Sunday, October 7, 2007

Google Explains Jew Results

Google has replied to the petition to remove from its search engine. No surprise that they won't remove the site, but their reply is more than a standard form letter and offers some interesting, though not entirely persuasive thoughts, on why anti-Semitic results appear.
f you recently used Google to search for the word "Jew," you may have seen results that were very disturbing. We assure you that the views expressed by the sites in your results are not in any way endorsed by Google. We'd like to explain why you're seeing these results when you conduct this search.

A site's ranking in Google's search results relies heavily on computer algorithms using thousands of factors to calculate a page's relevance to a given query. Sometimes subtleties of language cause anomalies to appear that cannot be predicted. A search for "Jew" brings up one such unexpected result.

If you use Google to search for "Judaism," "Jewish" or "Jewish people," the results are informative and relevant. So why is a search for "Jew" different? One reason is that the word "Jew" is often used in an anti-Semitic context. Jewish organizations are more likely to use the word "Jewish" when talking about members of their faith. The word has become somewhat charged linguistically, as noted on websites devoted to Jewish topics such as these:


Someone searching for information on Jewish people would be more likely to enter terms like "Judaism," "Jewish people," or "Jews" than the single word "Jew." In fact, prior to this incident, the word "Jew" only appeared about once in every 10 million search queries. Now it's likely that the great majority of searches on Google for "Jew" are by people who have heard about this issue and want to see the results for themselves.

The beliefs and preferences of those who work at Google, as well as the opinions of the general public, do not determine or impact our search results. Individual citizens and public interest groups do periodically urge us to remove particular links or otherwise adjust search results. Although Google reserves the right to address such requests individually, Google views the comprehensiveness of our search results as an extremely important priority. Accordingly, we do not remove a page from our search results simply because its content is unpopular or because we receive complaints concerning it. We will, however, remove pages from our results if we believe the page (or its site) violates our Webmaster Guidelines, if we believe we are required to do so by law, or at the request of the webmaster who is responsible for the page.

We apologize for the upsetting nature of the experience you had using Google and appreciate your taking the time to inform us about it.

The Google Team
I applaud Google's interest in ordinary language philosophy, i.e., the different motives for the use of "Jew" as distinct from "Jewish" or "Judaism." However suggestive their hypotheses, they are not entirely satisfying. First, most of the sites that appear when people use "Jew" are not "disturbing," including what is now the second-ranked site, the Wikipedia entry, which used to be first until this controversy appeared to bump up the ranking to #1. Also, Google makes an uncharacteristically inaccurate statement about its own search engine: if you type in "Jews" and not "Jew," also appears as the second site on the list (after the Wikipedia entry) and the third url on the list is for Jews for Jesus. And finally, as I pointed out yesterday, the explanation does not explain why similar results do not show up when people enter "Christian" or "Muslim."

While the details of Google's response are not entirely accurate, the spirit of its engagement is a welcome change from corporate double-speak that ignores the substantive issues. Their engagement, if not expertise in linguistics and counting (the results in their own search engine), are much appreciated.

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