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Report critical of adult filters

 3:14 am on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

Like Excite, Altavista, and most every other major search engine before it, Google has been criticized for marking and excluding some pages as adult oriented material. A report [cyber.law.harvard.edu] by Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society says that Google excludes too many pages.

Googles adult filter is widely regarded as one of the most lax in the search engine business. Pages that are perfectly acceptable in Google are routinely blocked by AskJeeves, Inktomi, and Altavista. If anything is the case here, Google is too lax in allowing some pages to remain visible while the adult filter is turned on.

Just last week some fellow webmasters were pointing potential adult content showing under innocoguous keywords.

From the report:

Google might also inform webmasters as to steps they can take to assist with the proper categorization of their content.

Simply not possible. It would only give those that would subvert the system, clues as to how to do it. One should remember the historical inncidents where standard searches on Altavista revealed adult content. That was done with full knowledge of the system.

Just two weeks ago I was on the phone with a service that provides paid inclusion to search engines. The issue at hand was that a few pages were being rejected for adult content. Those same pages walked right into the Google index without a problem. It is clear to most in the sem business, that Google's adult filter is not only the best available, it may even be too lax at times.

But it makes for great reports, and gives college kids with too much leisure time something to do.

Harvard Disclosure?
It should be noted that Harvard has several graduates that are very high profile in this business and would stand to benefit from such a report. AskJeeves has Harvard Alumni on it's staff in mission critical positions. I do feel Harvard would be above such a conflict of interest, but not to note that fact in the report is an oversight.

WebmasterWorld Disclosure:
Matt Cutts, author of Googles SafeSearch, will be a featured speaker at WebmasterWorlds marketing conference [webmasterworld.com] in Boston in two weeks. Additionally, Paul Gardi - a Harvard Alumi and Senior Vice President of Search for AskJeeves/Teoma, will also be speaking.



 4:38 pm on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

I don't have kids and could care less what other peoples kids stumble upon but if it will create peace then please filter by default.

Trouble is, most users wouldn't know that a filter was active. Forcing a filter on unsuspecting users is censorship. Does Google want to play the role of censor? I don't think so. If it did, the filter wouldn't be "opt-in."


 4:41 pm on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)


I think you would be surprised at how many people would find it difficult to read directions and check a box for preferences. It may be too easy to forget that not everyone is a webmaster or Net geek.


 5:09 pm on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

>Trouble is, most users wouldn't know that a filter was active. Forcing a filter on unsuspecting users is censorship. Does Google want to play the role of censor? I don't think so. If it did, the filter wouldn't be "opt-in."

Right. And, contrary to Marcia's experience most people I know wouldn't want censored results. If for no reason than the possibility of false filter hits. And, I'd really think that the onus is on those who would be bothered and upset if a porn site came up in the SERPs to change their defaults. It only takes 2 mouse click from the Google home page to turn the adult filters on. The default should err on the side of freedom, not censorship.


 5:10 pm on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

ah, good, let's not support filtering. result? kids just won't be allowed on the net by their parents full stop. then kids won't be buying as much on the net later. and if they want porn, they'll be more inclined not to use the net for it.

don't shoot yourselves in the foot, throw your weight behind it!


 6:14 pm on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

Why doesn't Google just create a sub-domain kids.google.com that displays only filtered results. In fact, it could have a modified algo that weights kid-oriented sites higher. Then all those parents who use the family computer as a babysitter could just make sure to have Net Nanny or some other software installed and let their children search kids.google.com til their little hearts' content. Just make sure to leave the real Google untampered-with.


 6:17 pm on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

and for employers who don't want employees surfing porn, and hence the employee (adult) wants to minimise the chance of "chancing upon" it? these are not kids, but have very good reason for not wanting porn to come up in google.


 7:43 pm on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

Google doesn't have a responsibility to keep porn off your desktop while at work. They offer a filtered result set, and if that is what you want, then explicitly select it. However, I have *never* seen porn results come up in my non-filtered searches while at work, let alone clicked on one. It's not as if you type in an innocent query and Google decides to redirect you to a bunch of nudie pictures.


 8:41 pm on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

from my non-american and non-native-english point of view:

1. I think, there is a diffence between "children" and "adolescents".
This means: "under 18 years" is not the same as "under 13 years".

2. And I think there is a big difference between porn sites and sexual themes about the first love and sex (how you can find it in german in teeny magazines) or for instance sites about GBLT coming out.

What should be the words you have to filter? How Google decides about the contents?
Should Google decide it for left winged or liberal or right winged parents? For german, amerikan, ... or arabian parents?

