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Google Search Suggestions and Derogatory Words
tedster




msg:4057938
 9:50 pm on Jan 10, 2010 (gmt 0)

A recent court ruling in France [webmasterworld.com] required Google to remove the French word for "scam" or "swindle" from the Google Suggestions for a certain company.

Google has always maintained that the Suggestions are set algorithmically and they shouldn't be required to make such changes. I'm happy with the French ruling, because Google's position has always seemed naive to me, at best.

It is common for people to make searches that include words like "scam", and "lawsuit" in order to perform due diligence and check out a company. The Google Suggestions algorithm just seems to pick up the search activity and, voila, you've got a nasty bit of potential defamation included in the Suggestions box -- even if there is little or nothing online about the topic.

I've seen this happen with "Searches related to" suggestions as well, when clicking on the link sometimes provides only one or even no results! I'd say this is an algorithm in dire need of attention. Google should not be so academic as to ignore the effect that their Suggestion can have on a company's reputation.

Even if it is automated, Google is still publishing the suggestion. That means they should be subject to all laws related to defamation, slander and libel - in my opinion (IANAL). Google is working very hard and very cleverly to amass great amounts of power. They need to match that power with even greater amounts of responsibility.

 

TheMadScientist




msg:4057955
 10:55 pm on Jan 10, 2010 (gmt 0)

A recent court ruling in France required Google to remove the French word for "scam" or "swindle" from the Google Suggestions for a certain company.

Google has always maintained that the Suggestions are set algorithmically and they shouldn't be required to make such changes.

Good, maybe someday ordinary people will see the BS of their argument... I could easily write an algorithm that slams Google and using their same argument would not be responsible for it some how? LOL! I think their lawyers would go nuts, which gets me thinking, maybe someone should, then when their lawyers win a lawsuit to get it changed the precedent would be set to get them to change theirs... (I like it!)

I forgot... We're supposed to do as they say, not as they do.
My apologies to the Googlers... Sometimes I forget my place.

whitenight




msg:4057984
 12:16 am on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

Ha. Your somwewhat tongue-in-cheek argument, got my brain thinking, madscientist.

The most important words are "precedent would be set"

Since Europe already has the necessary laws and caselaws (aka precedents) to reign in Gorg's powergrab,
a good atty would only need to effectively argue a change of jurisdiction.

(Here's where a world-class atty would prove his worth).

I'd have to go back and research, how and if, all those anti-monopoly lawsuits against Microsoft in Europe were used to change their American counterparts, but I do have vague memories of "world court jurisdictions" having some sway in the decisions.

Interesting...

TheMadScientist




msg:4058017
 1:21 am on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

Since Europe already has the necessary laws and caselaws (aka precedents) to reign in Gorg's powergrab, a good atty would only need to effectively argue a change of jurisdiction.

You mean make an argument like 'The American Public is so enthralled with Google's search results and 'Do no evil' philosophy there is no way a fair decision could be reached, because every day people don't realize there is also a 'Do as we say not as we do' practice at Google which implicitly indicates the 'Do no evil' philosophy is aimed at others?'

If they are really doing no evil, why do they keep having rulings against them reigning them in?

There I go speaking my mind 'tongue-in-cheek-style' again, but IMO they aren't being held to the same level of accountability as others (or as others hold themselves to) here in the states... Personally, I think they've already been let run a bit too far with some of the things they are doing / have done, but that's simply my opinion.

I know it's asking quite a bit, but maybe someday they'll check themselves, although I seriously doubt it, because since they are now a corporation, they have to keep finding new ways to make money, and unfortunately, they already dominate the market to such an extent they really don't have too many directions to go, except to the toe-the-line of what's alright and what's not, or down...

I mean think about it, according to most reports you've already got something like 71% of all searches conducted and have to continue to grow your bottom line, what do you? I can see why they push the limits, but at the same time it aggravates me a bit when they don't hold themselves accountable...

EDITED: It doesn't aggravate me as much they aren't held accountable as it does they don't hold themselves accountable to write better algorithms that do not do damage to others in accordance with what I believe is their stated philosophy...

tedster




msg:4058020
 1:30 am on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

To be fair about it, Google's motto is "Don't BE evil" - no company of that size can avoid doing some damage, and they've acknowledged that. But they need to wake up to just how big they are and just how easily they can do damage at that size. They must intensively increase their vigilance about the side effects of all their beta-style ideas.

