What Can Google Tell Us About the Status of Women?

What Can Google Tell Us About the Status of Women?

Ads for high-income jobs are shown more often to men than women.

Arrest records are more likely to show up in searches for distinctively “black” sounding names.

Predatory loans are marketing more heavily to low-income individuals.

And apparently the highest-ranking female CEO is Barbie…as in the doll. At least that’s the conclusion one must draw from a quick Google search for CEO. After 26 pictures of predominantly white men portraying what the American public has concluded is the image of a CEO, we are presented with none other than CEO Barbie.

In today’s New York Times Claire Cain Miller penned an article called “When Algorithms Discriminate” and highlights the fact that not only are algorithms simply programs created by humans, but they are also driven by patterns of regular human behavior. Simply check out Google’s autocomplete feature to see the often offensive questions that Americans are plugging into their computers each day.

Here’s an example. Simply type in “Why are women…” The suggested “autocompletes” are “so cold,” “so emotional,” “so mean,” and “so insecure?” Similarly, the autocompletes for “Why are girls” includes “so mean,” “so confusing,” “so stupid,” and “so cute.” Granted, men don’t come out unscathed with Google also wondering why they are mean but at least the public is asking our search engines why men are “stronger than women” and even why they are “players.”

The Carnegie Mellon and International Computer Science Institute study discussed by Cain Miller notes that the “amoral status of an algorithm does not negate its effect on society.” Although there are laws that prevent discrimination against certain groups, companies are allowed to target ads. So when an ad for jobs that pay over $200,000 are marketing to almost 2,000 men and only 300 women, that means that either men are simply clicking on the ad more or the advertiser is indeed targeting men.

Regardless of the method through which this discrimination and media bias are perpetuated, the outcome is the same. When I read this article today, I immediately pictured a little girl researching CEOs for a school project. What can she conclude from Google image #27?

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