Blown To Bits

The Google cache strikes again

Monday, July 28th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

The New York Times had several good bits stories over the weekend. The Education Week article about de-tagging Facebook photos, for example. Cheap, ubiquitous sensors–digital cameras in the hands of teenagers and college students–combined with the vast Facebook social network have resulted in lots of embarrassing party photos appearing online every Sunday morning. When their peers tag the photos with the names of the people appearing in them, the photos turn up in searches for the names of the revelers. So every Sunday afternoon the hung-over youth “de-tag” the photos, which remain visible but unsearchable. (And if you’re the only one not tagged in the photo, well, that creates an interesting social tension–you’re saying you’re the only one who believes that your reputation is going to be damaged by being seen with the others at that party!)

But my favorite is the story about the perhaps under-age Chinese gymnasts. They have passports showing their age as 16, the minimum allowed in Olympic competition. But the enterprising reporters think some may be as early as 14. Why?

The Times found two online records of official registration lists of Chinese gymnasts that list He’s birthday as Jan. 1, 1994, which would make her 14. A 2007 national registry of Chinese gymnasts — now blocked in China but viewable through Google cache — shows He’s age as “1994.1.1.”

Another registration list that is unblocked, dated Jan. 27, 2006, and regarding an “intercity” competition in Chengdu, China, also lists He’s birthday as Jan. 1, 1994. That date differs by two years from the birth date of Jan. 1, 1992, listed on He’s passport, which was issued Feb. 14, 2008.

Nice detective work. Some earlier public list of athletes had the correct date, goes the theory; Google indexed it and kept a copy, as Google generally does; the Chinese later decided to make the athlete a couple of years older, and took the web page down; but Google’s cached copy is still visible from the U.S. site where it is stored. Just like the example on page 125 of Blown to Bits. Except in this case, the cached copy itself is blocked inside China, even though it’s a copy of a Chinese web page. Bits are awfully hard to eradicate–it will be interesting to see if this incident becomes a problem for the Chinese team.

One Response to “The Google cache strikes again”

  1. Blown to Bits » Blog Archive » Those Chinese Gymnasts, Exposed Again Says:

    […] previously reported by the New York Times and noted in this blog (The Google Cache Strikes Again), two of the medal-winning Chinese female gymnasts are only 14 years old, according to rosters […]