Reuters Photos Gummed Up Google News

    November 2, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

Algorithmic accidents at Google News have been blamed for matching the wrong photos to stories, including a really unfortunate one caught by Newsweek.

Putting the right pictures with the right stories has proved a challenge to Google News. That challenge received dramatic illustration when Newsweek grabbed a screenshot of a story about the possible departure of Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons.

Google’s algorithmic choice of imagery? A pair of rhesus monkeys.


It also happened with departing Merrill Lynch CEO Stanley O’Neal. Both men, prominent African-American executives, seemingly tagged by Google News in an exceptionally unfortunate way.

“The selection and placement of stories on this page were determined automatically by a computer program,” reads the disclaimer at the bottom of Google News. Google’s reaction to the misbehaving algorithm, as noted by Newsweek, is almost as surprising as the image matching that took place:

Google acknowledges the situation, but declined to openly discuss details of the primate episode. Surprisingly, it was even unwilling to go on record and explicitly disavow any racist motivation. “While we don’t comment on individual stories on Google News,” spokesman Gabriel Stricker told NEWSWEEK, “crawling thousands of sites across the globe is a complicated task, and we’re confident that the quality of the crawled pages is extremely good for the vast majority of news sources on our site.” In an oblique nod to the problem, he cites the need for “more work to be done,” adding, “we’re always working on improvements to Google News to ensure that the experience for all of our users … continues to be great.”

Other stories about different topics likewise generated odd images to match. All of these images come from Reuters, but why those particular images caused such havoc for Google News isn’t known.