Survival Tips with The Data Diva – Debbie Reynolds: Racial & Gender Bias in Facial Recognition Tools

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Matt from ESI Survival Guide and The Data Diva herself – Debbie Reynolds – discuss the discriminatory impact that many facial recognition technologies can have on people of color (and especially black women) due to the inherent racial and gender bias in their underlying algorithms.

Debbie begins by highlighting a paper co-authored by Dr. Timnit Gebru, computer scientist, advocate for diversity in technology, and co-founder of Black in A.I.; and Joy Buolamwini, computer scientist, digital activist, PhD candidate at the MIT Media Lab, founder of the Algorithmic Justice League and the force behind the documentary Coded Bias now on Netflix.

Their groundbreaking paper, entitled Gender Shades: Intersectional Accuracy Disparities in Commercial Gender Classification, unpacks the bias present in automated facial analysis algorithms based on gender and skin color.  You can read it here:

The Gender Shades paper focuses on how certain facial recognition programs leverage a six-point color chart that presents color in a very similar and narrow manner. Ultimately, the error rate in the misidentification of people of color, and in particular black women, is significantly higher than that of white males. Debbie also expresses her concerns with technologies in the health care space that use facial recognition or skin color recognition to diagnose conditions such as skin cancer, and the potential for misdiagnoses.

We go on to discuss how problematic it is that the sale of such technology is extremely unregulated, as well as the possibilities for abuse or misuse in the law enforcement context.

Witness bias and the error rates of these tools, combined with the lack of oversight with how such technology is onboarded and used by law enforcement, create a very troubling situation that must be addressed immediately. At the most basic level, a solution is two-fold: (1) limit the way the technology can be used, and (2) improve the technology itself.

CONSIDER AND COMMENT: What are other ways in which technology impact issues of race and gender. Feel free to comment with your thoughts, ideas and experience.

You can check out Joy Buolamwini’s TED Talk here and her eye-opening Gender Shades video here.  And check out our extended interview with Debbie Reynolds – The Data Diva here (coming soon).

#ESISurvivalGuide​​ #TheDataDiva​ #DebbieReynolds​ #FacialRecognitionBias #AlgorithmicBias #Biometrics

For the full extended interview and more content visit

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Written by Matthew Knouff

Matthew F. Knouff, Esq., CIPP/US, CEDS, RCSP, VP & eDiscovery Counsel, CDS New York Matthew has been navigating the ESI and data law wilderness for over fifteen years as an attorney, consultant and academic. He currently serves as VP & eDiscovery Counsel with Complete Discovery Source, Inc., an award-winning global provider of eDiscovery and data management services and technology. He is an expert in eDiscovery law and process, global data privacy and the movement of data across borders. In addition to contributing to and holding leadership positions with several organizations dedicated to supporting the legal profession, he has developed numerous CLE programs and assessment tools, and frequently speaks and writes on various topics related to the intersection of data, law and technology. He holds the CIPP/US, CEDS and RCSP certifications, is an avid distance runner, an active board member with Education Through Music, a Tarheel through and through, and a life-long musician. Matthew lives with his son in New York City’s Lower East Side.

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