Google: Please Stop Telling Lies About Me

[Update 27-Jan-19:   This has now been fixed, I am now described as an “American computer scientist”.  I am very grateful to @dannysullivan for his help in sorting this out]

A few years ago, one of my daughters told me that she had done a Google search on my name and seen a little box with my picture, which said I was an “Israeli computer scientist”.  I checked, and sure enough she was right about this.   There was a feedback option, so I sent a message that I was not Israeli; nothing happened.  More recently Google asked me to verify my identity with regard to this box and their “knowledge graph”, so I did this, and immediately requested that they no longer say I was Israeli; once again nothing happened.

It is annoying that people who search for me get told incorrect information about me by Google, and Google refuses to fix this.  If a journalists says something incorrect about me, I can complain to him or his newspaper/magazine, and this will be taken seriously; indeed most journalists give me an opportunity to fact-check anything they say about me before it is published.  If Experian says something wrong about me in its credit report, I can report this and they will take this seriously.  In fact almost all organisations which give out information about me allow me to complain and point out problems.  Except Google, who clearly doesnt care.  Maybe the Google info about me is produced by a deep learning algorithm which is hallucinating content, and Google has zero interest in improving the algorithm in order to get rid of hallucinations??

This whole thing brings home to me a lot of the discussion about ethics of Google and indeed unaccountable AI algorithms.  It is of course pretty minor compared to other stuff, but it affects me personally!  People who search for me are told lies about me, and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it.  Google’s algorithms are making a mistake, and Google has no interest in fixing this mistake.

Why Does Google Think I am Israeli?

I have discussed my personal background elsewhere.  The short version is that I was born in Israel to American parents who spent some time in Israel when they were young.  We returned to USA when I was three years old.  I dont remember living in Israel as a toddler, I do not speak Hebrew, I do not have an Israeli passport, I do not have close family in Israel, and I do not consider myself Israeli.  Calling me an Israeli is like calling Boris Johnson an American politician because he was born in New York under similar circumstances, or Ted Cruz a Canadian politician because he was born in Calgary.

Please note that I do not mean the above as a criticism of Israel!!   There are many things I admire about Israel, as well as some things I do not admire.   But admiring Israel does not make me Israeli.  I admire many things about Netherlands, but I do not consider myself Dutch.  I am hugely impressed by how the South Koreans have turned their country from a war-ravaged poverty-stricken wasteland into a prosperous technologically advanced country, but I do not consider myself Korean.  I loved visiting Chile, with its wonderful people and spectacular scenery, but I do not consider myself Chilean.  Etc.

Presumably Google’s algorithm picked up that I was born in Israel (which is true) and therefore decided I must be Israeli (which is false).   The real world is full of special situations (“edge cases” to developers), and I’m not surprised that Google’s algorithm does not do the right thing in my particular edge case.  What is annoying and frustrating is that Google refuses to do anything about this.  Their algorithm is telling lies about me, and Google clearly does not feel any responsibility to do anything about this.

What Should I Be Called?

So what should the box say about me?  If a nationality is needed, I am OK with Scottish, British, or American; formally speaking I am a UK-US dual national.  A combination such as Scottish-American would also be OK.  But my preference would be to drop nationality completely, and just be called a “computer scientist”.

Ethics of Algorithms

I’ve never previously gotten very involved in discussions about the ethics of AI and algorithms.  But this example, because it is personal, makes the ethical issues very real to me.   Companies like Google which use algorithms to generate content have an ethical/moral responsibility for the accuracy of the content produced by these algorithms (probably a legal responsibility as well, but this may not mean much since the companies can spend zillions hiring the best lawyers).  And they need to start taking this responsibility seriously!

4 thoughts on “Google: Please Stop Telling Lies About Me

    1. Thanks, article 16 (The data subject shall have the right to obtain from the controller without undue delay the rectification of inaccurate personal data concerning him or her.) seems pretty clear! I will contact the UK ICO (https://ico.org.uk/) and see if they have any suggestions or advice.

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  1. A few people have pointed out to me that there is an article in German Wikipedia (https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ehud_Reiter) which describes me as “israelisch-amerikanischer”, perhaps this is why Google thinks I am Israeli? However, @Saad_M then pointed out that German Google produces a box which correctly describes me as “britisch-amerikanischer”. Seems unlikely that a German wikipedia page would confuse English Google but not German Google. Although of course I dont know for sure, since the mechanism is a black box.

    Above also highlights that different information appears in the box in different languages, which of course makes it much harder for someone like me to check what Google is saying about me.

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