Clarke, colleagues urge Google to conduct audit on racial equity

House passes fentanyl legislation
Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke.
Photo by Nelson A. King

Caribbean American Democratic Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, founder and chair of the Congressional Racial Disparities Working Group, recently joined by her colleague, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), and eight others in penning a letter to tech conglomerate, Alphabet Inc., the parent company of YouTube and Google, demanding an internal audit on racial equity within its platforms.

The legislators’ letter followed one dispatched earlier month from US Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mark Warner (D-VA), Edward Markey (D-MA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) calling for the racial equity audit.

“While technologies like those used by Google are based on algorithmic calculations, these outputs too often reflect programmers’ biases or the biases of data sets used to train the systems,” said Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, who represents the 9th Congressional District in Brooklyn.

“These biases prevent excluded individuals from seeing search results for housing, employment, credit, education or many essential services,” she said. “As a result, people of color and other underserved groups are consistently marginalized and often deprived of equitable opportunities on Alphabet’s platforms and other online platforms.”

Clarke said that when critical opportunities are hidden from a person because of his or her name, or when an app designed to detect skin conditions is ineffective or does not adequately register with people of color, “it creates a culture of marginalization and prioritization that disproportionately harms communities of color.

“It is Alphabet Inc’s responsibility to one, conduct this audit, and two, implement measures to take accountability for the inherent biases within their technologies, and change this harmful culture in favor of an equitable and innovative system that does not marginalize communities of color,” he said. “Unless mega-corporations like Alphabet, Inc., begin to address these glaring issues of bias, they will continue to entrench themselves into our society. Which is unacceptable, and they must act immediately.”

Schakowsky said: “It’s clear that Alphabet is not serious about ending bias aimed at people of color.

“The time for apologies is over,” she said. “They went as far as to fire a researcher working to address bias in AI, Dr. Timnit Gebru. Their actions need to match their words.

“Alphabet should demonstrate their commitment to racial equity throughout their platforms and workplace by conducting a racial equity audit immediately,” Schakowsky urged.

Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, said that, “it is past due that Google make the structural changes necessary to eradicate the racism ingrained in their business practices and on their platform.

“Big Tech must face the consequences for disregarding racial equity and continuing to exploit Black communities and employees,” he said. “In order to adequately address racial bias in technology, Alphabet Inc. must conduct a comprehensive racial equity audit using a vetted framework that has been proven to produce real solutions, rather than a framework developed by compromised consultants and corporate law firms.

“Real and long-term accountability starts with an independent racial equity audit combined with legislative action — strong antitrust reform, privacy legislation and algorithmic accountability are our greatest legislative tools in reducing Big Tech’s damage to Black communities,” Robinson added. “At the same time, they conduct an effective audit of every policy and protocol.

“Color Of Change commends Reps. Clarke, Schakowsky and colleagues on their work to rein in the tech industry’s power,” he continued. “We look forward to continuing our work with Congress to hold Big Tech accountable and ensure that the safety of Black communities is a priority on and offline.”

More from Around NYC