When Joy Buolamwini found that a robot recognised her face better when she wore a white mask, she knew a problem needed fixing
I’d missed the entire reason privacy isn’t just a concern for those who logged into Ashley Madison or researched something more nefarious than the difference between starches. I missed that it should matter to me because there are people for whom it has to matter, by virtue of their socioeconomic or racial status. And while I have the luxury, by virtue of my own socioeconomic status and race, of ignoring reality and letting this not be my problem, that’s not how wrongs are righted.I finally saw surveillance not as something mildly offensive to my own sense of civil liberties, but as a tool of institutional racism. It suddenly became clear to me — and I’m so embarrassed it didn’t prior — that the people most stripped of their privacy rights in this surveillance age are the people who are already vulnerable.
Taylonn Murphy is sitting in a Harlem beauty salon after hours. Leaning back in his chair and with a calm demeanor, he is talking about keeping young local people out of harm’s way.
Every now and then though, as he speaks, his voice breaks.
In September 2011, his daughter Tayshana, 18, a local basketball superstar and resident of West Harlem’s Grant Houses, was shot dead by two residents of Manhattanville Houses. The killing was described as the result of a rivalry between the two housing projects that dates back decades.
Almost three years after his daughter’s death, on 4 June 2014, helicopters hovered overhead as the first rays of sunlight hit the concrete. At least 400 New York police officers in military gear raided both housing projects, with indictments for the arrest of 103 people.
Starting in January 2010, the community’s children and young adults had been closely watched by police officers – both online and off. The investigation had involved listening in to 40,000 calls from correctional facilities, watching hours of surveillance video, and reviewing over 1m online social media pages.
For Murphy, the revelation of these details was choking: the NYPD had been attentively surveilling both communities for over one and a half years before his daughter was murdered, patiently waiting and observing as the rivalry between crew members escalated.
Online surveillance: the new stop-and-frisk?
In 2013, stop-and-frisk was found unconstitutional by a federal judge for its use of racial profiling. Since then, logged instances have dropped from an astonishing 685,000 in 2011 to just 46,000 in 2014. But celebrations may be premature, with local policing increasingly moving off the streets and migrating online.
In 2012, the NYPD declared a war on gangs across the city with Operation Crew Cut. The linchpin of the operation’s activities is the sweeping online surveillance of individuals as young as 10 years old deemed to be members of crews and gangs.
This move is being criticized by an increasing number of community members and legal scholars, who see it as an insidious way of justifying the monitoring of young men and boys of color in low-income communities.
The data highlights the lack of women and ethnic groups in technology companies, despite much more diverse customer bases
The lack of diversity among Google’s workforce has been highlighted by the company’s first diversity report, which reveals that only 30% of its staff are female.
The search company’s US workforce also comprises 61% white people, with Asian staff making up 30%, Hispanic people 3% and black staff just 2% of employees.
The data highlights the lack of representation of women and ethnic groups in technology companies, despite a much more diverse customer base for mainstream technology products and services.
“Put simply, Google is not where we want to be when it comes to diversity, and it’s hard to address these kinds of challenges if you’re not prepared to discuss them openly, and with the facts,” acknowledged Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations at Google, in a blog post.