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.”


Economist magazine calls for Georgieva to quit IMF over World Bank data scandal

Economist magazine calls for Georgieva to quit IMF over World Bank data scandal
Updated 23 September 2021

Economist magazine calls for Georgieva to quit IMF over World Bank data scandal

Economist magazine calls for Georgieva to quit IMF over World Bank data scandal
  • "The head of the IMF must hold the ring while two of its biggest shareholders, America and China, confront each other in a new era of geopolitical rivalry," the Economist said
  • Critics of multilateralism are already citing the findings as evidence that international bodies cannot stand up to China

WASHINGTON: The Economist magazine on Thursday called for International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva to resign over her role in a China-related data-rigging scandal while at the World Bank, saying it has undermined the IMF’s credibility.
The influential London-based publication said in a scathing editorial that an external investigation’s findings that Georgieva pressured staff for changes to the World Bank’s “Doing Business” rankings in 2017 to favor China compromises the IMF’s ability to act as the custodian of data for the world’s macroeconomic statistics.
“The head of the IMF must hold the ring while two of its biggest shareholders, America and China, confront each other in a new era of geopolitical rivalry,” the Economist said, adding that critics of multilateralism are already citing the findings as evidence that international bodies cannot stand up to China.
“The next time the IMF tries to referee a currency dispute, or helps reschedule the debt of a country that has borrowed from China, the fund’s critics are sure to cite this investigation to undermine the institution’s credibility. That is why Ms Georgieva, an esteemed servant of several international institutions, should resign,” the editorial said.
It cited the allegation in the WilmerHale law firm’s report that Georgieva, who at the time was the World Bank’s CEO, thanked a senior bank researcher for “doing his bit for multilateralism” in altering the China data.
“Now she too should do her bit for multilateralism by falling on her sword,” the Economist said.
The World Bank’s “Doing Business” reports, now canceled, ranked countries based on their regulatory and legal environments, ease of business startups, financing, infrastructure and other business climate measures.
Georgieva, a Bulgarian who is a longtime former World Bank economist and European Commission official, has denied the accusations in the WilmerHale report, saying last week they are “not true” and she has never pressured staff to manipulate data.
The IMF’s executive board is conducting its own review of the allegations and has emphasized “the importance it attached to conducting a thorough, objective and timely review.”
An IMF spokesman declined comment on the Economist’s editorial. A US Treasury spokeswoman also declined comment beyond the Treasury’s earlier statement that is analyzing “serious findings” in the WilmerHale report.


Advocacy group slams shooting of Afghan journalist in Kabul

Afghan journalist Mohammad Ali Ahmadi was shot by an unidentified man while he was traveling in a taxi in Kabul last week. (Salam Watandar)
Afghan journalist Mohammad Ali Ahmadi was shot by an unidentified man while he was traveling in a taxi in Kabul last week. (Salam Watandar)
Updated 23 September 2021

Advocacy group slams shooting of Afghan journalist in Kabul

Afghan journalist Mohammad Ali Ahmadi was shot by an unidentified man while he was traveling in a taxi in Kabul last week. (Salam Watandar)
  • Ahmadi, a reporter and editor with the privately-owned national radio broadcaster Salam Watandar, was shot by an unidentified man

LONDON: The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the shooting and injuring of an Afghan journalist, Mohammad Ali Ahmadi, in the capital Kabul. 

Ahmadi, a reporter and editor with the privately-owned national radio broadcaster Salam Watandar, was shot by an unidentified man while he was traveling in a taxi van on Sept. 18. 

He was asked by a man sat next to him where he worked, and when Ahmadi said he worked for Salam Watandar, the unidentified man said that outlet was an “American radio station,” pulled out a gun, and fired several shots at Ahmadi, two of which struck him in the leg. 

Steven Butler, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ program coordinator for Asia, said on Wednesday:  “The shooting of journalist Mohammad Ali Ahmadi is a test of the Taliban’s commitment to justice: Will they stand by their pledge to allow journalists to do their jobs?

“The Taliban must conduct an immediate and impartial investigation into this attack, hold the perpetrator to account, and ensure that members of the press can work safely. The continued detention of journalist Morteza Samadi by the Taliban is also unconscionable, and must end immediately,” he added. 

Ahmadi was hospitalized, and no suspects have been identified as of yet. 

It remains unclear whether the Taliban was behind the attack. Since the group’s takeover of the country, many journalists have been living in fear for their futures. 

In early September, Taliban fighters raided the homes of two journalists and seized cars, desktop computers and a licensed weapon from one of the houses. 

