‘Female only’ app criticised as ‘transphobic’ and ‘racist’ after AI software denies some women

·5-min read
 (Giggle )
(Giggle )

A social media app created for “females only” and its founder are facing criticism and accusations of transphobia and racism after trans women and women of colour reported being denied access by the facial recognition software.

Giggle was launched by CEO and founder Sall Grover in 2020, according to The Verge, with the platform’s frequently asked questions page describing it as a platform that “connects girls in a private and secure manner for many different purposes”.

According to the website, these purposes range from finding roommates to bonding over a social cause or receiving emotional support.

To ensure that the app is a “females only” space, the platform requires new users to submit a selfie, which is then sent to Kairos, “a leading face recognition AI company,” that “recognises females” through “computer vision and deep learning”.

The AI then determines a likelihood score, after “comparing the image in question with thousands of other images,” with the FAQ section noting that the app has “set the image confidence level at 95 per cent for a female”.

According to The Verge, the AI software in question reportedly analyses the bone structure of a person’s face to make the female likelihood determination.

As a result, trans women have reported being denied access to the app, while reviews posted to the Apple App Store have also claimed that the facial recognition software used by Giggle “enforces a eurocentric standard of beauty,” and, as a result, denies “ethnic women”.

“Don’t you think confirming someone’s gender by their facial features is transphobic?” one one-star review posted in the app store reads, while another states: “This managed to be transphobic and racist at the same time. Honestly pathetic attempt at discrimination.”

“The app is racist, didn’t recognise me because, as a Black woman, I am somehow not feminine enough because I don’t fit into the white stereotype of beauty,” another reviewer wrote.

According to Jenny, a transgender woman from California, who spoke to Insider about the app, she was able to gain access into the app after submitting a different photo than the one she’d originally submitted.

However, after tweeting about the app in December of last year, Jenny told the publication that her account was deleted when another Twitter user tagged Grover in the tweet and claimed Jenny was “transgressing women’s boundaries” by using the app.

On Twitter, Grover has repeatedly defended herself and the app, while doubling down on her belief that trans women should not be allowed access, on the basis that “it is not ‘transphobic’ to want and need female-only spaces, although there is a lot of people who wish it was”.

In another tweet, shared Thursday, she said: “It’s not that I don’t ‘believe’ trans women are female. It’s not about belief. It’s that I acknowledge & live in reality. It’s about fact.”

Grover has also shared screenshots of her email replies to other publications, including PinkNews, which first reported on the renewed accusations of transphobia, and the DailyMail, in which she said that “males are excluded” on the app and that “there is no other specific demographic that is excluded from Giggle other than males”.

In response to PinkNews’ article, which was headlined: “‘Just for females’ social media app Giggle under fire for ‘excluding’ trans women,” Grover wrote on Twitter: “I created an app for females, a place where women can connect, support each other & have a voice in a much needed male-free environment. Yet all the media cares about in relation to it is males. In case anyone was wondering whether or not misogyny is alive & f**king well.”

While speaking to the DailyMail, the CEO also addressed the claims that women of colour are excluded, stating: “The fact is, women of colour are on Giggle. Giggle is used by women of every race, religion and culture. The quality that Giggle users have in common is they are female.”

In a statement to The Independent, Grover said that she believes “much of the criticism of Giggle is rooted in deep misogyny”.

“I have far too much evidence of a certain demographic of males having a problem with a space that excludes males, and looking for any possible way to try to discredit it. Pure misogyny,” she said.

In regards to whether Giggle plans to change the AI software it uses to address the criticisms, Grover said Giggle will “always use the most up to date and best possible device available to ensure a female space”. She also said that “it would be good if men just left it alone,” at which point “gatekeeping” would not be “necessary”.

While addressing the claims that women of colour have been denied by the app, the CEO claimed that the reports and one-star reviews are “made by males who have been denied access to Giggle”.

“We are able to track this behaviour in real time,” she continued, adding: “The reality is, women of colour are welcome on Giggle and *are* on Giggle. Giggle is used by women in 88 countries around the world, by women of every race, religion and culture. Racism of any kind is not tolerated on Giggle.”

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