back to article HP probes 'racist' webcams

Hewlett Packard is looking into claims that some of its TouchSmart webcams demonstrate an unwillingness to interface with black people, as shown in this YouTube vid: Tony Welch, described by PCWorld as "lead social media strategist for HP's Personal Systems Group", explained in a blog post over the weekend: "The technology …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have to say

    "low-contrast racial origin" had me laughing

    1. Guus Leeuw

      I have to reply:

      Actually "low-contrast racial origin" would indicate *white* people against a glaring *white* background. Or white faces with white teeth, or white faces with eyes (which are partially white).

      I would even argue, the coloured skin more clearly shows light rays, so it should be easier to figure out what the guy is doing...

      Have you noticed how the camera, though, detects the male person on the righthand side and focusses in on him? A clear indication that the software knows that there is a person there... A coloured face (as an abstract object) is not much different from a white face....

      So what this really shows, is, as usual, that HP is making (or better: selling) stuff that doesn't work, and as explanation you get a whole bunch of shit that really is off-target.

      I wish they could go back to the one thing they did alright: Making RISC Processors.


  2. Gianni Straniero
    Big Brother

    It'll be all white on the night

    Early iterations of Street View suffered much the same problem. Honkies were successfully airbrushed from the streets, but folks with darker skintones were clearly visible for some time.

  3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    This is an outrage!

    It is a human right to interface with webcams! My lawyer will be in touch, once has caught up with the ambulance.

  4. Jerome 0
    Paris Hilton


    I wasn't aware you could get webcams with automatic zoom, but if they focus in on the user's face, doesn't that defeat the object of a webcam?

    1. robert cooke
      IT Angle


      mmm, so what do you use your webcam for? ;)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Paris Hilton

      How so?

      Where else are you going to focus?

      Paris because I really don't know

  5. Dale Richards


    What the video clearly shows is that HP's technology track's women's faces, but not men.

    1. Les Matthew

      Short hairist

      What the video clearly shows is that HP's technology track's long hair, but not short hair.

  6. Nick 6

    It confirms my views

    that auto-face tracking web cams are horrible to use and make you feel sick watching them as they swing back and forth, zoom in and out....just don't do it to me.

    It would be fairly amusing if they'd overlooked the large portion of the world's population who aren't caucasian.

  7. Stef 2

    What about the eyeless?


  8. Apocalypse Later

    So there is a difference...

    ...and I bet skin colour turns out to be genetic, too.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Maybe the pc is sexist rather than racist?

  10. lpopman

    titular announcement

    The camera does not track the black person, because the same software is employed by CCTV systems. They can't racially profile, so they just stop tracking darker skinned persons.

    It's political correctness gone mad!

    1. Richard 102

      Or in the words of Ron White

      And I had a DUI that was bogus, because they were stopping everyone driving down that sidewalk that night. That's profiling, and that's wrong.

  11. Glyn 2

    He should be grateful

    I dunno, one minute black folks are complaining that CCTV camera's follow them then someone makes a camera that doesn't and they complain about that too :P

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Clear mistake

    It is the obvious mistake. The existing algorithms mainly work with the skin and contrasts. HP guys just did not try it before offering to the market. Of course, it is not a racism - just a tech mistake.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    HP's aryan test labs

    Good to see they thoroughly developed and tested the tech on a representative sample before release!

  14. Avalanche

    'Old news'

    There is nothing new to this. Webcams have had this tech for more than 6 years, with the same problems. Recently a friend told about an HMI (Human-Machine Interaction) project he worked on in the 1990's. There software used facial recognition and eyeball tracking for controlling a computer. They suffered from the same problem: poor contrast with people with dark skintones made the recognition software fail.

  15. spezzer
    Gates Horns

    racist or sexist

    good point Dale! the assumption is difference of skin colour but could be gender, hair length or...maybe even....sexual orientation! who knows what this webcam is 'thinking'! - beep subject one straight - subject 2 gay - subject 3 indeterminate - beep

    reminds of the conclusion that spiders have ears on their legs coz when you pull their legs off they no longer walk when told to - coz they are now deaf (obviously a trained spider was used in the experiment )

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Luvr it!!

      A lesbie webcam, that is BRILLIANT I want to get an HP now because of that!!!

