Can Hewlett-Packard’s motion-tracking webcams see African-Americans? It’s a question posed on a now-viral YouTube video and the company says it’s looking into it.
n the video, two co-workers take turns in front of the camera — the webcam appears to follow the white employee as she sways in front of the screen and stays still as the African-American man moves about.
The webcams, built into HP’s new computers, are supposed to keep people’s faces and bodies in proportion and centered on the screen as they move.
“As soon as my blackness enters the frame, it stopped,” the African-American man, identified only as “Black Desi” says in the video.
“Black Desi gets in there, no face recognition anymore, buddy,” he says.
The video went viral over the weekend, garnering more than 400,000 YouTube page views and a slew of comments on Twitter.
“I think my blackness is interfering with the computer’s ability to follow me,” the man in the video says.
CNN reached out to the two people featured in the video through their YouTube profile but has not received a response.
In a corporate statement e-mailed to CNN, HP attributed the issue to lighting problems that they say other webcams also struggle with.
“HP has been informed of a potential issue with facial-tracking software. Consistent with other webcams, proper foreground lighting is required for the product to effectively track any person and their movements,” the statement said. “As with all our products, we continue to explore refinements which help to optimize their use.”
After media coverage of the YouTube video, Consumer Reports did its own testing of the product to see if the YouTube video portrayal was accurate. In standard lighting, the webcam didn’t move with an African-American male as it did with a white male. But after lighting sources were added, the webcam was able to track the African-American male’s face and movements.
Tony Welch, the lead social media strategist for HP’s Personal Systems Group, responded quickly to the claim in a post on the company’s blog, TheNextBench.com, on Sunday. His post was similar to the company’s statement. He wrote that lighting conditions may be an issue. He said the company was continuing to look into 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 said. “We believe that the camera might have difficulty ‘seeing’ contrast in conditions where there is insufficient foreground lighting.”
Welch said the company aims to “provide a high-quality experience for all our customers, who are ethnically diverse and live and work around the world.”
Meanwhile, Welch pointed users facing similar problems to HP’s help page, which provides guidance on how to change the lighting or other optimization settings on the camera.
The company is working to get at the “root causes” of the problem and thanked the YouTube video makers for bringing the issue to their attention, Welch said.