Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Google and google searches: Jerusalem

A graduate student of Middle East studies shared with me his communication with a Google staffer on the matter of google searches and Jerusalem:
Read from below:
"I emailed my friend who works at Google and forwarded is our email correspondence on the subject. If you wish you can publicize this so more of your readers can "send feedback" but please leave out all names, thank you so much!

Best regards,

From: >
Date: Wed, Jun 19, 2013 at 11:17 AM
Subject: Re: Google Searches

Thank you for elucidating the process, and clarifying the sense of "accurate" which you meant -- sounds a bit demagogic actually. And the process does seem problematic, skewed and manipulat-able.

I googled Goh Keng Swee and Pocahontas and the former was born in "Malacca, Malaysia" (should be Malaya I guess, since it was 1918) but Pocohontas was born in "Werowocomoco" (no mention of USA, which is great). It should be possible to insert an algorithm that takes into account the years in which nation-states emerged (pretty incontrovertible political facts, which if taken into account would help enhance "accuracy" and does not really constitute an "editorial intervention") 

Anyway I followed your advice and "Reported Wrong" for GKS, Tarif Khalidi etc, and also sent in feedback!

Thanks again, and take care.
On Wed, Jun 19, 2013 at 12:42 AM,  wrote:
As accurate as we can get. Not asserting that it is true, just the best we can parse given the data we find. We try to avoid having an editorial voice and simply reflect available information as much as possible.

You have to realize that we don't sit around manually entering or deciding what facts to show. Most of what we display is simply what our algorithms glean from crawling the web. Their birthplace was probably referred to as Jerusalem a bunch of places on the web, and a bunch of other places probably referred to Jerusalem as part of Israel. Given that is what it is described as on the web then that is what get's displayed. The information is treated no differently than the height of the Eiffel Tower or the age of Justin Bieber. Google tries not to "know" anything other than what information it finds.

That's not to say it's set in stone. We often get errors in our data and we try our best to fix our algorithms to accomodate them the best we can. If you think this is an error then we have a "send feedback" link at the bottom of the page. If we are in fact interpreting available information incorrectly then we try to fix it.

On Tue, Jun 18, 2013 at 5:10 PM, wrote:

the whole point is that there was no israel in 1938, and simply stating "Jerusalem" doesn't commit one to being either pro-Israel or pro-Palestine.
But stating ISRAEL, is anachronistic, and inaccurate.

On Tue, Jun 18, 2013 at 9:57 PM, wrote:
Haha we get this kind of stuff all the time. Israel/Palestine, Republican/Democrat, etc etc. People would love to believe that everything Google does is either pro-this or anti-that. They have a hard time conceiving that we're neither pro-israel or pro-palestine and are simply trying to show as accurate information as we can get.

On Mon, Jun 17, 2013 at 8:22 PM, wrote:

Just wondered what you thought of this"