[edited by: h_b_k at 8:51 pm (utc) on April 11, 2003]


 8:48 pm on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

The answer, according to American conservatives, is that the internet should be censored based on the standards held by the most conservative community. At least, that's what they tried to do with COPA (not to be confused with COPPA), before it got struck down as unconstitutational. More info: [eff.org ]

Censorship nazis....


 9:07 pm on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

I'm not all hip on the dissected definition of "censorship" but to me as long as the information is easily available(just click the radio button and its there) I wouldn't consider Google to be censoring what I'm viewing. Its just a feature.


 9:17 pm on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

a feature with two clicks (even for the child) to switch it off?


 9:27 pm on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

>a feature with two clicks (even for the child) to switch it off?

Good point. While this feature is useful for adults who don't want porn results in innocent SERPs, it does nothing to stop children who are looking for porn finding it.


 9:56 pm on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

Aside from the moral question, what about Google's point of view? They dominate the search engine market because they provide the most relevant results. A non-perfect adult filter would only damage that objective. I don't think that Google as a company would take that risk.

Secondly, if it's not broken, don't fix it. And if it is broken, fix it properly. It is an undeniable fact that search engine filtering does not prevent kids from finding porn. Might as well use scotch tape to hold together a broken china plate.

If any parent or company has a problem with porn, they can easily download NetNanny to do the job properly. It's as simple as that.


 10:16 pm on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

After reading these posts, I checked the preferences set for my google cache. Moderate Filtering was the default. This would suggest that google has had to censor it's results to become as popular and respected as it has become. I have taken off the filters, just to see what happens.



 10:23 pm on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

Moderate (default) filtering "affects images only". That must relate to Google Images search. Only "strict filtering" will affect text searches.


 10:43 pm on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

I find it interesting that this post has brought out all of the...ahem...adult affiliates and those who are loosly affiliated with them. There is also the parents who are concerned for their children.

Unfortunatly google will not impliment stronger guidelines for thier search results. Why? Because its their business to run how they want. Some people here make a killing on the adult industry and for that reason I do not contribute much of my experience with the search engines, for fear of it being used in the manner in which I do not approve.

Having a filter on search results from google would be great. Or at least having something, I think that some other member suggested, that blurs the screen/images of potential adult information just incase its one of those sites that are less than kosher for kids under 18. After which you could click yes I would like to view this site and be on your merry way.

I do forsee a problem with trying to limit the internet by the government. Its technically beyond their ability to control the internet, its overseas, some people do not have the same morals as I do and dont care about what they put up, and the US would have to adopt a new department of regulations, which would cost a bit of cash.


 2:17 am on Apr 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

Having a filter on search results from google would be great.

Google alread has a filter. Parents, school librarians, people who are easily embarrassed, etc. can simply choose one of the global SafeSearch filtering options on the Search Preferences page.

In any case, a Google filter won't keep the kiddies from finding racy material. Try typing the respectable Latin word "****" in the address bar of Internet Explorer and see what shows up in your browser window.


 3:23 am on Apr 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

IMO anything that's listed in the Mature Content category

I disagree. One of my pages is in a Mature Content category, but I don't think it needs to be filtered. Reviews of books that discuss "adult" topics are hardly going to upset people. And my entire site certainly shouldn't be filtered just because of that one entry!


 3:27 am on Apr 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

GoogleGuy wrote:
One thing to consider is that our rankings (because of PageRank and the link structure of the web) often lean more toward information sites.

Indeed! The top ten results on a search for "sex" are all sites which should, at least in my opinion, be available to children. Most of them are sex education sites.


 4:13 pm on Apr 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

Not all search results reveal themselves by the title and/or description. You don't know what you are clicking on until you click on it. A good majority of the parents surfing out there couldn't even tell you what "preferences" are, let alone turn on SafeSearch via them. The idea that parents should sheperd their kids while on the internet is nonworkable in the real world. Most would be lucky to find the on switch on the computer.

eg: #1 all time query on yahoo: www.yahoo.com


 4:36 pm on Apr 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

A good majority of the parents surfing out there couldn't even tell you what "preferences" are, let alone turn on SafeSearch via them.

Then they need to learn, if they want filtering.


 4:44 pm on Apr 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

miles, I resent the implication that those who oppose content filtering and internet censorship are adult affiliates. That's the same as saying that everyone who supports marijuana legalization is a pothead. As if one cannot hold a particular view on principle alone.

Brett, I think we can agree that a search engine filter on/off switch is not going to stop any kid from finding pornography on the internet. If I had kids and couldn't monitor them personally, I would surely have local filtering software installed. And if a 14 year old can defeat Net Nanny, a 7 year old can defeat Google filtering... so I really don't see the "protecting children from porn" argument to be a valid one.


