NEW YORK, New York – As computer users know, Google has been the top search engine for over a decade. One of its more popular features is Autocomplete, a “rest your fingers” function that offers suggestions as users type.
While many Internet users interact with Google’s Autocomplete on a regular basis, most don’t realize how the shortcut operates. According to The Guardian, Autocomplete uses a mathematical procedure known as an algorithm. After typing in a few characters in the Google search bar, the algorithm will locate data based on the typeset a current user provides in combination with what past users have typed.
Researchers from UN Women— a branch of the United Nations committed to gender equality and female empowerment— used the Google Autocomplete feature to uncover implicit cultural stereotypes about women.
UN Women conducted a campaign in which real Google searches were conducted and actual Autocomplete information revealed. Phrases entered into the search bar included, “Women shouldn’t…”, “Women need to…” Women should…” etc. The UN Women Google Autocomplete Campaign revealed automated phrases such as, “Women shouldn’t have rights,” “Women need to be in the kitchen,” and “Women should be slaves.” These results indicate that sexist attitudes are still deeply entrenched, even in modern, technologically-advanced societies.
UN Women copywriter Kareen Shuhaibar describes the ads as “shocking, because they show just how far we still have to go to achieve gender equality.” Although women’s status has improved over the past few decades, this experiment demonstrates the continued strength of gender prejudices.
UN Women Advocacy Campaign print ads show a face of a woman with a search bar over her mouth, displaying the autocomplete suggestions. At the bottom of the ad it has a hopeful anti-discriminatory phrase, such as “Women need to be seen as equal.”
Region and time may alter the autocomplete results. Researchers selected the first round of ads in Great Britain on March 19, 2013. However, searches conducted in Canada and the U.S. yielded similar results. They conducted another search in Canada and in New York City, and found similar phrases. According to Google, at least, gender discrimination is a global issue.
– Laura Reinacher
Sources: UN Women, New York Daily News, Time, The Guardian, ENCA