Google plans to implement a “key algorithmic change” to prevent its mapping product from displaying racist results, like showing the White House when people search for “n***** house.” Yes that actually happened.
The company was previously criticized because its algorithms took everything they learned from the Web, which is just chock full of racists and morons, and decided it would be appropriate to connect the term above to the White House.
Google explains in its blog post that these mistaken results were displayed because people “had used the offensive term in online discussions of the place.” The change to its algorithms is expected to help Maps ignore those discussions.
SearchEngineLand notes that Google isn’t a stranger to fixing political faux pas. Its search engine previously showed George W. Bush as the top search result for “miserable failure” because of a “Googlebombing” campaign to link the terms.
Here’s how the company fixed that problem, all the way back in 2007:
In January 2007, Google finally put a Googlebomb fix in place. In short, the fix looks to see if the words in a link pointing at a page actually appear on the page itself. If not, then the page is far less likely to rank for those words. Since the Bush page didn’t have the words ‘miserable failure’ on it, it no longer ranked for that phrase. When it made use of the word ‘failure’ a few months later, it briefly ranked for the word “failure” until that word disappeared.
[…] As long as these places don’t use any of these slurs or derogatory terms on their own sites or in their own business listings, they probably won’t be relevant for them. Likely, Google will also create a filter of certain words that no site is allowed to be relevant for.
Given that the White House is unlikely to refer to Obama as the “n***** king” any time soon, this fix should help prevent Google from associating the home of past and future presidents with a racist term it should’ve ignored to begin with.
And it’s worth noting that Google has not only explained how it plans to fix these results, but that it also apologized in the post announcing them. That’s more than can be said for Flickr, which has also drawn criticism for its own offensive algorithms, and shows the benefits of owning up to your robot’s mistakes.