Google Cleans Up Its Act -- and Erases My Identity

If the Search Giant's Instant Feature Is 'Psychic,' Is It Trying to Protect Us From Our Dirty Thoughts?

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Irina Slutsky
Irina Slutsky
My name has always caused trouble -- for me and anyone trying to spell it. But I didn't count on it giving Google any issue.

As co-founder Sergey Brin and product chief Marissa Mayer were fielding questions at the Google Instant launch in San Francisco last week, I raised my hand to make what I can assure you was a very brilliant query about advertising, when my friend Kevin Marks, VP of web service at BT (British Telecom), nudged me.

My name has always caused trouble -- for me and anyone trying to spell it. But I didn't count on it giving Google any issue. "Hey, your last name breaks it!," Kevin said, pointing to the Google Instant search box with my last name typed out and a totally white screen. Nothing.

We tried typing letter by letter. S ... skype, sears, southwest airlines. SL ... sleep train, slanted door. SLU.... slumdog millionaire, slurpee. SLUT...SLUTS....

We added the "K," thinking that would solve it. SLUTSK.... still nothing. Only after you clicked "search" did my clips, my Twitter account and my GeekTV videos show up. But the beauty of Google Instant is that it's click-free, a new way to search where the results automatically came to you. If this was, as Google said, the future of search, where did that leave me?

Naturally this bruised my ego -- and professional visibility -- but I'm not alone. Also gone was the world famous Eugen Slutsky, who authored the Slutsky Equation, which is taught at every economics school in the world. Then there's Irina Slutskaya, the first female Olympic ice-skater to land a triple lutz-triple. There's the slightly-more-obscure Boris Slutsky, a poet, and the other Boris Slutsky, a pianist who has performed in Carnegie Hall.

As Cade Metz from the U.K. Register discovered, the bug didn't apply to everyone with a dubiously spelled name -- typing "FUC" got you nothing but "FUCC" got you "Fuccillo," a car dealership named after its owner. Just as the second "C" rescues Fuccillo from obscurity, shouldn't the K save the Amazing Slutskys?

My friend Kevin thinks it's a dangerous decision. "Marissa said Google Instant is a little psychic," he said. "In this case it's saying, 'I know what you're thinking, and it's naughty, and I'm not going to let you see that!'" He goes on: "It's also unfortunate because they are very much editorializing our search. Rather than giving you new discoveries, they're having everyone converge on what everyone has already thought before and seen before."

When it was my turn for a question, I grabbed the mic: "I see that you have some blacklisted words, and my last name is one of them. What is the criteria?"

One of the engineers replied that Google filters search to protect users from "violence, hate and pornography."

Later, Ms. Mayer thanked me for helping identify what she said was a bug. "We'll work on that," she said.

But so far, Google Instant has me waiting.

Irina Slutsky has been in the SF Bay Area tech scene since 2004. She worked as an old-school newspaper reporter in Florida and New Jersey. She was born in Kazakhstan like Borat.
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