TECH

Not Just Fairness Creams, Even The Technology Industry Is Promoting White Bias

Hint: The perfect selfie.

14/04/2017 12:10 PM IST | Updated 15/04/2017 1:42 PM IST
knape via Getty Images

It's not just fairness cream brands that have been under the scanner of gender rights activists in the recent times for perpetuating whitewashing. Long before Bollywood actor Abhay Deol drew everyone's attention to the role of the industry's leading actors in endorsing cosmetic products that promote white bias, the technology industry was busy making look-enhancing software for your cameras.

App-makers and smartphone companies have introduced features to make the user's face appear "more beautiful". In recent years there has been an influx of apps and front camera enhancement features that set unreal and skewed beauty standards.

A couple of years ago Chinese smartphone companies, including Meitu, Huawei, Oppo, Meizu and others, introduced selfie enhancement features in their phones. The craze started when Meitu's photo editing app with skin enhancement features was launched in 2013. It has been accused of the racial bias several times by the people all over the world. That's not it. Recently the app was caught in a controversy after allegations of user data collection.

The companies launching smartphones promising 'the perfect selfie' and proclaiming to be a 'selfie expert' — tapping in into the body image insecurities of a large user-base of teenagers and pre-teens — also have powerful front cameras with software enhancement. There is no problem with a good front camera, it's the skin modification software that needs scrutiny.

"Selfie enhancement features in the smartphone cameras is a debatable issue because few users genuinely like it while others have to use it just for the sake of using it," Amit Bhawani a tech blogger and the founder of PhoneRadar told HuffPost India.

"This is because the current society is obsessed with fair skin of celebrities endorsing products that are focussed towards lighter shades of skins and connecting these with success in life. It's ironical because it is a person's talent, hard work, and desire that leads to success but well skin colour is now given the highest priority," he added.

Kavitha Emmanual, the director of 'Women of worth' which ran 'Dark is beautiful' campaign with Nandita Das also thinks that there is a tone bias in these 'selfie touch up' software.

"Media has been endorsing the toxic belief that a person's worth is measured by the colour of their skin through ad. campaigns and films. Technology is also manipulated to suit the requirements that feed the bias. Camera persons are now so accustomed to tune their instruments to shoot people with light skin tones. Not many want to take the time to make that effort required to rearrange technical settings to capture dark skin tones. It is true that the camera never lies but what about those behind the camera? Do they make people believe lies," she said.

One of the most popular photography apps, Snapchat, has been amidst the controversy as well. It has been accused multiple times of making people ultra fair with their lenses (known as filters too).

"⁠⁠⁠Snapchat filters (like the one with the flower crown) aren't racist by themselves but reinforce racist beauty standards present in society," Zeba Khatri, a research student and biologist said, "The whole point of these enhancements is to make your look more attractive by lightening and evening out your skin tone, lightening your eyes, plumping up your lips etc".

Sure, the technology companies are weighing in on the consumer demand for better selfies. But like any other industry, they need to check is there is a racial bias in the execution or if they are setting unreal beauty standards.

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