Why does Google think most happy families are white?

A Google Images search for ‘happy family’ reveals a significant bias for white, two-parent homes. At the time of writing, 81 of the top 100 results feature white families and just one contains a single parent.

Many are calling for the search giant to reconsider its algorithms, but to label its programmers as biased is missing the point entirely. Google is simply reflecting an historic lack of diversity in online content more broadly.

The top 100 results for ‘happy family’ are derived from a range of sources, including small business websites, national newspapers, blog articles and photo galleries. Over the years, many designers, marketers and publishers have inadvertently created a one-dimensional view of what a family looks like.

For example, in its feature, “the 30 secrets to happy family life”, the Mirror has opted for three images which all depict white households with two parents and 2.4 children. At some point, more than one person at the Mirror has considered the photos to be a suitable way of illustrating the story.

But we can safely assume that there’s no agenda at work here, as that’s clearly in no-one’s interest. It’s certainly not a conspiracy by the national press to generate a narrow view of an average family. So what happened?

To understand the problem more thoroughly, you need to first consider where many online images originate. A quick reverse image search for the three photos in question traces them back to Getty Images, which has been supplying the press, ad agencies and bloggers with visual content since 1995.

If you perform the same “happy family” search on Getty, at the time of writing, 87 of the first 100 results feature white families, which makes it less diverse than Google Images. However, despite this, some of its competitors are even worse still.

  • Alamy (95)
  • Depositphotos (94)
  • Shutterstock (93)
  • Adobe Stock (92)
  • Dreamstime (88)
  • Getty Images (87)
  • iStockPhoto (85)

To get around…

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