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Why has Google still not sorted this offensive image search issue?

Google Search

Why has Google still not sorted this offensive image search issue?

Nearly two weeks after some users noted some shocking image search results for an innocent query, Google has still not rectified the issue, despite personnel there insisting it is a priority.

Several sources, including The Mirror, reported on July 1st that a Google image search for “desk ornament” was returning a number of surprising and offensive results, including swastikas and other Nazi memorabilia. On the same day, Google Search Liaison Danny Sullivan apologised for this on Twitter and said the search engine was looking for ways to improve.

Yet, as of this morning, the inappropriate results remain visible in a search for “desk ornament”. The below screenshot shows it’s not just one or two either – there are four swastikas within the first three rows of images alone. Many more can be seen by scrolling down a little, along with other Nazi and SS-related ornaments.

Google desk ornament e1657701808955

Another tweet from Sullivan stresses that dealing with this is a priority, but it is important to take time to understand why it has happened.

Sullivan also says he does not believe this is a result of any sort of attack on search engines. Incidentally, the images do not appear for the same search query via Bing or DuckDuckGo, although not wasting an opportunity to flag up their search engine rival’s shortcomings, both do include a screenshot of the troublesome Google results.

While Google is no doubt looking at the issue, it doesn’t seem a great look for the search engine to leave images as provocative as these in place for so long having been made aware of the issue. Indeed, Search Engine Roundtable expresses surprise that Google hasn’t manually amended the results, but hints that it may be part of a larger algorithm problem Google is trying to tackle.

Sullivan points out that many of the Nazi items do happen to be described using the term “desk ornament” and that this how Google returns results. Although not a pleasant example, it shows that search engine results can be shaken up simply by using words in descriptions and image names that reflect what people are likely to search for.

John Murray

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