Geopolitical Algorithms: you say Palestine, Google says Israel

If any more evidence be needed of the (geo)political agency of Google’s algorithms, then this – currently ongoing – incident is fairly definitive.

A couple of days ago, Kristin Szremski, a reporter and advocate for justice in Palestine, noticed that the names she had given to photo albums she had uploaded to Google+ had been changed without her knowledge or consent. Notwithstanding the privacy implications this brings up, the far bigger issue is what the albums were renamed as. As this Twitter screenshot shows, in 2010 Szremski had named two of her albums ‘settlements’ and ‘Palestine’, yet at some point these titles have been changed to ‘Israeli services’ and ‘Trip to Israel’ respectively.

Palestine Google+Screenshot 2016-04-05 13.43.05

At time of writing Google have been in touch with Szremski ‘to help’ her with her ‘next steps’ on this issue, but she is still awaiting an explanation and – presumably- an apology. I will also be really interested to see how Google explains this one away (Kristin has kindly agreed to share their response). I’m guessing it’s something to do with how other visually (and possibly geo-locationally) similar photographs have been tagged, titled and categorised in the wider database available to the Google Photo’s organising algorithm. But it’s also hard not to suspect that there may be some inherent or learned bias within the system or the training data. Either way, I’m looking forward to whatever response is forthcoming…

Palestine Google reply Screenshot 2016-04-05 13.46.40

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