One interesting thing about my job is that I get to see a lot of unusual claims. Recently I was on an email thread and the images team wanted to address a misconception. Google Images doesn’t have a dedicated blog right now, so I offered some space on my blog if someone wanted to do a guest post. Here’s the guest post:
Every now and then a story surfaces that Google has ‘censored’ images or web pages and removed them from our site without saying a word to anyone. For example, we noticed some sites in the Middle East and beyond are asking about Egyptian striker Mohammad Aboutrika’s goal celebration during Egypt’s African Cup of Nations match against Sudan. After scoring the 3rd goal, Aboutrika revealed a t-shirt with the message ‘Sympathize with Gaza’.
Well it turns out this image was difficult to find on images.google.com for the first few days after the match, and the story that’s gathered steam is that Google removed it. Some outlets said that this was under pressure from the Israeli government.
The reason for the delay in the image showing up on Google Images was that it can take a few days between when an image appears and when its crawled by the Googlebot, as explained here. It’s there now – you can find several copies of the image on a search for [Aboutrika] or [Aboutrika Gaza] quite easily.
No-one from any government has contacted us about this image, and we have no reason to remove it.
The Google EMEA Product Team
(This is Matt again. By the way, “EMEA” stands for “Europe, Middle East, and Africa.”) I can add a little more perspective on this as well. Google works hard to be comprehensive, which is great, and in my opinion Google has good coverage of the web in our index (including images). But we don’t crawl every single image or document across the entire web, and sometimes it takes time to discover a document. That’s just the way search engines work, and there’s no need to assume an ulterior motive on Google’s part.
Just to give another example, a few months ago I saw similar questions regarding image search results in Japanese. On October 14th, a Sunday morning TV show introduced a new virtual girl singer named Miku Hatsune. For a few days, Google didn’t have pictures of the character, but it wasn’t anything intentional on Google’s part; sometimes it does take a little while for our web or image crawl to discover a document. Happily, if you search for [Hatsune Miku] now you’ll find lots and lots of pictures.
So my takeaway is even though search engines can be very comprehensive, it can still take time to discover documents; please don’t assume that Google has negative intentions just because you don’t see a particular image. When I joined Google in early 2000, we measured the time to update our index in months. Personally, I think it’s great that people now start to wonder why we don’t have a particular web page or image within just a few days. Over time, Google is getting fresher and fresher in my experience, but making a search engine work really well is a difficult task. Rest assured that we’ll keep working on improving freshness, coverage of the web, relevance, and the overall user experience.
Update, 2/10/2008: Also, congratulations to Mohamed Aboutrika for scoring the game-winning goal in the finals of the African Nations Cup.