 4:56 pm on Apr 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

Exactly, europeforvisitors. When will parents learn that it is not the world's responsibility to look out for their kids, as if they couldn't be bothered with the burden? It is the job of the parents to learn how to feed a kid, raise a kid, watch out for who the kid hangs out with, make sure the kid is getting educated, monitor the kid's movies, music, television, and yes, internet. Parents these days want to plop their kid in front of the TV or computer and then lobby for everything to be dumbed down to a G rating so that they don't have to worry.

If you were going to send your kid away to a summer camp, wouldn't you do a little research to make sure everything is kosher? Likewise, if you are going to set up your kid with the internet, wouldn't you do a little research to make sure they have a safe experience? The internet is not a kid-safe place by default, nor will it ever be. Parents need to take a little responsibility here.


 4:58 pm on Apr 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

I think the issue is that Google has become a utility.

Society has arranged adult content to be hidden within most common utitilties.

A library, a normal bookshop, a billboard, a newspaper or a tv-ad during the day will not make p**n available to children "by default".

Never mind that the 14 year old will find a way of opting out of safe search, the seven year old will most likely not.


 5:14 pm on Apr 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

I posted earlier in this thread about how it was easy to stumble upon porn on google in the past. I've been trying to stumble upon it and really am not finding it easy. They seem to be doing a good job. This is with the moderate filtering (images) on by default.
Also, I think that if a kid is looking for porn on the net it is not Google's job to prevent them from finding it, that would be censorship. I don't think it would be censorship when their searching for 'disney'
Having said that, what to do if there is a popular porn star named disney? So, yes, I guess that would mean the above would be censorship, too. Tough job they have. Better to do nothing.


 7:13 pm on Apr 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

the internet should not police your childern! are you going to shut all adult stores , gambling, liqour & tobacco stores?

you should as a parent instill in them what is right & what is wrong, children are going to FIND anything they set their hearts on, it is your job as a parent to teach them what is right and wrong. ofcourse most children will try what is wrong , but didnt ALL of us try it when we were going up i can remember stealing my brothers playboy magazine out of this closet to see what girls have?

porn and adult material has been around alot longer than the internet, and if you teach children right & wrong & give them a choice to choose between them (instead of hiding everything from them ) then they go wild when they can finally reach the info, the world would be a better place.

and what parent is searching with their children for disney land and comes across a porn site and thinks mini mouse is suppose to be in heels & a bustier! adult sites are clearly marked
as with anything you are responible for the choices you make & also children are responible for the choices they make.

sheila rae


 8:27 pm on Apr 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

>A good majority of the parents surfing out there couldn't even tell you what "preferences" are, let alone turn on SafeSearch via them. The idea that parents should shepard their kids while on the internet is nonworkable in the real world. Most would be lucky to find the on switch on the computer.

And the same could be said for the Average Joe searcher who doesn't want censored search results. Thus the default should be uncensored. Also, I'd have to figure that any parent too clueless to alter Google preferences is also the sort of parent who would be too clueless to install NetNanny type software, or set it up. Thus, kids of these parents will easily land up on porn sites just by random surfing. Unless parents make a conscious, deliberate effort to keep their kids away from porn on the computer, then these kids will easily find it either by intentional choice on their part, or accident.


 10:40 pm on Apr 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

Searching the web for porn is silly and inefficient.

That's what usenet is for. So I have heard. ;)



 10:49 pm on Apr 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

WOW, best tip on WW ever LMAO


 10:59 pm on Apr 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

Adult material is what has paid for the net as you use it today. The pioneering companies of the net were almost entirely adult, paying huge bandwidth bills to bring the material to their clients. A good part of the net's infrastucture in the last 8 or 9 years has been built with adult money.

More importantly, adult terms are heavy searched - and account for a large amount of traffic. IMHO, Excite, go.com and others lost their position in the pecking order when they started to filter results. Surfers will go elsewhere.

Google has proven not to be a stupid company, and certainly not stupid enough to cut off a large part of the search business just to make a few people happy.

Individual parents control what their children do. You wouldn't drop your kids off to play ball in the red light district of your city, why would you let them surf the net (or watch TV) without your input and observation? If your child has an internet connected computer in a private area where you cannot see what they are doing, it is your fault as a parent that they might see adult material, not the producers fault. Playboy didn't sneak into your house and stuff magazines under your son's mattress... It is up to parents to be responsible for their children.

I don't see google tossing away the mantle of the best and most popular search engine to keep some people happy... they are a small minority compared to the number of people surfing for adult material.



 9:05 am on Apr 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

rawAlex I completly agree with you...

btw most of you guys who are for filtering are just too "moral"
I say, if kids want to see porn, why stop them?
just dont let them download dialer software...

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