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How can we break the biometric bias for gender equality?

Article by Cindy White, CMO at Mitek

Today’s expectation is that technology solutions are unbiased. Sexist AI algorithms and facial recognition technologies need to be a thing of the past.

Even the most advanced technologies today lack the intellect to be deliberately biased, so let’s not “feed the beast”.

Although women comprise half of the population and the majority of the world is composed of people of color, the development of biometrics technology has long been the province of white men, a situation that has lent itself to egregious bias.

For example, a 2019 investigation by The New York Times discovered that one widely used facial-recognition data set was estimated to be more than 75% male and more than 80% white. While much progress has been made in reducing bias in facial recognition technology, we’re still not there yet.

Digital access is a daily requirement and enables financial transactions, retail convenience, education, healthcare, and even dating. How can we better understand the challenges and work as a community to offer alternative digital solutions?

Defining biometric bias

Biometric systems are being used to analyse the physiological or behavioural traits of an individual for the purposes of identity verification and authentication. This is commonly conducted using facial recognition or fingerprint analysis, both of which use machine learning.

Now, the problem with bias arises when the dataset used to train that biometric system (machine learning) lacks equal representation of all archetypes. Biometric bias can be defined as a system performing in an inconsistent manner which does not fully acknowledge the demographic make-up of society.

Questioning the design process

It’s important to note that biometrics itself is not actually biased, as they are not making any independent and intelligent decisions based on human values. Bias and inequality in biometric technologies are caused by a lack of diverse demographic data, bugs, and inconsistencies found in the algorithms.

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Inclusion means equal access, but we aren’t there yet. We still have a long way to go, even with some of the world’s most widely adopted technologies. Collectively we have a responsibility to ensure digital identity technologies are truly inclusive. That means not misrepresenting the underrepresented through racist and sexist facial recognition and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, or apps and mobile devices that don’t consider women and people of colour.

Crackdown on ethical AI guidelines

Determining ‘what is right’ goes beyond creating accuracy benchmarks. We also need to create ethical guidelines. The UK recently launched its 10 Year National AI Strategy, while the EU is currently working through the proposal of the EU AI Act. However, we need to do more than theoretically talk about AI and its implications.

AI ethical guidelines would serve to solidify the rights and freedoms of individuals using or subject to data-driven biometric technologies. Until we define what is and is not an ethical use of biometric technology, there is no metric or benchmark that exist to gauge the quality of technology.

Putting these practices in place will be a step forward in a gender equality. To be successful long-term, technology firms should be prioritising digital access for everyone, including women. To start, they should look at their own workforces; the more women influencing these tools, the better gender bias will be tackled.

Cindy WhiteAbout the author

International marketing executive with extensive experience across B2B and B2C, Cindy White has a proven record of innovation and leadership and a passion for building brands and product marketing. As Mitek Chief Marketing Officer, Cindy leads the company’s global marketing, brand, communications, product marketing, customer acquisition and partner programs.

Before joining Mitek, Cindy was Vice President of Marketing at FICO, where she developed a deep interest and expertise in fraud prevention. Previously, she was Director of Worldwide SMB Marketing for Microsoft, leading a global team chartered with the roll out of Office 365 and supporting the success of more than 85 million customers worldwide.

Meet our 100 incredible leaders breaking the bias & calling for societal change this International Women’s Day

As part of our #WeAreBreakingTheBias campaign, we will be sharing the thoughts of over 100 leaders who are calling for societal change for women. We hope you will join us so we can amplify why we should all #BreakTheBias for gender equity.