When Search Engines Go Horribly Wrong

At my job, when we put together training there are often still images used to accompany the text on the screen, to help get the idea across. Rather than shoot all of these images ourselves (although we do that at times, plus depending on what the course is about we often get photos directly from our clients), sometimes we go to stock photo services. One of these places is Photos.com, which back in the day used to be a huge boon to our work. They had a great photo library and we found a lot of good selections.

Now, I’m not saying all the photos were good. Even back then there were some rather questionable images. But we’ve noticed lately that some images don’t quite fit what you’re asking for. (I won’t even get into the nudity that crops up when you least expect it. I think we’re all still a little dazed by the naked guy holding a bunch of bananas next to—but not in front of—his crotch.) Take, for example, today. I typed airplane and eating into the search box, told the website that it had to match all of the search words, and clicked on submit. What I wanted was a photo of someone (preferably a family, but I’d take what I could get) eating food on a plane. Perhaps even a meal provided by the airline. What I got… well…

Ok, which of the three do you think showed up in response to the words airplane and eating?


A shirtless man holding a bottle for a baby?


A pile of crabs?


Or a hummingbird eating nectar from a flower?

Well, if you said “all three” you would be correct. Even better, if you said those are the only three photos offered you’d also be correct! Fortunately some other photo services we belong to actually had pictures of people on a plane eating food. But these? I suppose at least two of them having eating in progress. And a hummingbird does fly. But I am also pretty sure that none of these images are set on an airplane.

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