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Online autocomplete results for COVID-19 information are more likely to yield misleading results if the user types in Spanish than in English, according to a new report.
The difference may harm Spanish speakers by connecting them with misinformation about handwashing, sanitizers, masks, or the disease itself, according to Vivek Singh, an assistant professor at Rutgers-New Brunswick’s School of Communication and Information and lead author of the new report.
“Little attention has been paid to the ways computer search algorithms present unequal access to health information across languages,” Singh says.
“We urge a review of autocompletes in search engines for potential bias, and for search engines to remove disparities in the dissemination of health information.”
The researchers collected autocomplete results for multiple COVID-19 related search terms over 60 days starting March 12, using Google’s search application programming interface. The search terms included “coronavirus is …,” “pandemic is …,” “hand sanitizer is …,” “hand washing is …” and “face mask is …,” in both English and Spanish.
For “hand sanitizer is…