September 28, 2015

Google is testing AI to respond to privacy requests

by Andrey Filippov

Robotic customer support fails while pretending to be an outsourced human. Last week I searched with Google for Elphel and I got a wrong spelled name, wrong address and a wrong phone number.

Google search for Elphel

Google search for Elphel

A week ago I tried Google Search for our company (usually I only check recent results using last week or last 3 days search) and noticed that on the first result page there is a Street View of my private residence, my home address pointing to a business with the name “El Phel, Inc”.

Yes, when we first registered Elphel in 2001 we used our home address, and even the first $30K check from Google for development of the Google Books camera came to this address, but it was never “El Phel, Inc.” Later wire transfers with payments to us for Google Books cameras as well as Street View ones were coming to a different address – 1405 W. 2200 S., Suite 205, West Valley City, Utah 84119. In 2012 we moved to the new building at 1455 W. 2200 S. as the old place was not big enough for the panoramic camera calibration.

I was not happy to see my house showing as the top result when searching for Elphel, it is both breach of my family privacy and it is making harm to Elphel business. Personally I would not consider a 14-year old company with international customer base a serious one if it is just a one-man home-based business. Sure you can get the similar Street View results for Google itself but it would not come out when you search for “Google”. Neither it would return wrongly spelled business name like “Goo & Gel, Inc.” and a phone number that belongs to a Baptist church in Lehi, Utah (update: they changed the phone number to the one of Elphel).

Google original location

Google original location

Honestly there was some of our fault too, I’ve seen “El Phel” in a local Yellow Pages, but as we do not have a local business I did not pay attention to that – Google was always good at providing relevant information in the search results, extracting actual contact information from the company “Contacts” page directly.

Noticing that Google had lost its edge in providing search results (Bing and Yahoo show relevant data), I first contacted Yellow Pages and asked them to correct information as there is no “El Phel, Inc.” at my home address and that I’m not selling any X-Ray equipment there. They did it very promptly and the probable source of the Google misinformation (“probable” as Google does not provide any links to the source) was gone for good.

I waited for 24 hours hoping that Google will correct the information automatically (post on Elphel blog appears in Google search results in 10 – 19 seconds after I press “Publish” button). Nothing happened – same “El Phel, Inc.” in our house.

So I tried to contact Google. As Google did not provide source of the search result, I tried to follow recommendations to correct information on the map. And the first step was to log in with Google account, since I could not find a way how to contact Google without such account. Yes, I do have one – I used Gmail when Google was our customer, and when I later switched to other provider (I prefer to use only one service per company, and I selected to use Google Search) I did not delete the Gmail account. I found my password and was able to log in.

First I tried to select “Place doesn’t exist” (There is no such company as “El Phel, Inc.” with invalid phone number, and there is no business at my home address).

Auto confirmation came immediately:
From: Google Maps <>
Date: Wed, Sep 23, 2015 at 9:55 AM
Subject: Thanks for the edit to El Phel Inc
To: еlphеl@gmаil.cоm
Thank you
Your edit is being reviewed. Thanks for sharing your knowledge of El Phel Inc.
El Phel Inc
3200 Elmer St, Magna, UT, United States
Your edit
Place doesn't exist
Edited on Sep 23, 2015 · In review
Keep exploring,
The Google Maps team
© 2015 Google Inc. 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043
You've received this confirmation email to update you about your editing activities on Google Maps.

But nothing happened. Two days later I tried with different option (there was no place to provide text entry)
Your edit
Place is private

No results either.

Then I tried to follow the other link after the inappropriate search result – “Are you the business owner?” (I’m not at owner of the non-existing business, but I am an owner of my house). And yes, I had to use my Gmail account again. There were several options how I prefer to be contacted – I selected “by phone”, and shortly after a female-voiced robot called. I do not have a habit of talking to robots, so I did not listen what it said waiting for keywords like: “press 0 to talk to a representative” or “Please stay on the line…”, but it never said anything like this and immediately hang up.

Second time I selected email contact, but it seems to me that the email conversation was with some kind of Google Eliza. This was the first email:

From :
To :
Subject : RE: [7-2344000008781] Google Local Help
Date : Thu, 24 Sep 2015 22:48:47 -0700
Add Label
Greetings from Google.
After investigating, i found that here is an existing page on Google (El Phel Inc-3200 S Elmer St Magna, UT 84044) which according to your email is incorrect information.
Apologies for the inconvenience andrey, however as i can see that you have created a page for El Phel Inc, hence i would first request you to delete the Business page if you aren't running any Business. Also you can report a problem for incorrect information on Maps,Here is an article that would provide you further clarity on how to report a problem or fix the map.
In case you have any questions feel free to reply back on the same email address and i would get back to you.
Google My Business Support.

This robot tried to mimic a kids language (without capitalizing “I” and the first letter of my name), and the level of understanding the matter was below that of a human (it was Google, not me who created that page, I just wanted it to be removed).

I replied as I thought it still might be a human, just tired and overwhelmed by so many privacy-related requests they receive (the email came well after hours in United States).

From : andrey <>
To :
Subject : RE: [7-2344000008781] Google Local Help
Date : Fri, 25 Sep 2015 00:16:21 -0700
Hello Rohit,
I never created such page. I just tried different ways to contact Google to remove this embarrassing link. I did click on "Are you the business owner" (I am the owner of this residence at 3200 S Elmer St Magna, UT 84044) as I hoped that when I'll get the confirmation postcard I'll be able to reply that there is no business at this residential address).
I did try link "how to report a problem or fix the map", but I could not find a relevant method to remove a search result that does not reference external page as a source, and assigns my home residence to the search results of the company, that has a different (than listed) name, is located in a different city (West Valley City, 84119, not in Magna, 84044), and has a different phone number.
So please, can you remove that incorrect information?
Andrey Filippov

Nothing happened either, then on Sunday night (local time) came another email from “Rohit”:

From :
To :
Subject : RE: [7-2344000008781] Google Local Help
Date : Sun, 27 Sep 2015 18:11:44 -0700
Greetings from Google.
I am working on your Business pages and would let you know once get any update.
Please reply back on the same email address in case of any concerns.
Google My Business Support

You may notice that it had the same ticket number, so the sender had all the previous information when replying. For any human capable of using just Google Search it would be not more than 15-30 seconds to find out that their information is incorrect and either remove it completely (as I asked) or replace with some relevant one.

And there is another detail that troubles me. Looking at the time/days when the “Google My Business Support” emails came, and the name “Rohit” it may look like it came from India. While testing a non-human communications Google might hope that correspondents would more likely attribute some inconsistencies in the generated emails to the cultural differences and miss actual software flaws. Does Google count on us being somewhat racists?

Following provided links I was not able to get any response from a human representative, only two robots (phone and email) contacted me. I hope that this post will work better and help to cure this breach of my family privacy and end harm this invalid information provided by a so respected Internet search company causes to the business. I realize that robots will take over more and more of our activities (and we are helping that to happen ourselves), but maybe this process sometimes goes too fast?

2 responses to “Google is testing AI to respond to privacy requests”

  1. Vital Tremblay says:

    That’s a shame! ;-( That’s one of the worse thing that might happen to someone. you have my deepest sympathy.

  2. andrey says:

    Vital, it was not so bad, and as you can see it finally worked – there is no “El Phel” in Google search results now. It was fun to perform such Turing test, and I’m thinking to write a second part, add my analysis (what supports the idea that I was communicating with a robot, and what – that it still could be a human person) and add a poll for others to vote (there is enough material – a dozen or so emails before the issue was resolved). I think it was a supervised robot, like a Google car where the driver is still inside the vehicle and can take over when needed.

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