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Facebook job ads algorithm still discriminates on gender, LinkedIn not so much • The Register

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Two years after Facebook settled five lawsuits claiming that its employment, housing, and credit ads illegally discriminate, researchers with the University of Southern California have found that the company still serves job ads unfairly, based on gender.

In a paper titled “Auditing for Discrimination in Algorithms Delivering Job Ads,” scheduled to appear at The Web Conference later this month, Basileal Imana, a doctoral student at USC, Aleksandra Korolova, USC assistant professor of computer science, and John Heidemann, USC research professor of computer science, explore bias in algorithmic job ad delivery at Facebook and LinkedIn.

Korolova, in an email to The Register, explained that since US law allows for ad delivery to be differentiated on the basis of qualifications, she and her colleagues developed a way to test for bias while factoring out lawful qualification-based biasing.

“Even when controlling for job qualifications, Facebook introduces a delivery skew by gender for job ads with balanced targeting,” Korolova said, noting that this advances the argument that “Facebook’s ad delivery algorithms are not merely biased but actually discriminatory.”

“Interestingly, we did not find such an effect when auditing LinkedIn’s algorithms,” she added.

In 2019, Korolova was among a different set of academics who, shortly after Facebook settled the above mentioned civil rights lawsuits and announced changes to combat discriminatory advertising, found biased behavior in Facebook’s ad delivery attributable to ad budgets and ad content.

Time to check again

This time, Korolova and her colleagues have looked at how Facebook and LinkedIn’s algorithmic ad platforms skew job ads by delivering them to viewers identified as male and female – where that data is available – in a ratio that differs from the expected gender distribution for the job.

They managed this by comparing the performance of two ads in three different job categories – delivery driver, software engineer, and sales associate – with known differences in gender distribution. They then weighed the expected ratio against the actual gender ratio among Facebook and LinkedIn ad recipients.

One such ad pair consisted of an ad to be a delivery driver for Domino’s Pizza (98 per cent male) and an ad to be a delivery driver shuttling groceries for Instacart (more than 50 per cent female).

image of race with one running slowed by gender

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“The de facto gender distribution among drivers of these services is skewed male for Domino’s and skewed female for Instacart,” the paper explains.

“If a platform shows the Instacart ad to relatively more women than a Domino’s ad, we conclude that the platform’s algorithm is discriminatory, since both jobs have similar qualification requirements and thus a gender skew cannot be attributed to differences in qualifications across genders represented in the audience.”

The researchers found “a statistically significant gender skew on Facebook, and show no gender skew on LinkedIn.”

For software engineering job ads, the researchers choose recruitment pitches for Netflix (35 per cent female) and Nvidia (19 per cent female). They expected that an ad platform using an algorithm that learns and incorporates existing differences in employee demographics would show the Netflix job ad to more women than the Nvidia job ad and they were not surprised.

Facebook again skewed its ad distribution by gender; LinkedIn did not.

For sales associate positions, job ads for Reed Jewelers (jewelry sales being 62 per cent female per federal job statistics) and Leith Automotive (auto sales being 17.9 per cent female) were compared.

Again, this job ad category produced similar results to the previous ones: There was “statistically significant delivery skew between all jobs on Facebook but not for two of the three cases on LinkedIn.”

Facebook’s skewing of ads by gendering cannot be explained by differences in qualifications, the researchers argue, noting that their findings suggest “that Facebook’s algorithms may be responsible for unlawful discriminatory outcomes.”

According to Korolova, Facebook was informed of the researchers’ findings and has not responded. The Register asked Facebook for comment, but we’ve not heard back.

Something’s up

Asked why Facebook’s algorithm behaves differently from LinkedIn’s, Korolova proposed several possibilities.

“Facebook may have more sources of data about the users than LinkedIn, which enables them to better pick up on existing real-world skews,” she suggested. “Facebook may give higher weight to the engagement estimates in its ad delivery algorithms than LinkedIn. LinkedIn may make a deliberate effort in their algorithms to ensure fairness.”

She also allowed that the research methodology used might be insufficient to analyze LinkedIn’s algorithm, but noted that LinkedIn appears to have made a concerted effort to address algorithmic fairness.

Korolova said she and her colleagues would not presume to propose an optimal way to present job ads. “I think our assumption is that the gender of ad recipients should reflect the gender of the target population, as would occur from a naive algorithm of showing ads to all visitors,” she said.

Advertisers interested in increasing employee diversity, she said, “should be able to advertise to a balanced audience, rather than have decisions of who their ads go to be ‘overruled’ by Facebook.”

While acknowledging that outwardly neutral characteristics can reflect bias, citing the example of how home location data captures the bias of historical redlining, Korolova said it isn’t inevitable that Facebook’s ad delivery will be discriminatory.

