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

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4.14  ·  Rating details ·  1,360 ratings  ·  220 reviews
Buying groceries, tracking our health, finding a date: whatever we want to do, odds are that we can now do it online. But few of us realize just how many oversights, biases, and downright ethical nightmares are baked inside the tech products we use every day. Its time we change that.


In Technically Wrong, Sara Wachter-Boettcher demystifies the tech industry, leaving those
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Paperback, 240 pages
Published October 16th 2018 by W. W. Norton Company (first published October 10th 2017)
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John
Well . . . This is another one of those funny books that is sort of a 5 and sort of a 3. The book broadly claims that the tech industry builds interfaces and products that are (not necessarily intentionally) biased. The book says that the main driver is the homogeneity of tech company investors and employees.

There is no doubt in my mind that this is true, and on that basis, Id recommend this to anyone in or outside of tech. We product builders and designers are doing a crap job of acknowledging
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Rachel
Nov 07, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I want to qualify my rating of this book: If you havent previously thought about sexism, racism, or other forms of discrimination in the tech industry, this is a five-star recommendation. However, as someone who regularly reads about this topic and pays attention to tech news, I encountered very little new information in this book. It was also a bit disappointing to see so much focus on recent big news stories (e.g. the Google Photos categorization fail, Uber sexism and spying, Facebook year in ...more
Vish Wam
Dec 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: popular-science
Why do apps and profile info pages mostly come with only two gender options - male and female? What if someone doesn't wish to be identified as either? Why is there still a vast underrepresentation of women and minorities in the tech sector? Why hasn't there been a massive MeToo rising in the tech industry across the world? If tech companies are largely run by white or Asian men, do the products they release also reflect the bias and stereotypes they believe in?

From Uber's severely regressive
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Manzoor Elahi
Nov 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, non-fiction
Most tech products are full of blind spots, biases, and outright ethical blunders. Like in the spring of 2015, when Louise Selby, a pediatrician in Cambridge, England, joined PureGym, a British chain. But every time she tried to swipe her membership card to access the womens locker room, she was denied: the system simply wouldnt authorize her. Finally, PureGym got to the bottom of things: the third-party software it used to manage its membership datasoftware used at all ninety locations across ...more
Tam
Dec 15, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fic
A good and short read. Plenty of examples, but mostly the famous ones on the internet - the author's alignment with the truly marginalized is limited, mostly with female/gays/transgender/nonwhites but still the educated, unlike O'Neil in Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy who places her heart towards the poor, the abused whose stories may not be heard at all, buried deep, powerless. The problems aren't less worthy to discuss, though. The sexist ...more
Kelly
Nothing surprising here, but infuriating and important nonetheless (if you at all work in tech as a woman or person of color, you'll recognize all of this). Well researched and written. The sexism in algorithms is something I've not thought about, but damn was that interesting.
Philipp
Dec 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended reading on the current (very current) state of the tech industry. Overlaps a little bit with and cites Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, but focuses more on programmer an designer choices, assumptions and hidden biases instead of algorithms.
First I'd thought of recommending it only to programmers - there's a bunch of stuff on personas and other design techniques that are not of interest to 'regular' humans - but then it branches
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Kate Bigam Kaput
Dec 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, feminism
Long review coming: This book was my first Feminist Book Club delivery, & it was brilliant & techie, but written in a digestible, accessible, & down-to-earth way for those of us who don't work in tech. I had no idea of all these problems - like Google Photos identifying black faces as "gorillas," mobile ads targeting people in low-income areas with ads for for-profit colleges, or a gym chain in Britain where a woman couldn't get into the locker rooms because the locker rooms were ...more
Amy Rhoda  Brown
Mar 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a crystal clear description of how the monoculture of tech leads to terrible apps, toxic online behaviour, and the failure of the developers to take responsibility for what their decisions, based on their narrow worldview, have wrought. Easy to read, well laid-out and compelling.
Kathy Reid
Oct 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A must read for anyone who designs digital experiences, and doesn't want to be an inadvertent dude-bro.

Against a backdrop of increasingly ubiquitous technology, with every online interaction forcing us to expose parts of ourselves, Sara Wachter-Boettcher weaves a challenging narrative with ease. With ease, but not easily. Many of the topics covered are confronting, holding a lens to our internalised "blind spots, biases and outright ethical blunders".

