Don’t you just love the way Google always seems to know exactly what you are trying to say? Like, when you are looking for a specific concert date and you type in the band name, then the city and Google autocompletes the next word to the name of the venue. Gotta <3 that algorithm. For me, autocomplete goes fairly unnoticed. I start typing and when Google gets it, I hit enter. When it doesn’t, I keep adding words until it does. I never really paid much attention to the results that were not what I was looking for. Recently though, I came across a campaign that made me look a little closer at what Google thinks I want to say.
The campaign I am referring to came from renowned advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather and was based around the sexist tendencies of Google’s autocomplete feature. It showed powerful close-ups of women’s faces with Google search bars over their mouths. In the search bars were phrases like “women should” and “women can’t” and below those terms, the autocomplete options from Google.
Knowing that autocomplete takes into consideration ones geographical location, personal search history and that it often produces some seriously ridiculous stuff–there’s even a Twitter account about it: @GooglePoetics–I took to my computer to test it out for myself–for both genders.
First, I duplicated the search terms from the Ogilvy & Mather campaign to see what kind of results I would get. I then swapped out “women” with “men” to see what the difference would be.
When I searched for the phrases “women should/shouldn’t/cannot/need to”, Google autocompleted my search results with very similar phrases to the ones pictured in the Ogilvy & Mather campaign. Some of the results I got included: “Women cannot have it all”, “Women should be seen and not heard”, “Women shouldn’t work” and “Women need to grow up”.
Though there were some variations in the terminology, the results were all derogatory, painting women as the lesser gender.
When I switched genders, replacing the word “women” with the word “men”, Google’s autocompletions suddenly had a very different tone. Thy received phrase completions such as: “Men shoulder bag”, “Men shouldn’t wear shorts”, “Men need to ejaculate” and “Men need to cheat”. See the difference there? Sad.
After I was done testing it for myself, I asked a few friends to see if they would get similar results, and they did. Again, there was some variation in wording, but not a whole lot. I ask that you try it out for yourself, see what kind of results you get, talk about it with people and get them to do it too. Don’t just marvel at the sexist terms that appear before you though. Finish your own sentences and teach Google to say positive things. Teach it that the way to finish sentences that begin with “women should” is with phrases like “speak their minds” and “pursue their dreams”. In doing this, you can change the results.