“That their results are discriminatory in our data is particularly surprising given multiple prior observations that Facebook algorithms lead to skewed delivery and their statements that they were addressing it,” she said.

“With Facebook, these outcomes align with their business model of optimizing for advertiser and user ‘value’ (or engagement), suggesting the importance of external evaluation and potential regulation.”

Citing research costs approaching $5,000 in ad fees and a time investment of many months, the researchers argue that ad platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn should make it easier and more affordable to verify that ads comply with anti-discrimination laws. And since these platforms are unlikely to take such steps on their own, they suggest lawmakers should pass legislation to mandate access.

“We would like to make auditing by public interest researchers of Facebook’s ad delivery algorithms feasible, because we believe that will lead to greater transparency about skew and encourage addressing the problem,” said Korolova. “Facebook’s current transparency efforts fall far short of the feasibility goals.” ®

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Chinese developers rebel against 996 working hours culture • The Register

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Chinese software developers have crowdsourced a spreadsheet that dishes the dirt on working conditions at hundreds of employers.

Dubbed WorkingTime, the protest aims to offer transparency regarding how many work hours are expected. Many organisations expect 72-hour working weeks – an arrangement dubbed “996” after the 9am to 9pm, six days a week culture in place at many Chinese companies.

The practice has sometimes been promoted by the rich and famous: Alibaba’s Jack Ma publicly stated that employees should actually want to work long hours and a job you love enough to spend that much time doing is a “blessing”.

Chinese courts take a different view. A recent decision found 996-style hours aren’t permissible, as Chinese law caps overtime at 36 hours per month and requires compensation for the extra hours. But China is not a workers’ paradise, and the practice persists because oversight is limited and independent labour unions are illegal in the Middle Kingdom.

The WorkingTime project aims to assist developers looking for work to understand what they’re signing up for.

“The opacity of working hours in some companies, working time is a very important factor in choosing an offer,” wrote a movement founder on Chinese Q&A site Zhihu.

The spreadsheet in which workers record how many hours they work a week, job descriptions, breaks and other remarks strongly suggest that grueling hours remain at some workplaces. Others stick to a 40-ish hour working week and add perks like happy hours and subsidized housing.

The anecdotes, visible on an openly accessible spreadsheet associated with the project, provide a similar service for Chinese tech workers to web pages like Glassdoor – giving tips on company culture and requirements.

Some remarks include:

  • “I often go on business trips. I have been on business for half of a month. I leave work after 10 o’clock every night at the customer’s site. I have to work overtime on weekends. The entire department has worked for two years except for the leaders.”
  • “Feel free to ask for leave and lunch time, because it’s the field work, whether you are in the company or not, and you can play games casually, regardless of the leader. If you drink too much, it’s fine if you don’t come.”
  • “Mandatory to keep people on duty every night, compulsory all staff to work overtime every Saturday, no overtime pay, working hours over 10 hours.”
  • “When the daily work cannot be completed, it is necessary to work overtime at home.”
  • “The work pace is fast and the work content is highly saturated. Flexible commute, just do everything.”

The WorkingTime project has gone viral, with the founders reporting over ten million views and thousands of entries as of last Tuesday. While the founders remain anonymous, contributors hail from a diverse subset of companies that includes some of China’s big tech giants like Alibaba, Tencent, Huawei and Bytedance, as well as multinational companies such as SAP, Dyson, Intel and IBM.

According to the project’s GitHub page, lawyers are currently pitching in to sort out legal issues prior to making the project freely downloadable. However, a summary table of data collated daily is already available in Chinese.

Unsurprisingly, the project has stirred some ire. The founders have asked that participants do not apply for editing permission, explaining that “due to malicious editing” such privileges will not be granted. ®

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Johnson & Johnson Ireland moves to 100pc renewable electricity

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The move comes following a power purchase agreement between Johnson & Johnson and Ørsted, which has windfarm sites in Clare and Kerry.

Johnson & Johnson has revealed plans to move to 100pc renewable electricity across its Irish operations.

The company has entered into an eight-year corporate power purchase agreement in Ireland with Danish company Ørsted. The agreement will help to ensure that the company’s entire Irish operations will be powered by electricity from 100pc renewable sources from now on.

Ørsted will supply the company with more than 1TWh of renewable energy during this period from two windfarms located in Kerry and Clare. The agreement will also help Ørsted as it invests in its strategy to construct more renewable generation in the future.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, TD, praised the move in the context of Ireland’s climate action plans.

“Johnson & Johnson has embraced its environmental responsibilities globally, but also here in Ireland, and this agreement will help the company to achieve its wider climate goals. We are at a crucial point in the global fight against climate change and initiatives like this should become the benchmark for all companies to aspire to,” he said.

