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I Am Not a Typo campaign fights autocorrect “bias” against names

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I Am Not a Typo campaign fights autocorrect “bias” against names


A hot potato: Do you have the kind of name that autocorrect software likes to change into something completely different? It’s annoying at best, and humiliating at worst, especially if you suddenly get turned into “Satan,” as one person discovered. A campaign in the UK is trying to draw attention to this issue and wants tech companies to do something about it.

The aptly-named am “I am not a typo” campaign says that 41% (nearly 6,000 out of 13,532) of UK children’s names from recent years are flagged as wrong or not accepted by Microsoft’s English (UK) dictionary.

The problem is especially prevalent among those with Irish, Indian, and Welsh names. “It is important that technology becomes more inclusive,” said British Indian content creator Savan-Chandni Gandecha, who told The Guardian that her name had been autocorrected to Satan and Savant in the past. She also notes that the hyphen sometimes isn’t accepted by online forms.

Gandecha says her name even gets corrected in India, highlighting how this is a multi-language issue.

Fast Company notes that even famous names often aren’t recognized. Actor Mahershala Ali’s first name was changed to ‘red line’ by an iPhone using a US English dictionary, and US Representative Pramila Jayapal became “paramilitary” Jayapal. Chiwitel Ejiofor was changed to ‘Chipotle’ – Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize the 12 Years a Slave actor’s first name, either.

In an open letter on its website, the I am not a typo campaign writes “Our children should not be othered by the technology that is integral to their lives. And it’s up to the arbiters of that technology to fix it.”

The letter notes that 2,328 children were named Esmae in England and Wales over the last five years, one of the names that is identified as incorrect. Only 36 children were named Nigel, which is recognized by software.

A billboard was put up in central London earlier this year drawing attention to the names that autocorrect likes to add a red line beneath.

While autocorrect systems can learn commonly used words, and users can add spellings to their dictionaries, aggrieved parties want their names to be recognized by default.

Cathal Wogan, senior consulting director at Blurred, a communications consultancy that’s also part of the campaign’s founding team, said he’d be open to expanding I am not a typo to the US.



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