The FaceApp selfie app had a racist whitewashing problem — so its CEO pulled the feature

Source: Twitter
Source: Twitter

That was fast. FaceApp, a new app that uses artificial intelligence to change your expression, age and gender, has a whitewashing problem. A feature called "Hot," meant to make you "become more attractive," according to its App Store description, actually took people of color and lightened their faces.

The feature was eventually renamed, then deleted — but not before it received major backlash on Twitter.

Why did this happen? Creator and CEO of FaceApp Yaroslav Goncharov blamed the whitewashing problem on his algorithm.

"We are deeply sorry for this unquestionably serious issue," Goncharov said, the Guardian reported. "It is an unfortunate side effect of the underlying neural network caused by the training set bias, not intended behavior."

Goncharov also said that FaceApp renamed the feature from "Hot" to "Spark" to "exclude any positive connotation associated with it" and that it was "working on the complete fix that should arrive soon."

Apparently the complete fix is just getting rid of the feature altogether. As BuzzFeed reported, the rebranded feature was removed from the app on Tuesday following the backlash.

A selfie app whitewashing faces is, sadly, nothing new. Snapchat has also had its fair share of racist, sexist and simply ignorant filters. The tech industry is dominated by white men, so it's not hugely surprising that products roll out that aren't optimized for women and people of color. But blaming the machine for an insensitive issue — something users were able to spot in under a week after its release — does not inspire faith in the company's ability to foresee future problems before they arise.

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Melanie Ehrenkranz

Melanie is a writer covering technology and the future. She can be reached at melanie@mic.com.

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