Sunday, June 13

India’s ‘Ugliest’ Language? Google Had an Answer (and Drew a Backlash).

It was an odd, unanswerable question. Still, it was on the mind of at least one Google user in India.

What is the country’s “ugliest” language?

For anyone who typed the question into the platform’s search bar recently, its algorithm produced a fact box confident of the answer: a tongue called Kannada, spoken by tens of millions of people in India’s south.

Informed of that result, many of them weren’t happy.

Several politicians in the state of Karnataka, where most Kannada speakers live, went on social media this week to register their outrage.

“Legal action will be taken against @Google for maligning the image of our beautiful language!” Aravind Limbavali, Karnataka’s forestry minister and a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political party, said in a tweet on Wednesday.

“Search isn’t always perfect,” Google India said in its apology on Thursday. “Sometimes, the way content is described on the internet can yield surprising results to specific queries.”

That’s putting it mildly.

Earlier this year, a search for why Google was banned from China returned a fact box — garnered from a nationalist state-run tabloid, The Global Times — noting that Google had left the country of its own accord after deciding that Chinese laws did not “conform with its so-called democratic values.”

The box made no mention of a cyberattack that the company had cited as an immediate reason to stop running its search engine in China. Nor did it mention that most Google services are widely blocked from China’s internet.

Google is also unreliable on the question of whether it is a reliable source of information.

The search “Does Google lie to you?” produces a fact box with this answer: “Google does not give answers (sic) to questions and therefore it does not lie.”

That is from an article in the newspaper The Australian that quoted a businessman who accused the company of stealing content and putting it up directly on its site. The quote was used in the article as a sarcastic reference to the first result for the search query “Does Google ever lie?”

Kannada, the language that Google’s fact box said was India’s ugliest, is part of a family of Dravidian languages that are native to southern India and go back thousands of years.

The snafu this week was not the first time that Kannada speakers have said that their language was disrespected.

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