Power

Twitter's image cropping was biased, so it dumped the algorithm

The META team found the Twitter cropping algorithm occasionally discriminated based on race and gender.

Twitter

Twitter is abandoning its image cropping algorithm after finding racial and gender-based bias.

Photo: Joshua Hoehne/Unsplash

In one of the first instances of total algorithmic transparency from a social platform, Twitter has removed its image cropping algorithm and created new controls for users over how images appear, based on newly published findings of gender and skin color biases.

Members of the Twitter Machine Learning, Ethics and Algorithmic Transparency team conducted a research experiment to review how the image-cropping algorithm chose points of focus in pictures (called "saliency") and found occasional instances of bias in cropping based on the gender and skin color of people in photos. The researchers found that there was an 8% difference in favor of women from demographic parity, a 4% difference in favor of white individuals, and a 7% difference in favor of white women in comparisons of black and white women, META lead Rumman Chowdhury wrote in a blog post Wednesday afternoon. The research found other biases as well. (The company's analysis used subjective applications of "Black," "white", "male", and "female", not the total spectrum of skin tone and racial and ethnic identities).

After analyzing the tradeoffs between the consistency of the algorithm and its potential for harm, Twitter opted away from speed — an unusual, if unheard of, policy change for social networks that usually obsess with reducing friction — and instead designed a new way to share vertical, uncropped images. "This update also includes a true preview of the image in the Tweet composer field, so Tweet authors know how their Tweets will look before they publish. This release reduces our dependency on ML for a function that we agree is best performed by people using our products," Chowdhury wrote.

Twitter first introduced the "saliency" cropping algorithm in 2018 in order to make timeline photos appear more consistent, training the algorithm to crop based on how the human eye sees pictures. The cropping almost immediately drew criticism by people who felt that from their own anecdotal experience, the crops often focused on people with light skin and on women while cutting out others, which could perpetuate both demographic biases and the objectifying "male gaze" toward women. While Twitter at first said the algorithm had been tested for biases before it was released, the company then apologized in September 2020 to the users who were sharing their own experiences with bias on the platform and committed to further assessing the algorithm.

Over the last year, Twitter has heavily emphasized user choice in its public statements about conversational health and safety and in its descriptions of how the company is designing future products. The team did the same for its analysis of the cropping algorithm, asking whether the cropping algorithm caused harm by taking away people's ability to make their own decisions. "Not everything on Twitter is a good candidate for an algorithm, and in this case, how to crop an image is a decision best made by people. They should be able to decide for themselves what part of an image is the most important and what part is the focal point of their Tweet," Chowdhury wrote.

The company also shared a paper published today detailing how the researchers found the biases within the algorithms and how they analyzed the possible harm that could be caused by them, written by Kyra Yee and Tao Tantipongpipat from the META team and Shubhanshu Mishra from the Content Understanding Research team. "The use of this model poses concerns that Twitter's cropping system favors cropping light-skinned over dark-skinned individuals and favors cropping women's bodies over their heads," they wrote in the paper's conclusion.

Chowdhury, a widely-respected leader in the field of algorithmic accountability, was hired in February to lead the new META team after months of widespread criticism toward large tech companies and social platforms for their failures to analyze possible biases and discrimination in their algorithms. She is just one of Twitter's many recent hires of prominent and well-respected leaders in tech ethics and accountability.

Fintech

Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

Keep Reading Show less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

Keep Reading Show less
FTA
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.
Enterprise

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

Keep Reading Show less
Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.

Enterprise

Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories
Bulletins