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The Google Arts and Culture App: Another Instance of a Biased Data Set?

The Google Arts and Culture App: Another Instance of a Biased Data Set?

For the art obsessed, the recent hype surrounding the Google Arts and Culture app has many intrigued and excited. With its recent growth in popularity, The Google Arts and Culture app serves to grant people of all backgrounds access to art across the globe. It contains features such as virtual explorer, highlights on specific artists, exhibits and museums, and daily inspiration--making it an attraction for art lovers around the world! The creation of the app transports people from any location to collections held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Louvre, and allows them to experience art firsthand, without ever leaving their homes.

While the app has been around for two years, it has garnered attention recently due to the creation of their “Search With Your Selfie” feature. This feature allows users to upload a selfie in order to find their long-lost portrait twin! It has proven to be a lot of fun, and warrants some interesting results. Being an art lover myself, I had to try it out! Below, you can see some of my very interesting matches...

 Some of the matches were really hilarious! 

Some of the matches were really hilarious! 

 For some reason I kept on being matched with men...

For some reason I kept on being matched with men...

When using the app, it became clear that the results seemed to vary depending on the lighting, and angle that my selfie was taken. My friends experienced similar phenomena, each attempt producing extremely different results. Although some of the results were comical, it was definitely a fun experience--who wouldn't want to find their art doppelganger? With the app going viral on the internet, art history junkies of all backgrounds wanted to participate in the fun.

When more people began to use the selfie feature, many started to realize that they were receiving racially biased or insensitive matches. This is not the first time the Google Arts and Culture app has caused controversy. The initial release of the app was criticized for Google’s portrayal of art as extremely eurocentric. The majority of the app’s database comes from the United States, England, France, and Germany, which may explain this deficit. While some may claim that the app has improved in its diversity since its initial release, this selfie feature shows the history of bias in the art community.

Asian users attempting to use the feature consistently received a small selection of portraits with faces that hardly resemble the user.

These unfortunate results also occurred for other POC attempting to use the feature. While it is hard to claim that the Google Arts and Culture app is outright racist, it is clear that the app is a visualization of the Eurocentric standards of the art world. Additionally, their data set while training their facial recognition technology may have been unintentionally racially biased towards white people.

The need for inclusion and diversity is important now more than ever. Representation of art from all parts of the world is an important and necessary step towards inclusion. Furthermore, fixing racially biased data sets in facial recognition technology is crucial for people of all genders and ethnic backgrounds to feel included in popular technology. While the Google Arts and Culture app is just a small piece of the puzzle, the recognition of prejudice in any way is a positive start.

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