Hacker News was buzzing with because of a report that Google was showing the image of an innocent man in a Knowledge Panel about a notorious serial killer and rapist. The subject of the wrong image wrote a blog post about his experience and a lively discussion about how unreliable Google’s Knowledge Panel is ensued.
Google’s Knowledge Panel published the following entry with an innocent man’s face:
“Hristo Bogdanov Georgiev, also known as The Sadist, was a Bulgarian rapist and serial killer who murdered five people, mainly women, between 1974 and 1980.”
Google Knowledge Panel and Authoritative Sources
The Knowledge Panel is a feature that provides immediate information about entities (people, places and things). Google typically sources the information from authoritative sites about celebrities and user-vetted websites like Wikipedia.
Google might even set up a direct relationship with authoritative sites to show their data in the search results.
Knowledge Panel Images Not Always Authoritative
Although the textual information is strictly controlled, it appears that Google’s image information is not as rigorously controlled for quality.
According to Google’s help page about Knowledge Panels:
“Images that appear in the knowledge panel can come from several sources. One source is those individuals that have claimed their knowledge panels and selected a featured image from images available on the web.
Other images (especially when there is a collection of multiple images) are a preview of Google Images results for the entity and are automatically sourced from across the web.”
The fact that Google uses images from across the web, with apparently less strict quality control, may account for why the images were mixed up.
Both the serial killer and the innocent man in the serial killer Knowledge Panel are natives to Bulgaria, although the innocent man currently works in Switzerland.
It’s possible that the algorithm matched the innocent man’s image to the serial killer because their names matched and they were both from Bulgaria.
So the algorithm determined that this was a possible match for a search for this particular name.
Man Tweets About Terrible Mix-up
A man in Switzerland named Hristo Georgiev wrote a blog post relating that a former colleague emailed him to let him know that Google was showing an image of his face within a Knowledge Graph for a search query for a man with the same name who was a notorious Bulgarian serial killer.
“I quickly popped out my browser, opened Google and typed in my name. And indeed, my photo appeared over a description of a Bulgarian serial killer.”
He went on to post a tweet about it.
“Seems like Google falsely associated a photo of mine with a Wikipedia article of a serial killer. I don’t know if this is hilarious or terrifying.”
Seems like Google falsely associated a photo of mine with a Wikipedia article of a serial killer. I don't know if this is hilarious or terrifying. pic.twitter.com/rmAL7uQYy4
— Hristo Georgiev (@hggeorgievcom) June 24, 2021
The innocent mans initial reaction was that he was the victim of a prank. He expressed confusion of why this would happen to him because his name was a common one.
“…my name isn’t special or unique at all; there are literally hundreds of other people with my name, and despite of all that, my personal photo ended up being associated with a serial killer.”
He wrote that he filed a report with Google about the incorrect Knowledge Panel.
A staff software engineer on Google’s Chrome team tweeted seven hours after the initial tweet about the issue that he understands that Google was in the process of handling the problem.
“hey, sorry about this. FWIU this is being handled.
(I don’t represent Google in my tweets)”
hey, sorry about this. FWIU this is being handled.
(I don't represent Google in my tweets)
— Nodir 🚫🦌 (@nodirt_) June 25, 2021
Fake News, Cancel Culture and Career Impacts
It was just a few years ago that Google’s Knowledge Panel proclaimed a Battlestar Galactica actor, Paul Campbell to be deceased even though he was very much alive, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
But apparently a casting director communicated to the actors agent that he thought the actor had died.
While the innocent man in this situation took it all in stride, he did pause to reflect on how these kinds of incidents can have a negative impact.
“…the fact that an algorithm that’s used by billions of people can so easily bend information in such ways is truly terrifying.”
Blog Post from Subject of Knowledge Panel Error
Google Turned Me into a Serial Killer
Google Turned Me into a Serial Killer