Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech

Sara Wachter-Boettcher. Norton, $24.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-393-63463-1
Web consultant Wachter-Boettcher (Content Everywhere) clearly demonstrates the ways digital products are deeply connected to the intentional and unintentional biases of their designers in this approachable primer on digital technology. Wachter-Boettcher calls attention to the abdication of responsibility by the engineers who created the algorithms that result in major and often cruel design flaws in social media, such as the automated Year in Review feature on Facebook that pushed pictures of users’ dead children into their news feeds or the Google Photos tagging feature that was not trained on dark-skinned people and thus marked them as gorillas. The book also highlights more insidious and disturbing uses of certain technologies: discriminatory targeting and surveillance of users, culturally insensitive and obligatory forms requiring personal data, potentially dangerous verification processes such as Facebook’s real-name policy. Many of the real life examples of the major design flaws of digital products, such as spread of abuse and hate speech on Twitter— will be familiar to most readers, but the author adds technical detail pointing out how Twitter developed features like retweets and hashtags while failing to improve features to prevent or stop abuse. Wachter-Boettcher urges readers to hold engineers and venture capitalists accountable for the harm they cause by failing to incorporate diverse voices in the design process for creating the everyday tools of the 21st century. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/23/2017
Release date: 10/01/2017
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