As Wachter-Boettcher is at pains to
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Jill
Oct 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, giveaways
I won this book in a giveaway. I work in the tech sector and was interested in this book because I am leading a digital transformation effort at my job and wanted to make sure i didn't fall into any of these traps. The book was not what I was thinking it was but boy were my eyes opened. I have worked in tech for 35 years. I'm a woman and have experienced the discrimination the book describes early in my career developing software for a utility. While I was raising my kids, I taught computers in ...more
Amy
Nov 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a very thoughtful exploration of how bias is built into the tech products we use every day, and how that bias subsequently shapes and reinforces behaviors offline. Wachter-Boettcher explores not just how technology is built, but also how the organizations that build it perpetuate particular cultural norms that just don't work for many of the people they supposedly serve. As someone who works in technology as a behavior change designer, I'll return to this book for reflection in the ...more
Parker
This is a good solid introduction to a really important issue. Given the nature of the subject matter, a lot of the most striking anecdotes in here were covered by the tech press and so were widely circulated within the community of people observing this kind of thing closely. But even as somebody who pays a lot of attention to the problems described in this book, a few stories were new to me. Certainly, if this is not an area you are already pouring hours of each day into, there will be a lot ...more
Renee // Feminist Book Club Box and Podcast
An important read. If you don't work in tech or don't know much about it, you'll still find this book fascinating. Well-written, well-researched, and enjoyable (albeit feminist rage-inducing).
Marrije
Oct 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read it. Youll be angry, and inspired. ...more
Haley
Jun 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A fairly quick read that has some valuable sections. At times, it can get basic if youre at all knowledgeable about lack of diversity and its implications in tech/product development. But there was definitely enough detail in some areas that I felt like it was very worthwhile and I learned from this book. I liked the case studies of certain issues Id never heard about, or maybe briefly heard about but didnt know the whole story. ...more
Douglas Lord
Dec 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This scathing critique of the tech industry and its techniques is both informative and hair-raising. Wachter-Boettcher winningly posits that from top (industry giants like Facebook) to bottom (smaller, niche companies), services rely on finely crafted promises of ease, interconnectedness, and service to humanity. In reality, these are for-profit businesses. As these companies become more and more ubiquitous they act as quasi-public utilitiessans the governmental oversight and controls; Googles ...more
Sean Lynn
As a white dude who works in tech, this was a bit of an eye opener.

Technically Wrong by Sara Wachter-Boettcher argues that many of the products and services designed In Silicone Valley are inherently, though not necessarily intentionally, biased. As the many programmers are caucasian and male, the products they design do not always meet the desires and needs of the much more diverse market. Thus they accidentally exclude whole groups of people, who instead turn to more inclusively designed
...more
Kylie
Mar 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, work
This is one of those books that I hope gets made into mandatory reading in STEM courses.

It does a little good job of highlighting a lot of the recent problems with the current state of "tech" and the dangerous place it's in right now. It was kind of weird to read something talking about a bunch of internet drama that I remember watching unfold in real time. Also nice to learn more of the factors leading up to the incidents.

Overall there wasn't much in this book that I hadn't heard about before
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Alexandra
Aug 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This changed up so many of my learned experiences and I saw them from new angles.

It will change how you think about many things and how design works against people - marginalizes whole subsets while trying to make something cutesy.

How we write marginalized people off for jobs they can do easily because we are looking for things we don't associate with white men but are associated with white men. Like CS degrees and years of experience coding professionally.

We cannot break the pattern if we
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Emily Finke
Oct 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book doesn't really cover anything new, if you've been following conversations about bias in technology in recent years. However, that really isn't a mark against it, since it's trying to be an introduction to the topic rather than an expansive deep dive. It's a really great primer on the topic, and I'll be recommending it to people who aren't necessarily conversant on inequality in technology, but are curious about where to start. I can't think of any other book that would suit that ...more
Heather
Sep 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Listened via Hoopla.

Nothing new if you are a part of tech and keep up with the problems in tech products and culture. But if you dont keep up with tech exposés and news this is good reading.

I really like the idea of not thinking in edge cases but in stressors to see how resilient your system is. The end is a good reminder that when the your engineers do not reflect the demographics of the user base, as an engineer you need to be humble to correction by users.
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Katie Kovalcin
Oct 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-read
This book is a must read for anyone who uses technology in their daily lives. Sara's writing is so approachable and demystifies tech with examples of how biases in applications affect all of us. It was refreshing to read such an honest critique of the tech-focused world we live in. I couldn't put it down, I read it in one sitting!
Stacy Holmstedt
Sep 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a must-read for all UXers, business analysts and product owners. I read Watcher-Boettchers Design for Everyday Life and there are some similar references, but this goes beyond examining product design and illuminates the biases that can cause exclusion and even trauma in tech usage. ...more
Alex
Jan 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book had some real trouble with the so what? part. The author presents a great deal of interesting anecdotes but mostly fails to explain why anyone should care about them.
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kat
Nov 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Concise and motivating (if depressing). Should be required reading for everyone in tech.
Zi Hao
Mar 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Christopher Litsinger
Wachter Boettcher (Philly author!) covers this topic well. She also finds a tone that makes the book enjoyable to read while covering a topic that is ultimately quite depressing -- a fine balancing act. It's a quick read that deserves the place it's gotten on many best-of lists.
Two particular bits that stood out and will change the way I look at the world:
(1) The observation that paper forms are really an extension of computer systems -- they have their own user experience that can alienate
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Brian
Nov 14, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
(3.5) Lots of anecdotes of tech fails, rightly pinned on homogeneous tech culture

She doesn't seem to distinguish between failing to serve use cases/needs that a small number of customers have vs failing to serve subsets of a population who have the same use case. In the first case, it seems reasonable that a company might decide not to serve a particular use that a number of customers might have, because it is at odds with the use cases they're most interested in serving (e.g. the menstrual
...more
Erica
Feb 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
A great overview of how intended users are created when tech is designed, and how those intended users are susceptible to the lived experiences, unconscious biases, and goals of the people who use them to design tech. The author seemed to assume that readers would understand the cases she explained as negative, but it would have been better if she had spent time demonstrating the complexities of the process; the implications of the climates, structures, and processes she was highlighting; and ...more
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The See Also Lite...: Random tidbits 4 4 Mar 19, 2018 01:49PM  

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Sara Wachter-Boettcher is a web consultant based in Philadelphia, and the author of the forthcoming Technically Wrong, from W.W. Norton, as well as two books for web professionals: Design for Real Life, with Eric Meyer, and Content Everywhere.

She helps organizations make sense of their digital content, and speaks at conferences worldwide.

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