Just because something is technically cool, and just because it increases revenues doesn't mean it should be let loose on the world. This world belongs to everyone, and the web belongs to the billions who use it and depend on it. It is not the playground of any individual, or any company, or any group of companies or even countries.

There are corporations who take their world citizenship seriously - profits don't need to come through ruthlessness. Google used to be one of those responsible companies. I also hope that they re-double their efforts.

whitenight




msg:4058022
 1:34 am on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

You mean make an argument like 'The American Public is so enthralled with Google's search results and 'Do no evil' philosophy there is no way a fair decision could be reached, because every day people don't realize there is also a 'Do as we say not as we do' practice at Google which implicitly indicates the 'Do no evil' philosophy is aimed at others?

lol, not quite.
More like, convincing a US Federal judge that the precedent set by a European's court ruling should apply to the US suit, under similar examples of "international law rulings".
("Public opinion" wouldn't be a factor at this level)

In theory, it could be "easy" to do. In practice... well, how long did those MS cases last? Many, many years.

But then again, serious lawsuits have a way of making corporations "check themselves", if only to save on future and on-going legal expenses. (Bottom line $$$)

TheMadScientist




msg:4058025
 1:38 am on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

Thanks for the clarification on my interpretation of what they meant tedster...
Do you think maybe they really mean: Be in the Grey Area it's tough to evaluate?
(Doh! Tongue-in-cheek again, but it seems to be where they are playing...)

I understand they can't avoid doing some damage, such as changes to their algo, etc. where some sites are removed and replaced by others, but there are other areas where if another smaller company decided to do the same thing it would be stopped immediately, for instance if I decided to scan copyrighted works and republish them on a large scale making them freely available to anyone who visited my website, how long do you think that would last?

They should not have exceptions made because they are large or write complicated algorithms and IMO they should be holding themselves accountable in some areas they are not, for exactly the reason you've stated better than anyone else I've read...

Just because something is technically cool, and just because it increases revenues doesn't mean it should be let loose on the world. This world belongs to everyone, and the web belongs to the billions who use it and depend on it. It is not the playground of any individual, or any company, or any group of companies or even countries.

Edited: WhiteNight and I were posting at the same time, so I didn't see his reply and clarified this post a bit.
BTW: Thanks to WhiteNight for pointing out the more legally technical part of getting the venue changed or international laws applied.

whitenight




msg:4058036
 1:55 am on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

they should be holding themselves accountable in some areas they are not, for exactly the reason you've stated better than anyone else I've read...

Just because something is technically cool, and just because it increases revenues doesn't mean it should be let loose on the world. This world belongs to everyone, and the web belongs to the billions who use it and depend on it. It is not the playground of any individual, or any company, or any group of companies or even countries.

This ignores the basic premise of Nash equlibrium [en.wikipedia.org] of any game theory matrix

And quite honestly, no offense, a very naive worldview.

One must ASSUME every person, corporation, country is always working SOLELY in their best interests. And looking to IMPROVE their position regardless of the other players.

(hence, MY worldview about Gorg since Day 1)

The only time a player doesn't act to IMPROVE their position within game matrices is if they see/understand that any actions to improve will likely result in an actual DECREASE in position, as the other players act/react to the original players movement.(seeking to increase THEIR position)

(Think 2 master martial artists simply waiting for the other one to make the first move to expose a weakness. Now think 100+ masters with various agendas fighting for motivations.)

Gorg has to be "CONVINCED" that seeking to improve their position will, in fact, have a greater probability/possibility of decreasing their position in the game theory matrices.

Hence, those individuals (companies, countries, etc) that are acting in "responsible ways" are, in truth, ONLY acting that way out of self-interest ultimately.

IE. One is acting out of selflessness cause at the end of the day they think it will benefit them. lol think about that paradox!

TheMadScientist




msg:4058040
 2:07 am on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

Good point, WhiteNight, but let's run with what I believe to be the underlying point of tedster's post for a minute and think about what will happen if the 'court of public opinion' turns against them...

Do you think maybe there is something the engineers miss at times when checking with the attorneys, marketers, etc. on whether something is technically legal, or whether there's a loophole they can use, or maybe they work with a 'but as long as no one pays attention' theory to implement some of their ideas?

