Google has confirmed that it is making changes to its Google Maps service to stop racist terms and other inappropriate words from displaying location search results. The issue blew up this week after searches for “n*****” or “nigga” were found to pull up the White House and other locations associated with African Americans and other ethnic minorities.
In a blog post apologizing for the “mess up”, Google explained that the situation was caused because its Maps service uses content from across the web — most of which isn’t vetted — to match searches to locations. It’s the same model that its search engine is based on — and explains why a search for ‘failure’ used to serve U.S. President Geoge W. Bush as the top result, before the company implemented a change.
Like Google search, which had algorithms changed to prevent so-called ‘Googlebombing’, so Maps is getting the same treatment to prevent the problem, Google said:
Our team has been working hard to fix this issue. Building upon a key algorithmic change we developed for Google Search, we’ve started to update our ranking system to address the majority of these searches—this will gradually roll out globally and we’ll continue to refine our systems over time. Simply put, you shouldn’t see these kinds of results in Google Maps, and we’re taking steps to make sure you don’t.
There had been theories that hackers were subverting Google Map searches in some way, but this appears false, according to Google’s explanation.
That said, users tampering with maps is a genuine and very recent concern for the U.S. company. It was forced to shut down its Map Maker service, which allows anyone to contribute to developing Google Maps, after it was used for a series of obscene edits, including the addition of an android peeing on the Apple logo.
Map Makers shut down is not permanent, but Google did not provide any indication of when it will be back up and running.