How Computers See Gender: An Evaluation of Gender Classification in Commercial Facial Analysis Services

Scheuerman, Morgan Klaus; Paul, Jacob M.; Brubaker, Jed R.
Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction

Investigations of facial analysis (FA) technologies-such as facial detection and facial recognition-have been central to discussions about Artificial Intelligence's (AI) impact on human beings. Research on automatic gender recognition, the classification of gender by FA technologies, has raised potential concerns around issues of racial and gender bias. In this study, we augment past work with empirical data by conducting a systematic analysis of how gender classification and gender labeling in computer vision services operate when faced with gender diversity. We sought to understand how gender is concretely conceptualized and encoded into commercial facial analysis and image labeling technologies available today. We then conducted a two-phase study: (1) a system analysis of ten commercial FA and image labeling services and (2) an evaluation of five services using a custom dataset of diverse genders using self-labeled Instagram images. Our analysis highlights how gender is codified into both classifiers and data standards. We found that FA services performed consistently worse on transgender individuals and were universally unable to classify non-binary genders. In contrast, image labeling often presented multiple gendered concepts. We also found that user perceptions about gender performance and identity contradict the way gender performance is encoded into the computer vision infrastructure. We discuss our findings from three perspectives of gender identity (self-identity, gender performativity, and demographic identity) and how these perspectives interact across three layers: the classification infrastructure, the third-party applications that make use of that infrastructure, and the individuals who interact with that software. We employ Bowker and Star's concepts of "torque" and "residuality" to further discuss the social implications of gender classification. We conclude by outlining opportunities for creating more inclusive classification infrastructures and datasets, as well as with implications for policy.