Racist search term points to White House in Google Maps

May 21, 2015 7:32 am
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US President Barack Obama (L) walks to Marine One as he prepares to depart the White House enroute to Connecticut, in Washington, DC, May 20, 2015/AFP
US President Barack Obama (L) walks to Marine One as he prepares to depart the White House enroute to Connecticut, in Washington, DC, May 20, 2015/AFP
SAN FRANCISCO, United States, May 21 – Google Maps apologized Wednesday after it emerged that searches using racist language pinpointed the White House, home of President Barack Obama.

The offensive scenario was brought to light after it was noticed that searches combining a racial slur and the word “house” took people to the White House in Google’s free online mapping service in some locations.

An AFP search on Google Maps late Wednesday using a variation on the racist phrase resulted in being shown the location of The White House with the description “iconic home of America’s president.”

It was unclear whether the outcome resulted from a search algorithm being duped or flawed, or was caused by a user taking advantage of crowd-sourced editing capabilities intended to improve maps with local knowledge.

“Some inappropriate results are surfacing in Google Maps that should not be, and we apologize for any offense this may have caused,” the California-based Internet titan said in a released statement.

“Our teams are working to fix this issue quickly.”

Google on Monday said it is sidelining its crowd-sourced map making tool to implement a way to prevent bogus edits which have proven embarrassing.

The Map Maker service became “temporarily unavailable” beginning Tuesday, according to a message posted online.

“As some of you know already, we have been experiencing escalated attacks to spam Google Maps over the past few months,” Pavithra Kanakarajan of the Map Maker team said in a written explanation of the decision.

Last month, the California-based Internet giant began re-evaluating its user-edited online map system after the latest embarrassing incident – an image of an Android mascot urinating on an Apple logo.

The image, part of a crowd-sourced edit on Google Maps, appeared briefly at a Pakistani location before it was removed.

In a statement to US media at the time, Google apologized and said it was working to step up verification of user edits on its Map Maker platform.

Earlier in April, someone revised the map of the White House in Washington to include a new business called “Edwards Snow Den,” an apparent effort to draw attention to former national security contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked a trove of secret documents on US surveillance.

The pranks were done with map making tools that allow any user to edit online maps. Google let people modify maps in the spirit of tapping into intimate, local knowledge to make them more accurate and detailed.

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