SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ per month for 3 months
SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ per month for 3 months

Google misdirects people searching for West York to hard-core porn site

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

People who recently searched for West York Borough's website were likely shocked when they clicked on Google's suggested-website box and were directed to hard-core pornography instead.

The borough's official website, westyorkpa.gov, has been up and running for about a year and a half, according to Borough Manager Shawn Mauck, and used to be the site where Google's suggested-website box took searchers. It was unaffected, he said.

Imagine Mauck's surprise in late April when he realized York-based Facebook pages were abuzz with people urging others to check out the porn site with the West York name.

At 11:44 p.m. Sunday, a local Facebook page called The Realist People of York posted, "Google: West York Municipal Building / You won't be disappointed." On Saturday, the Meanwhile In York page posted something about it but took it down at Mauck's request, according to a page administrator.

The first stage of "good grief!" is denial, and that was Mauck's initial reaction. He sent a private Facebook message to Meanwhile in York, asking "what the hell are you doing" and informing the page that West York has a dot-gov website — not a dot-com. He thought the person running the page was mistaken.

West York's borough manager said Google's suggested-website button for West York's municipal building used to connect searchers to the borough's official website. Somehow, that button now sends people to a hard-core porn website that uses a former West York web address. It was still doing so as of April 30, 2020.

Panoply of porn: "Until I checked," Mauck said.

Sure enough, the borough's former website is now filled with a panoply of porn. The York Dispatch is not reporting that web address, although it's not difficult for the curious to find.

"That website was dead. It wasn't a functioning site," Mauck told The York Dispatch. He said that when he became borough manager in January 2019, one of the first things he did was purchase a secure dot-gov website for West York.

The former website was never borough property and was instead owned by a former employee, according to Mauck.

>>Like what you’re reading? Not a subscriber? Click here for full access to The York Dispatch’s hard-hitting news, local sports and entertainment.

"I grabbed my phone and my laptop and fired off an email to Google," he said.

The issue had been fixed at some point prior to Tuesday, May 5. Google did not respond to an email from The York Dispatch seeking comment.

"We've been in consultation with Google to get them to fix it," Mauck said, but the technology giant has not been in any hurry to correct the error. "I'm totally flabbergasted as to why we haven't been able to fix it."

West York Borough Office, 1381 W Poplar Street.

Mauck said he also doesn't understand how Google allowed it to happen, especially because the borough has verified its map location with Google. That is supposed to prevent Google from acting on random suggested edits, he said, adding that Google won't explain how the misdirection happened.

Bot or jerk? "We'd like to think Google would have checked or verified that," he said, adding he has no idea who is behind the misdirection.

"I would assume it's probably a bot," Mauck said. "I can't imagine somebody could be that bored, but I guess there's some jerk out there who could think it's funny."

West York's verified status — which should have prevented the misdirection — is now slowing the process of fixing it, according to the borough manager.

West York Borough Manager Shawn Mauck in a 2016 interview, when he was mayor of the borough.

"You'd like to think someone in customer service (would care)," Mauck said. "You'd think it would be embarrassing for (Google)."

Mauck said he's still been unable to speak with a human being at Google and lamented the fact that some massive corporations don't put a value on quality customer service.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.