Swastikas appeared last week in Comcast searches on Google.
Google fixed the problem on Thursday, but swastikas inserted into Comcast brand images have been a recurring problem for the nation's largest cable-TV company because of a two-year-old anti-Comcast Reddit page that crowdsourced legions of the company's critics to click on an image of the symbol of Nazi Germany with an embedded Comcast logo.
Because tens of thousands of people clicked on the image — more than 60,000, according to the Reddit page — the Google algorithm thinks it's popular and returns it in search results.
"Love or hate Comcast, I'm sure they have nothing to do with the Nazi Party," Pennsylvania State University marketing professor Ralph Oliva said on Friday, adding that "clearly there is malicious intent. There are other channels to be an effective complainer."
The lesson, Oliva said, is that "even a powerful company and brand like Comcast is vulnerable" on the internet.
Inappropriate images also have been associated on Google searches with McDonald's, American Airlines, Spirit Air, Electronic Arts, and, in a highly publicized incident in May, the California Republican Party.
Comcast says the swastikas are hate speech.
"This use of a despicable symbol is in no way authorized by Comcast. It is an offensive image that someone has posted on the internet, and we are working with Google to address it immediately. We have again asked Google to permanently remove this image from their search algorithm as we have in the past," Comcast said in a statement.
Comcast alerted Google to the issue but the swastikas continue to reappear, frustrating its marketing and public relations teams. The swastika image appears along with those of Comcast TV remotes, Xfinity routers, and the Xfinity logo.
Swastikas have been inserted into "information panels" for Comcast on Google searches.
Google said in a statement: "Search results are automatically generated based on information on the web and relevance to a user [search]. For some topics and entities, you may see a more structured result in the form of an information panel to help you get a snapshot of that topic. In instances where our systems incorrectly associate an image with a given entity in a panel, we work to fix the issue, which we have done in this case."
Google typically improves searches to address broad issues. But in this case, Google "took manual action to disassociate" the swastika from Comcast, the company said. As a rule, it removes content from its index in limited circumstances, including legal removals, "a violation of our webmaster guidelines, or at the request of the webmaster who is responsible for the page."
In May, a Google information panel displayed "Nazism" as an ideology of the California Republican Party. The search engine removed the phrase after being contacted about it by Vice News. At the time, the company said "vandalism" can surface in its panels when "people vandalize public information sources, like Wikipedia" — impacting Google search results.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — a California Republican — lashed out at Google on Twitter, calling the listing a "disgrace" and part of a "disturbing trend to slander conservatives."