According to Deutsche Welle, the Taliban also raided the homes of three of its journalists in Afghanistan last week and shot dead a relative of a DW reporter and severely injured another while attempting to track him down. 


Facebook wraps up deals with Australian media firms, TV broadcaster SBS excluded

The agreement between tech companies and news outlets entails that tech giants must pay for news content. (File/AFP)
The agreement between tech companies and news outlets entails that tech giants must pay for news content. (File/AFP)
Updated 23 September 2021

Facebook wraps up deals with Australian media firms, TV broadcaster SBS excluded

The agreement between tech companies and news outlets entails that tech giants must pay for news content. (File/AFP)
  • Facebook announces deals with most of the Australia's s largest news outlets, excluding TV broadcaster SBS and smaller publishers

SYDNEY: Facebook Inc. has told Australian publishers it has stopped negotiating licensing deals, an email to the industry seen by Reuters showed, a move which came just six months after the passing of a law designed to make tech giants pay for news content.
While Facebook has announced deals with most of the country’s largest news outlets, some companies including TV broadcaster SBS and smaller publishers have been left out in the cold, raising questions about the scope and effectiveness of the ground-breaking law.
Australia is the only country with a law where the government may set the fees if negotiations between tech giants and news providers fail, but the rejected companies are left with little recourse for the time being and are waiting for the government to review the law in 2022 as planned.
Facebook’s regional head of news partnerships, Andrew Hunter, said in an August email to publishers it had “now concluded” deals where it would pay Australian companies for content on its just-launched “Facebook News” channel.
Nick Shelton, founder of Broadsheet Media, a website which publishes entertainment news, reviews and listings and was rebuffed by Facebook, said the decision to close off on new deals was “clearly an attempt from Facebook to cap their exposure to independent publishers.”
The Special Broadcasting Service, or SBS, one of Australia’s five national free-to-air broadcasters and the country’s main source of foreign language news, said Facebook declined to enter negotiations despite months of attempts and that it was surprised and disappointed. It noted it had successfully concluded a deal with Google.
“This outcome is at odds with the Government’s intention of supporting public interest journalism, and in particular including the public service broadcasters in the Code framework with respect to remuneration,” an SBS spokesperson said in a statement on Wednesday.
Hunter said in the email to publishers, which has not been made public, that rejected publishers would continue to benefit from clicks directed from Facebook and recommended they tap a new series of industry grants.
In a separate statement to Reuters, Hunter said content deals were “just one of the ways that Facebook provides support to publishers, and we’ve been having ongoing discussions with publishers about the types of news content that can best deliver value for publishers and for Facebook.”
Facebook did not respond directly to questions about the statements from Broadsheet Media and SBS.
The US social media giant has inked deals with a range of large Australian big media companies including News Corp. and the Australian Broadcasting Corp. and has a collective bargaining arrangement with rural publishers. But only a handful of independent and smaller publishers have reached deals.
Other rejected publishers include the Conversation, which publishes public affairs commentary by academics, Reuters has previously reported. That prompted a rebuke from the regulator which drafted the law. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission declined to comment on Wednesday.
Under the law, which drove Facebook to block third-party content on newsfeeds briefly in the country in February, Facebook and Google must negotiate with news outlets for content that drives traffic to their websites or face possible government intervention.
But before there can be any government intervention, the federal treasurer must determine that either Facebook or Google failed to negotiate in good faith, a step known as “designation.” A representative for Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was not immediately available for comment.
Facebook’s rejection of SBS and the Conversation flies in the face of law’s core proposition that it “should be required to compensate public interest journalism,” said Peter Lewis, director of the Center for Responsible Technology, a think tank.
“The treasurer has no alternative but to revisit designating Facebook to ensure that it meets its commitments to public interest journalism in Australia.”


Big Tech targeted by US and EU in draft memo ahead of tech and trade meeting

The move will be among announcements on tech, climate, trade and supply chains likely to be made at a US-EU Trade & Technology Council. (File/AFP)
The move will be among announcements on tech, climate, trade and supply chains likely to be made at a US-EU Trade & Technology Council. (File/AFP)
Updated 23 September 2021

Big Tech targeted by US and EU in draft memo ahead of tech and trade meeting

The move will be among announcements on tech, climate, trade and supply chains likely to be made at a US-EU Trade & Technology Council. (File/AFP)
  • The US and the EU plan to take a more unified approach to limit the growing market power of Big Tech companies

