Get a free audiobook

$14.95/month + applicable taxes after 30 days. Cancel anytime.

Publisher's Summary

A revealing look at how negative biases against women of color are embedded in search engine results and algorithms. 

Run a Google search for “black girls” - what will you find? “Big Booty” and other sexually explicit terms are likely to come up as top search terms. But, if you type in “white girls”, the results are radically different. The suggested porn sites and un-moderated discussions about “why black women are so sassy” or “why black women are so angry” presents a disturbing portrait of black womanhood in modern society. 

In Algorithms of Oppression, Safiya Umoja Noble challenges the idea that search engines like Google offer an equal playing field for all forms of ideas, identities, and activities. Data discrimination is a real social problem; Noble argues that the combination of private interests in promoting certain sites, along with the monopoly status of a relatively small number of Internet search engines, leads to a biased set of search algorithms that privilege whiteness and discriminate against people of color, specifically women of color. 

Through an analysis of textual and media searches as well as extensive research on paid online advertising, Noble exposes a culture of racism and sexism in the way discoverability is created online. As search engines and their related companies grow in importance - operating as a source for email, a major vehicle for primary and secondary school learning, and beyond - understanding and reversing these disquieting trends and discriminatory practices is of utmost importance. 

An original, surprising and, at times, disturbing account of bias on the internet, Algorithms of Oppression contributes to our understanding of how racism is created, maintained, and disseminated in the 21st century. 

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2018 New York University (P)2018 Audible, Inc.

What listeners say about Algorithms of Oppression

Average Customer Ratings
Overall
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    13
  • 4 Stars
    4
  • 3 Stars
    1
  • 2 Stars
    0
  • 1 Stars
    0
Performance
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    11
  • 4 Stars
    5
  • 3 Stars
    0
  • 2 Stars
    0
  • 1 Stars
    0
Story
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    11
  • 4 Stars
    3
  • 3 Stars
    2
  • 2 Stars
    0
  • 1 Stars
    0

Reviews - Please select the tabs below to change the source of reviews.

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Incredibly well researched and well written

This is a brilliant overview of how modern technologies serve to support and formalize stereotypes and discrimination caused by systemic oppression. Highly recommended to all, especially those working in the tech field.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Excellent critical review of commercial search

Great review of commercial search and its enforcement of systemic discrimination. The proposal for black feminist technology studies is well made, and certainly needed.

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
  • John Abdul-Masih
  • 2019-03-21

Real issues, misdirected solutions / anger

I'm a person of color (although personally I don't care for that term) that read this book along with others in an attempt to understand current trends in the social justice movement.

The author of this book was forward thinking, even saying at the beginning that by the time readers get to this book, Google will have likely fixed the issues she discusses. And for the most part she's right. I checked some of her basic examples and they're no longer issues. So in a way, we can see how things have improved using this book as a snapshot in time.

The very first thing I want to point out about this book is that it in no way actually criticizes algorithms. With so many headlines telling me how algorithms are racist, I had gone into this book hoping for an insightful view of how algorithms are inherently racist. The book never approaches anything like that. It makes sense because an algorithm is just a set of instructions, if an algorithm is racist then race has to be a component in the instructions themselves or in the data. But again nothing like this is in the book. It's mostly about implications of search engines and recommendation engine results. The distinction may seem thin but it's important. One deals with the core structure of computing, the other deals with unintended consequences.

This book is at its strongest when it's pointing out real problems. For example, the author points out that searching for "black girls" used to get pornographic results. It's understandable that pornography shouldn't be the primary result for such an innocent search. As someone who searched for bananas for a project in jr high and had it go extremely wrong, I understand this. Other issues of what exactly comes back for a given search is certainly something to be explored. Indeed it is explored by every major search engine.

At the same time though, the software that causes these kinds of things to happen needs to be understood. Google uses both keywords and result clicks to determine what the user is likely to want. That people use a certain term to find pornography is not something that can be directly placed on Google's shoulders, their system found a pattern and used it. It's an unintended consequence, and it was corrected. And I think it's commonly known that these shortcomings are out there. There is a radio commercial that pokes fun at the concept by having a father search for "nice young boys" to find a date for his daughter, only to immediately say "nevermind". Society, at some level, knows this happens.

What the book extrapolates from the search results is probably its weakest point. The author seems to think these issues have a unique racial slant, and puts too much emphasis on Google as source of truth. Google is no more a source of truth than the dewey decimal system is at a library. It just sends you in the direction of information, it does not regard the truthfulness of information in any way. In fact, I'd be worried if they tried to do anything like that considering it would put Google in charge of dictating what is factual.

If the author had said that we need to make sure that people know how Google works and left it at that, I would've been fine with the assessment (although I would've wanted data to back up the claim) but the emphasis is instead on making sure Google only returns certain results. While this is a great way to get immediate results, I would rather see people taught how to use the wealth of information correctly rather than trying to add safety padding to our information.

The book also brings up neutrality, and how we need to re-evaluate it. I agree that the goal of neutrality in information and research is a permanent, ongoing thing. However the author seemed to suggested that the concept of neutrality is used more to cover up or oppress. That's fine to make that claim, however more data on it should be presented instead of just a history of bias that the book cites. Put another way, if we're going to say something isn't neutral, it should be clear how it isn't. But in general terms I agree with true neutrality being a good thing, and something that needs to be evaluated.

