Should we trust Google? 13

UPDATE: A number of people are coming here from Google’s own blog entry on this topic (which I just realized dates from 9/16/2005!). Let me summarize my point in a single sentence.

  • Since Google will not remove Google bombs they are undermining their usefulness and objectivity as a search engine.

Talk about convergence. Last week a number of blogs noted that searching Google for “failure” brings up the President’s webpage at the White House site. It sounded fishy to me and indeed it is; it is something called “googlebombing.” Google themselves have blogged on the “failure” bomb.

My brother commented on this last night and offered some cogent thoughts about what this practice, and Google’s refusal to address it, might mean for our use and trust in Google.

As Google has now pointed out on their own site, this is a result of “Google bombing.” Here is Google’s explanation:
By using a practice called googlebombing, however, determined pranksters can occasionally produce odd results. In this case, a number of webmasters use the phrases [failure] and [miserable failure] to describe and link to President Bush’s website, thus pushing it to the top of searches for those phrases.
Google then goes on to explain that they don’t manually edit or change the search results, even though it appears it is a result of people Google has labeled as “pranksters.” In fact Google writes: “but we’re also reluctant to alter our results by hand in order to prevent such items from showing up. Pranks like this may be distracting to some, but they don’t affect the overall quality of our search service, whose objectivity, as always, remains the core of our mission.”

But does “google bombing” really not “affect the quality… objectivity… the core of our mission?” In this case, politics is such a “hot button topic” that such bizarre outcomes are immediately questioned and the “truth” comes out. But perhaps there are instances where a persistent attack on other topics could have a more insidious effect… Read it all here

I too am concerned and, although this is amusing, I find it disturbing that Google will not address it because it now brings into question to validity (and objectivity) of their results. Whatever happened to “Do no evil“?
So then today I noticed that Danny Zacharias at Deinde has set up a very nice Google custom search.
Google Bible Scholar

…with the Google custom search capabilities I thought I would be able to harness it in order to specifically search for biblical studies and theological journals. So I have created yet another Google custom search, I call it the Online Biblical Studies Journals Search, catchy hey! With this search, together with the biblioblogs search (somewhere around 115 biblioblogs indexed), and the Deinde biblical studies web search (indexing 1600+ reputable URLs), I think I am allowed to claim the title Google Bible Scholar for our search page (or the external link if you want). The code for these search boxes are free for anyone to use via the links above.

With the restrictions of this search within the Google Scholar this search should not be too adversely affected, but there is now a question of doubt that was not there before.

What I still don’t understand is why Google, once it is aware of a “bomb,” doesn’t correct it. The assertion that “they don’t affect the overall quality of our [Google’s] search service, whose objectivity, as always, remains the core of our mission” is hollow…. Google, please, it does you no good and potentially evil.

(Via Deinde.)


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13 thoughts on “Should we trust Google?

  • Peter

    I’d also like to thank you for the link to my blog and I fully agree with you and Steve that it is not good that the Google algorithm can so easily be hacked by Internet users in tagging the White House website with the word ‘failure’.

    While I don’t agree with many of the President’s policies, I am concerned that the ‘failure’ search will continue into the next Presidency. Most Internet users are smart enough to know that Googling failure and finding the White House does not necessarily mean that the White House is a failure.

    Similarly, if you type in ‘beautiful’ the third result is about China. Does this mean that China is more beautiful than America, Peru, or India? No, the words ‘failure’ and ‘beautiful’ are entirely subjective and hopefully Internet users realize this.

    Again, thanks for the link and for checking out AMP.

  • cbrady

    Thanks Peter. I am sure that most folks are sophisticated enough to realize this, but what is a bit misleading is that usually we expect the presence of a site in a search to mean that the content of the site contains that term(s) somewhere on the site. I am not surprised to find a site about China because presumably someone described China on the site as “beautiful.” In other words, I do not expect, and I hope no one else does, Google to rank sites based upon their evaluation of the site’s subject matter (Bush=failure; China=beautiful) but I do expect it to be based upon the site’s content.

    (I realize I am limiting somewhat the power of Google searches, but you get my point.)

  • FleshPresser

    Hey Cb!

