Yesterday, The Huffington Post and other media outlets across the world reported that when Google Maps users searched for the words ‘nigga house’ and ‘nigger house’ the results would pull up The White House. I shouldn’t be surprised by the extremely racist and hateful actions, but I am.
Many people in the online world know me for a variety of Google Maps related pranks such showing Google Maps to suggest that Edward Snowden was hiding out on the White House lawn, and probably the most notorious prank was last year when I demonstrated that Google Maps could be used to intercept calls to the Secret Service & FBI. That prank alone caused Google Maps to shut down their verification of new businesses for six weeks while they evaluated their practices. More about this in my recent TEDx talk, Wiretapping The Secret Service Can Be Easy & Fun.
Ah, lovely memories. (Seriously; I’m pleasantly surprised that the Secret Service let me keep my memories.)
A pathetically racist stunt like this is, to put it mildly, nine miles below me. But at first blush, it has potentially broad ramifications. Racists are not generally renowned for their massive intellects. Indeed, quite the exact opposite. So the idea that one person could simultaneously be ignorant enough to think that the most vile epithet in the English language should direct people to our nation’s most powerful person, yet also smart enough to hack Google Maps, could make us question whether our assessment of racists as a class of people is incorrect. And the irony is positively Morrissette-esque to ponder that perhaps the very blind prejudice that we abhor so much in racists may indeed blind us ourselves to the multiplicity of people who happen to hold different views on racial equality than we do. Perhaps our own intolerance of intolerance is as inappropriate as intolerance itself.
Don’t worry, liberals and moderates and everybody who knows how to spell “KKK”, but chooses not to. There’s a much simpler explanation. In fact, Google Maps has been so easy to “hack” that even a racist moron can do it.
But believe it or not, there are abuses of Google Maps arguably viler than an offensive piece of Presidential humor. Don’t get me wrong; I hate THAT WORD the maximum amount that that word can be hated. But if there’s one thing that is arguably even more offensive than a piece of hate speech, it’s billions of dollars in fraud every year, which scammers and spammers steal from legitimate businesses and government offers every year through hacks of Google Maps and the other search engines.
The problem is so bad that it’s why I recorded calls to the Secret Service in the first place; and why I’m writing a book exposing the problem that will be released later this year.
You may have noticed that I used the past tense to describe the ease with which even the most cerebrally challenged individual can manipulate Google Maps. That is because as of right now, Google has – much to its credit – disabled one of the main sources of fake businesses, their Mapmaker product. Google is currently pondering potential changes to the site that could reduce, or even eliminate, our ability as citizens to pull “pranks” like the ones we are discussing (both the racist one and that multi-billion dollar one). You can help try to inspire Google to make real change by signing this Petition to lobby Google to make specific changes that could add billions to the revenues of legitimate businesses and public coffers.
The current “prank” is definitely beneath me. But the practices that made it so insanely easy to add race hate to the world’s most popular search engine are beneath Google. And if this story helps tip Google even a little bit closer to the wholesale changes to Maps that are vitally necessary, then it shows that even the most disgusting pile of shit can help to fertilize a beautiful plant.