Google Play recommendations create harmful associations for queer people

Google’s Play Store created controversy when it listed a free application aimed to find sex offenders (“Sex Offender Search”) as a suggested download to users of the app Grindr (a geosocial networking and online dating application for gay, bi, trans, and queer persons). Mike Ananny, a writer for The Atlantic, noticed the suggestion and immediately started questioning why the two apps were linked. He deduced that it probably was not an editorial decision, but the fault of an algorithm. However, there is no way to verify why the association between the two apps was put in place because Google doesn’t make publicize its algorithms in order to protect its intellectual property and fend off competitors (Ananny 2011).

While the suggestion may appear relatively harmless, Ananny argues that it carries precarious implications. He calls upon society to critically assess how technologies can reify and legitimate problematic associations, which in this case, manifested as the association between homosexuality and sexual abuse (ibid). He argues that such reckless pairings can cause irreparable harm to those already facing real-world discrimination.

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