Google has been accused of all sorts of nefarious things, from monopolistic practices to skewing search results and currying favor with dictators. But it’s never been accused of cruelty to animals. Until now. Indeed, if you believe what you read on the Internet, the feckless driver of a Google Street View car ran over a helpless donkey on a dusty road in Botswana and left it for dead.
When I toiled in the newspaper world we used to joke that you should never let the facts spoil a good story. But sadly for this story, and happily for the donkey, Google has proved that it didn’t do it. In fact, the company reports, the donkey was doing just fine.
Here’s the picture that got animal lovers and Google haters so hot under the collar:
The dead donkey rumor led Google Maps officials to post a response to the incident on the official Google Maps blog. Showing that Google not only did no evil, but has a sense of humor, the post was headlined “Never ASS-ume.”
Here’s what Kei Kawai, group product manager for Google Maps, had to say: “Because of the way our 360-degree imagery is put together, it looked to some that our car had been involved in an unseemly hit and run, leaving the humble beast stranded in the road. As our imagery below shows, the donkey was lying in the path – perhaps enjoying a dust bath – before moving safely aside as our car drove past. I’m pleased to confirm the donkey is alive and well.”
The pictures posted by Google show parts of the Street View car, and the vehicle doesn’t come close to touching the donkey in any of the pictures. But why was the donkey laying on the ground?
If you follow the Street View path far enough from the donkey, you can see that a second vehicle passed by the animal before Google’s even got close to it.
Someone, I’m not sure who, but it doesn’t appear to be Google, stitched the Street View stills into a video and posted it on YouTube. As you can see, it seems to show that the animal was knocked down by a gust of wind caused by a passing truck well before the Street View car came by.
So Google is innocent, and the lesson for the credulous denizens of the blogosphere is clear: If you don’t want to make an ass of yourself, do what every cub reporter was taught to do — check your facts.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.