I’m at a SEO conference today, and one of the best presentations was by a group of Google employees on some of the moral and ethical challenges of running a search engine. Matt Cutts – the Google official SEO blogger – was on the panel, as well as a couple of other people.
I was amazed at how a lot of issues come up with how to handle certain Google search results. Some of the panel’s examples were interesting. Should a suicide note left on a web site come up when searching for the victim’s name? Should a white supremacist hate site about Martin Luther King come up in the search results for MLK? Should posts warning about the dangers of vaccinations come up when searching about the safety of vaccines appear – in spite of sound scientific evidence against and the fact that misinformation could cost lives? And in some cases, Google execs in foreign lands have been arrested for videos appearing on YouTube – what does Google do about that? I had no idea.
Another fun aspect of this debate was the search suggestions that Google provides. These mirror what people are actually entering, and aren’t censored or edited at all – in spite of the fact they can be offensive to some. Try entering “asians are b” or “americans are f” and see what Google expects you to type next. It’s both funny and horrifying.
At our family dinner table, I shared this with the kids, and we tried the Search Suggestion game on their names. We tried “Bryce is” and “Laurel is”, and got some hilarious results – both complementary and insulting. Try this with your own kids names for fun!