Former Pop Star Angry At Google News For Providing Relevant Search Results

from the outrage-always-pairs-up-well-with-deliberate-obtuseness dept

It appears we have another contestant willing to try his luck at a round of Making Things Worse by misunderstanding (deliberately or otherwise) How Google Works.

Ian "H" Watkins, former member of pre-assembled dance pop group Steps (and more commonly known as "H") has a problem with Google. It seems Google News served up a photo of "H" alongside a CBS News story about the other, much more infamous Ian (no "H") Watkins. The other Ian Watkins, former lead singer of nu-metal also-rans Lostprophet, was recently sentenced to 29 years in prison for several counts of child molestation.

Understandably, Ian "H" Watkins would like the public to know which Ian Watkins is which. Somehow, "H" has come to the conclusion that his photo's appearance in Google News roundups about the other Watkins' legal issues is Google's fault.

The "furious" singer's management said lawyers were "taking immediate steps to urgently rectify the position".

He was said to be "astonished" that his photo was still being linked to "the appalling crimes of the Lostprophets singer".
"Astonished?" "H" can't be that astonished. After all, he should at least have some idea why his photos might be appearing next to stories dealing with the other Watkins. First off, shortly after the news broke about the former Lostprophets' singer's sexual offenses, "H" found himself under attack by online commenters who mistook him for the other Watkins.

A lot of time and effort went into straightening out this mess, and lots of column inches were written detailing the most unfortunate case of mistaken identity. Then things took a turn for the worse. E! Online pulled a photo of the wrong Watkins to accompany its story on the trial. "H" took E! Online to court over its mistake, securing a public, court-ordered apology for its indiscretion.

This obviously generated even more stories linking both Ian Watkins, as well as muddying the waters with discussion of photos. Now, "H" feels Google needs to fix something about its algorithm as it has been serving photos of the innocent Watkins alongside new stories when certain search terms are deployed. Here is Google's response.
"For some specific searches Ian H Watkins' picture is appearing in our results because he is relevant to the story, having received a court apology.

"We are looking into the issue he raises."
If by "looking into it," the Google rep means "shrugging and letting the algo do its thing," then this is the right response. If by "looking into it," the Google rep means someone's altering the math so pictures of "H" no longer bubble to the News surface during these searches, then this response is completely wrong. Google can't prevent this, especially not if "H" continues to make an issue about the wrong photo being "used" by an algorithm. The more he gripes, the more news will be written tying him, his photo and his complaint with the other Ian Watkins, convicted child molester. It's like fighting quicksand. Every struggling motion only sinks you faster.

Furthermore, in the supposedly damning screenshot, the photo showing up next to the CBS News story is captioned "BBC News," making this appear to be a one-time glitch, rather than evidence that Google is algorithmically besmirching the good name of "H" Watkins continuously.

The following bit of legal theory appended to the article (via a London-based solicitor) makes me glad I live in a country not routinely frequented by libel tourists.
"A publisher's intention is irrelevant to the question of liability for defamation," said Emma Woollcott, media lawyer at Mishcon de Reya.

"What matters is what the ordinary person would understand by what they read.

"If electronic algorithms connect two pieces of information and defamatory inferences arise, there may be potential for liability, even if the connection is inadvertent."
I'll grant that a publisher's intentions may be irrelevant in these situations, but Google News isn't a publisher -- it's an aggregator powered by an algorithm. It can only return what has been generated by others.

Holding algorithms liable for inadvertent defamation is what's generally considered to be "batshit crazy." Unfortunately, a variety of courts around the world have been more than willing to aid and abet those who fail to understand (or just don't care) how search algorithms work.

"H" is relevant to this sordid story as long as he continues to make himself relevant to the story. This latest, well-publicized swipe at Google will do nothing more than put more time on the clock, relevance-wise. He can keep claiming he doesn't know "why" his photo continues to appear in Google News, but he really can't expect anyone to believe him.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 12:49pm

    Not wanting to defend this "H" person, but Google probably should look at their algorithm. Quite often I'm looking threw Google news and see pictures that seem to be associated with the article, but actually have nothing to do with it. I click on the article to see what that picture's about, but the picture isn't anywhere in the article. I click on the picture directly and get the same exact, unrelated article.

