May 15, 2019

Arianna Huffington Leads a Call for More Search Diversity

Arianna Huffington addresses a Microsoft Convergence audience at the Georgia Conference Center

By Jay Bemis | Advertising Systems Inc.

As a media magnate and social-media influencer who’s followed by 11-million plus people on the Twitter and LinkedIn platforms alone, Arianna Huffington has come to know a thing or two about algorithms.

She and Pantene hair products recently partnered to sound this alarm about search-engine algorithms, particularly: They says search results are too biased on the sides of both gender and ethnicity.

Their solution? A new Chrome web extension called “S.H.E.” — as in Search, Human, Equalizer — which is a tool, or brush, if you will, that Huffington and Pantene will help web searchers smooth out what they say is a tangled mess.

“For instance, right now, if you search for terms like ‘greatest engineer,’ ‘famous leader,’ or ‘best journalist,’ you won’t see a lot of images that include women,” Huffington writes in an April 30 post on Thrive Global.

“And there are racial imbalances, too. If you search for ‘beautiful hair,’ you’re very likely to see images of white women with straight hair. That’s what S.H.E. is all about: making what we find when we search online better reflect our society and our possibilities.”

Give Huffington and Pantene some kudos for their savvy. By choosing Google Chrome for their SHE extension, they’re at least using the world’s top search engine to try to spread their message.

Arianna Huffington co-founded The Huffington Post in 2005 but stepped down as editor in chief in 2016 when the popular online newspaper was acquired by Verizon. She now devotes much of her time to her role as founder and CEO of Thrive Global, a venture that focuses on the well-being and health of women and workers in general.

She’s also the author of 15 books, including, most recently, “Thrive” and “The Sleep Revolution.”

Pantene, meanwhile, has been owned by Procter & Gamble since 1985, when it was purchased from a Swiss brand that named the product after panthenol, a shampoo ingredient.

“As a leading brand for women, we see the accomplishments and transformations women achieve daily, but the reality is in some ways female-led transformations are not always visible,” says Ilaria Resta, a Procter & Gamble vice president, of the SHE launch with Huffington.

“In fact, some of the most accomplished women aren’t even visible in something we do over 3.5 billion times per day: Search. That’s exactly why we created S.H.E.”

Thus far, the SHE extension is rated three of five stars at the Chrome web store. Critics cite the number of Pantene ads and marketing gimmicks associated with the tool, but other reviewers praise the extension for at least bringing attention to apparent bias in the ever-expanding world of search.

“Our search-engine algorithms are capturing our stereotypes and serving them back to us in the form of biased results,” SHE proclaims on its website, citing a recent Market Watch/Pew Research study.

“With biases like these, it’s no surprise that women are almost three times as likely to say that their gender made their job success more difficult.”

Argues Arianna Huffington:

“Technology has a huge role to play. The algorithms that produce search results aren’t magic — they’re made by humans. They simply reflect the biases, both explicit and implicit, of our society. But we can’t fix a problem until we acknowledge it. And then we can begin to build technology that can be used to enhance our humanity instead of diminish it.”

By installing the SHE extension, she says, “You’ll be helping improve the search experience for everyone — since every time you click on an unbiased result, the algorithm will learn, evolve and get better.

“And in turn, so will we.”

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