Google Algorithm Turned This Zurich Engineer Into an Infamous Serial Killer ‘The Sadist’

Imagine googling your name and finding your image linked to a Wikipedia article about a serial killer and rapist who goes by the same name. It can turn your life upside down, right? Exactly what happened with Hristo Georgiev, a Zurich-based engineer. Georgiev was once scrolling through his inbox when he stumbled upon an email from one of his former colleagues, who wanted him to know that Google had wrongly linked his picture to a former Bulgarian murderer. 

In a blogpost, Georgiev said that after reading the email he opened Google and typed his name in the search bar. And yes, his colleague wasn’t wrong. Google did show Georgiev’s image but with the Wikipedia page of the Bulgarian serial killer, who was executed on August 28, 1980.

The engineer, though, thought that someone was trying to pull off an elaborate prank on him, but once he opened the Wikipedia page, he found no picture of him there. “It turns out that Google’s knowledge graph algorithm somehow falsely associated my photo with the Wikipedia article about the serial killer,” he wrote in his blog. Georgiev added that it was surprising and strange as his name wasn’t special or unique at all. “There are literally hundreds of other people with my name, and despite all that, my personal photo ended up being associated with a serial killer,” he said.    

Here’s how the page appeared before it was fixed. Check it out.

After having a good laugh with some friends, Georgiev gave this development a serious thought and realised the darker path it may have taken. He said that after reading the Wikipedia article, one could figure out that he and the killer were two different people, but “one can never be so sure”. The fact that an algorithm used by billions can so easily bend information in such ways is truly terrifying, Georgiev added.

Georgiev said whosoever is on the Internet must look after their Internet representation. “The rampant spread of fake news and cancel culture has made literally everyone who’s not anonymously vulnerable,” he said. The Zurich-based engineer went on to add that a small mistake, like the one he faced, could very well lead to “anything from a minor inconvenience to a disaster”, decimating careers and reputations of people in a matter of days. Georgiev further said that the incident had changed his opinion that such things happened only to others but it won’t happen to him. “I was certainly wrong about that. Maybe letting a single Internet company “organize the world’s information” probably isn’t such a great idea. “Some food for thought,” he said.

Georgiev later updated that the issue was fixed. A search for Hristo Georgiev’s name now doesn’t attach an image to the Wikipedia page about the Bulgarian serial killer infamous known as ‘The Sadist’.  

It’s Google I/O time this week on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast, as we discuss Android 12, Wear OS, and more. Later (starting at 27:29), we jump over to Army of the Dead, Zack Snyder’s Netflix zombie heist movie. Orbital is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.