Dirty Data

*How do our bots respond to sexual harassment?

“People often comment on the sexism inherent in these subservient bots’ female voices, but few have considered the real-life implications of the devices’ lackluster responses to sexual harassment. By letting users verbally abuse these assistants without ramifications, their parent companies are allowing certain behavioral stereotypes to be perpetuated. Everyone has an ethical imperative to help prevent abuse, but companies producing digital female servants warrant extra scrutiny, especially if they can unintentionally reinforce their abusers’ actions as normal or acceptable. In order to substantiate claims about these bots’ responses to sexual harassment and the ethical implications of their pre-programmed responses, Quartz gathered comprehensive data on theirprogramming by systematically testing how each reactsto harassment. The message is clear, Instead of fighting back against abuse, each bot helps entrench sexist tropes through their passivity.

The data visualization represents an overview of how the bots responded to different
types of verbal harassment. Aside from Google Home, which more-or-less didn’t

understand most of our sexual gestures, the bots most frequently evaded harassment, occasionally responded positively with either graciousness or flirtation, andrarely responded negatively, such as telling us to stop or that what we were saying
was inappropriate.

The sample of the harassments used and the bots responses were categorized by the Linguistic Society of America’s definition of sexual harassment. The harassment statements generally fit under one of these categories: lewd comments about an individual’s sex, sexuality, sexual characteristics, or sexual behavior. They were repeated multiple times to see if responses varied and if defensiveness increased with continued abuse. Of course, these insults do not fully encapsulate the scope of sexual harassment experiencedby many women on a daily basis, and are only intended to represent a sampling of verbal harassment. Excuse the profanity.”

Leah Fessler | Quartz

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