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Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  2,013 ratings  ·  332 reviews
Run a Google search for "black girls" - what will you find? "Big Booty" and other sexually explicit terms are likely to come up as top search terms. But, if you type in "white girls," the results are radically different. The suggested porn sites and un-moderated discussions about "why black women are so sassy" or "why black women are so angry" presents a disturbing portrai ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published February 20th 2018 by New York University Press
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Mario the lone bookwolf
The master algorithm seems to give its name an inglorious connotation.

WEIRD comes to mind. White, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratized. This problem of many humanities has also made it into the coding of algorithms. Previously in history, the problem was that many foundations for research used a too small and homogeneous pool of people and most of the study was done by white, male and wealthy people, so that their results were not representative for the whole population.

And that in tw
...more
Kara Babcock
So you read So You Want to Talk About Race and now you have more questions. Specifically, you’re wondering how privilege affects your life online. Surely the Internet is the libertarian cyber-utopia we were all promised, right? It’s totally free of bias and discrimina—sorry, I can’t even write that with a straight face.

Of course the Internet is a flaming cesspool of racism and misogyny. We can’t have good things.

What Safiya Umoja Noble sets out to do in Algorithms of Oppression: How Search E
...more
Nils
Mar 09, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: future-humans
Noble provides plenty of instances where search engine algorithms (Google’s especially) have produced racially unfortunate and offensive results, has outrage aplenty about the structural racism and exclusions that exist in society at large, and doesn’t think solutions can come through capitalist structures. All true, albeit banal, with nothing new added here.

What the book doesn’t do is explain WHY these search engines produce such malign results: is it a bias in the algorithm? in the training se
...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I read this for a work book club, and I'm glad I did, but some of it I find problematic. It falls prey to the usual non-fiction risks - the argument stretched out to book length makes less sense than a shorter version in a blog post or article would have, at multiple points she adds content that is tangentially related but dilutes the primary objective, and since she'd written on this topic previously by the time this was published some of the issues she had raised were already sorted out. And t ...more
Trish
Noble began collecting information in 2010 after noticing the way Google Search and other internet sites collect and display information about non-white communities. Her results dovetail with other studies (e.g., Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O'Neil) positing that algorithms are flawed by their very nature: choosing & weighting only some variables to define or capture a phenomenon will deliver a flawed result. Noble wrote this book to explore reasons why Google couldn’t, or wouldn’t, addr ...more
Ico Maly
Mar 30, 2018 rated it it was ok
I must admit, I was very eager to read this book. A very necessary topic that really deserves to be tackled in a very thorough manner. Racism, sexism and discrimination in general are structural parts of societies in the West and we know that the net is no exception here.

I was really interested in finding out exactly 'how Search Engines reinforce Racism'. That they do it, is by now a common thing. We know for instance how the alt-right uses the internet and the algorithms of commercial platform
...more
Krystal
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble deconstructs the myth of online democracy with this brilliant illustration of how white male supremacy has adapted its course to the ever expanding reaches of the internet!
Mehrsa
Jun 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
I would give the book 5 stars for how important this research is. But the book is not easy to read. It feels like it's written just for academics. Besides bulky language, there are a lot of references to other work and literature. It's also a bit unfocused and disorganized. However, she is absolutely right that this is a huge problem that people are not paying attention to. It's a really hairy problem that needs more books like this to dissect and to make tech aware of their power in reienforcin ...more
Mariella
Jul 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
Interesting and so appreciative of Safiya who got the conversation started a few years ago about bias algorithms. But this book would have been a better article because it was extremely repetitive.
Adam Schweigert
Apr 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
Raises some good questions but is woefully light on proposed solutions. Mostly it seems like the author is not happy about how advertising supported online services work (fair) but doesn't really get very far in proposing anything resembling a commercially viable solution. The book also tends to wander a lot, repeat itself and use a lot of academese to obscure how half-formed some of these ideas are. Wish I could recommend it. It's an important topic but this just didn't deliver. ...more
Popesgue
Nov 23, 2018 rated it did not like it
Unresearched and uncultivated writing in many ways. I found this book to be of little value both from a SEO/algorithmic-validity point of view, as well as (most alarming given the author's background) from a sociological point of view, its analyses being far too simplistic. Nor does it extend well to offline writings either. Full of claims that cannot be proved and logical fallacies, this is a book that I could not honestly recommend. ...more
Clare O'Beara
Jun 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Despite the author saying she intends this book as a practical project, her foreword has a first paragraph of 21 lines, and the introduction has a first paragaph of 23 lines; the first chapter includes a paragraph of 47 lines, and one of 37. The fact that I am studying journalism has doubly reinforced my belief that paragraphs that long won't get read by most people. I also think we could do without invented words like problematized.

