It was an odd, unanswerable question. Still, it was on the mind of at least one Google user in India.
What is the country’s “ugliest” language?
For anyone who typed the question into the platform’s search bar recently, its algorithm produced a fact box confident of the answer: a tongue called Kannada, spoken by tens of millions of people in India’s south.
Informed of that result, many of them weren’t happy.
Several politicians in the state of Karnataka, where most Kannada speakers live, went on social media this week to register their outrage.
“Legal action will be taken against @Google for maligning the image of our beautiful language!” Aravind Limbavali, Karnataka’s forestry minister and a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political party, said in a tweet on Wednesday.
Google apologized on Thursday for “the misunderstanding and hurting any sentiments.” It also deleted the fact box about Kannada.
But its faux pas — and the response from Mr. Limbavali and other members of the state’s conservative political brass — had already been picked up by major Indian news outlets. By Friday, the top results for the search “What’s the world’s ugliest language?” were articles about Google’s apology for having answered it.
The episode illustrates the fallibility of the fact boxes, a function that Google created seven years ago. The boxes, known as “featured snippets,” contain information that the company’s algorithms pull from third-party…