Google has responded to the revelation that online searches using racist terms can bring up the White House and other locations with a promise that it will extend its so-called Googlebomb protection to incorporate Google Maps.
The problem became apparent when it was discovered that entering the search term “n–ga house” brought up The White House on Google Maps. A similar issue arose in respect of Howard University, a historically black institution, also located in Washington, D.C. The problem was not limited to racial slurs, and extended to such locations as small record stores.
Google has confirmed that the search engine results were arising from its own efforts to make use of content drawn from across the internet as it strives to gain a better understanding of what places are relevant for. This process began in July 2014 with the launch of the Pigeon Update, an algorithm aimed at delivering more relevant and accurate local search results linked more closely to traditional web search ranking signals. Offensive search terms were producing unexpected results in Google Maps, typically because the terms were being used in online discussions of the location.
It appears that if online users are employing racist or derogatory language in discussions of certain locations, the Pigeon technology developed by Google – despite the good intentions behind it – is picking up on the terms and making the locations relevant for those terms.
The Googlebomb fix refers to a system put in place in 2007 to offset side effects of using the internet in its entirety to determine what locations are relevant for without trying to exclude sensitive or derogatory terms. The Googlebomb fix examines whether the words in a link referring to a page are on the actual page. If the words do not appear on the page, it is far less likely that the page will rank in respect of the particular phrase.
Provided that the places affected by the flaw do not use the slurs or terms on their own sites or in their business listings, they likely will not be relevant for them. Google will also develop a filter incorporating certain words that no site will be allowed to be relevant in respect of.