Wondering if some celebrity is Gay, Lesbian, Straight or Bisexual? Plenty of people do and turn to Google to find out. But the search engine just stopped offering direct answers about these questions, after they became more noticeable.
Google’s “Best Guess” About Sexual Orientations
Here’s an example of one of the answers that were being shown, in response to a search for is anna paquin gay:
You can see that Google provided a direct answer: “Best guess for Anna Paquin Sexual orientation is Bisexual.” This worked for Paquin and other some other celebrities up until a few hours ago, when Google disabled these types of answers.
Google & Direct Answers
Google has been providing direct answers to questions based on content it finds across the web since May 2010, and it shifted toward saying “Best Guess” as part of the format in March of this year. Our posts below, as well as Google’s own from May 2010, explain more:
- Google Squared Powers Answer Sources & Something Different Refinements
- Google Goes Beyond Answers, Starts Guessing Release Dates
The answers seem to have been most noticed in categories like movie and video game release dates, but they weren’t limited to that. One category of answers had been, for some time Google tells me, the sexual orientation of people.
Sexual Orientation Answers Became More Noticeable
Why has this suddenly stopped? I haven’t gotten a straight (no pun intended) answer to that. Google just gave me this general statement:
Since May 2010, our algorithms analyze the top ranked results for a search and extract best guesses for an answer to fact-seeking queries, such as the [height of the empire state building] or [catherine zeta-jones birth date]. Because we show best guesses for facts that are available throughout the web, there is a “Show sources” link that lists several different sites that help corroborate the answer.
We’re always experimenting with ways to algorithmically provide answers to different queries, and in cases where we’re not confident that the way the answer is presented to our users is helpful, we may change how those results are displayed. We’re constantly looking to improve the quality of our results and the way they’re presented, and we welcome users’ feedback.
However, Google did say it might be that more people had started discovering the sexual orientation responses recently due of a change in how they were triggered.
Before, you were more likely to only get them if you were to search for someone along with the words “sexual orientation.” But recently (exactly how recent, Google wouldn’t say), searching in a question format along with words like “gay” might trigger it.
In other words, relatively few people were searching for “anna paquin sexual orientation” and seeing the direct answer. But many more were searching for “is anna paquin gay” — indeed, so many that Google suggests it as a search term:
It seems that giving direct answers to more common ways to search for sexual orientation questions got them noticed. Indeed, that’s what set me into looking into this story.
Gawker picked that up, and Manhunt Daily captured a series of responses about actors ranging from Hugh Jackman (Straight) to Angelina Jolie (Bisexual) to Jodie Foster (Lesbian) to Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Gay).
Too Sensitive For Guesses?
Here’s another example, this time for Enrique Iglesias, a screenshot that Sean Carlos captured. It shows you how the answers looked inline with the search query:
As I said, a few hours ago when I started looking into this, I could get these to trigger. But now that no longer happens. As Google won’t say why, I’ll offer my own best guess. It was probably deemed too sensitive.
At a time when the search engine has already been taking heat over what it should or shouldn’t be listing in a search for Rick Santorum, Google probably decided it didn’t want to be the one accused of outing some celebrity, even if it gathered those answers from sources across the web.