Racial stereotyping turns up in Google's predictive search function

By Steve Deane

What pops up in a Google search when you type in 'Maori'. Photo / supplied
What pops up in a Google search when you type in 'Maori'. Photo / supplied

Kiwis are dumb, racist and stupid - that's according to Google's predictive search function.

And the English are boring and rude, Irish are drunk and thick and the Chinese are "everywhere".

The global internet search giant is looking into disabling the feature after a call from the Herald when Auckland University of Technology PhD scholar Steven Elers found derogatory terms associated with Maori.

Illustration / Rod Emmerson
Illustration / Rod Emmerson

He was using Google to research the portrayal of Maori in advertising when the suggestions provided by the website's AutoComplete system popped up.

He typed in "Maori are" followed by a space. Google suggested: Maori are stupid; Maori are lazy; Maori are scum; and Maori are violent.

Mr Elers called on Google to disable the feature immediately.

Last night, a spokesman said the company was looking into the matter and would make a decision soon on whether to stop results appearing.

"We have a small set of removal policies for things like pornography, violence, and hate speech," he said.

The system is powered by a PageRank algorithm that factors in what people enter in Google searches and related content on the web.

Maori are not the only racial group to receive unflattering suggestions. A search for "Tongans are" comes up with "black, ugly, lazy and huge". Americans get off relatively lightly with "rude" and "not dumb".

Mr Elers said that given the results for Maori were based largely on what New Zealanders put in Google searches, it raised the issue of how Kiwis viewed Maori.

"What are we actually inputting in there and what kind of mentality or section of society of New Zealand is there that would do such a thing?"

- NZ Herald

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