Passport photo checker flags black man’s lips as open mouth

The experience left Mr Bada 'annoyed'

Thursday, September 19, 2019

A man was warned his new passport photo may not meet government requirements, after the automated checker wrongly recognised his lips as an open mouth.

The facial detection system on the gov.uk website informs people when it thinks the photo uploaded may not meet strict requirements, which include a plain expression and the mouth to be kept closed.

Joshua Bada had obeyed the rules and uploaded a high quality photo booth image, but the 28-year-old was told in the computer check “it looks like your mouth is open”.

When asked by the system if he wanted to submit the photo anyway, Mr Bada was forced to explain why in a comment box, writing: "My mouth is closed, I just have big lips."

The Londoner said it was not the first time technology had had issues with his facial features.

Joshua Bada had to explain that his mouth was in fact closed.

"When I saw it, I was a bit annoyed but it didn't surprise me because it's a problem that I have faced on Snapchat with the filters, where it hasn't quite recognised my mouth, obviously because of my complexion and just the way my features are," he explained.

"After I posted it online, friends started getting in contact with me, saying, it's funny but it shouldn't be happening."

In response, the Home Office said it will “continue working to improve this process for all our customers”.

Artificial intelligence and robotics professor, Noel Sharkey, said a lack of diversity in the workplace and an unrepresentative sample of black people is one of the reasons why the error may have happened.

"We know that it [automated systems] has problems with gender as well, it has a real problem with women too generally, and if you're a black woman you're screwed, it's really bad, it's not fit for purpose and I think it's time that people started recognising that," he said.

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