IT Pro is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

Senators ask Google to conduct racial equality audit

Google has dealt poorly with recent racial issues, according to Senate Democrats

Senate Democrats have written to Alphabet and its subsidiaries Google and YouTube, urging it to audit their racial equality. The companies are falling behind in racial inclusion in their workplaces and in the technologies they develop, lawmakers warned.

Senators Cory Booker, Ron Wyden, Mark Warner, and Edward Markey published the letter this week. Addressing Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, and Google's chief marketing and legal officers, the letter warned that a racial equality audit was "long overdue."

"We are concerned, after hearing reports about your company and its products, about harmful bias at Alphabet," the letter said, warning of ethical issues with its use of AI. "Issues with Google search algorithms returning non-diverse image sets for basic searches and the more recent dermatology diagnosis algorithm that was not trained on dark skin tones are troubling."

In May 2020, Google announced an app that it said could recognize over 200 skin conditions but drew criticism from dermatologists who accused it of a "cavalier attitude" by not issuing a bias and accuracy study. The search giant, which later published an accuracy study in Nature magazine, focused on ethnicity rather than skin color in its training dataset, according to reports. Subjects with brown skin were underrepresented in the dataset, while dark brown skin was absent.

"We are concerned about repeated instances where Alphabet missed the mark and did not proactively ensure its products and workplaces were safe for Black people. Google Search, its ad algorithm, and YouTube have all been found to perpetuate racist stereotypes and white nationalist viewpoints," the letter continued.

The senators also warned that Google's recent policy change on user tracking, called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), could classify people of color into groups based on interests that could make them vulnerable to further discrimination.

Researchers have attempted to highlight concerns around AI bias at Google but have accused the company of marginalization. Former staff research scientist and co-lead of the company's ethical research team Timnit Gebru claimed to have been fired by Google after the company quashed her research questioning the ethics of its AI-based text mining tools. She disputed the company's response that she resigned and received a lukewarm apology from Pichai.

The senators' letter warned that her dismissal undermined the company's commitment to create inclusive workspaces.

The senators called for the companies to work with civil rights groups to audit its racial equality practices, both in the workplace and in their technology development. The request follows a petition launched by online racial justice organization Color Of Change in April that also called for a racial equality audit at Google.

The letter follows a warning from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that companies should build transparency into their use of AI, enabling them to watch for bias.

Featured Resources

Mastering retention

Turning user behaviour insights into retention strategies

Free Download

Dell PowerEdge with AMD

IT applications and infrastructure are the prime catalyst for new revenue creation

Free Download

Building for success with off-premises private cloud

Leveraging co-location facilities to execute your cloud strategy

Free Download

Cyber resiliency and end-user performance

Reduce risk and deliver greater business success with cyber-resilience capabilities

Free Download

Recommended

Draft bill could force AWS, Microsoft, Oracle to change public sector contracts
public cloud

Draft bill could force AWS, Microsoft, Oracle to change public sector contracts

12 Sep 2022
US plans big tech regulatory framework
Policy & legislation

US plans big tech regulatory framework

9 Sep 2022
US blocks CHIPS-funded companies from investing in China
Policy & legislation

US blocks CHIPS-funded companies from investing in China

7 Sep 2022
Singapore becomes a lightning rod for Google investment
Business operations

Singapore becomes a lightning rod for Google investment

23 Aug 2022

Most Popular

46 US states call for Meta monopoly lawsuit to be reinstated
mergers and acquisitions

46 US states call for Meta monopoly lawsuit to be reinstated

20 Sep 2022
Anonymous hacks Iranian government and state broadcasters
cyber attacks

Anonymous hacks Iranian government and state broadcasters

22 Sep 2022
Why collaboration is key to digital transformation
Sponsored

Why collaboration is key to digital transformation

13 Sep 2022