The search engine giant has come under fire before for failing to act against indecent web results and images that are returned in searches, as they have tended to err on the anti-censorship side of the argument. In their most recent furore over results though they have taken immediate action.
For certain UK cities Google’s autocomplete – where a user types in a sentence and Google comes up with automatically complete sentences based on algorithms and popular searches – would come up with racist searches. The Daily Mail reported that putting in ‘Why is Bradford…’ resulted in the autocomplete finishing the sentence with ‘full of P****?’ Apparently other cities such as Birmingham and Leicester produced similar results.
Once alerted to the issue Google removed the offending autocompletes immediately however they have not acted in this way for other similar complaints. Previously they refused to remove a link to a YouTube anti-Islamist clip which was sparking anti-US sentiment across the globe, although they did remove the offending item from appearing in certain Islamic countries.
Another case was the UN’s Women’s Awareness campaign which revealed Google’s misogynistic search results. Others included Japan taking them to court over slanderous autocompletes (Google had to pay a heavy fine), Germany taking similar action against autocompletes and the case of Max Moseley (former Formula 1 chief exec) taking action over sexual images of him appearing on the web.
Perhaps Google learnt its lesson from the above, or perhaps it has more clearly defined parameters which it will respond immediately to, racism being one of them. It also defends its actions through its own ability to censor what would be deemed highly offensive material. It has its own algorithms that block child abuse images for example.
What is apparent in this and previous cases is that Google evidently prefer to take things in to their own hands. UK government had urged them to sign up to a system that blocked offensive images online, saying they had their own tools to do so.