WASHINGTON: The United States and European Union plan to take a more unified approach to limit the growing market power of Big Tech companies, according to a draft memo seen by Reuters.
The move will be among announcements on tech, climate, trade and supply chains likely to be made at a US-EU Trade & Technology Council meeting on Sept. 29 in Pittsburgh.
With the US and Europe trying to restrain the growing power of American tech giants such as Alphabet’s Google , Facebook, Apple and Amazonom Inc. , such cooperation has become critically important for regulators on both sides of the Atlantic — and would make it harder for the US tech industry to fight new rules.
This month, the White House announced that the council would meet for the first time on Sept. 29 in Pittsburgh. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai and the European Union’s trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis are scheduled to attend along with European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager.
The White House, which is coordinating with different agencies on the meeting, declined to comment on the memo. Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The council has 10 working groups for areas such as strengthening trade, economic relations and shared democratic values, according to the draft memo.
The group focused on tech company regulation will “exchange information on our respective approaches to technology platform governance, seeking convergence where feasible,” the memo says.
There are many examples where the two continents could cooperate more. Google, which faces several antitrust lawsuits in the US related to its advertising business, also faces a wide-ranging investigation related to ad technology in the EU.
“We have identified common issues of concern around gatekeeper power by major platforms and the responsibility of online intermediaries,” the memo says, adding that more can be done to combat misinformation.
“This includes in particular the responsibility of online intermediaries to safeguard democratic processes from the impact of their business activities. Areas of common ground... include content moderation and fair competition,” the memo said.
The group will tackle areas such as hate speech, algorithmic amplification and data access for researchers, the memo says.
The council’s climate and clean tech group will work to identify trade and investment opportunities in low- and zero-carbon technologies and products, according to the memo. The supply chain working group will focus on securing supplies of pharmaceuticals, critical minerals and clean energy.
The council will also work to address the shortage of semiconductor chips in a way that is “balanced and of equal interest for both parties” and will avoid a “subsidy race.”
On Wednesday, Reuters reported that European Union ambassadors have postponed discussions to prepare for the meeting in protest of Washington’s submarine agreement with Australia at France’s expense.
A spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Council said preparations for the meeting were continuing.
Several tech trade groups in Washington said the industry does not want the European approach to digital regulation to be adopted in the United States.
“The risk is that the European side will press the United States to harmonize its regulations with the EU by taking a precautionary approach... which would skewer America’s leading tech companies,” said Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a tech think tank based in Washington.
“We shouldn’t do that, nor do we need to. Our interests are broadly aligned and compatible, particularly when it comes to China,” Atkinson said.


Snapchat launches first-of-kind activation for Saudi National Day

Snapchat launches first-of-kind activation for Saudi National Day
Updated 23 September 2021

Snapchat launches first-of-kind activation for Saudi National Day

Snapchat launches first-of-kind activation for Saudi National Day
  • Messaging app celebrates Saudi heritage with world-first national Snap Map, other augmented reality activations

DUBAI: To mark this year’s Saudi National Day, Snap is launching a first-of-its-kind activation in the region using augmented reality.

In Saudi Arabia, nearly 90 percent of Snapchat daily users already interact with AR Lenses experiences, on average at least 30 times each day.

Now, the messaging app’s 19.5 million monthly active users in the Kingdom, as well as its global audiences, will have the opportunity to celebrate National Day on the platform through AR.

Launched on Sept. 22, the activation sees the Snap Map of Saudi Arabia appearing in a bright green to represent the national flag and the Kingdom highlighted from other countries, the first time Snap has ever recolored a Middle East territory on the map.

Along with the distinctive color change, Snap will also mark cultural and heritage sites — such as AlUla, Tabuk Castle, Alkhobar Water Tower, Rijal Almaa, Masmak Fort, and Nassif House — on the map allowing users to explore the Kingdom.

The markers for the sites include a Face Lens experience, whereby Snapchatters in Saudi Arabia will find themselves on a virtual balcony with all of the national landmarks behind them.

A celebratory atmosphere filled with fireworks and accompanied by the national anthem of Saudi Arabia will be recreated in AR, with users able to put themselves in the thick of the action and flip the camera to see the monuments in front of them.

Additionally, a series of customized Actionmojis, exclusive to Snapchatters in the Kingdom, are also being unveiled for a limited time on National Day only.

Abdulla Alhammadi, regional business lead at Snap Inc., said: “Snapchatters in Saudi Arabia are one of the most active communities on the platform anywhere in the world.

“We wanted to bring even larger, more engaging experiences to this community on Saudi National Day as a sign of gratitude for their contribution to Snap’s creative ecosystem, while together celebrating the rich legacy of visual storytelling that exists in the Kingdom.”

Diriyah, past, present and future
On Saudi Arabia’s 91st National Day, the birthplace of the Kingdom continues to make history
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