Google App Mistakenly Labels Black Couple as Gorillas

John Lister's picture

Google has apologized after its new Photos app for mobile devices labeled two black people as gorillas. It says it is taking both immediate and long term steps to make sure the mistake never happens again. The software bug follows a series of incidents in which searching for racist terms on its mapping service brought up the White House as the top result, though that particular incident was a "social prank," rather than a genuine bug in the software.

The Photos app for mobile devices is designed to be a single online storage place for pictures, accessible from any computer or device without the need to physically save pictures on every machine. One of the big advantages Google has promoted for the service is an artificial intelligence-powered visual search, something it says is extremely useful once users start dealing with large collections of pictures.

App Can Find People and Objects

The visual search works with individuals: if you select a photograph of your wife, the app will try to retrieve all other pictures of her using image recognition. The automated recognition means that it doesn't matter whether or not you've manually added any captions or tags to the image.

Google also gives the example of using the app with images of objects: "Looking for that fish taco you ate in Hawaii? Just search 'Hawaii' or 'food' to find it even if it doesn't have a description." (Source:

To make the image recognition work, the Photos app automatically assesses each image added to the library and assigns relevant tags. Unfortunately the visual assessment has hit some major flaws, with many users stating that pictures of dogs were being incorrectly tagged as horses.

Now there's an even more embarrassing fault. User Jacky Alcine noticed earlier this week that many pictures of himself and a friend had been automatically labeled as containing images of "gorillas."

Google Exec Mortified By Mistake

Yonatan Zunger, Google's "chief architect of social", quickly responded by asking Alcine for details and beginning work to fix the bug. He made the comments that this was "High on [his] list of bugs [that] you never want to see happen."

Google has since released a public apology stating that "We're appalled and genuinely sorry that this happened. There is still clearly a lot of work to do with automatic image labeling, and we're looking at how we can prevent these types of mistakes from happening in the future." (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Do you think image recognition technology is suitable for public use? Do you believe there is any way that Google could have foreseen incorrect automatic image labeling? Could or should Google have spotted the bug during pre-release testing?

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