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Friday, May 24, 2024

Google challenged by Hong Kong leader to ensure correct national anthem tops searches

Google challenged by Hong Kong leader to ensure correct national anthem tops searches

Lee promises to contact tech giant again after he rejects Google’s claims it could do little because of search algorithms.

Hong Kong leader John Lee Ka-chiu has said a way must exist for a “responsible” Google to fix searches so people who sought out Hong Kong’s national anthem would get the correct “March of the Volunteers” in the top results.

Lee on Tuesday added the government would contact the tech giant again over the problem after he rejected Google’s claims there was little it could do to comply with the government’s request as results were based on algorithms used.

But one technology expert told the Post that legal action could force a better response from Google.


Francis Fong, the president of the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation, says Hong Kong government could take legal action against Google to force change in national anthem ranking on searches.

The move came after a series of blunders at international sports events where a song linked to the 2019 anti-government protests, “Glory to Hong Kong”, was played instead of “March of the Volunteers”.

Lee earlier highlighted that Google had removed wrong information from search results in line with a ruling last week by the Court of Justice of the European Union that the company had to take down anything that users could prove was incorrect.

“So there are ways to do it,” Lee said. “It is a matter whether a company acts responsibly and respects the importance of the national anthem in the global context.”

He added paid advertising could change the priority of search results.

“We take it very seriously because the national anthem represents a country, it represents the people, it represents dignity,” he said.

“Any organisation, any responsible organisation, should act in such a way to ensure that the national anthem is played correctly, to respect, first of all, each country’s national anthem, to respect each country’s law, and also to respect the people of that country.

“I think that is a universal principle. And if any company is in any way responsible, it has that moral obligation … we will pursue and will continue to see what other things we will do,” Lee pledged.

The Hong Kong government last month asked Google to put “March of the Volunteers” at the top of its search results when people searched for “Hong Kong” and “national anthem”.

Asia Rugby, the organisers of a rugby tournament in Incheon, South Korea last month, said junior staff had downloaded the wrong music from the internet and apologised for the mix-up.

The national anthem was also miscaptioned as “Glory to Hong Kong” in broadcast graphics at two earlier international rugby tournaments.

Hong Kong government officials maintained Google also played a role in the errors.

They pointed out that a song that was said to be the city’s national anthem was available for download in its search results, even though it was “factually wrong” as the city did not have its own anthem.

Security minister Chris Tang Ping-keung on Monday said Google had refused the government’s request to change the search results.

Tang accused Google of hurting the feelings of the people of Hong Kong and pledged that the government would explore “every means to correct the mistake”.

Hits on Google after a search for “Hong Kong national anthem” on Tuesday afternoon still brought up the Wikipedia entry for “Glory to Hong Kong” as the top search result rather than “March of the Volunteers”.

The Post has contacted Google and its parent company Alphabet for comment.

Francis Fong Po-kiu, the honorary president of the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation, agreed it would be difficult to manipulate search results to lower the ranking of “Glory to Hong Kong”.

“It is the organic search result because it has been a hot topic recently. The more people talk about it, the results, whether they are wrong or correct, will be brought up more and in a higher position. That is how search engine algorithms are designed to work,” Fong said.

“If we stop discussing the Hong Kong anthem stuff on the net, the topic will die down and hits will not bring up the protest song as the top search results.”

A search engine algorithm is a collection of formulas used to decide the relevance of a web page to a user search. It works with a variety of details for context, from news reports to online discussion forums.

Fong said one solution was for the government to create a website about the correct national anthem for Hong Kong and ask Google or other search engines to direct searches to the page.

Fong, however, advised against paying Google for advertising “March of the Volunteers” as the national anthem.

“If the information is wrong in the first place, it would seem unreasonable that the government has to pay Google to take out advertisements in order to out-compete the wrong information,” Fong said. “It is a matter of principle more than practicability.”

He added the government could take legal action against Google as a last resort.

“Possibly Google would take it more seriously when it gets a court order, instead of a letter from the government,” Fong said.

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