DW analysis: Google image search cements national stereotypes of ‘racy’ women | Press | DW | 07.03.2021
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DW analysis: Google image search cements national stereotypes of ‘racy’ women

An exclusive data-driven investigation by DW reveals how Google's image search perpetuates sexist stereotypes. Women from Latin America, eastern Europe and southeast Asia are particularly affected.

In an exclusive analysis, DW has found that Google’s image search propagates sexist stereotypes. The analysis was a collaborative project between DW's Data Journalism and Culture departments. The two teams analyzed over 20,000 images and websites and reveal an inherent bias in the search giant’s algorithms.

For instance, image searches for the phrases "Brazilian women," "Thai women" or "Ukrainian women," show results that are more likely to be overly sexualized than the results for "American women," the analysis shows.

Similarly, a search for Dominican or Brazilian women will provide images of numerous young ladies wearing swimsuits and in sexualized positions, in contrast to images of German women which tend to depict politicians and athletes.

Screenshots of Google image search results for 'German' vs 'Brazilian' women

Screenshots of Google image search results for 'German' vs 'Brazilian' women

The analysis further found that the images link back to websites, many of which, publish content that blatantly objectifies women.

Language also plays a key role, the analysis shows. When comparing the results for the search terms "Brazilian women" and "mulheres brasileiras," the same phrase in Portuguese, 41 out of 100 pictures were tagged as "racy" in the English-language search in comparison to 9 in Portuguese. This trend was also observed in other nationalities.

Tamara Zlobina, editor-in-chief of the Ukrainian magazine Gender in Detail says this kind of depiction is probably related to what happened in Ukraine in the 1990s: "After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was an extremely poor country. A lot of women went to Western Europe trying to earn money for their families," she said, adding that this reality is rapidly changing with improvement in women's education and career prospects.

"I'd prefer to see diplomats, politicians, revolutionaries, the women who are fighting in our border wars... We have a lot of wonderful women. We should see that and not only this bride market," stresses Zlobina. 

Data visualization - Google image search - Rate of 'racy' pictures in different regions

Joana Varon, founder of the think tank Coding Rights, says commercial algorithms and their providers "should be accountable for what they show, since they are reinforcing an oppressing world view in a search tool that became universal."

She says a possible way out of this situation would involve more oversight, more transparency and more competition.

DW reached out to Google for comment. The company acknowledged that the search results do show content that reflects negative stereotypes. The company says it is working to find scalable solutions to such issues.

Read the full analysis

More data-driven journalism by DW

EINSCHRÄNKUNG DW Personenfoto | Corporate Communications | Carla Hagemann

Carla Hagemann

Corporate Spokesperson and Head of Corporate Communications


T +49.30.4646.8197