Towards net zero

Last year, Johnson & Johnson’s worldwide VP of environmental health, safety and sustainability, Paulette Frank, spoke at Silicon Republic’s Future Human event about the company’s “bold” climate goals. From her base in the US, Frank told attendees of the virtual event that her colleagues viewed the pandemic as “inspiration to propel” its climate action “further faster.”

Sourcing electricity from 100pc renewable sources is a goal the company set to achieve by 2025. By 2030, it wants to achieve carbon neutrality in its global operations.

John Lynch, plant leader at Johnson & Johnson Vision Care Ireland, said the company was proud to have met its targets in its Irish operations.

“Across our 10 sites and workforce of more than 5,000 here in Ireland, we are committed to supporting Johnson & Johnson’s climate action goals. In the last decade we have invested more than €60m in over 80 carbon footprint reduction projects.

“Today is a major landmark on our journey in Ireland to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030 and underlines our commitment to ensuring a better, healthier world.”

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‘At once intolerable and addictive’: five wellbeing courses and apps, road-tested | Health & wellbeing

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Australians are the world’s biggest consumers of health and wellness apps, punching well above our per capita weight in our quest for peak physical and mental condition, according to research from telecommunications company Uswitch. In recent years we have also been making them – with everyone from fitness influencers to mental health advocacy groups launching digital products.

I’m partial to a bit of mobile-based movement and mindfulness myself, but I have a complex relationship with wellness. While I love green juices, pilates and my “ness” being “well”, I can’t abide many contemporary uses of the word. In the diet, fitness, fashion and other industries, “wellness” can feel like a barely repackaged “weight loss”, while “healthy” has replaced “slim” as companies respond superficially to the body positivity movement without really changing their ways.

Despite wholesome beginnings in the 1950s, wellness is often framed as a goal for the financially and genetically privileged – and don’t get me started on the pseudoscience.

So I choose cautious cynicism when engaging with wellness and wellbeing products – but I’ve also been alone in my house for the greater part of two years, so I’ll try pretty much anything.

Sweat

Cost: $19.99 a month

Screen shot of the Sweat app from Kayla Itsines.

Sweat is a women’s health app co-founded by Australian fitness influencer Kayla Itsines, who boasts a worldwide social media following of more than 40 million. It offers over 30 programs for training at home or the gym, including high-intensity interval training (Hiit), low-intensity training, yoga and barre.

I did sessions from the PWR Zero Equipment program and it was all easy to follow and very doable. Audio and written instructions and onscreen demonstrations are clear, and self-accountability is super easy. It’s perfect for lockdown and for busy people cramming in exercise wherever and whenever they can. Plus, I can report that burpees are still the merciless work of Satan herself.

Itsines has created an app that exists in the wellness space with little of the self-congratulatory, quasi-spiritual hoopla other influencers lean so heavily into. Sweat isn’t pretending to be something it’s not. It’s a workout app, you do workouts on it. Yes, there are recipes and lifestyle tips but they aren’t offered as miracle pathways to a higher plane of being.

Is it my preferred mode of exercise? No. But it’s convenient and flexible and I can see myself using it when I travel. If that’s a thing that ever happens again.

Worry Time

Cost: Free

ReachOut’s WorryTime app
ReachOut’s WorryTime app. Photograph: Reach Out

ReachOut’s WorryTime is an anxiety management app from the online youth mental health service that uses cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques to disrupt and manage repetitive thinking.

I am by no definition a youth, but I have mild anxiety and WorryTime’s methodology appealed to me. You nominate a daily time to do all your worrying and when you feel anxious, you note why in the app; every day at the designated time, you worry about what’s still plaguing you and delete what’s not. Easy!

I used WorryTime diligently for a while, noting my fears, my troubles and doubts and reassessing them every 24 hours. All was going well until I got busy with work, stressed about work and scared I’d stop getting work. Where the app had been a welcome task, it became a bugbear.

I was trying not to think about things that made me anxious and knowing the app contained a list of them created a classic avoidance paradigm. I skipped a day. And the next day. And the day after that. Soon the WorryTime alarm was causing me the very anxiety it was engaged to minimise. After a few weeks of this mental chicken-egg dance, I deleted the app. I may have been in the foetal position at the time.

I’m not advocating against WorryTime. It could be a great tool for others. There are no one-size-fits-all mental health salves. It would be nice if there were though.

