Google promises action after image mix-up

By James Riches topicIcon SEO

Wrong photo appears next to Ian Watkins stories

Google has said it will look into the processes used in its news algorithm after the wrong photograph was placed alongside a story about convicted paedophile Ian Watkins.

The former Lostprophets singer was sentenced to 35 years in prison last week, but some news searches on the story were accompanied by a photo of ex-Steps band member Ian Watkins, better known by his stage name H.

H had already been involved in a legal battle with US news agency E! over images, after their coverage of the case erroneously featured photos of him rather than the disgraced front man. He subsequently received an apology in court, a fact which was also widely reported.

However, the way that Google's new algorithm works meant that H's image continued to appear next to some news searches for Ian Watkins, as the stories about his dispute with E! were linked to the initial reports of Watkins' crimes.

More issues for H despite court apology

A clearly upset H tweeted a screenshot of the results page for the news query 'Ian Watkins CBS News', which showed the first result linking to a story on the sentence handed to Watkins with a picture of H next to it.

CBS quickly denied ever possessing the image and it emerged that it was in fact Google's algorithm which was the cause of the issue.

A spokesman said: "For some specific searches Ian H Watkins' picture is appearing in our results because he is relevant to the story, having received a court apology. We are looking into the issue he raises."

The story has provoked debate among media lawyers, with some suggesting that despite the images being shown in error, H may still be able to make a libel claim against the search engine.

It is the second time in as many months that an image broadcast by Google's services has caused controversy. In November, Google Maps accidentally showed images of a murdered teenager lying on the ground.

Adrian Mursec, senior developer at theEword, said: "Algorithms such as this are constantly being expanded and updated, so it is only natural that mistakes will happen along the way. However, in these cases the repercussions are obviously very serious, and it is in Google's interests to correct the problem as quickly as possible."