In short, the book is an interesting read but not that modern and not timeless enough to recommend. Search engines and computers are always improving and the issues raised by this book needed to be called out. But now that they're resolved or close to it, it's just a snapshot of the past. Kind of like looking over a receipt from a car repair you had done a year ago.

In terms of the performance, it's good! The author reads everything clearly and has enough emotion to have you engaged, like a friend telling you something they're passionate about. It allowed me to take in the concepts being presented without even really paying attention to the performance, making for a seamless experience.

18 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Joshua Daniel-Wariya
  • 2019-06-06

Read this book. Tell everyone you know about it.

This is perhaps the single most important and consequential book I have ever read. Noble frames this discussion specifically around how women and people of color have their identities put into a kind of "default mode" online through search algorithms that are not in their best interest, much less represent them in ways they choose. At the same time, she argues persuasively how the infiltration and monopolization of search by the neoliberal capitalist project is a critical issue for everyone. The audiobook for this is quite well done, and it is written with a precision and clarity that will make it accessible to anyone.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Richard Grillotti
  • 2019-02-20

A Very Important Book

This research ought to be required reading/listening for all internet users. Corporations as the intentional and/or irresponsible filters of online information has incredibly detrimental results in real life.

Knowing how, why & what results come up when we search is crucial to understand, lest we believe the top ranking searches are the most relevant & useful results out there, and that the results we do get are neutral & unbiased.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Saiya
  • 2021-04-09

a must read if you're in the tech field.

This is an informative book with good points. good real world examples and very relevant for today.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Power Man
  • 2021-02-14

It's good information

This is great information for everyone 6-96. The permanence of racism and bigotry is now flowing through the veins of our search engines. Knowledge is power.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Łukasz
  • 2021-01-10

Important read, somewhat dry execution

tl;dr - Important subject matter and good data-backed observations. On the other hand, a dry and somewhat uninspired execution. But maybe it's partially due to the topic being unpleasant to deal with?

The main argument of the book can be summarized with this (lightly paraphrased) quote: "Taking away women, African-, Hispanic-, Asian- and Native- Americans, French Canadians, lesbians, gay men, people with disabilities, anyone who isn't Christian, one is left with a very small core."

The problem the author highlights is that society still treats this small core as if it represented every person, the "universal man". In particular, this point of view causes search engines (with 100% attention of the book directed towards Google) to be racist and sexist.

The author shows very well how Google is not a public good service, how PageRank is not like academic citations, and how the first page results are super-optimized towards profiting Google.

There's talk about how algorithms can be racist by catering to this elusive core of "universal man", with concrete examples on sexualizing ethnicities (searched like "black girls"), passing fringe opinions as fact (searches like "black on white crime" or "jews"), and so on. The author discusses the right to be forgotten, balancing society's need to be informed with unjust constant persecution of long-past behavior. It's especially important in light of how easy it is to game Google results (SEO, "Google bombing"), one example discussed being mugshot extortion websites. Turns out 95% of "right to be forgotten" takedown requests are from private citizens who are not politicians, public figures, or convicted criminals.

The author argues that Google is not doing nearly enough to address those problems. They are capable of so doing, as demonstrated by effective information removal when it comes to copyright infringement. It's argued that it's likely because media corporations are Google's customers. Misinformation, racism, and sexism are clearly less of a priority and on multiple occasions the company disclaimed responsibility for the search results being bad. The author asks: "if Google is not responsible for their algorithms then who is?"

I enjoyed the discussion of the historical context of this idea of a "universal man", of treating what's outside of this small core norm as worse. Since the invention of print nationalities galvanized, making national language more consistent, and increasing need and ability to classify.

In fact, a brilliant point is made that the Library of Congress subject headings explicitly encoded its creators' biases, using racist classes like: "the Jewish question", "the yellow peril", "Negros", "illegal immigrants". 80% of Dewey classification on religion is about christianity, some religions labeled as "primitive".

The author argues that Google search is a realtime, mutable analogue of the Library of Congress classification. The danger of misrepresentation in classifying people targets marginalized groups most, like women or colored people. It is thus patriarchal and racist.

Finally, the author discusses how the notion of "colorblindness" in terms of race is not a solution because erasing racial identity is hurtful as well. Denying people the context of their culture, upbringing, as well as past and present injustice, is a form of racism itself. A concrete example of this problem is discussed when a black hair stylist is denied the ability to highlight her salon's specialty on "colorblindness" grounds.

Overall, this is all important stuff. Not sure why but it took me a long time to go through it though. The academic language used, as well as the rhythm and tone of the book, were not particularly inviting to me. I recommend reading it regardless.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Chicagomom
  • 2021-01-04

Fantastic book

Timely and relevant work. I wish I had listened to it earlier. Great narration of book

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Anonymous User
  • 2020-12-01

This book changed my perception of technology.

This book was one of the most well documented and engaging discussions on the issues of technologies role in perpetuating systematic racism while feigning impartiality. I was riveted from the beginning to the epilogue. A great read.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • JANICE V KENNEDY
  • 2020-10-15

Wow, I was totally shocked by what Google does.

This book at first was hard to get into because I am not technical at all. But it was very educational in opening my eyes on Google rolls in the internet. I am recommending this book to everybody.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Anonymous User
  • 2020-08-25

Incredible and relevant

A few years after its initial publication, this book still holds up with extremely relevant and important information about how Google monopolizes how we take in information. The implications are vast. Should be required reading for anyone who ventures into discussions of how tech platforms should be regulated.