I ask, because, IMO in some ways tedster's post is very right on, to the point Google will be evaluated in the 'court of public opinion', which is all of us who use the Internet and if that 'court' turns against them, they are in a world of hurt...

BTW: Feeling a bit more argumentative today. ;)
I was working on the page of a site that brings up some bad memories the other day, so I wasn't quite myself...
I don't usually work on pages / sites that 'close' to me.

whitenight




msg:4058046
 2:19 am on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

let's run with what I believe to be the underlying point of tedster's post for a minute and think about what will happen if the 'court of public opinion' turns against them...

Of course. With the caveat that the "court of public opinion" only matters if it affects their main motivation -- Profits.

"Being cool" may also be a motivation, but it certainly doesn't override the primary one.

And if one looks around at ANY individual, it usually takes a LARGE outside force/catalyst to change one's priorities/worldview.

So one has to connect the "court of public opinion" with LESS profits for an effect.
Luckily, that's infinitely easier to do, than changing Gorg motivations/worldviews withOUT a outside catalyst.

TheMadScientist




msg:4058053
 2:29 am on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

"Being cool" may also be a motivation, but it certainly doesn't override the primary one.

Well their getting the s*** kicked out of 'em by Bing there...

And if one looks around at ANY individual, it usually takes a LARGE outside force/catalyst to change one's priorities/worldview.

Yeah, and those of us who are tired of the grey area line-toeing hope the catalyst does not manifest itself until they are diminished to a 30% market share and the ride's over for all of the pompom carrying cheerleaders...

"Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is it politic?' Vanity asks the question, 'Is it popular?' But, conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one's conscience tells one that it is right."
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Do you think Googler's ask the question 'Can we get away with it?' or 'Will anyone notice?' more often?

whitenight




msg:4058060
 2:36 am on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

"Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is it politic?' Vanity asks the question, 'Is it popular?' But, conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one's conscience tells one that it is right." - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Perfect quote!
And the next level of awareness (there are even more after this) would be
"Is it in the highest good for all involved?" (the perfect Nash equilibrium)

That's what were working on for the singularity. ;)

Gorg's got a HUGE AMOUNT of catalyst/outside forces before it gets to even a "Is it right/ethical?" worldview.

ogletree




msg:4058065
 2:53 am on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

That is a bit of reputation management you really can't combat unless your france.

TheMadScientist




msg:4058079
 3:14 am on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

Gorg's got a HUGE AMOUNT of catalyst/outside forces before it gets to even a "Is it right/ethical?" worldview.

Yeah, obviously the (probably) 10 people they asked if targeting SERPs to individual users / browsers was a good idea either didn't read, couldn't interpret, or just plain ignored the article linked here about Behavioral Ad Targeting [webmasterworld.com] since IMO that's essentially what they're doing with another name by 'personalizing' SERPs... Then again, maybe they just asked, 'Will anyone notice?' and figured it was cool to do, and besides, their Google, so they know what people want better than people know what they want for themselves, right?

[edited by: TheMadScientist at 3:25 am (utc) on Jan. 11, 2010]

tedster




msg:4058080
 3:14 am on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

One improvement I can envision for the Suggestions algorithm would be to require a relatively high threshold of content for the [company scam] search, figured as a percentage of the [company] search results. That should be measured as rather high before the Suggested word combination gets rolled out to the search boxes across the world.

I have a suspicion that, just a few weeks back, something like a raised threshold DID happen for "Searches related to" -- but not for Suggestions. At that time some "Searches related to" links that I was puzzling over for a few companies just vanished.

However, those same Suggestions are still showing up right now, and I wish they would be zapped as well. I mean, what can you do about a few UGC pages that say something like "I'm sure there were some scam accusations about Company, but they've been hushed up." In the meantime, we're cranking out some new content so that the companies involved can at least show up in the results with their point of view -- if someone does click on that particular Suggestion.

The problem I see is a kind of subliminal contamination of reputation that occurs just from seeing the derogatory word coupled with the Company Name - just the "suggestion" registered in peripheral vision that there is a scam associated with Company. And that's especially problematic when the user doesn't even click to see that there's no fire behind that suggestion of smoke.

