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Report critical of adult filters

   
3:14 am on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator brett_tabke is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month



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.

4:52 am on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member googleguy is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



I agree, rfgdxm1--that's why it's off by default.

Thanks for the second pair of eyes, jdMorgan. Okay, so that robots.txt says "no spiders." But I see a couple major search engines actually showing crawled content from www.aclin.org? Maybe I was just up too late last night and I'm confused, but if some search engines aren't abiding by robots.txt that would concern me more than SafeSearch.

5:15 am on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator brett_tabke is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month



Mislead by prefs cookies again. I thought you guys switched that a few months back, but it was my preferences cookies that were set.

...I still think it should be on by default.

5:40 am on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member rfgdxm1 is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



>...I still think it should be on by default.

Why? Most people wouldn't want censored results, and many may not know how to override the defaults. And, all people see is a list of SERPs. Really, if "<snip - adult terms>" for a page title is something that doesn't interest someone, nobody is forcing them to click that link.

[edited by: NFFC at 6:10 am (utc) on April 11, 2003]
[edit reason] Trying to keep off the filter ;) [/edit]

5:46 am on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member googleguy is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



I see your point Brett. One thing to consider is that our rankings (because of PageRank and the link structure of the web) often lean more toward information sites. You usually have to look a little more deliberately to find porn on Google.
6:14 am on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member marcia is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



>>Why? Most people wouldn't want censored results

I do. I don't want to see adult sites. And outside of some webmasters I don't know one single person who does - particularly accidentally. If ladies are shopping for items for children with appropriate search terms they are not happy if they accidentally stumble upon fetishes and photographs.

>>In practice, there's lots of reasons that Google might not have the content of the page.

GoogleGuy, even if Google doesn't have the contents of a page, if it's listed in the Google Directory in a clearly adult category - Mature Content- with the category right there on the page with the site's listing, it shouldn't be coming up for that search. It plainly says on the page that you have to be 18 years of age to view it and be open minded.

The judgement was made about the content by human review when it was included by the editor at ODP. That just seems to be a slip-up with the directory. IMO anything that's listed in the Mature Content category should automatically qualify for exclusion if filters are on.

It's been a very, very rare thing to see a slip like that. I just happen to see that one sitting out there all the time when I check the category - and it's been in the cache all along.

6:16 am on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member nffc is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



I suppose in some areas you can't please all the people all the time. If a choice has to made between pleasing Harvard Law School or a Dad surfing with his 5 year old daughter I would strongly recommend siding with Dad!

I would like to see Google err on the side of caution with regards to safe search. I've said it before, misspellings should kick the filter in regardless of preferences.

7:01 am on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member rfgdxm1 is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



>I suppose in some areas you can't please all the people all the time. If a choice has to made between pleasing Harvard Law School or a Dad surfing with his 5 year old daughter I would strongly recommend siding with Dad!

Oh, give me a freaking break. Like dad can't recognize an obvious porn site from looking at the SERPs? Seriously. How many times have you clicked on a link in a SERP with the title "wholesome family entertainment" and landed on a hard core porn site?

8:11 am on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

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The Internet is NOT a playground for children....

You may wish that were so but I have to tell you that every child I know (and I know a few having three of my own) thinks the internet is a great playground. As a result they use it constantly for everything you would expect from homework assignments to sports news, gaming to music, fan clubs to TV schedules etc. etc. In fact they probably make more use of it than their parents.

Of course it is the responsibility of parents, schools etc., to ensure that they do not have access to material that is obviously inappropriate for their age.

At some stage they learn to circumnavigate filtering software and this is probably an indication that they are intellectually old enough to handle the consequences.

In my computing career I have always allowed simple statistics to determine what the default functionality should be. In this case it seems quite obvious to me that the Google default should be 'adult filter on'. In practise of course it doesn't matter most of the time because those providing access to children require something much more sophisticated than a toggle on a website.

8:42 am on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

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I think the filter should be off by default. Why? Not because I want adult sites in the SERPs, but because there will always be a reasonable amount of legitimate (i.e. non-adult sites) which will wrongly be marked as adult site by the algo. The error rate with that is pretty high. So prefiltering by default is a bad idea, IMHO.

I also have to agree with rfgdxm1, in that 99% of the time, you will be able to recognize such a page from the SERPs; and if in doubt DON'T click. ;)

8:51 am on Apr 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member googleguy is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



I'll just slip out the back door now before it gets ugly in here. :) I just wanted to mention the issue with empty pages and explain how that affects the report on SafeSearch. It's good reading, but bear that in mind if you read it.
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