Senators ask Google to conduct racial equality audit

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

Google sign above a glass entrance to a building

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

How virtual desktop infrastructure enables digital transformation

Challenges and benefits of VDI

Free download

The Okta digital trust index

Exploring the human edge of trust

Free download

Optimising workload placement in your hybrid cloud

Deliver increased IT agility with the cloud

Free Download

Modernise endpoint protection and leave your legacy challenges behind

The risk of keeping your legacy endpoint security tools

Download now

Recommended

Google banned from importing patent-infringing tech following Sonos IP victory
Policy & legislation

Google banned from importing patent-infringing tech following Sonos IP victory

7 Jan 2022
Google, Facebook fined €210 million for making it difficult for users to reject cookies
Policy & legislation

Google, Facebook fined €210 million for making it difficult for users to reject cookies

6 Jan 2022
Google is working with leading PC manufacturers to improve Android on Windows
Google Android

Google is working with leading PC manufacturers to improve Android on Windows

6 Jan 2022
Google Cloud acquires Israeli security startup Siemplify
cloud security

Google Cloud acquires Israeli security startup Siemplify

5 Jan 2022

Most Popular

Sony pulls out of MWC 2022
Business operations

Sony pulls out of MWC 2022

14 Jan 2022
How to boot Windows 11 in Safe Mode
Microsoft Windows

How to boot Windows 11 in Safe Mode

6 Jan 2022
Dell XPS 15 (2021) review: The best just got better
Laptops

Dell XPS 15 (2021) review: The best just got better

14 Jan 2022