Appen blasted for recruitment skin colour assessments

Occurred: May 2021

A digital media strategist applying for a job at Australian AI gig working company Appen revealed the company is asking potential employees to describe their skin tone during its job application process.

In the application form, the company offered job-seekers the option to disclose their gender identify, ethnicity, complexion and whether they are disabled. Applying for a role in the US, Charné Graham opted to select her complexion, from light to brown to black, having ticked a box saying she is 'Black or African American'. 

Appen, a gig-worker company then employing over one million contractors labeling photographs, text and other data, later apologised and claimed the “optional question” was “used to ensure diverse datasets are included in the collection and annotation used to train computer vision algorithms.”

The incident was seen to highlight inappropriate governance and poor transparency at Appen. It also played into a broader debate about diversity within Australia's technology sector, amidst perceptions the industry remains dominated by white males.

In July 2023, Appen scored poorly in a report from the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute into the conditions of AI gig workers. Companies that employ AI gig workers uniformly fail to meet a basic threshold of labour rights standards, the report argued.

Operator: Appen
Developer: Appen
Country: USA; Australia
Sector: Technology
Purpose: Determine skin colour
Technology: Computer vision
Issue: Bias/discrimination - race; Employment
Transparency: Governance; Marketing

Research, advocacy 🧮

Page info
Type: Incident
Published: December 2021
Last updated: July 2023