    Just thought I’d cross-comment-post here…. I posted this in response to your brother’s post about Google-Bombing, but thought you might be interested, as well:

    “In fact, Google Bombing has been around quite a while… even *gasp*…. during Bill Clinton’s time.

    In 1999, a search for “more evil than Satan” produced Microsoft’s home page.

    A search for “French military victories” produces a page which reads, “no pages found… did you mean French military defeats?”

    Ironically, a search for “great President” ALSO produces the website for Dubya. A search for “waffles” brings up the website for John Kerry. Sort of blows a big ol’ hole in that “Partisan Prankster” argument of yours, eh?

  • cbrady

    Thanks FP. I should hope it was clear that I don’t care who does it for whatever reason I think Google should monitor and correct it. That is my argument plain and simple.

    Now my brother can defend himself, but I would point out that the term “Partisan Prankster” is yours. He referred to Google’s referring to “determined pranksters” and he did write about “rabid liberals” (which I did not include in my post because obviously some have then missed the point). Yet none of what you cite “blows a big ol’ hole” in anything. Don’t you think the folks who did a Google bomb on Clinton references were “partisan pranksters”? And if the folks who did the “failure” Google bomb were not “partisan pranksters” what are they? I don’t think my brother or I have ever suggested that only Dems, Libs, or even LibDems were the only ones doing this…

    UPDATE: Some partisan Google bombs from across the way: Bomb on Mr. Tony;  Mr. Straw; Mr. Prescott; (note, they are the ones currently in power, for those not following UK politics) and a Guardian article from two years ago calling for even handed bombing. (And referring to Michael Howard as “a certain cold-blooded scaremonger.” That’s class, that is.)

  • FleshPresser

    Yes, to be exact, the words “Partisan Prankster” were never used. To be fair, I used the use of the word “prankster” and took phrases such as “cheap political shots that seem to serve as a liberal’s way of dealing with important issues” and meshed the two together with some alliteration to make for some perhaps more colorful reading.

    In his original post, he goes on to state that:
    Rabid liberals get another chance to poke fun at President Bush, continuing their on-going “hit and run” strategies of poking fun at the President without ever having to provide or engage in, any “serious” discussion of the issues.
    while linking, of course, to PTF as an example of such.

    Then there’s the point where he states “I am tired of cheap political shots that seem to serve as a liberal’s way of dealing with important issues.” Not to mention his referencing it as “…infantile political stuff….”

    Are you trying to say that, in your interpretation of his post (which I only continaully reference because you initially referenced it) that there’s no attempt to label this as a problem of “liberals?”

    I was making only two points with my comments: 1) That Google-Bombing existed prior to Dubya; and 2) that the “partisan pranksters” existed on both sides of the aisle. That’s all.

  • cbrady

    To be exact, when you put something in quotation marks I assume you are quoting someone. Silly mistake of mine.

    To your question,

    Are you trying to say that, in your interpretation of his post (which I only continaully reference because you initially referenced it) that there’s no attempt to label this as a problem of “liberals?”

    Yes, I do not think he was saying that this is only a porblem of “liberals.” In fact, he said,

    And I am sure that if Google had been as pervasive in the 1990s rabid Conservatives would have had some fun with search words and President Clinton (I will leave those to your imagination!)

    The problem with your comments are that while your first point was well made, and I truly appreciate it, your second point is not because you indulge in hyperbole.

    I suppose my discipline makes me a careful reader and that can be viewed as being pedantic on my part, but seeing this sort of loose use of language irritates me and so I comment on it. And I will comment on it regardless of who is at fault. As I noted, I did not include the partisan comments from my brother’s post because I felt the detracted from the more salient point regarding Google’s (in)action. Clearly I was right to do so because you, and no doubt others, focused upon the political rhetoric and missed his central thesis, one that still holds merit.

    For myself, I try to be precise in my writing, especially when I am arguing a point. I do not always succeed and further conversation hopefully can help clarify the point at issue. Blogs and the internet can sometimes be very helpful in that we can see the argument develop, but other times we can obviously end up down a rabbit trail.

  • FleshPresser

    Since you strive to be precise in your writing, let me point out that quotation marks are used not only to quote, but to MARK either terminology, slang, or sarcasm. I can point you to the correct sources on this if you’d like.

