From Academia: App Designs ‘Not Neutral’ on Race Issues

A new study published in ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction has explored the issue of sexual racism.

The study acknowledges the tension between addressing discriminatory language on online platforms and interfering with people’s choices, noting that: “intervening in intimate affairs is controversial: romantic and sexual choices are understood as intensely personal, well outside the scope of preferences that platforms might feel justified in influencing”.

A reluctance to intervene and influence users, however, is said to be the result of a “fundamental misapprehension”. This is the misapprehension that our desires exist independently of platform design / cultural environment.

Specific platform designs may encourage more diverse preferences in a given user, therefore. “No design choice is neutral”, the study claims.

By extension: “If we understand the position of platforms to be necessarily non-neutral, asking that designers rethink their products to proactively minimize discriminatory outcomes for all users begins to seem like a less radical position.”

The claim is that singles are malleable, and can be made to adjust their intimate preferences via a redesign of the dating apps they use. The study is open about this approach: “we are encouraging [apps] to consciously and purposefully intervene in the intimate decision-making practices of their users”.

When considering a redesign, however, platforms should take into account the personal autonomy of users. They should also consider cultural specifics – it would be inappropriate to encourage a conservative Jewish member to date outside of their religion, for example.

Sexual racism was the topic of October’s GDI Editorial, published yesterday.

It made the case that many dating sites hold incompatible positions, such as a site which removes race filters contrasted with

An industry standard may emerge around this topic, or the libertarian stance may be taken – different interpretations of the literature on sexual racism may allow different interfaces to co-exist. In any case, developers are likely to face increased scrutiny on this issue in future.

Read more here.