That’s an odd, unanswerable question. However, it has been on the minds of at least one Google user in India.
What is the country’s “worst” language?
For anyone who recently typed a question into the platform’s search bar, its algorithm generated a data box confident of the answer: a Kannada language, spoken by tens of millions of people in southern India. Degree said.
Knowing that result, many of them were not happy.
Several politicians in Karnataka state, where most Kannada speakers live, took to social media this week to express their outrage.
Google apologized on Thursday for “a misunderstanding and hurt any sentiments”. It also clears the Kannada infobox.
But its disinformation – and the response from Mr Limbavali and other members of the state’s conservative political council – has been coveted by major Indian news outlets. As of Friday, the top results for the search “What’s the ugliest language in the world?” are articles about Google’s apology for replying to it.
The episode illustrates the error potential of data boxes, a function Google created seven years ago. The boxes, known as “featured snippets,” contain information that the company’s algorithm pulls from third-party sources. They appear above links that often pop up in Google search results.
The company has said that featured snippets work well, based on usage statistics and reviews from paid people to gauge the quality of their search engine results. But it also acknowledges that they sometimes misunderstand facts – or stray into the field of opinion.
“Search is not always perfect”, Google India said in its apology on Thursday. “Sometimes, the way content is described on the internet can yield surprising results for specific queries.”
That is to put it gently.
Earlier this year, a search for why Google is banned in China returned an infobox – taken from a nationalist state-run tabloid, The Global Times – noting that Google left the country of its own accord after deciding that Chinese law was not “consistent with its so-called democratic values.”
The box did not mention a cyberattack, which the company cited as an immediate reason to stop running its search engine in China. It also fails to mention that most Google services are widely blocked from the Chinese internet.
Google is also unreliable on the question of whether it is a reliable source of information.
Search for “Did Google lie to you?” generates an infobox with the following answer: “Google doesn’t give (sic) answers to questions and therefore it doesn’t lie.”
That’s from an article in The Australian that quoted a businessman as accusing the company of stealing content and putting it directly on its site. The quote is used in the article as a satirical reference to the first result for the search query “Does Google ever lie?”
Kannada, the language Google’s infobox considers India’s ugliest, is part of a group of Dravidian languages that originated in southern India and date back thousands of years.
This week’s confusion isn’t the first time Kannada speakers have said their language is not respected.
Karnataka has inspired many novels and short stories by RK Narayan, one of India’s most famous novelists. A popular 1980s television adaptation of his work was done in Hindi, the country’s most common language, with Kannada subtitles. Although Mr. Narayan wrote in English, some critics argue that the adaptation should have been made in Kannada, or at least dubbed into it.
Reviewer Prathibha Nandakumar wrote in 2012. “It was most likely dubbed when it was made?”
Google doesn’t have an infobox for that.