Monday, December 07, 2009

Can Google be trusted?

Things aren't quite right with Google. Its auto-suggest function refuses to suggest climategate when searching -- an anomaly detected by Talking About The Weather -- and now there are massive voting irregularities with the Google-developed Show Your Vote (aka Vote Earth!) online petition. As noted earlier today, it looks like the count at Show Your Vote is out by a million or maybe more.

To recap, Show Your Vote was designed by Google innovationist Justin Baird as a snazzy online petition that would send a message to the delegates at the Copenhagen conference:

In the countdown to COP15, I'm hoping that we can collect enough of a global public show of support to amplify the need to change climate change, drive collective action, and reinforce the need for our world leaders to act now. Please join me in helping to show the vote!

Some major environmental campaigns (including Earth Hour) as well as UNFCC, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, are now using Show Your Vote to help visualize public support of next week's COP 15, the Climate Change Conference taking place in Copenhagen.

Initial high performance expectations:

You only have to look around our Google map to see that millions of people worldwide Vote Earth. Join them now by casting your vote too, and help build our global mandate for real action on climate change in Copenhagen.

Dropping off somewhat over time:

You only have to look around our Google map to see that people all over the world are Voting Earth. Join them now by casting your vote too, and help build our global mandate for real action on climate change in Copenhagen

After about two weeks online it was clear that millions weren't going to sign-up in advance of Copenhagen. Then almost overnight the vote count surged, with a huge number of Indians apparently signing up. These votes cannot be accounted for, however. By zooming in on the map it's possible to see the votes at the local level but there's no way the Indian votes add up to 1,000 much less a million. This number problem can be easily verified by going to the map and zooming in on Sri Lanka, which shows a total of 16 votes. Zoom in closer and you'll see that there are not 16 local votes, only three. Where did the 13 extra votes come from? If you have the time and are so inclined you can zoom in on India and look at the local votes to see if I've missed something but I think you'll find that there's no way the total will be anywhere close to a million. Or take a look at Bangladesh.

Is this a simple error or is Google manipulating the vote? Either way, my trust in Google is undermined. If Google can't design a simple petition that comes up with an accurate count how can I trust its search algorithms to provide accurate results? And if Google is intentionally manipulating the results it's definitly not to be trusted.

I'm no Microsoft fan but it's time to switch to bing.

Update: Google should stop trying to create a pro-Copenhagen mandate:

The low turnout for the Vote Earth! campaign shows lots of people have more important things to worry about other than climate change.

Update II: The link from Glenn Reynolds is very much appreciated.

Update III: Africa was consistently in last place but has leap-frogged to second with 37,119 votes, 30,007 of these from Ethiopia of all places and more than the total European vote. Colour me skeptical.


Anonymous gregq said...

You don't need to go to Microsoft. does an excellent job with its searches.

3:30 AM  
Anonymous graviton said...

Have a look at
... and whatever search engine, the potential of data abuse is more huge than most peoples believe. Take a look at or

10:44 AM  

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