Photo Editing App Slammed for Promoting ‘Blackface’ and Letting Users Alter Their Ethnicity

AI App Gradient.
(credit: CNN)

AI App Gradient.
(credit: CNN)

The feature, called AI Face, supposedly allows users to ‘find out how you would look if you were born on a different continent’.

  • CNN
  • Last Updated: September 24, 2020, 4:53 PM IST


Photo editing app Gradient is under fire for a new feature that lets people alter their ethnicity in images, with many slamming it for promoting digital “blackface.”

The feature, called AI Face, supposedly allows users to “find out how you would look if you were born on a different continent,” according to Gradient’s website.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The feature was promoted on Wednesday by TV personalities Scott Disick and Brody Jenner — known for their appearances on the reality show “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” — posting altered images on Twitter showing how they would look in “Europe,” “Asia,” “India” and “Africa.” (Some users also pointed out that India is part of Asia.) Disick also posted a similar image on his Instagram account, but disabled the comments.

Several users expressed outrage in response to the tweets, slamming them as “racist” and denouncing their promotion of “blackface.”

Both Disick and Jenner subsequently deleted their posts. Representatives for Disick and Jenner did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Disick and members of the Kardashian family have previously made social media posts concerning Gradient that indicated they were ads, according to the Sun. Wednesday’s posts had no such indication.

Gradient describes itself as “the next big thing in the world of mobile photo editing,” and names as its founders Vladyslav Urazov and Bogdan Matveev, whom the website describes as “artificial intelligence and machine learning enthusiasts.”

Other features on the app allow users to test which celebrity they look like, what animal they look like, and turn themselves into portraits. The app also touts a feature called “Ethnicity Estimate,” which purports to use artificial intelligence to analyze someone’s photo and calculate their ancestry.

“Simply upload your photo and our exceptionally accurate algorithm will analyze features of your face and tell your ethnic background,” the website says.

This isn’t the first time Gradient has been hit with controversy. Several questions were raised last year about its privacy policy for user photos and its tendency to charge users for subscriptions without their explicit consent, according to a report from Mashable.

The company’s celebrity lookalike feature went viral last year after several high-profile shout-outs, including from Disick and members of the Kardashian family. Kim Kardashian tweeted about the “Ethnicity Estimate” feature as recently as April this year, with a hashtag indicating it was an ad.

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