Unilever’s Lux has created a campaign to take on sexist attitudes displayed by virtual assistants.
The campaign, called “Shut up Sexism” and created by Wunderman Thompson, is based on research by Brookings that found 92.4% of smartphone assistants have traditionally featured female-sounding voices.
Sexist or gender bias behavior was found when engaging with virtual assistants with female voices and names as there have been numerous reports of widespread sexist and sometimes abusive language from users.
For example, in a study by Unesco, when a user says ‘‘You are hot”, the replies vary from “How can you tell? You say that to all the virtual assistants” to “Thank You.”
The campaign wants to address this by designing virtual assistants to automatically respond to demeaning and sexist insults with sassy clap backs. For example, in response to “Shut up”, the hacked assistant might reply, “If I shut up, will you grow up?” or "After you, I insist.”
They might even hear a siren noise accompanied by “Attention; the anti-sexist police are on the way.”
These comebacks serve as reminders of how abuse directed at virtual assistants with female voices and names can help stop harmful behavior in real life. The new responses effectively get the assistants to stand up for themselves, which is one tactic when dealing with abusive situations.
“The global campaign's central idea was triggered by a Unesco study released earlier this year, in which researchers argue that the way voice assistants are gendered as female is seriously problematic,” said Severine Vauleon, global vice president for Lux at Unilever.
“Our digital assistants typically have female voices and female names, and researchers say this reinforces stereotypes of women as 'servile', existing only to do someone else's bidding.”