It’s an embarrassment to the search giant that Google Maps produced highly inappropriate racist results, even though it happened because racist terms are often shared on the internet. A Wired reporter explains:
It was discovered that when searching for “n***a house” and “n***a king,” Maps returned a surprising location: the White House. A search for “slut’s house” led to an Indiana women’s dorm. Initially, you may have suspected this to be the work of a lone vandal, or even a coordinated campaign. But Google Maps gave racist, degrading results not because it was compromised, but because the internet itself is racist and degrading … It … means that if enough people online refer to a specific place using vile epithets, even one of the most recognizable landmarks in the United States can be reduced to racist garbage.
Google got plenty of egg plastered on its face. Executives apologized and removed the offensive results, but some feel they shouldn’t be let off the hook too easily. LovelyTi makes good points:
Following the PR nightmare of the racist Google Maps search for “n—- house” that landed users at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Google has issued an official apology. A blog post by vice president of Engineering and Product Management Jen Fitzpatrick begins, “This week, we had some problems with Google Maps, which was displaying results for certain offensive search queries. Like many of you, we were deeply upset by this issue, and we are fixing it now. We apologize this has taken some time to resolve, and want to share more about what we are doing to correct the problem.”
But after two days, there was still no glowing news to share about Google’s reaction to the White House gaffe:
…Google Maps users were alarmed by the the very disturbing discovery that searching the racial slur “n—- king” directed them to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, or as it’s more commonly known, the White House. The same results were achieved with a search for “n—- house.” If anyone needed proof of the ongoing existence of racism in the United States, there are now literally directions for it.
Following this overt display of racism, poor taste, and all around foolishness, Google announced that they were “temporarily disabling editing on Map Maker” as they “continue[d] to work towards making the moderation system more robust.” A spokesperson for the tech company stated, “Some inappropriate results are surfacing in Google Maps that should not be, and we apologize for any offense this may have caused. Our teams are working to fix this issue quickly.”
Unfortunately, the issue does not appear to have been fully resolved quite yet, as a current search of “n—- house” still zooms in on the presidential residence.
Seems to be corrected now, though. When I tried the search myself at 2:30 am on May 25 no objectionable results turned up.