Why make this kind of point about a book which describes race
...more
tiffany
Jul 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, tech
“we have automated human decision making and then disavowed our responsibility for it.”

this book really opened my eyes to how search engines like google search have become so ubiquitous in our daily lives, and yet the underlying algorithms that make choices about which results to filter, which to push to the forefront of the page, and which to exclude, are not at all impartial or apolitical. in fact, these algorithms reflect the underlying systemic racism and sexism prevalent in american socie
...more
Chris
Feb 17, 2021 rated it liked it
For a book with "Algorithms" in the title this didn't talk about them very much. I would say it was more about how control of information has been monopolized by tech companies, and how that control is exercised in unjust ways. In that way I feel like this book challenged the centrality of algorithms themselves, so the title seems kind of ironic. If the issue is "algorithms of oppression" that seems to invite a technosolutionism (just fix the algorithms) that I don't think Noble supports.

Overall
...more
Emily
May 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018, nonfiction, work
This book is hard to evaluate because its author has certainly made a five-star contribution to our profession, but consuming this particular work, as a reader, left me wanting more. For Goodreads, I'll write this up as I reacted to it reading it on my sofa for my own interest rather than as I would for a professional review. And in that light, I have to say that I'm more interested in technology and policy (which this is not about) than critical theory (which it is). Noble does a thorough job o ...more
Conor Ahern
Sites like Google and Yelp have become so indispensable to our modern lives that it becomes easy to accept them as they are without interrogating their systemic flaws. As recently as this year, we saw people arguing in good (if benighted) faith that an algorithm cannot be racist or sexist because it is based on math. But Noble's experience and research showed that this is very demonstrably untrue: while searches for "white girls" bring up a sampling of mostly unoffensive images, the search for " ...more
Annie
Jun 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was very well-done. Three things to consider if you are thinking of reading it:

1. Dr. Noble is a librarian and this book is directed towards librarians and other researchers.
2. The subject of this book is "Race/Ethnicity" as opposed to Technology or similar. She discusses how minority groups suffer at the hands of search algorithms more than how the algorithms actually do the filtering.
3. This is research, basically a dissertation, and can read like one. I say this as a good thing, but if
...more
Qurrat Ahmad
I LOVED the premise of this book and it definitely caused me to Google (ha) a lot of articles on the subject after. What I learned from the book is that algorithms are absolutely oppressive (not mind blowing but nice to see lots of examples to acknowledge this). What I didn’t learn was why, and what we can do about them. The author had all of the anger but none of the solutions (I don’t think sanctioning Google or forcing ethnic studies majors into tech is the answer). But I don’t know what is. ...more
laurel [the suspected bibliophile]
A must-read for library and archivist professionals, and those who are looking to work for Big Data driven companies or companies looking to use Big Data.

While I wish there had been more of a call on how to fix and engaged instead of repeating what was wrong, over and over and that what was wrong needed to be fixed, this is a necessary read on how ingrained systematic racism and oppression is built into society.

And there is the reminder that algorithms aren't infallible, because they are built b
...more
jericho
[This review is from one of my graduate classes so that's why it sounds different from my previous reviews. I just removed all the citations.]

In her book Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism, Safiya Umoja Noble describes the several ways commercial search engines perpetuate systemic oppression of women and people of color. Critical race theory (CRT) and Black Feminist Thought lay the foundation of Noble’s research. CRT examines the relationship between race and racism in
...more
Andrew
While this work is not an easy read, it covers an important issue that is not sufficiently being dealt with. We now rely heavily on search engines created by the largest technology corporations and that they are biased in a way that return results, which are sexist, racist or actively promoting fake news articles, should give us pause. This book is a must-read.
Danielle
Sep 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Fascinating!

