Lack of diversity plagues Google arts app’s selfie feature

Julianne Alvares, Opinion Editor

Google recently updated their Arts and Culture app to have a feature that compares a user’s selfie to museum portraits. This new feature has drawn controversy about accuracy and racism.

Google Arts and Culture describes its mission to be for users to “discover collections curated by experts from the most famous museums. Be moved by stories depicted in thousands of photos, videos, manuscripts and artworks on every type of screen and in virtual reality.  Find your favorite artworks, create your own collections and share them with friends.” The app was launched in 2016, only adding the selfie feature on Dec. 13, 2017.  The selfie feature works by scanning your selfie for a “faceprint” and attempting to match it to about 70,000 works from museums in 70 different countries. The feature has been popular; according to Google, over 30 million selfies have been taken on the app.

However, this feature has faced criticism. According to a study by a KQED reporter, 91 percent of the works were done by men and 63 percent were created by artists from Europe and America before 1900. In other words, the database is westernized.

KQED also notes that users of color are often given the same paintings despite having different faces. Different races are assessed and matched by a stereotypical set of facial features.  Reviews for the app were mixed. It received a 4.7 on
the Apple App Store and a 3.6 on the Google Play Store. Many reviews of the app express frustration over the selfie feature, especially regarding the lack of racial diversity.

Students of color echo the feeling of not being matched to someone their race. When sophomore
Christian Fernandez, who is Filipino and Mexican, tried the Google Match function, he was matched with
an Indian woman. When asked about that accuracy of
the app, Fernandez said, “It’s not [accurate] because [it] matched me with an Indian person, which I am not.”

Students have noticed this lack of accuracy due to limited collections.
“I think it’s [the app] is accurate to a certain extent,” said sophomore Rebecca Haile,“I have tried it and I’ve seen art that looks more like me than the art they show me. I think it might be limiting because it can’t see all the famous art in the world.”

Google is working to expand the feature and add more works of art, which would help resolve both the accuracy and racial issues presented by the app.