A week or so ago, we reported that a search in Google images for Michelle Obama returned a racist image. The image was offensive, racist and has been removed from the search results - which is what I was hoping for. But Google responded to the thread and explained that they normally do not change the search results unless:
(1) It violates our Webmaster Guidelines (2) If Google believes they are required to do so by law (3) Or at the request of the webmaster who is responsible for the image
I am not sure if this image fell under any of those three conditions. Google was not clear if it did, nor did they specifically say which this case fell under. I don't think it violated the Webmaster Guidelines, I don't think the image was "illegal," and I doubt the webmaster asked to have the image taken down. I can be wrong on all of these points, but I am not sure.
Here is Google's full response:
If you recently used Google Images to search for the term [ Michelle Obama ], you may have seen results that were very disturbing. We assure you that the views expressed by the image in your results are not in any way endorsed by Google.
As with Google Web Search, ranking in Google Images results relies heavily on computer algorithms using thousands of factors to calculate a page's relevance to a given query.
Individual citizens and public interest groups do periodically urge us to remove particular links or otherwise adjust search results. Although Google reserves the right to address such requests individually, Google views the integrity of our search results as an extremely important priority. Accordingly, we do not remove a page from our search results, or images from our Google Images results, simply because the content is in very poor taste or because we receive complaints concerning it. We will, however, remove pages from our results if we believe the image, page (or its site) violates our Webmaster Guidelines, if we believe we are required to do so by law, or at the request of the webmaster who is responsible for the image.
We apologize for the upsetting nature of the experience you had using Google Images and appreciate your taking the time to inform us about it. We will continue to improve the product based on your feedback to make sure that users find the most useful, relevant images through Google Images.
Am I missing something? Why did Google take it down? Did the White House force them to by making it a legal matter? Maybe the site was indeed in violation of the webmaster guidelines? The site itself is still live, so I am not sure.
Google is clear that they do not remove offensive, racist or anti-semitic from the search results. I am just confused in this case. Don't get me wrong, I am extremely happy the result was removed - but was this only done because she is the First Lady?
Forum discussion continued at Google Web Search Help.