WHEN CANDICE MORGAN joined Pinterest in 2016 because the company’s first-ever head of diversity and inclusion, her goals initially centered on improving diversity within the corporate. The San Francisco company had set lofty goals for bringing more women and minorities into its engineering team, and Morgan had spearheaded new apprenticeship programs to usher in children from diverse backgrounds.
But on Pinterest’s platform, Morgan saw other diversity problems. On her “home feed,” Pinterest’s recommendation engine showed her images almost like those she’d saved on her boards—hair tutorials for black hair, editorial images showing black women. But when she used Pinterest’s search bar to seem for “hair ideas,” she found images of beachy waves and stylish up-dos, mostly featuring white women. “My hair type is what’s called ‘4C hair,’ given the extent of coolness,” says Morgan. “I learned that I needed to feature that to my searches so as to seek out things. It shouldn’t be that way.”
Across the web, search engines suffer equivalent problems with who gets represented. One study, from researchers at Brazil’s Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, found that 80 percent of top search results for “beautiful woman” on Google and Bing showed white women. Safiya Umoja Noble, an informatics researcher at UCLA and therefore the author of Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism, began writing her book after observing that Google searches for “black girls” mostly surfaced pornography.
On Pinterest, at least, the search results were less inflammatory. But it still took specific keywords to fine hair, makeup, or fashion ideas showing women who weren’t white. In some cases, the extent of specification meant an individual couldn’t find what they were checking out in the least. “We were thinking, how we will check out our database of pins and confirm we were in how matching and labeling content across different groups of people?” says Morgan.
Today, Pinterest is introducing its answer: how to narrow down beauty searches by skin tone. once you type during a beauty-related term, like “orange lipstick,” a group of skin tone options appears below it. Click on one and therefore the search results show only those skin tones. it is a small, subtle feature—one that a lot of Pinterest’s users will hardly notice. But Morgan, et al. at the corporate, consider it the primary step toward making Pinterest desire a more diverse place. A team at Pinterest has spent months creating the feature, building their own skin tone taxonomy to categorize pins, and training an algorithm to acknowledge them, in order that more users can find pins across a spectrum of skin tones. The result, they hope, will send a robust message: You shouldn’t need to work harder to look Pinterest simply because you are a person of color; you should not need to qualify “orange lipstick” simply because you’re not white.
SKIN TONE TAXONOMIES often lump complexion into broad categories, that specialize in the spectrum of sunshine and dark. One method, the Von Luschan scale, invented 36 different categories by comparing complexion to opaque colored tiles. Another method, the Fitzpatrick prototyping scale, reduced Von Luschan’s 36 shades into six broad categories supported how skin responds to ultraviolet. (The Fitzpatrick scale would later become the idea of the five skin shades for emoji). But the first Von Luschan’s scale was also used as a defense of eugenics, how to definitively separate “white” from “non-white” within the forced sterilizations committed by the German Society for Racial Hygiene. That history horrified Morgan. “We were like, ‘We’re not using that,’” she says.
Pinterest’s new filter shows up slightly below the search bar after beauty-related queries. You type in ‘makeup ideas’ and it appears, inviting you to ‘pick a skin tone range to narrow your search.’
But the team still needed how of categorizing Pinterest’s 8 billion beauty-related pins. Early in their exploration, they found Brazilian artist Angélica Dass, who had photographed many people and identified their skin tones by Pantone colors. Unlike other taxonomies, Dass’s project divorced skin tone from ethnicity—Pantone 51-6 C might be a blonde-haired little boy or a biracial woman with an afro. “It causes you to check out skin tone sort of a paint chip,” says Larkin Brown, Pinterest’s qualitative user experience researcher. “We checked out this and thought, well, we don’t want to use Pantone colors, but there might be how to show skin tone into a digital value.”
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