    It's quite annoying. Not enough for Google to get sued or anything, but enough that they probably should fix it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    TKnarr (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 12:54pm

    Re:

    It's probably the dynamic pages many news sites use. The picture may have been on the page when Google crawled it, but now that image has been replaced by another in the database behind the dynamic images so what you're seeing now isn't what Google saw originally. Think about a news site with related-stories lists down the side, or you-have-recently-viewed lists (you can imagine what that'd do with a site crawler).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    crade (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 12:55pm

    Re:

    Their search was awesome. It steamrolled over the competition. They have probably been forced to dumb it down by various governments and rulings and not allowed to tell us.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 1:00pm

    fuck google

    There's also the issue where it seems things which are popular get preferential treatment

    even if it is less relevant than what i'm actually searching for

    if what i'm searching for isn't very popular it's very likely i'll have to be super specific with the keywords or dig through results, or in some cases, i can't find it at all

    the same shit happens on youtube it pisses me the fuck off i'm so sick of this shit catering to fucking popular bullshit it's like a catch 22 if you don't have views you need exposure but the fucking search engine won't GIVE you views cause you don't HAVE views

    and that's why google (and all other search engines) PISSES ME THE FUCK OFF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

     

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  5.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 1:03pm

    Re: fuck google

    That's a vary understandable part of the search algorithm. Google has no idea what you're actually looking for so it has to take the vary limited data you gave it and compare it against the same vary limited data that everyone else gave it. Then it sees what everyone else clicked on and assumes you're looking for the same. Since you didn't give it any more information (until the second more specific search) that's all it can do.

     

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  6.  
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    Zakida Paul (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 1:03pm

    I still feel sorry for the guy as he has faced quite a lot of vitriol on social media for this. However, I don't blame Google, I blame the people too stupid to know the difference between him and the Lost Prophets singer.

    The human race really is pathetic.

     

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  7.  
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    Internet Zen Master (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 1:05pm

    What's that phrase again?

    Oh yeah!

    "Don't shoot the messenger."

    You can't really blame Google's algorithm for the mistakes made by the web's collective hive-mind.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 1:06pm

    Re: Re:

    You know, that's something I hadn't thought about. Techdirt links to itself a lot for that exact reason, what's there today can be gone tomorrow.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 1:21pm

    In this case, the Streissand Effect might actually work in his favor.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    crade (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 1:23pm

    Re: Re: fuck google

    In the absence of other info, the most popular result that matches the words you searched for is the one more likely to be what you want.

    I expect they also use other stuff like timeframe, IP location, etc as well.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 1:27pm

    Have you been letting Masnick use your account, Tim?

    My guess is that google would prefer a search result about Ian Watkins to provide a picture of the corresponding Ian Watkins, not some other Ian Watkins. Taking the "google should shrug it off" argument to its logical conclusion, google's algorithm is perfect as is and should never be changed; they should freeze the code now and tell people they are bad at searching. That doesn't make any sense.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 1:28pm

    Re: fuck google

    The world does not revolve around what you want. The optimum policy for Google is to give the most popular results, as that is what most of their users are searching for. If you want results tailored to your minority tastes, get together with people of similar taste, and build your own tailored search engine.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    LAB (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 1:35pm

    "Astonished?" "H" can't be that astonished. After all, he should at least have some idea why his photos might be appearing next to stories dealing with the other Watkins."

    Sure seems like a rather cavalier attitude to have. Would you just roll with it if it happened to you? Your photo comes up in conjunction with a child molester serving 35 years. But there is nothing Google can do because it's just..., you know, computers.....they can't change the algorithm....

    What's interesting is, if you do the search now, astonishingly, 10 days later, Google has somehow fixed the problem.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 1:37pm

    Re:

    His position is not helped by the the way the press demonise people who commit crimes against children. Its how they sell papers, and if it results in vigilante action against the wrong target they can sell more papers demonising the vigilantes.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 1:39pm

    perhaps the answer is 'dont become famous, then no one gives a toss!'

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 1:56pm

    Re: Re:

    Google is still exchanging blows with the EU commission on their "anti-competitive" practices. While they had a deadline last february, the case is still nowhere near settled today. Latest news was the commissioner claiming that the solution (he was brokering) was looking very good. After consulting with the competitors who brought the case, he turned 180 degrees and claims that the proposal from Google is unacceptable:
    http://searchengineland.com/eu-google-antitrust-concessions-unacceptable-as-second-stud y-condemns-rival-links-180407

    Let that illustrate what politicians and judges are: Completely dependent on outsiders to define right or wrong on the internet. That is why rulings seem so random: They depend so much on experts testifying that common sense is worthless in predicting the results!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 2:13pm

    Re:

    I suspect Google has a means of manually teaching their algorithm, but it requires that something is brought to their attention before they intervene. There is no way they can examine all search results for problems, or respond to every niggle in their search results. They way a problem is likely to come to their attention is because it appears in news reports, which is the same way that the problem came to your attention.
    Note Google does NOT supply contact information, or a means of feedback on the search results page for a good reason, they could not afford to employ the staff needed to deal with the flood of messages that they would get. An automatic reporting system, like the one here, would be a target for manipulation via bot nets, They have enough trouble with SEO companies gaming the system by planting links.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 2:16pm

    Re:

    You do a search for "Ian Watkins" how is it supposed to know which Ian Watkins you are searching for? How is it supposed to know which pictures are of which Ian Watkins?

