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Data could be biased, not Google - researcher

Mar 01 2019 10:59
Carin Smith

When internet searches deliver “biased” results, it is likely due to bias contained in the related data and not “bias” built into the algorithm of the particular search engine.

This is the view of Anna-Marie Jansen van Vuuren of the University of Johannesburg and Turgay Celik of Wits, that was presented at the 14th International Conference on Cyber Warfare and Security hosted by the University of Stellenbosch in conjunction with the CSIR.

“Some argue that it was the internet which spurred the advent of fake news, but I would dispute that,” Jansen van Vuuren said during her presentation.

“There was already a lot of fake news in the world before the coming of the internet. What is true, however, is that even a simple untruth can go viral on the internet, spread and cause damage at an escalated level,” she said.

In referring to what she calls South Africans’ “implicit trust in Google searches”, she believes this changed in 2018 when a case study revealed that the search terms “squatter camps” would bring up only photos of white squatter camps in the country.

This created a lively debate in SA and some accused Google of being biased – even racist - while others defended the company.

“For me it is key to be aware that an algorithm is guessing what you are searching for. The search result is also based on captions anchoring photos, for instance - in other words, the digital information,” said Jansen van Vuuren.

“So, each caption of an image gives an idea of the image and points of view for the interpretation of the meaning and context of the image.”

Another example she gave was where search engines were accused of trying to influence land reform in SA by influencing search results.

“Some people were up in arms about ‘machines’ trying to influence the land reform debate, but the data could be programmed by persons with different agendas,” explained Jansen van Vuuren.

"So, it is very important to be aware of search algorithms and how they work, but also to be aware that the data related to the search could be biased."

google  |  ict  |  tech
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