Readers on a regional newspaper website were asked to pick the image they liked “best” from a set of children’s pictures in order to access an article on historic child sex abuse investigations.
The survey, a service offered by Google, appeared on the Gazette Live website, restricting access to an article headlined: “Cleveland Police investigating ’20 to 30′ historic child sexual abuse cases.”
A screengrab of the survey (below), which asked readers: “Which child do you like best?” and showed four images of young children, was taken by Times head of investigations Alexi Mostrous.
He tweeted the image today, adding: “… what kind of screwed-up algorithm is responsible for asking readers to select which child they ‘like best’ before displaying a story about child abuse?”
Google Survey is a market research tool that helps businesses collect data from online users for a fee. Publishers can sign up to host the surveys for a share of the revenue generated and stop at any time.
Google declined to say which company was behind the child survey, but said it was market research being carried out by a company and, while “distasteful”, it did not believe it was “malicious”.
Press Gazette understands the research is not targeted to a particular audience and so appeared against the child sex abuse report at random.
The survey was completed by a couple of dozen readers, it is understood.
Trinity Mirror, which owns Gazette Live, said it had requested Google disable the survey “within minutes of being notified” given the “inappropriate nature of the message”.
A spokesperson said the publisher was “working with Google to urgently understand the details of the creative and how it appeared on our site”.
A Google spokesperson said: “Google Surveys provide businesses with a simple platform for conducting consumer research to inform marketing decisions, such as testing which image would work best in a marketing campaign.
“While we don’t believe at this time that the survey was the result of any malicious behavior, we quickly recognised that it was distasteful and the survey has been removed.”
Picture: Alexi Mostrous/Twitter