many people would assume I am skin type V, which rarely to never burns, but I burn,” said Dr. Susan Taylor, a University of Pennsylvania dermatologist who founded Skin of Color Society in 2004 to promote research on marginalized communities. “To look at my skin hue and say I am type V does me disservice.”
Technology companies, until recently, were unconcerned. Unicode, an industry association overseeing emojis, referred to FST in 2014 as its basis for adopting five skin tones beyond yellow, saying the scale was “without negative associations.”
A 2018 study titled “Gender Shades,” which found facial analysis systems more often misgendered people with darker skin, popularized using FST for evaluating AI. The research described FST as a “starting point,” but scientists of similar studies that came later told Reuters they used the scale to stay consistent.
“As a first measure for a relatively immature market, it serves its purpose to help us identify red flags,” said Inioluwa Deborah Raji, a Mozilla fellow focused on auditing AI.
In an April study testing AI for detecting deepfakes, Facebook Inc. researchers wrote FST “clearly does not encompass the diversity within brown and black skin tones.” Still, they released videos of 3,000 individuals to be used for evaluating AI systems, with FST tags attached based on the assessments of eight human raters.
The judgment of the raters is central. Facial recognition software startup AnyVision last year gave celebrity examples to raters: former baseball great Derek Jeter as a type IV, model Tyra Banks a V and rapper 50 Cent a VI.
AnyVision told Reuters it agreed with Google’s decision to revisit use of FST, and Facebook said it is open to better measures.
Microsoft Corp. and smartwatch makers Apple Inc. and Garmin Ltd. reference FST when working on health-related sensors.
But use of FST could be fueling “false assurances” about heart rate readings from smartwatches on darker skin, University of California San Diego clinicians, inspired by the Black Lives Matter social equality movement, wrote in the journal Sleep last year.
Microsoft acknowledged FST’s imperfections. Apple said it tests on humans across skin tones using various measures, FST only at times among them. Garmin said due to wide-ranging testing it believes readings are reliable.
Victor Casale, who founded makeup company Mob Beauty and helped Crayola on the new crayons, said he developed 40 shades for foundation, each different from the next by about 3 percent, or enough for most adults to distinguish.
Color accuracy on electronics suggest tech standards should have 12 to 18 tones, he said, adding, “you can’t just have six.”


STARZPLAY partners with YouNeedCharacter to expand kids’ content portfolio

STARZPLAY partners with YouNeedCharacter to expand kids’ content portfolio
Updated 04 August 2021

STARZPLAY partners with YouNeedCharacter to expand kids’ content portfolio

STARZPLAY partners with YouNeedCharacter to expand kids’ content portfolio
  • Partnership adds ‘CricketPang’ animation series endorsed by Ajinkya Rahane, vice captain of Indian cricket team

DUBAI: STARZPLAY has expanded its portfolio of kids’ content on the streaming platform with the addition of “CricketPang,” an animated TV series based on cricket and endorsed by the talented Ajinkya Rahane, vice captain of the Indian cricket team.

“We are thrilled to stream ‘CricketPang’ for our youngest viewers who can now enjoy a fun animation show while also honing their creative skills. We look forward to our partnership with YouNeedCharacter and are confident that this all-new edition will be loved by our MENA subscribers,” said Nadim Dada, vice president of content acquisition at STARZPLAY.

The series is produced by global character creation and animation production company YouNeedCharacter, which recently signed Indian cricketer Ajinkya Rahane as the brand ambassador for the show. With Rahane onboard, the company aims to launch activities to support cricket by securing scholarships for promising young cricketers.

“‘CricketPang’ offers a simple and interesting way for kids to learn while being entertained, and we hope that animation fans in the region enjoy the series as much as we enjoyed creating it,” said Minsu Song, CEO of YouNeedCharacter.

Each episode of “CricketPang” has been designed to contain stories of friendship, conflict resolutions, cooperation and creativity in ways that children can understand and learn from. The fun and light-hearted stories aim to help children with problem-solving, cooperation and communication skills.

“We have been working continuously to increase awareness for ‘CricketPang’,” Song said, adding that the partnership with STARZPLAY would further strengthen the brand.

The first season of the series is currently streaming on STARZPLAY.


Twitter accidentally verifies fake account of novelist Cormac McCarthy

Twitter accidentally verifies fake account of novelist Cormac McCarthy
Updated 04 August 2021

Twitter accidentally verifies fake account of novelist Cormac McCarthy

Twitter accidentally verifies fake account of novelist Cormac McCarthy


LONDON: Twitter admitted on Tuesday that the platform had accidentally given a fake account for renowned author and novelist Cormac McCarthy a blue tick marking it as a “verified user.”

The account, under the misspelled name “CormacMcCrthy,” was registered in 2018 and was recently tweeting about kombucha and SoundCloud for thousands of followers on the platform.

 

Both the author’s agent and publisher confirmed that McCarthy has never signed up for Twitter.

A spokesperson for Twitter said: “The account referenced was verified by mistake and that has since been reversed. The account will also be required to adhere to Twitter’s parody, news feed, commentary, and fan account policy.”

This is the second time Twitter has verified a fake account supposedly belonging to McCarthy; the first time was in 2012.