Silvery




msg:4058092
 4:07 am on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

"Scam", "swindle" and maybe even terms like "complaints", "problems", and "lawsuits" should perhaps be suppressed in Google Suggest, period.

Although Google keeps mum about how they generate Google Suggest terms, they're almost undoubtedly generated in part by frequency of keyword search phrases. Google Suggest likely influences searcher behavior by some degree -- causing more sensitive terms to appear more frequently and stick longer once they appear on the suggest list.

walkman




msg:4058100
 4:17 am on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

It's funny if you look at the suggestions for religions.

Christianity is
Buddhism is
Muhammad is

But when you're talking about living people and companies I could see why they would be mad.

tedster




msg:4058110
 4:35 am on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

Well, there's nothing too funny about it, certainly to some living members of those various religions. Religion is core in their lives and seeing such words really hurts.

Sometimes we webmasters get exposed to so much "crowd sourced" information that we loose a bit of our human sensitivity. That same syndrome also plagues people who get used to putting material online "anonymously" - they feel free to be casually cruel in ways they never would face to face.

So, in addition to holding Google responsible for their Suggestions, I'm also taking this opportunity to kick my own butt to a new level of accountability for all my online actions.

graeme_p




msg:4058115
 4:54 am on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

I do not see the problem:

If the search does not reveal results that sugest anything discreditable, there is no problem.

If the search does, then:

1) its true, so there is no problem.
2) its false, in which case they sue the sites that carry the information.

This looks to me like, its true, so they cannot sue, so they want to reduce the number of people who find the information.

Robert Charlton




msg:4058129
 5:59 am on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

I'm pleased by the French decision too. Fairly recently, in Oct 2009, we had a discussion about the problem in the US as it was affecting one new user here....

Google Suggest - Can We Affect the Negative Entries?
[webmasterworld.com...]

Not too many joined in the discussion, and the OP and I were the major posters. Among my observations....

Also, look at Google's suggestions for various competing domains, and note what pops up as you type their names. You'll see that there's a fairly common set of negatives that appear for domain names in any competitive market area.

Current law protects the various "review" sites that put this material up. They represent the spectrum from free speech to extortion rackets of sorts. Many of them survive by selling ads.

It's one thing to get slanderous pages out of the top 10 in Google's serps... quite a bit more difficult to get slanderous search suggestions out of Suggest in Google.

Even though I feel that those are extortion type sites affecting the market areas I've checked out, the considerations are difficult if the problem is framed as a free speech issue. I think tedster is right on, and that it's a matter of the Suggestion threshold needing to be raised and perhaps refined.

The suggestion threshold overall (not just for derogatory words) is a lot lower in Google than it is in Bing and in Yahoo. Google may like the extra fraction of user satisfaction the low threshold apparently provides, but it definitely does have some side effects that need re-examination.

I picked a company at random in a competitive area and noted that "scam" was suggested in Google after only 6 of roughly 12 characters of the company name were typed, whereas neither Bing nor Yahoo showed the "s"-word even after I typed the full company name plus an "s". It can be done.

Vive la France!

CainIV




msg:4058149
 7:31 am on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

The Google Suggestions algorithm just seems to pick up the search activity and, voila, you've got a nasty bit of potential defamation included in the Suggestions box -- even if there is little or nothing online about the topic.

It's a real problem for sure. Just one or two stray links at a competitor seem to 'coax' this drop down delight. Not as bad for bigger businesses, as generally the drop down suggestions box is loaded with other keyword suggestions.

But for the small business, it hurts when the only two words are <business name> and <business name scam>

waynne




msg:4058217
 10:40 am on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

I guess the french are hoping this applies also to the french military victories googlebomb! LOL

BillyS




msg:4058315
 2:31 pm on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

If that's what people search for, who cares? Stop using Google if you dont like the suggestions. The only thing Google is doing is supplyng information. I'm glad the world is going to tell me how to run my business.

What about Amazon's shipping policy. Why do some items qualify for free shipping over a certain dollar threshiold and others don't? I think everything should count towards free shipping.

If they don't qualify, then Amazon shouldn't sell those items.