  16. sitruc

    Better of Ted?

    This was an episode of Better of Ted. I've also had this problem. Hopefully hp ships computers with a white person so the camera can be used.

  17. Doogs

    Alice? WTF is Alice?

    I'd be interested to know why the video is horizontally flipped. Are they behind the looking glass?

    Perhaps the webcam does the opposite in the real world?

  18. AJames

    This was a TV plot on "Better off Ted"

    Very funny TV show and episode. The automatic door sensors in the building got a firmware upgrade and were unable to recognize black people. The company was forced to hire white people to accompany the black people to open the doors. Then realizing that this caused a racial imbalance in hiring, they were forced to hire more black people etc. ... until somebody forced a system crash and reset to default firmware. Life mimics art - or, is this type of "racial discrimination" story silly enough for everyone yet?

  19. James O'Brien

    So how long?

    How long until Microsoft photoshops out the black guy and puts Chewbacca in?

  20. JaitcH
    Thumb Up

    In North America ...

    they had a similar problem with people of African origin - their facial details were hard to determine on TV cameras.

    The street lights were the problem so they developed a light that causes dark skin to fluoresce slightly and thereby reveal more of their facial details. These lights are deployed predominantly in neighbourhoods where such people live.

    The other potential offered by the discriminating TV is that people of ill intent could blacken their hands and faces and become invisible.

    Isn't technology wonderful?

  21. Alphonse

    A title

    I for one welcome our dusky-skinned webcam-insensitive overlords...wait, isn't this the path towards another vampire series?

  22. Arctic fox

    Shall actually try to think a little.

    Type your comment here — plain text only, no HTML

    I am not about to accuse HP of any form of "conspiracy" against our "low contrast" brothers and sisters but one has to ask how a product development department in one of the biggest tech companies on the face of the planet managed to miss the fact that, under average lighting conditions, their technology does not work properly with the large majority of our fellow earthlings - hmmm? We do not need to start to scream about racism, we just need to point out that our dear brothers and sisters at HP are a touch (what shall we say?) provincial.

    Yo, and all that kind of thing.

  23. HFoster

    Install this in UK CCTV cameras

    Just make it even shittier than it already is - e.g. it only zooms in on pigeons or dog poo.

    Privacy sorted.

  24. Bad Beaver
    Thumb Up

    My blackness

    "my blackness interferes with the computers ability to follow me"

    You're Stealth Man :)

    This is a really... dark matter, HP, go fix it.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    Microsoft similarly colour-blind?

    Weren't there similar reports of Microsoft having similar problems with their uber-EyeToy system a.k.a Project Natal - couldn't see black people posturing before it?

    Google says:$1302668.htm

    1. Svantevid


      "Project Natal (...) couldn't see black people posturing before it"

      Would that be a nice definition of irony? Project Natal is called after a province which has what, 90% black population? Yet it can't recognize black people.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Analog racism

    My very Neanderthal editor of 20 years ago used to have a similar problem with contrast recognition. When asked why there were so few pictures of non-whites in the paper, he would claim to anyone that would listen that they were "too dark" for the skin tones to repro properly on cheap newsprint - however flat and light (how we used to do B+W prints for the rag) the prints we did for him were. The real giveaway was the overly sincere tone of regret he'd employ when telling all and sundry of this.

    Funny coincidence though; the properties of newsprint and presses changed dramatically just after he left, and the new ed didn't have the same problem.

  27. Christian Berger

    I hope they get sued

    I hope they get sued so such crap OEM software will finally disappear.

    Seriously, face tracking? Had they spend a little bit more on the camera itself it would have had some use for the consumer. So it's just resources badly spent.

  28. Big Bear

    Forgive my lack of knowledge...

    But WTF is this facial recognition software meant to be used for? If I'm chatting to someone I don't want to see only their face, be it for the "other" kind of chat or not. If I'm chatting to my mate across the world, then his wife and kid will be somewhere in frame so does it sweep between the three of them? Is this another case of shiny and clever, yet pointless, tech?

  29. TheSpudMan
    Paris Hilton

    I had to post

    Who wants auto face tracking anyway? Logitech have had the technology for years and it never works well in theory. If you want to zoom just do it manually and stop moning about 'racist' technology.

    Paris because she is unsure about it actually being 'racist'

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