Bibliotherapy with State Library Victoria

Cost: Free

Dr Susan McLaine, host of State Library Victoria’s Bibliotherapy podcast
Dr Susan McLaine, host of State Library Victoria’s Bibliotherapy podcast. Photograph: Supplied

My favourite discovery from this whole exercise is bibliotherapy or book therapy, an age-old practice that uses literature to support better mental health and wellbeing. Basically, you read or are read aloud a prescribed text, specifically chosen to raise questions, uncover truths and encourage healing. It’s also fun to say.

In response to the pandemic, a new podcast called Bibliotherapy with State Library Victoria was launched. Hosted by bibliotherapy practitioner Dr Susan McLaine, it offers to help people “stay calmer in this fragile time”. In each episode, McLaine reads a short story and a poem and poses questions for listeners. Texts range from emerging and obscure writers to Tolstoy, Donne and Kipling.

I love this podcast. There’s something so intimate and soothing about being read to, no doubt embedded in childhood nostalgia. McLaine’s voice takes some getting used to, though to be fair I find this with most podcast hosts, but her choice of texts is excellent and she reads everything slowly and deliberately, “savouring every word and offering space between words”. It’s the closest thing to a hug I’ve had in months.

The only bad thing about it is that there are only two short seasons. After a brief search for similarly soporific, story-based podcasts and apps, I found the excellent Dreamy podcast, a collection of beautiful sleep stories by First Nations storytellers like Jazz Money and Aurora Liddle-Christie. Bringing tens of thousands of years of oral tradition into the digital world, Dreamy is “helping people of all walks of life to quiet their minds, drift into dreams, and disconnect from their devices”.

I also found Sleep Stories on the Calm app ($14.99 a month). It’s full of grown-up tales and mindful nonsense to soothe or bore you into slumber. There are even equally terrible and amazing celebrity cameos: Matthew McConaughey, Cillian Murphy and the hot duke from Bridgerton will read to you like you’re a child. Last night Harry Styles read me the worst poem I’ve ever heard – for 40 minutes. Five stars. Would listen again.

The Resilience Project

Price: $4.49 one time fee

The Resilience Project Wellbeing App.
Photograph: Supplied

The Resilience Project app is a “daily wellbeing journal” for all ages from a Melbourne-based organisation of the same name, providing evidence-based mental health strategies and “sharing the benefits of gratitude, empathy and mindfulness” to schools, sports clubs and businesses.

Users are encouraged to log on every day, note how they feel, record who or what they’re grateful for, perform acts of kindness and do a short guided meditation. This nice daily ritual only takes a few minutes but proves a small antidote to the current news cycle.

I don’t see myself using it long-term, because of repetitiveness and the world’s shortest attention span, but during this lockdown I’ve appreciated the nightly reminder to acknowledge my blessings and privilege and to reach out to friends.

Though it can’t do the heavy lifting where mental health is concerned, I’ll put it in my arsenal of chronic depression coping mechanisms, and try to use it in bad times. It won’t soothe what only drugs and Great British Bake Off can, but it might provide a few minutes respite.

The Class

Cost: $40 a month

The Class Digital Studio is a mat-based exercise program, with elements of yoga, pilates, cardio, free-style dance, expansion, and release.
The Class Digital Studio is a mat-based exercise program, with elements of yoga, pilates, cardio, free-style dance, expansion, and release. Photograph: The Class Digital Studio

The Class is an American exercise methodology-slash-mindfulness practice with semi-cult vibes, taught by a host of ridiculously hot and relentlessly cool twentysomethings who can pull off white Lycra and blend in on a Girls set.

In fortuitous timing, founder Taryn Toomey launched online classes in late 2019, taking the Class into locked down homes around the world from 2020. Australians can access a wide selection of on-demand and live online classes, and there’s even an Australian teacher. Timezone differences narrow live options quite a bit, but most live classes become on-demand classes, so it doesn’t really matter.

Frequented by celebrities including Alicia Keys, Naomi Watts and Emma Stone, the Class is a mat-based, music-driven “cathartic workout experience” designed to “strengthen the body and balance the mind”. It’s yoga meets Les Mills meets clubbing. Movements are simple, repetition is key and loud exhales are encouraged. You may do squats for a whole song, free dance for another and star jumps for the next. In between, there’s stillness.

Teachers speak a kind of motivational psychobabble that is at once intolerable and addictive. It verges on the spiritual and flirts with cultural appropriation but remains just secular enough that I don’t turn it off. “Be in your power”; “You are enough”; “Softness is your birthright” and so on. Many teachers end their sessions with “I love you” which I somehow don’t hate.

At first, I struggled to put aside my prejudices against self-indulgent, pseudo-mystical wellness fads and find peace with beautiful women telling me to accept myself while making me do burpees. But the more I did it, the more I was able to just let go and roll with the theatre. Plus, it’s actually a very good workout.

I am now willingly paying for the Class. Let’s never speak of this again. I love you.

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