Google Photos mislabels black Americans as 'gorillas'

Occurred: July 2015

Google Photos was discovered to be automatically labelling black people as 'gorillas', prompting disgust amongst internet users and accusations of racial and ethnic stereotyping by civil rights advocates.

The discovery was made by programmer Jacky Alcine, who discovered that a folder named 'Gorillas' had been automatically generated in his Google Photos account. The folder contained photographs of Alcine and a Black friend. 

Alcine alerted Google to the problem, which quickly apologised and promised 'immediate action' to resolve the issue, which was thought likely to have involved the poor classification of image training data.

In 2018, WIRED discovered that Google had prevented Google Photos from labelling images as a gorilla, chimpanzee, or monkey, including pictures of the primates themselves.

Despite major advances in image recognition, Google Photos - and Apple Photos - failed to find any images with the images, according to a 2023 New York Times report.

Operator: Alphabet/Google
Developer: Alphabet/Google

Country: USA

Sector: Media/entertainment/sports/arts

Purpose: Improve photo labelling, discovery

Technology: Image recognition
Issue: Bias/discrimination - race, ethnicity

Transparency: Governance

Page info
Type: Incident
Published: March 2023
Last updated: May 2023