Giggle app uses AI to exclude trans women, says CEO

  • A hot pink social media app designed for women uses facial recognition to ban men.
  • New users take a selfie and AI decides whether they are male or female.
  • Trans women are banned, and some reviews say the app misidentifies women of color as men.

An app marketed to “women” has faced a barrage of criticism online for excluding transgender women with its use of artificial intelligence.

Giggle, which first launched in early 2020, according to The Verge, uses facial recognition to determine whether new users are male or female.

“The way the app works is when you install it you have to take a picture of yourself and it uses AI to analyze your face,” said Jenny, a 23-year-old trans woman from California. . “And if he decides you’re female, he’ll let you in. If he decides you’re male, he’ll reject you. But if he rejects you, you can just submit another photo.”

Giggle Founder and CEO Sall Grover has strongly pushed back against online criticism, including claiming the app uses technology that has failed to properly identify women of color, while publicly embracing an ideology seen as harmful to trans people.

“This particular combination of gender categorization, facial recognition and race is something that we absolutely know is a problem,” said Casey Fiesler, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder who studies tech ethics, at Insider.

The problem, however, went beyond the platform’s questionable AI practices. Grover, who agreed to be called “TERF” – trans-exclusive radical feminist – told Insider that she decided to exclude trans women from the platform once trans activists started to use.

According to Giggle’s website, the app sends a new user’s selfie to facial recognition AI company Kairos, which analyzes the photo.

“Using computer vision and deep learning, they recognize women in videos, photos, and the real world,” according to Giggle. If Kairos AI is 95% certain the person is female, the person is allowed to create an account, says Giggle. Kairos did not return Insider’s request for comment.

Grover said in a December tweet following the controversy that the app would be temporarily removed from Google’s App Store after the company was targeted with negative reviews from people she described in a tweet. like “men” and “trolls”.

The app was restored to Google Play in January and remained available on the App Store. Neither Apple nor Google returned Insider’s requests for comment on whether the app violated any policies.

Trans people sounded the alarm over Giggle on social media in December

Victoria Morris, a 27-year-old trans woman from Orlando, Florida, said she first heard about Giggle while browsing Reddit trans forums.

Morris, who said he downloaded the app but was never able to get it to work, tweeted in early December about the slew of negative reviews Giggle received on the App Store. The tweet, which has been shared more than 4,000 times, featured negative reviews claiming the app was looking for “Euro-centric facial features”, excluded black women and even verified cisgender men.

Jenny, who asked that her last name be withheld for security reasons, told Insider “it was pretty easy to get past the filter” when she and her friends first tried installed Giggle about two years ago.

“Sometimes it took a few tries, but eventually it would work,” she said.

She downloaded the platform again late last year when she saw people discussing it on social media.

But once on Giggle, Jenny said she saw posts in the general chat section from people who talked about trans people in “derogatory ways”.

After Jenny tweeted about joining Giggle on December 9, another Twitter user tagged Grover in the tweet, saying Jenny was “crossing women’s boundaries” using the app. In response, Grover replied “Sorted” with a heart emoji.

Shortly after, Jenny said her Giggle app had stopped working. She said she had received no official notification of her account being terminated beyond the Giggle CEO’s tweet.

Artificial intelligence, like the one used by Giggle, has a history of race-related issues

Giggle has also been criticized for failing to recognize faces that don’t appear white.

Fieseler, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said research has shown the type of facial analysis used by Giggle has led to instances of racism, as the technology often works better on lighter skin tones.

“It works better for white men and worse for black women and increasingly darker women’s skin is in terms of the correct sex classification. It’s just something we know,” he said. she stated.

According to a report by The New York Times. Melissa Doval, then-CEO of Kairos, told The Times that she made changes to her algorithm following the research to improve its accuracy.

Morris said Giggle “seemed to hurt both trans women and also a lot of women of color or who don’t have the Eurocentric features the app is really designed for.”

“We just know these systems are imperfect,” Fieseler said. “So if you use them for access control, there will be errors and there will probably be systematic errors around the race in particular.

Grover denied that the platform’s AI prevented women of color from using it. If Giggle wrongly rejects someone, a potential user should contact the company to have the issue resolved, Grover told Insider in an email.

“Women of all races are not only welcome on Giggle, women of all races are on Giggle,” Grover said.

Trans women were originally allowed on Giggle but were later banned by Grover

Grover, who lives in Australia, said she and her mother came up with the idea for Giggle after sharing “many glasses of rose”.

“We wanted a place where women could go and help each other,” she said in an email. “A feminine space, in the palm of their hand. Where women could find support, connection and refuge among other women, no matter where they were or what they were doing.”

Grover declined to say how many employees work at Giggle, but she said “a team of women” are working on the app’s onboarding process.

In current marketing materials on its social media channels and on its website, Giggle claims to be a “women’s” space rather than a “women’s” space. This is intentional, Grover said, adding that “the word ‘woman’ has been so heavily appropriated” that a “clarification seems necessary.”

Grover said she decided to exclude trans women from Giggle after some trans women posted TERF threats on the app.

“There was an orchestrated – albeit unsuccessful – attempt to have Giggle removed from the App Store and Google Play. There was some media attention, all of which called me TERF and Giggle, Transphobic” , she said.

Afterwards, she said she researched the trans and “radical feminist” communities and decided that trans women should be excluded from her app.

TERF ideology is harmful to trans people, say advocates

Like Vox signaled, the term TERF, which refers to people who exclude trans women from their feminism, originated in the 1970s, but gained traction online from the early 2000s.

Many women who expound such an ideology have dismissed it, saying the term is an insult, adopting the nickname “gender-critical” feminists instead, unlike Grover.

“These are words that are thrown daily at women who are standing up for our own hard-won gender rights,” Grover said. “What am I supposed to do?” Curl up and give up my rights?

Advocates for the trans community argue that such a TERF ideology creates real harm for trans people. In addition to advocating for the exclusion of trans women from women-only spaces, TERFs have also historically advocated against access to gender-affirming care for trans people, such as Insider’s Canela López reported.

Almost all of Grover’s Twitter posts mention trans people or biological sex. In one Tweet from December 31 she wrote, “I’d rather be shrill and knowledgeable than be so arrogantly ignorant of something as simple as the immutable binary of biological sex.”

In a tweet from January 6, she came to the defense of ‘Harry Potter’ author JK Rowling, also labeled TERF for her perspective on trans people.

Morris, who tweeted about Giggle in December, said she never had any interaction with Grover, but said Grover shared a tweet that called her a “beggar” after posting a link to a fundraiser for gender affirmation surgery.

In at least one other social media post, however, Grover appeared to inform trans users via Twitter that they had been booted from Giggle, as she had with Jenny.

“Your account has been deleted. Thank you for making it easy for us,” Grover said in a Tweet from December 9 after two trans women said they were allowed on Giggle.

Jenny said Grover shared a collage of tweets from Jenny and her friends on Dec. 10. Jenny said she saw it as a “mockery” of them for calling out the Giggle app for trying, and failing, to exclude trans women.

In the December 10 tweet, Grover wrote, “It’s just not healthy to be so mad at female spaces.”


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