And what's with WebmasterWorld's forum that's only open to members that pay a fee? Maybe I should get locked out of posting comments, but why can't I read the posts. What's up with that? Maybe someone is saying something negative about me and I need to see those comments.

whitenight




msg:4058317
 2:39 pm on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

I'm glad the world is going to tell me how to run my business.

lol, if you ever grow as large as Google,
control over 90% of your industry's marketshare in the European continent, (70%+ worldwide)
have a couple hundred million in your personal bank account,
billions in revenue
and
do NOT have public opinion and various courts, laws, and taxes
"bringing you down"
then you'd be the first one in history.

frontpage




msg:4058421
 5:40 pm on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

Google may state that its 'Suggestions' are algorithmically set but I highly doubt it. I definitely believe that Google edits the results when it suits them.

Case in point.

"Google denies censoring anti-Islam search suggestions"

[wired.com...]

TheMadScientist




msg:4058446
 5:55 pm on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

If that's what people search for, who cares?

Absolutely, show them the results, but do you really think there's a need to suggest negatives about your business, when the person searching (NOT YOU) could be turned off to your business or website by the suggestions?

Stop using Google if you dont like the suggestions.

It's not about YOU liking the suggestions or not, it's about OTHER PEOPLE being turned off to YOUR business or site if they get negatives out of the suggestions, and it CAN happen even if OTHER PEOPLE don't click on the negative suggestions. It's even more about the legality of what they are doing. If what they were doing was legal in France, there would not be a ruling against them, so obviously they are overstepping in places and need to be reigned in a bit...

TheMadScientist




msg:4058473
 6:31 pm on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

Just noticed this:
The only thing Google is doing is supplyng information.

What information does Google actually supply?

All they are really doing is supplying links to actual information and the context they supply those links in should be non-negative, because it's not their information they supply the links to and because of their very own argument: It's determined algorithmically, which means they really have no idea if the context they provide the links in is accurate or not, and therefore the links they provide should be suggested in a manner set to not do damage, harm, or endorse a business or website. IOW & IMO they should supply the links to the information as is, unaltered and in a non-negative (and non-positive) manner, so each individual wanting to access the information they provide links to can decide for themselves.

BTW: Do they provide endorsements to offset the negatives they provide in the suggestions? I couldn't find those in the test suggestions I tried and don't remember seeing them when I actually used Google as a search engine... Seriously, are there 'positive' suggestions in their 'algorithmically determined' suggestions, because I honestly can't remember seeing them, which leads me back to the 'their argument is BS' conclusion again...

ergophobe




msg:4058506
 6:56 pm on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

One issue I've seen lately is with someone who has a popular clickBank product. he realized that many of his top affiliates were optimizing for

Product Scam at productscam.com
His Name Scam at hisnamescam.com

And so forth. He said, "I appreciate the sales that you make for me, but it's really bad for my credibility and any affiliate of mine using "scam" traffic will not get paid if you get discovered."

I'm not sure where that fits in, but for affiliate products, scam=spam. These days the vast majority of "His Name Exposed" type sites are affiliates.

BillyS




msg:4058717
 11:46 pm on Jan 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

then you'd be the first one in history.

The point has nothing to do with Google's - that's obvious. It's what can happen when governments start telling people how to run a legitimate business.

but do you really think there's a need to suggest negatives about your business

I do this type of query all the time. If there is something bad about a product or service, then I want to find that information fast. Google saves me some typing.

BTW: Do they provide endorsements to offset the negatives they provide in the suggestions?

Do you have evidence they don't? I can find evidence they do.

ergophobe




msg:4058750
 1:22 am on Jan 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

I actually have a name for this. I call it the "sucks search" because I find that to be the best word for getting non-spammy sites (like the affiliate sites I mentioned in the previous post).

I usually couple this with a "rocks search" as in

"Widgets Unlimited sucks"
"Widgets Unlimtede rocks"

Google is probably responding to search volume from people like me.

Like Tedster said, Google is too big to roll over in bed without crushing some babies, but is it Google's job to decide which popular searches should be filtered out?

Let's say I believe the earth is flat and I consider this to be an undisputed fact. Should I expect to win a suit against Google because currently when I type in "earth flat" the number one suggestion I'm seeing is "earth flat myth"?

Okay, you might say, but nobody's livelihood is riding on those search results.

Well how about this. Should a politician be able to sue Google because it turns out that dominant searches don't reflect positively on me? Try searching on "Mark sanford" or Eliot Spitzer and sees what comes up.

This 41 message thread spans 2 pages: 41 ( [1] 2 > >
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