It was a strange, unanswerable question. Still, at least one Google user in India thought of it.
What is the “ugliest” language in the country?
For anyone who recently typed the question into the platform’s search bar, the algorithm created a fact box that is sure of the answer: a language called Kannada, spoken by tens of millions of people in southern India.
Knowing about this result, many of them were not happy.
Several politicians in Karnataka state, where most of the Kannada speakers live, voiced their outrage on social media this week.
“Legal action is being taken against @Google because the image of our beautiful language is being defamed!” Aravind Limbavali, Minister of Forestry of Karnataka and a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political party, said in a tweet on Wednesday.
Google apologized on Thursday for “the misunderstanding and hurting any feelings”. It also cleared the fact box about Kannada.
But his gaffe – and the reaction of Mr Limbavali and other members of the state’s conservative political leadership – had already been picked up by major Indian news outlets. As of Friday, the top results for what is the ugliest language in the world? Search were articles about Google’s apology for responding.
The episode illustrates the fallibility of fact boxes, a feature that Google created seven years ago. The boxes called “Featured Snippets” contain information that the company’s algorithms obtain from third-party sources. They appear above the links that normally appear in Google search results.
The company said featured snippets work well based on usage statistics and reviews from people who have been paid to rate the quality of its search engine results. But it also admits that they sometimes get the facts wrong – or get lost in the world of opinion.
“The search is not always perfect,” said Google India in its apology on Thursday. “Sometimes the way in which content is described on the Internet can lead to surprising results for certain queries.”
That is to say the least.
Earlier this year, a search for the reason for banning Google from China revealed a fact box – collected by a nationalist state tabloid, The Global Times – which found that Google had left the country of its own accord after ruling that Chinese laws don’t do this. correspond to his so-called democratic values. “
No cyberattack that the company cited as an immediate reason for shutting down its search engine in China was mentioned in the box. Nor was it mentioned that most of Google’s services are largely blocked from the Chinese internet.
Google is also unreliable when it comes to the question of whether it is a reliable source of information.
The search “Is Google lying to you?” Produces a fact box with this answer: “Google does not answer (sic) questions and therefore does not lie.”
This emerges from an article in The Australian newspaper quoting a businessman who accused the company of stealing content and posting it directly on its website. The quote was used in the article as a sarcastic reference to the first result of the search query “Does Google ever lie?”.
Kannada, the language named India’s ugliest in Google’s fact box, is part of a family of Dravidian languages native to southern India that go back thousands of years.
This week’s snafu was not the first time Kannada speakers said their language was not respected.
Karnataka inspired many of the novels and short stories of RK Narayan, one of India’s most famous writers. A popular television adaptation of his work from the 1980s was filmed in Hindi, the country’s most common language, with Kannada subtitles. Although Mr. Narayan wrote in English, some reviewers said that the adaptation in Kannada should have been done, or at least dubbed.
“It could have been dubbed very well when it was done,” wrote critic Prathibha Nandakumar in 2012. “Why wasn’t it thought of?”
Google doesn’t have a fact box for this.