Vice: Google releases racially biased dermatology app

The app privileges light-skinned people due to its use of skewed datasets

In another example of how corporate utterances of "Black lives matter" tend to be a performative slogan that has no impact on actual business decisions, Google has just released a dermatology app that was trained using a biased skin dataset that privileges white people. Todd Feathers of Vice reported on the app and its biases last week. Some extracts below.

- Bruce

Google’s New Dermatology App Wasn’t Designed for People With Darker Skin
By Todd Feathers, May 20, 2021

Google on Tuesday [May 18] unveiled a dermatology app that it says can recognize 288 different skin conditions from pictures, and there’s something very Google about it. The deep learning system the app is based on was originally trained and tested on a dataset that—like the company itself—vastly underrepresents people with dark skin tones...

... of the thousands of skin conditions pictured, only 3.5 percent came from patients with Fitzpatrick skin types V and VI—those representing brown skin and dark brown or black skin, respectively. 90 percent of the database was composed of people with fair skin, darker white skin, or light brown skin, according to the study.

As a result of the biased sampling, dermatologists say the app could end up over- or under-diagnosing people who aren’t white...

Fitzpatrick skin type V (brown) was underrepresented in the data and type VI (dark brown or black) was completely absent from the dataset...

The medical tech field has a history of racially biased products, from optical heart rate sensors to algorithms hospitals use to decide which patients need further care...

“The low representation of Black people within this [dermatology app] dataset suggests it is optimized for white consumers,” Mutale Nkonde, a Stanford Digital Society Lab fellow and founder of AI for the People, told Motherboard. “This preferencing of white people seems to be inline with their treatment of Black people within the company.”...

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