Google redefines time (From the UAL files)

October 29, 2008

Here’s something funny that I found at the bottom of a Google News search results page the other day:

The selection and placement of stories on this page were determined automatically by a computer program. The time or date displayed reflects when an article was added to Google News.

That sounds like another way of saying that the time and date the story showed up there do not necessarily match the time and date that the story was first published.

So why is that interesting? I don’t know for sure if this is why they did it, but it could have something to do with the recent flap between Google and Tribune Co over a story about UAL Corp going bankrupt — six years ago. The 2002 Chicago Tribune story wound up being displayed as a seemingly fresh looking story on Google News search results after the article somehow went live inside the website of the Tribune-owned South Florida Sun-Sentinel paper in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The article wound up being picked up by an investor-run information service distributed by Bloomberg News, and prompted investors to nearly destroy United’s stock price before everyone figured out that the story was old. This caused a war of words between Google and Tribune, with the Chicago-based newspaper publisher saying that it was Google’s fault that the story showed up, especially with a time stamp that made it look new. Google naturally blames Tribune.

Is this Google modifying its terms to clarify the true nature of time on its website? Is this a response to the UAL brouhaha? We don’t know yet, as we’re still waiting to hear back from Google’s press team.

(Photo: Reuters)

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