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Google Quietly Tweaks Image Searches for Racially Diverse Results

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(Bloomberg) -- Google updated its algorithms in an effort to promote more racially diverse results in image searches -- the tech giant’s latest attempt to excise biases from the world’s most popular search engine.

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The recent change, implemented without a formal announcement, is meant to present a variety of skin tones in image queries related to beauty, such as “beautiful skin” and “professional hairstyles,” as well as simpler people-related searches like “woman” or “happy family,” the Alphabet Inc.-owned company said Tuesday.

“We’ve started to roll out an improvement to Google Images to promote greater skin-tone diversity so more people can find relevant and helpful results,” a Google spokeswoman said in a statement. “We’re in the early phases of this effort and are continuing to experiment to provide greater diversity in results.”

For years, Google has sought to avoid algorithmic racial biases, which have proved embarrassing to the company and offensive to users. In 2015, the tech giant apologized after its photo app misidentified Black people as gorillas. Now Google is looking to address subtler signs of bias, including image results that have reinforced European standards of beauty and suggested that Black hair is unprofessional.

Google announced a raft of changes to its search engine in September, at an event called Search On, including a feature to add more context to results to help combat misinformation. While the skin-tone update was once slated to be one of the announcements, it was stripped from the agenda. Google said that its racial inclusion efforts were a priority despite not being announced at the event and that it launched more than 4,800 improvements to its search engine in 2020.

The Mountain View, California-based company said it hopes to improve diversity of all people-related search queries but that the process requires many steps and it will launch improvements when they are ready.

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