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Racist query terms in Google Maps trigger the White House in results

Racist query terms in Google Maps trigger the White House in results

A Google spokeswoman apologized for the issue, but did not explain what causes it

Google Maps, pictured May 20, 2015, lists the White House among top search results for certain queries containing racist terms against African-Americans.

Google Maps, pictured May 20, 2015, lists the White House among top search results for certain queries containing racist terms against African-Americans.

Google Maps lists the White House among top search results for certain queries containing racist terms against African-Americans.

The Washington Post first reported the issue after a reader alerted the newspaper that entering a well-known racial slur while Google Maps is focused on the nation's capital yielded the White House as the first result. The result comes up when using Google's mobile Maps app, as well as its Maps web site.

Regardless of the user's location within Maps, a search for another racially insulting term against blacks listed the Underground Railroad TV station in Chicago as the top result, with the White House coming in second. Other similarly racist query terms also gave the White House as the top result, along with the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia in Big Rapids, Michigan.

Some racist queries returned seemingly arbitrary results, such as stores and universities that don't seem to be specifically identified with African-Americans.

The issue raises questions about the inner workings of Google's web crawler, and how the search engine matches query terms to results.

When asked to comment, a Google spokeswoman said the company is sorry that some "inappropriate" results are appearing in Google Maps, and said it's rushing to fix the issue. She didn't explain what caused the results. However, she clarified that the results are not related to Google's recent shutdown of its Map Maker service, which let regular people add and edit places within Google Maps.

Earlier this month, Google said it was temporarily shutting down the service, partly due to a rising level of abuse by spammers. Google previously apologized after an image of the Android mascot appeared in Google Maps urinating on the Apple logo.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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