    What's interesting is, if you do the search now, astonishingly, 10 days later, Google has somehow fixed the problem.

    Is that the case, or has Ian "H" Watkins simply lost popularity in searches, links, and photos compared to the other Ian? Because I'm just not seeing any results for "H".

    Interestingly enough, the top news story is actually about a third Ian Watkins that had the same problem over Twitter. But he seems to have been taking it far more gracefully.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 2:53pm

    Re:

    And how would you suggest that they change the algorithm?

    Should all references to "H" just be removed from the internet?

    Personally, I would go to the sites that have associated my picture with "not-H" and have the page removed, with a friendly request first, then legal request if there was no response.

    I would not go to a search provider and try to have them remove all references.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    LAB (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 2:58pm

    Re: Re:

    "I suspect Google has a means of manually teaching their algorithm, but it requires that something is brought to their attention before they intervene."

    I am sure you are correct. I also feel they are responsible for how their product lists information. This article implies Google (the creator of said search engine and algorithm) was powerless. His picture came up next to a story from another news source, CBS. CBS said they ran no picture with the story, so the placement of the picture next to the story was done by Google. If the wrong photos get placed next to stories then they need to work on their "algorithm."

    "Google does NOT supply contact information, or a means of feedback on the search results page...."

    I am sure filing suit got their attention, as they supply no contact information.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 3:00pm

    Re: Re:

    The problem is the H being the only difference between the two names. H is a letter. Unless you use operators like quotation marks around your full search criteria (and Google hasn't intentionally adjusted results for your special case yet), Google will search for pages with "Ian" "H" and "Watkins" in it that are the most popular results. These are likely going to be articles (and photos) that include the other Ian Watkins and a random letter H in the article, especially since child molesters get more press than some obscure member of some obscure group (I'm guessing they're obscure since I've never heard of him or Steps before...).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    Reality Check (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 3:03pm

    Re: fuck google

    The funniest thing about your post...

    After years of ranting about how evil Google is, then you rant and whinge because it doesn't give you the results you want.

    So apparently, you've been trying to use your own anti-christ to get information.

    If you had any credibility, you just burned it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    LAB (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 3:15pm

    Re: Re:

    "And how would you suggest that they change the algorithm?"

    Don't place photos next to news stories if they are inaccurate. If the story doesn't supply a photo, don't add one.

    "Should all references to "H" just be removed from the internet?"

    No.

    "A publisher's intention is irrelevant to the question of liability for defamation,"

    "What matters is what the ordinary person would understand by what they read.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 3:15pm

    Re: Re: fuck google

    he's not the real blue

    pro tip: neither am I

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    ted, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 3:29pm

    change your name

    I think teh solution is pretty simple:
    change your last name to something that isnt as reviled.

    I think Dahmer, Bundy and Goerring are good names....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    H, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 3:40pm

    Name change time

    Ian is such a lame name, why not change it?

    Assuming that H doesn't stand for hamster, H should drop the Ian and be done w/the issue.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 3:53pm

    Re: change your name

    Remember, Bundy scored 4 touchdowns in one game while playing for Polk High. Can't beat that!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    JackOfShadows (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 4:10pm

    It's not me!

    The last time I searched on my full name, I came up with over 160 people in the state of California with the same name and mine isn't even close to average. That doesn't count the whole US, nor Western Europe, or even the world. To expect other people to realize that names are no longer enough of an identifier is expecting too much. Our means of telling one individual from another has outstripped our social mechanisms. Short of (borrowing from ShadowRun) individual System Identification Numbers, bio-implanted of course, confusion will reign.

    Do look on the bright side. Just think how screwed things are for the NSA, TSA, et. al. who rely on individual names as a matter of course. And that doesn't even begin to take into account transliteration from one alphabet to another.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    ShivaFang (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 4:31pm

    If an algorithm can be held liable for libel, then we must also hold algorithms liable for purjury in false DMCA takedown notices.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    Rikuo (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 5:23pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    "CBS said they ran no picture with the story, so the placement of the picture next to the story was done by Google."

    You didn't read the full article, did you?

    "Then things took a turn for the worse. E! Online pulled a photo of the wrong Watkins to accompany its story on the trial."

    Google's algorithm picked up the news article that E! had written. It kept the photo that had been reported. Until this was brought to Google's attention, the algorithm has no way of knowing it was linking to the wrong photo.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
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    80sRelic (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 5:36pm

    and then, a Brit author and the Illinois Enema Bandit!

