Late last night, Jon Russell of TechCrunch wrote:

“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.”

Most people would never type those words into Google Maps, yet when someone did, the White House came up as the top search result. Another search for “N*gger University” turned up as being “Howard University.” These were initially posted to Twitter by a user of Twitter named Bomani X @AceBoonCoon, who spoke with me a couple hours after making the shocking discovery about his Alma Mater.

Google posted a blog entry titled “Sorry for our Google Maps search mess up”, in which the VP of Engineering & Product Management, Jen Fitzpatrick, says:

“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.

At Google, we work hard to bring people the information they are looking for, including information about the physical world through Google Maps. Our ranking systems are designed to return results that match a person’s query. For Maps, this means using content about businesses and other public places from across the web. But this week, we heard about a failure in our system—loud and clear. Certain offensive search terms were triggering unexpected maps results, typically because people had used the offensive term in online discussions of the place. This surfaced inappropriate results that users likely weren’t looking for.

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.

Again, we sincerely apologize for the offense this has caused, and we will do better in the future.”

Just before midnight on May 21st, Twitter user Ardit Ferizi posted a screenshot taken of a Google Maps search for ‘prostitution house’ which (sure enough) points to the White House. I repeated these results at 0600 PST, May 22nd, and the results are the same.

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Some free advice:

If the staff at Google Maps needs helping getting out of the woods, perhaps they should try Apple Maps or Bing.

This is just more evidence that Google is trying to cure a cancer with a series of Band-Aids.  The solution is not to maintain the status quo, and then remove offensive content one at a time as they find it.  As I’ve been saying for a long time, the solution needs to be systemic.  Sign this Petition and help be part of the solution.