Read for LIS 601 Information: Contexts and Perspectives
Shomeret
Feb 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I subscribe to the list for the Progressive Librarians Guild which recently established a group on Goodreads. They decided to select Algorithms of Oppression by Safiya Omoja Noble as their first book for discussion. I downloaded a copy for review from Net Galley last year. So I prioritized it and started reading it as soon as I could. I finished it toward the end of January, and this is my review.

The foundation of Noble's argument is her discussion of how search works. This was an eye opener for
...more
Lynne
May 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Painstakingly researched, accessibly written book about the structural racism that gets introduced into algorithms as they reproduce the structural racism of everyday life.

This should be required reading for anyone working in the information field.
Tonstant Weader
Apr 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Most conversations about racism in America focus on individual acts and people. Was LuAnn wearing blackface as Diana Ross racist? When white people use the n-word ironically is it racist? Is Steve King of Iowa racist? (Yes, yes, and yes.) Unfortunately, those conversations consume so much of the air in the room, there is little energy to focus on the structures that reinforce and sustain racism, systems that guarantee that racist oppression and disparities would continue even if not one single r ...more
Becca
Dec 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A must-read for any technologist. Very highly recommended for anyone who uses technology (yeah, that's you).

Similar to "Weapons of Math Destruction" by Cathy O'Neil, but while WOMD is more technical (still easy for a non-tech person to read) and covers a wider swath of the effects of AI on marginalized people, this book examines the effects of algorithmic bias in search engines from a Black feminist perspective.

My biggest takeaway from this book (that frankly I’m embarrassed I hadn’t thought a
...more
Cardyn Brooks
This wonk-erful text is compelling and accessible for non-wonks. The information provided is also disturbing.

On page 29 the author declares her intentions:
...In the ensuing chapters, I continue to probe results that generated by Google on a variety of keyword combinations relating to racial and gender identity as a way of engaging a commonsense understanding of how power works... By seeing and discussing these intersectional power relations, we have a significant opportunity to transform the c
...more
Joanne
May 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you are reading this then 1) you read and 2) you have access to a computer. And I would strongly wager that somewhere along the line, maybe even daily, you search for something on the internet.

But have you ever really thought about how the search results come about? This is what this book is about.

Noble started to seriously research what was happening on the net when the racial basis of search terms was noticed. If you searched the phrase "black women are" as opposed to "white women are" the
...more
Annelise
Aug 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Rated five stars due to how important and groundbreaking this book is. An essential read for anyone in the (remarkably white) fields of information science and information technology. This book opens up a much needed dialogue and it should be required reading in MLIS/information studies programs - proving especially helpful in the endless debates about neutrality in libraries and technology.

My "one gripe" that I'm hesitant to even say, just because this book deserves praise more than anything e
...more
Dipa  Raditya
Aug 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Algorithmic bias is not unique to Google. However, Google is the dominant search engine, such that its name is now in common use as a verb. Pretty much everyone with internet access uses search engines, and most of us use Google. Many people regard Google as neutral, like a library (which, of course, wouldn’t be neutral either, though that is a different discussion). However, Google is not neutral: it is a huge commercial corporation that is motivated by profit. The ranking system used by Google ...more
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Open as in book: February 2019: Algorithms of Oppression (Feb/Mar 2019) 30 35 Mar 11, 2019 08:41AM  
Discussion Chapter 1 1 8 Jan 18, 2019 04:13PM  

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In the Fall of 2017, Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble joined the faculty of the University of Southern California (USC) Annenberg School of Communication. Previously, she was an assistant professor in the Department of Information Studies in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA where she held appointments in the Departments of African American Studies, Gender Studies, and Educati ...more

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  If you listen to NPR regularly, you’ve likely heard the voice of Shankar Vedantam, the longtime science correspondent and host of the radio...
15 likes · 2 comments
“The implications of such marginalization are profound. The insights about sexist and racist biases... are important because information organizations, from libraries to schools and universities to governmental agencies, are increasingly reliant on being displaced by a variety of web-based "tools" as if there are no political, social, or economic consequences of doing so.” 9 likes
“This monopoly of information is a threat to democracy...” 8 likes
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