Google’s Take on the Michelle Obama Image Search Case – A PR Disaster
A week ago an offensive image of American First Lady Michelle Obama dominated the Google Image Search results, an image Google removed back then, as the site posting it violated Google’s guidelines by serving malware to visitors. But today, the image in cause is back, Search Engine Land reports, showing that Google doesn’t have any control over the content ranked by its image search algorithms.
Whether Google should delete the image in cause, is a matter of debate. My question however is this: how is this particular image, hosted on an obscure site, the most relevant for the Michelle Obama search query? Google’s “thousands of factors to calculate a page’s relevance to a given query” must be very refined to select this out of thousands featuring Michelle Obama. Google shows no intention to delete the image and it has released the following explanation to keep the spirits calm:
“Sometimes Google search results from the Internet can include disturbing content, even from innocuous queries. We assure you that the views expressed by such sites are not in any way endorsed by Google.
Search engines are a reflection of the content and information that is available on the Internet. A site’s ranking in Google’s search results relies heavily on computer algorithms using thousands of factors to calculate a page’s relevance to a given query.”
I took the liberty to study the “relevance” of the site that publishes the offensive image, and I can honestly see no value within the content. The site, titled “Hot Girls” scrapes content from a number of publications, including video and images. The Alexa traffic information shows a shameful 11.657.392 rank for this site, which says a lot about “popularity.” This site, a made-for-adsense endeavor, cannot possibly be the most relevant content provider related to “Michelle Obama.” Google’s “explanation” doesn’t stand. As a matter of fact it shows that the company’s image search engine’s algorithm is faulted, mediocre, and that the image search results can be manipulated by ill-natured entities for obscure purposes. What happened with Google’s “do no harm” policy?
“Hot Girls” already violates Google AdSense’s content policies, by publishing “Content related to racial intolerance or advocacy against any individual, group or organisation.” The general explanation given by Google is just a lame excuse, to hide an algorithm failure, and the worst part is that the search giant is trying to hide behind the “Webmaster Guidelines” policy, ignoring its other policies published as guidelines for other services (like AdSense). Given that the image in discussion already violates a Google policy, if it is not removed from the search results, at least the site publishing it should be banned from the AdSense program.
Last but not least, the image in discussion is a flagrant violation of Content Policy, in more than one point:
Hate Speech: We want you to use Blogger to express your opinions, even very controversial ones. But, don’t cross the line by publishing hate speech. By this, we mean content that promotes hate or violence towards groups based on race, ethnicity, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, or sexual orientation/gender identity.
Crude Content: Don’t post content just to be shocking or graphic.