UK Home Office to scrap ‘racist algorithm’

Black lives matter
Photo by Sushil Nash on Unsplash

I couldn’t help but see the clear connection between a conversation we had on the most recent tech for good live podcast and the UK home office’s not officially announced decision to scrap the algorithm for people applying for UK visas. BBC also reports similar.

The Home Office is to scrap a controversial decision-making algorithm that migrants’ rights campaigners claim created a “hostile environment” for people applying for UK visas.

The “streaming algorithm”, which campaigners have described as racist, has been used since 2015 to process visa applications to the UK. It will be abandoned from Friday, according to a letter from Home Office solicitors seen by the Guardian.

The transcript is online, now (massive thanks to tech for good making these). Ade made such a great point…

The Home Office response was, not only that they knew but that their focus was making the application simple to use, right? So, the overall performance was judged sufficient to deploy, and the home office told the BBC it wanted the process of uploading the passport application photo to be simple.

Simple as in white…?! Seriously!

I’m glad its scrapped but we have to ask serious questions how it even made it out? Is something we talked about in the episode and the absolute responsibility of developers and technologists to call these things out. Passing it off as a MVP isn’t good enough.

As Ethar says…

This does create a two tier dam. Do you think that does create.. Well.. part of that situation? It’s the fact that we technologists build to the greatest value first. In the event where we’ve chosen, we’ve made an explicit choice that white people have the greatest value in that context by doing what we’ve done and said that people of colour don’t matter.

I highly recommend listening to the whole podcast, its well worth your time. As there’s some great thoughts from Vimla and David too. Just listen and enjoy!

https://pod.co/tech-for-good-live/black-lives-matter-special-canaries-in-the-coal-mine-with-ian-forrester

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.

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