    Originally, on Wikipedia, a search for "Michael Kenyon", brought up this notoriously funny criminal:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_H._Kenyon

    In the comments section, things like "you can't defame my favorite author like this" finally gave us the page:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Kenyon

    Shit happens. especially after an enema!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    icon
    LAB (profile), Dec 30th, 2013 @ 6:53pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "You didn't read the full article, did you?"

    yes.

    "Google's algorithm picked up the news article that E! had written."

    The E online story was ran the day before. The fact that E-online story had an incorrect photo is libelous. The fact Google's algorithm picked the incorrect photo shows that the algorithm had no safeguards as to where it pulled the image.
    If you are suggesting that it is not possible to cross-reference images to ensure you have the right one before displaying them, I believe Google is capable of writing an algorithm to accomplish this feat.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 6:59pm

    Re: Re:

    A while back here in the UK, a man was dragged from his house, beaten to death and his body set on fire because he was branded as a pedophile[1] (he'd taken some photos of kids who'd been vandalizing his property in order to take to the police and somebody saw; it we downhill from that point...)

    The Daily Mail (yes, that gutter trash tabloid) demanded that the people responsible for his murder should be acquitted because what they did was "in the nations best interests."

    I hate abhor real[2] child abuse, but the people who did what they did do not represent me, and neither do the inbred retards who read or write the Daily Mail.

    The UK came to a big fork in the road where reality took a left and the people hung a sharp right. Now we're just catering to mass hysteria and paranoid delusion.


    [1]: It's not a crime to be a pedophile, but it's a crime to molest children and have images of real children being abused. But simply having a sexual attraction to children is not a crime. Otherwise, it would be a crime to be a misanthrope or a sociopath.
    [2]: Lolicon is illegal here, with is something I'm vehemently against because I do not condone the banning, censorship or criminalization of victimless acts, art, literature or things.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 7:55pm

    Re: Re: change your name

    I thought Bundy was Peg's husband in Married with Children?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 11:29pm

    Re: Re: fuck google

    Oh bullshit.

    When searching for something Google has complete control over what you see or don't see. Period. End of story.

    Those class action suits can't get filed quick enough...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2013 @ 11:31pm

    Re:

    Cushing decided to really up his d-bag game so he's been taking lessons from Masnick.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2013 @ 3:21am

    Who?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2013 @ 4:18am

    Hey Google, how about giving me links of funny shit when I search lol instead of that shitty ass game.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2013 @ 5:42am

    Re: f*** google

    My day is not complete without yet another anti-google rant by ootb.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2013 @ 6:03am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Don't place photos next to news stories if they are inaccurate.

    Show me how to algorithmically determine if the picture is inaccurate.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
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    btrussell (profile), Dec 31st, 2013 @ 6:28am

    Re:

    You should see the pics I get when I google your name!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
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    btrussell (profile), Dec 31st, 2013 @ 6:36am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I thought they meant if the news story was inaccurate.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
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    art guerrilla (profile), Dec 31st, 2013 @ 7:51am

    Re: It's not me!

    don't worry, the barcode tattoos will avoid this confusion...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
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    BeeAitch (profile), Dec 31st, 2013 @ 5:13pm

    Re:

    I like what you did there...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
    icon
    JMT (profile), Jan 1st, 2014 @ 7:02pm

    Re: fuck google

    "There's also the issue where it seems things which are popular get preferential treatment"

    Wait, you're complaining about a search engine working exactly like a search engine should? Exactly what order do you think thousands of search results should be displayed? Alphabetical? The level of stupid in your complaint is almost painful.

    "if what i'm searching for isn't very popular it's very likely i'll have to be super specific with the keywords or dig through results, or in some cases, i can't find it at all"

    Wow, so you've figured this out about ten years after the rest of us.

    "and that's why google (and all other search engines) PISSES ME THE FUCK OFF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

    Well you're fully entitled to not use any of them. That'd obviously make your web surfing much less infuriating and hence far more productive...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
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    JMT (profile), Jan 1st, 2014 @ 7:14pm

    Re:

    "My guess is that google would prefer a search result about Ian Watkins to provide a picture of the corresponding Ian Watkins, not some other Ian Watkins."

    And as soon as Google invents a technology that can read the minds of users via their internet connection, they'll be able to tell which of the many thousands of Ian Watkins in the world was actually being searched for by that particular user at that particular time. In the mean time, Google (and those of us with a grasp on reality) accept that the current method of returning search results works pretty damn well nearly all of the time, and unlikely coincidences like this are unfortunate but not worth trying to fix by making Google work less effectively.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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