    Secondly, I don’t know how quoting your brother, and including his thoughts more completely, qualifies as hyperbole. Perhaps I QUOTED hyperbole by pointing out the partisan nature of his post, and you are therefore somewhat confused.

    To be clear, I understand the BASIC issue you’re raising, and defending with your brother’s statement, which you cite – Google should do something to fix Googlebombing or suffer the consequences of users doubting the search results… I’ve got it correct, right?

    So, if I can conede that point, why is it so difficult for to simply IGNORE the partisan slashes that your brother makes in the same post, and in deleting them, pretend that they simply don’t exist? I guess I expected too much to think that either of you might concede on a point where you may not be totally correct.

    I’m not sure that your brother’s single “if/then” statement balances a string of attacks on liberals, which I have already listed. These were not MY writing, but those of your brother. Nevertheless, if that’s your reading on it, then so be it. I’ve laid out my thoughts on that already. I’ll leave those up to the reader to consider.

    Just as a final thought, as a precise writer, you might consider spellcheck to clean up any final “porblem” you might have in your comments (yes, the use of quotation marks there are used both for emphasis, as well as to quote directly.) 😉

  • cbrady

    Since you strive to be precise in your writing, let me point out that quotation marks are used not only to quote, but to MARK either terminology, slang, or sarcasm. I can point you to the correct sources on this if you’d like.

    Please do. Try Purdue for example here. Or Wiki here. There are of course other uses for quotation marks such as “setting words apart” to indicate titles, irony, and so forth, but your use and context strongly implied direct quotation.

    Now, your hyperbole comes in taking my brother’s limited partisan attack as an indication of his (or my) viewpoint of the whole. He had added his caveats.

    And I was choosing to “IGNORE the partisan slashes” that my brother made because, as I said, they detracted from my argument, as I said. I also disagreed with his tone and manner, so I merely quoted those portions that I felt had value for MY point at hand. I am glad that you understood. I don’t see what it is you feel I need to concede here, but for the record, I have on many occasions admitted when I am wrong about something.

    In my view, you both are too strong and vitriolic in your language and politics. You both take cheap shots at the expense of more careful and reasoned discussion. I suppose one could say I just did so myself. Mea culpa.

    And as I said, “I try to be precise,” but I am not without error or flaws. Both in thought and in execution.

  • Joel

    Cut the crap, google is a worldwide search engine and Bush has been one of the most disasterous presidents in recent history. It’s not a matter of right or left, it’s a matter of GEORGE BUSHIE being an utter MISERABLE FAILURE. He deserves that title and the only ones who disagree are the 30% backwash inept hicks of our nation. I’m sure google bombs have added to to his rank for failure, but just about every post on the internet you find about Bush, the word failure is meantioned as well. Google by far is the most trusted and best search engine there is out there and has absolutely no political bias. The problem is the small minority on the far right (people such as yourself) who are totally blind about what’s going on in the world we live in today. You simply can’t fathom the massive anti-bush sentiment there is worldwide and in our own country as well. After 9/11 he could have had the opportunity of being remembered as one of the greatest presidents ever but he flushed our country down the toilet by being stubborn, blind, wrong, a partisan numbskull and totally clueless.

  • Chris Brady

    Joel you have missed the entire point of my post and comments (as well as incorrectly characterizing my own political views). This all had nothing whatsoever to do with Bush or his policies. It has to do with whether or not we can any longer trust Google as a search engine if we know that it can be so easily manipulated.

    I brought it up because Google is trying to and has forged ties with various universities and libraries. Their engine’s usefulness for research is compromised if it can be manipulated in this way. If Google the Company wants to make inroads with the academic community then they need to provide appropriate safeguards, etc.

    Now, I never suggested that the search engine had a political bias. Last I checked it was inanimate and therefore incapable of bias. People, on the other hand, are capable of bias and, as FP points out, those on all sides of various issues have used this technique for their own ends.

    Lastly, where on earth did you get the idea that I am “on the far right”? Clearly you do not know me or my views. I have no clue as to who you are, but I would wager my global perspective is at least as broad as yours and in all likelihood far wider in range and deeper in perspective, particularly in terms of how European and Islamic countries view the US and our foreign policies.