Winston Churchill’s image briefly disappeared from Google search results because it was being updated to be more representative of the former prime minister, the tech giant has said.
However, that update had been delayed by a bug in Google’s system, the firm said in a statement.
It comes after some users complained that Churchill’s image was not appearing in search results for UK prime ministers, although his name was still listed.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden was among those to express “concern” and said he had spoken to the tech giant over the incident, which occurred during the ongoing debate about Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square, which was boarded up last week.
Following claims from some that the missing image was a political move, Google said it was sorry for the concern and insisted it was “not purposeful”.
The company said it was a result of the firm updating the featured image of Churchill from one of him as a younger man to another of him when older, which the company said was when he was “more famously and iconically pictured”.
The company said the update to the Knowledge Graph – the prominent panels which appear at the top of search result pages – had taken place at the end of April following user feedback, but a bug in its systems had resulted in the new image not appearing.
“Following our procedures, human reviewers processed the feedback, determined the image wasn’t most representative of Churchill and we blocked the unrepresentative image to allow the systems to automatically select a different one, according to our policies,” the tech giant said.
“Normally, the image would update quickly. In this case, a bug in our systems prevented a new representative image from updating. As a result, Churchill’s entry lacked an image from late April until this weekend, when the issue was brought to our attention and resolved soon after.
“We apologise again for concerns caused by this issue with Sir Winston Churchill’s Knowledge Graph image. We will be working to address the underlying cause to avoid this type of issue in the future.”
Google also confirmed it was looking into why the first terms of some UK prime ministers, including Churchill, Harold Wilson, Ramsay MacDonald and Stanley Baldwin were not being properly shown in the Knowledge Graph.
“It might be that our systems are only displaying the last term of prime ministers who had non-consecutive terms. We’ll seek to address this to avoid any unintentional concern,” Google said.