Snippet: Lyft’s Algorithm is Too Sensitive ☇

Shared on December 19, 2019

Andrew J. Hawkins for The Verge:

Lyft is flagging people with names its algorithm thinks are inappropriate, like “Dick,” “Finger,” and “Cummings.” The ride-hail company is sending messages to these users telling them their names don’t align with its community guidelines, and are being directed to change their name or get booted from the service. […]

As Jen Dick here points out, it looks like it’s a classic case of the Scunthorpe problem, in which someone is blocked from a website for having a username that is deemed to be obscene. The problem was named after an incident in 1996 in which AOL’s profanity filter prevented residents of the town of Scunthorpe in the UK from creating accounts, because the town’s name contains a four-letter word that I don’t think I’m allowed to say.

A spokesperson for the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Lyft’s response bot on Twitter is working overtime trying to collect phone numbers and emails from everyone affected.

While this is just another example of well-intentioned tech foiled by exceptions, it did cause me to wonder where the lines are drawn on names. Perhaps Michael Rotch or Hugh Jass didn’t get the notification?

Snippets are posts that share a linked item with a bit of commentary.