It’s a reflection of what men using Google mean, than what Google itself thinks.

Does masala mean skimpily-clad women when it comes to south India Google says so
Social Trends Saturday, July 08, 2017 - 13:54

Close your eyes and think of the word ‘masala’.  What do you see?

If Google’s search results are anything to go by, there’s a bizarre regional bias that makes the word mean two very different things  when you add “south Indian” or “north Indian” before it.

Multiple social media users have pointed out that while the north Indian search returns pictures of chilli powder, pindi chole or butter chicken, the south Indian search throws up an army of busty, skimpily-clad women.

Ever since, Google’s been getting a lot of flak for the “north-south divide” in its algorithms. But, as HuffPost India and India Today point out, this isn’t really Google’s fault. After all, Google’s search works by learning from the keywords people use and the results they click on to predict just what people are searching for.

Also, many people have uploaded pictures of actresses on Google with ‘masala’ as tag.

So, what Google does is to search for the words “south”, “north”, “masala” and “Indian” and throws up the most popular pictures tagged with these words. As a Google spokesperson told HuffPost, "Search isn't always perfect. Sometimes, the way images are described on the Internet can yield surprising results to specific queries."

So does this tell us about regional biases in the way Indians search, perhaps? Well, without more detailed, regional data on these keywords it’s impossible to tell about who’s searching for what.

But a few more keyword combinations yield a very interesting picture. Search for “Tamil”, “Telugu”, “Kannada” or “Malayalam” with the word “masala”, for instance, and you get the exact same result – a search page full of skimpily-clad women.

Kannada Masala on Google!

But searches like “Bengali”, “Bihari” or “Punjabi masala” throw up pictures of food and spices. “Desi masala”, on the other hand, gives you the same array of women’s pictures. On the other hand, the preferred term for pictures of women from north Indian states seems to be “Hot”.

At the end of the day, all we can probably gather from this bizarre madness on Google is that patriarchy has a variety of ways in which to objectify women. Equating south Indian women with spice is just one strand of that troubling variety.