Google’s stock price is up over 16% today. Good for them! And good for their investors. Don’t be evil.
There are plenty of reasons to be bullish on Google. And one of them is that they are legally allowed to profit on bullsh*t. OK, be slightly evil.
It’s a well-kept secret that commercial information on the Internet is subject to basically zero legal regulation. So while TV stations, radio stations, newspapers, and other “old media” can be held liable for publishing false information, Google, Bing, and other search providers CAN’T.
The result is that Google and its smaller competitors have the right take money for ads that they KNOW ARE FALSE. Some of the most offensive ads are “bait and switch” schemes, like offers for a $19 locksmith service that get jacked to $300 when the locksmith gets out to your location.
A brave guy and legitimate locksmith named Mark Baldino thought that the situation was unfair. He notified Google and others about false ads and asked the search engines to take the ads down. When they refused, Baldino took them to Court.
If you imagined a stirring jury trial filled with impassioned pleas for justice, keep imagining. The case was basically thrown out of court.
Why, you ask? Great question.
The answer is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The main thrust of the law was designed to help keep pornography offline. I think you know how well that fight went; in fact, those parts of the law were ruled unconstitutional not long after enactment. (And fetishists of all stripes have a safe home online to this day.)
But this little nugget from the federal legislation survived:
“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
On its face, this isn’t necessarily a poison that costs the American taxpayer and honest citizens billions of dollars a year. But unlike beauty, bad laws are not skin deep. And that’s exactly what this law winds up doing.
In throwing out Mark Baldino’s case by claiming that Google had immunity from all liability under Section 230, the Court ruled:
“This immunity extends to all information posted that does not originate with the defendant as an information content provider. A publishing website is immune under the CDA even when given notice that it has published false information. Although editorial discretion might be feasible for the traditional print publisher, the sheer number of postings on interactive computer services would create an impossible burden in the Internet context.”
So: even if Google KNOWS IT IS PUBLISHING FALSE INFORMATION, and for which it is PAID MONEY, Google CANNOT be sued for propagating that false information.
Ladies and gentlemen, the United States Congress!
Baldino has appealed, and hopefully he can get the decision overturned. But the problem isn’t that the Court’s ruling is wrong; the problem is that the Court appears to have correctly applied existing law.
The laws need to be changed. Until they are, commercial information on the Internet is rife with scams that threaten your finances and your physical safety.
I break down the problem in plain terms, and tell you exactly how you can avoid being victimized, in my new book, Cyber Fraud: The Web of Lies. Read the first chapter for free, or order a copy, at www.cyberfraudtheweboflies.com. I also do personal appearances. Book signings, weddings, bar mitzvahs: have your people call my people.
Oh, and be sure to by Google’s stock yesterday. And while you’re in that time machine, please go back to 1996 and tell Bill Clinton not to sign the Communications Decency Act. Or hire Monica Lewinsky.
I am very pleased to announce that Cyber Fraud: The Web of Lies is now available on Kindle!
Tomorrow, July 15th, is the official release of the paperback version, and I will be starting out the day at NBC King-5 to discuss the book on the morning show at 7:15am.
If you bought a print copy of the book you should be able to purchase the kindle version for 2.99.
Tomorrow is Amazon Prime Day, which was very nice of Amazon to schedule their biggest online deals day for the day that I launched my book 😉
Thanks to everyone for the support and encouragement throughout the writing process.
“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.
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.
BREAKING NEWS: A few hours ago, Bomani X @AceBoonCoon updated his twitter feed with yet another one of his shocking discoveries on Google Maps. Yesterday the world took notice when he posted an image of his Google Maps results where he found that when he searched for the keyword ‘nigga’ or ‘nigger’ , the White House would come up. Unfortunately, President Obama and his family are not the only targets of this deplorable prank. When you run a Google Maps search for ‘nigger university’ you get search results for ‘Howard University,’ a private university in Washington, D.C.
I spoke with the 22 year old Bomani just a few minutes ago to find out how he came across this new discovery:
“I am a recent graduate of Howard University, and after finding the Google Maps results for ‘nigger house’ a group of us Howard Alumni were looking around Google Maps to see if there was more.”
“We were discussing the issue for quite a long time when we found ‘nigger university’ and it turns out that those results were for the University we just graduated from.”
Bomani went on to say that
“I felt very disheartened to find these results in 2015. I just graduated from Howard University you know? And to have graduated from such a prestigious university, and achieved something I can be proud of, this [discovery] made it feel like that accomplishment was being diminished.”
According to Wikipedia: Howard University is a federally chartered, private, coeducational, nonsectarian, historically black university in Washington, D.C. It is classified as a research university with high research activity.
Based on that description, one can only assume that the racist prankster singled out “historically black university” and decided to insult not only President Obama and his family, but everyone at Howard University and ultimately everyone of color. Surpassing that, I think it would be safe to say that anyone with basic human decency would be offended at the notion of putting down a group of people based on skin color.
Defacing Google Maps around the world for fun or to draw attention to a larger problem is nothing new. Read some of my previous blog entries to see for yourself. Publicly attacking an entire race of people accomplishes nothing but dividing humans from other humans, instead of finding commonalities which bring people together. This country has had a rocky past, as have most others. Our strength is in our ability to unite in spite of our differences. The more we dialogue and refuse to be divided, the stronger we will be.
Google Maps has disabled their MapMaker Product as of May 12th, yet more and more ‘bad edits’ and inaccurate data comes to light. Considering that Google rectify these various flaws, how many more institutions and historic landmarks need to be publicly defaced with the most vile and racist word in the English Language before Google actually fixes the problem?
There is already a petition to ask Google to fix the problem. Sign it, and lets see if we can at least prevent this from continuing to happen again.
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.