The fake account of 2012 was not only verifed, but also welcomed by Twitter’s chief executive Jack Dorsey.



In order to qualify for verification, Twitter users must upload an ID to authenticate their identity or show that an official website links directly to their account.

However, the fake account “CormacMcCrthy” did neither, and Twitter verified the account anyway following a viral tweet that gained more than 122 thousand likes.


Twitter restarted its verification process in May after halting it for several years to reassess how the process works.

Verification was initially introduced to combat identity theft on the platform and has since grown to include an array of special features for those carrying a blue tick.

Features include access to additional tools for notifications, priority for algorithmic filters and moderation, and a few or no adverts on the site.

The process was paused in 2017 and restarted in May 2021, only to be paused again a week later because of a flood of requests for verification.

 

 

 

 


Zain records fastest response times for popular video games in Saudi Arabia

Zain records fastest response times for popular video games in Saudi Arabia
Updated 04 August 2021

Zain records fastest response times for popular video games in Saudi Arabia

Zain records fastest response times for popular video games in Saudi Arabia

LONDON: Telecoms company Zain has recorded the fastest response times for the most popular online video games, according to a Saudi industry survey.

The firm’s rating was revealed in the Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission’s quarterly Game Mode report.

The study compared the response times of telecom providers in Saudi Arabia, reviewed the most popular video gaming platforms and games, and offered guidelines to improve the quality of internet connections for video games.

The Game Mode initiative forms part of the commission’s drive to increase competition between telecom providers to give the best experience for video gamers.

Its efforts are also aimed at increasing transparency in the sector by publishing data and indicators and enabling investors to view market performance indicators in the Kingdom.

The quickest response time rate for the popular “Fortnite” online game was secured by Saudi Telecom Co. (STC) and Zain with an average of 12 milliseconds, jointly followed by Mobily and Salam on 24 milliseconds.

Response time performance for “FIFA” again showed STC and Zain in the lead at 13 milliseconds and Mobily and Salam closely behind with an average of 23 milliseconds and 24 milliseconds, respectively.

Battle royale-hero shooter game “Apex Legends” mirrored the results of “FIFA” with STC and Zain heading the list with a 13-millisecond response time, followed by Mobily in second on 24 milliseconds, and Salam third at 28 milliseconds.

Mobily hit top spot in “League of Legends” with a time of 79 milliseconds, followed by STC, Salam, and Zain on 86, 89, and 91 milliseconds, respectively.

Zain came first for battle arena game “Dota 2,” recording a response time of 20 milliseconds, followed by STC on 23 milliseconds. The third and fourth place were taken by Salam and Mobily with 25 and 31 milliseconds, respectively.


The White House is frustrated with media coverage of pandemic

The White House is frustrated with media coverage of pandemic
Updated 04 August 2021

The White House is frustrated with media coverage of pandemic

The White House is frustrated with media coverage of pandemic

LONDON: The White House and senior officials in President Joe Biden’s administration have expressed their frustration last week over media coverage of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases among vaccinated Americans.

A senior official in the Biden administration stated on Friday that the press is reporting misleading information on a breakthrough of Delta variant infections spreading among vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

The official said that the White House had asked these news organizations to tone down the language as focusing on “breakthrough infections” is likely to lead to more vaccine hesitancy.

A member of Biden’s COVID-19 response team, Ben Wakana, also referred to a Washington Post article as “completely irresponsible” for featuring a story about an outbreak in Massachusetts among vaccinated people.

This comes as the Biden administration steps up its efforts to combat COVID-19 misinformation.

Last week, Biden blamed Facebook for the soaring number of COVID-19 infections and said that the social media company was “killing people” by allowing the spread of misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.

However, a few days later, Biden softened his tone and said instead that he meant to accuse a dozen users who have been responsible for spreading the most amount of misinformation on the social media platform, not the company itself.

With a combined 59 million followers, the 12 online personalities — also known as the “Disinformation Dozen” — include doctors who practice pseudoscience, a bodybuilder, a wellness blogger, a religious zealot, and, most notably Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the nephew of former US President John F. Kennedy.


Facebook’s WhatsApp rolls out option for disappearing photos, videos to take on Snapchat

The feature is called 'View Once' and will be displayed as 'opened' once the media has been viewed by the user. (File/AFP)
The feature is called 'View Once' and will be displayed as 'opened' once the media has been viewed by the user. (File/AFP)
Updated 04 August 2021

Facebook’s WhatsApp rolls out option for disappearing photos, videos to take on Snapchat

The feature is called 'View Once' and will be displayed as 'opened' once the media has been viewed by the user. (File/AFP)
  • WhatsApp rolls out new feature which allows users to send photos and videos which will then disappear from the chat after they have been seen

Aug 3 : Users of Facebook Inc’s WhatsApp can now send disappearing photos and videos on its platform starting this week, as it looks to better compete with Snap Inc’s photo messaging app Snapchat.
The feature, called View Once, will let photos and videos disappear from the chat after they have been seen, Facebook said in a blog post on Tuesday, adding that once the media content has been viewed, the message will be shown as “opened.”
Snapchat, known for its Stories feature that lets users post updates that disappear after 24 hours, has grown in popularity last year as pandemic-induced curbs kept users at home. The company has also been adding new features on its messaging app to attract more users.