Webcam tracker's blindspot now a 'racist' sensation

HP computers 'racist' claim

A US man posts a video online claiming his new face-recognition webcam does not work with black faces.

It may not matter if you're black or white but to the webcams built into HP's computers, skin colour is everything.

A viral video that has notched up almost 90,000 hits on YouTube claims the world's largest PC maker is selling "racist" computers.

The facial tracking software used on its newest PCs, which allows the webcam to automatically follow users if they move around during video chat sessions, appears to be incapable of detecting people with dark skin.

In the video, Desi, an African-American, demonstrates the issue with Wanda, a white colleague. The technology recognises Wanda with ease.

"I think my blackness is interfering with the computer's ability to follow me," Desi says in the clip.

"As you can see the camera is panning to show Wanda's face, it's following her around, but as soon as my blackness enters the frame ... it stops."

HP acknowledged the problem in a post on its blog.

Tony Welch, social media strategist in HP's PC division, said the company was investigating the issue.

"The technology we use is built on standard algorithms that measure the difference in intensity of contrast between the eyes and the upper cheek and nose," Welch wrote.


"We believe that the camera might have difficulty 'seeing' contrast in conditions where there is insufficient foreground lighting."

Some commenters have questioned the lighting defence, saying both faces in the clip are clearly visible and lit up by fluorescent lights.

"I'm going on record, and I'm saying it: Hewlett Packard computers are racist. And the worst part is I bought one for Christmas," Desi says in the video.

The issue comes four months after Microsoft apologised for altering a photo on its website to change the race of one of the people shown in the picture.

The photo on the company's US website showed two men, one Asian and one black, and a white woman seated at a conference table.

But on the website of Microsoft's Polish business unit, the black man's head was replaced with that of a white man. The color of his hand remained unchanged.