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Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Report a Concern" at Google Maps

Since a recent Google Maps Street View update, Google shows the wording “Report a concern” at the footer of their panorama photos (in older versions, a text for this elsewhere was reading “Report inappropriate image” – the title to the report page still uses that wording). I pinged Dennis G. Jerz, associate professor of English at Seton Hill University and blogger at the Literacy Weblog, about his take on this:

My dean once suggested that, when introducing a postmodern literary work to students who aren’t used to such things, I was setting myself up for failure by calling the work “difficult” or “challenging,” and instead suggested “quirky” or just “significant.” I have another colleague who’s very good at listening to the terms used by people in other disciplines, and echoing those terms back in her conversation with them (so that, when speaking about the main idea of a scientist’s paper, she uses the word “hypothesis,” or when speaking about the main idea of an art installation, she refers to “concept”).

I think that if Google phrased it as the more natural-sounding “Report a problem,” or “Report a violation of privacy,” that could be taken as an admission of wrongdoing. By phrasing it so that the user seems merely to be sharing a personal feeling that something is uncomfortable, Google can assume the moral high ground. “Oh, so you’re concerned about it, are you? There, there... tell us about it, and we’ll make it all better..”

I had a boss who was a lawyer... he once asked me not to send out a press release with somebody saying “We are sorry...” He told me that expressing “sorrow” implies taking responsibility for a bad thing, while writing “We regret...” is merely expressing sympathy.

So I imagine that Google’s lawyers wanted to come up with language that would appeal to people with real worries, but not give any new ammunition to anyone who thinks Google is invading their privacy. The phrasing does strike me as rather patronizing.

[Thanks Dennis!]

Update: Ryan Steele comments, “I think the important distinction between ’Report a problem’ and ’Report a concern’ is that the first implies that the link is meant to be used if there is a technical problem, whereas the second better encompasses privacy and offensive content issues.” [Thanks Ryan!]


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