The Trevor Projecta leading nonprofit devoted to the mental well-being of LGBTQ+ youth which wants "a world where all LGBTQ young people see a bright future for themselves," according to its websitehas returned a donation from a controversial tech company.
In May, the Trevor Project, founded in 1998, began to list Gaggle as a "corporate partner" on its website, disclosing that the controversial surveillance company had given the project between $25,000 and $50,000) in support, The Guardian reported. Gagglewhich uses artificial intelligence and human content moderators to sift through billions of student chat messages and homework assignments each year in search of students who may harm themselves or otherspublished a webpage noting the two were collaborating to "improve mental health outcomes for LGBTQ young people."
Both groups maintained the partnership was forged in the interests of LGBTQ+ students, but student-privacy advocates argued the relationship could undermine the Trevor Project's work while allowing Gaggle to use the relationship to counter criticism about its potential harms to LGBTQ+ students. The collaboration developed at a crucial time for many students, as many states have contemplated and/or implemented new anti-LGBTQ+ laws that could erode the youths' privacy and expose them to legal jeopardy.
However, The Trevor Project posted on Twitter on Sept. 30, "In light of concerns about Gaggle's software having a role in negatively impacting LGBTQ students, we've made the decision to return the $25K donation from the company and end our engagement.
"Our philosophy is that having a seat at the table enables us to positively influence how companies engage with LGBTQ young people, and we initially agreed to work with Gaggle because we saw an opportunity to have a meaningful impact to better protect LGBTQ students. We hear and understand the concerns, and we hope to work alongside schools and institutions to ensure they are appropriately supporting LGBTQ youth and their mental health."
Gaggle's algorithm relies on keyword matching to compare students' online communications against a dictionary of thousands of words the company believes could indicate potential trouble, including references to violence, sex and drugs. Among the keywords are "gay" and "lesbian"words the company maintains are necessary to flag because LGBTQ+ youth are more likely than their straight and cisgender peers to consider suicide.
"The villain here is Gaggle, not the Trevor Project," said Evan Greer (she/her), director of Fight for the Future, a nonprofit advocacy group in the area of digital rights. "Surveillance software vendors are preying on our community by claiming that their invasive and discriminatory software helps queer kids when the evidence shows it hurts them. It's disgusting that Gaggle is throwing their money around trying to purchase goodwill within the LGBTQ+ community while their software is actively being used to out queer and trans kids without their consent, putting their lives in danger.