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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.


7:08 am on Apr 18, 2003 (gmt 0)

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

Did All the Web have their filter options on the homepage before this thread?
What about something like that where parents who care can lock it on?


11:45 pm on Apr 20, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Hello all,

Do I rememver correctly that someone once mentioned


this seems like a nice idea since parents can atleast circumvery the risk of Kids stumbling upon obviously adult content while still not altering the results from the main google site. Parents could also ban the google.com and selectively allow kids.google.com


1:07 am on Apr 21, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I am about as conservative as most can get legally.

I do not want others, be it Google or "you", decide for me what is adult and what is not.

Brett, if that 6 years old is sitting on momy's lap (6 because I have two of them), and she doesn't have NetNanny SurfPatrol, or just the built in controls turned on, that is HER responsibility, not Google's.

Here is a perfect example some of my web site members had problems with - HR dept was looking for top graduates, and requested resumes in e-mail. They got mostly average graduates. Why? Because the Summa Cum Laude graduates got filtered out. Maybe a bit obtuse example, but fits well with GoogleGuy's Dilbert cartoon, and it is real life experience.

Let's be adults, and take care of our own children, instead of having government or corporations raise them.


11:36 am on Apr 21, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I know the assumption is that people serving adult materials don't care who they serve it to as long as they make a $ off of it, but that's not true. Most don't want the liability issue of accidentally serving porn to minors.

I don't have porn or erotica, but I market to adults. Now, I do have a friend who runs a true porn shop. She uses all the sleazy tricks, the e-mail, the 14 screen exit consoles,etc.

The only thing our sites will ever have in common is we both will have a credit card input between the surfer and the content. Card holders are supposed to be 18. If someone has mom or pops card, then mom or pop broke the rules about loaning out the card or reporting it stolen/ missing. The big difference is where webmasters place that credit card gateway, and yes, far too many are serving ADs BEFORE the gateway that are as undressed as their paid content is. For that, yes, filtering has to be done from the browser or search engine side.

The problem with default filter ON is that a lot of people won't know how to turn it off, but the real creeps will know how no matter how complicated we make it.

Honestly, the biggest scare for sites serving porn is the Adult Pervert with that kid at his elbow. Here is someone with a card, is legally entitled to view anything, capable of unfiltering anything, and probably has access to kids because their parents trust him. Anything society does to protect kids from content still won't deal with the fact that there are truly evil people out there.



12:16 pm on Apr 21, 2003 (gmt 0)

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

Card holders are supposed to be 18.

Not so in the UK, sorry. You can have a Visa at 16 if you have the funds/parents to back it.


1:02 pm on Apr 21, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Tapolyai, I agree with you completely, and I'm a hippy liberal! =P (I also think *real* conservatism has been tossed to the wayside by these neo-con guys, but that's not a debate for webmasterworld!)

There's a quote that fits this debate quite well:

"A world which is perfectly safe for the stupidest imaginable ****** is a damned annoying place in which to live for anyone else."
-Douglas G. Henke

[edited by: NFFC at 1:12 pm (utc) on April 21, 2003]
[edit reason] cleaned up language [/edit]


1:28 pm on Apr 21, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

vincevincevince: In the US, kids who are 10 or 11 can have a visa card (cash card) if backed by their parents.

That doesn't change the fact that the kid cannot enter into the contract itself, and the parents have agreed that the child is responsible enough. That means the child should also be responsible enough not to join a pr0n site.

If the parents are willing to give a child this level of responsibility...



1:34 pm on Apr 21, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member


You make an interesting point, I haven't paid much attn to rules outside of the US, but I'll look into that. I hadn't because I was told only way a minor was able to get a card would be by parental consent or co-sign. If a minor can legally obtain a card without that, that card company has agreed the child is of an age of consent in that country?

Maybe the way around that is to allow only cards with US billing addresses. Thanks for the heads up, I'll investigate further. Always some new kink to work out!



4:15 pm on Apr 21, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

vincevince, so you are saying that 16 year old cannot see porn?
dunno, in my country 16 year olds already have sex, except lamers, that is...


4:20 pm on Apr 21, 2003 (gmt 0)

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

vincevince, so you are saying that 16 year old cannot see porn?
dunno, in my country 16 year olds already have sex, except lamers, that is...

in my country they can get married as well. but the fact remains that using credit card possession does NOT verify the age as over 18. it is a total fallacy put forward by porn sites in order to make life easy for them.


5:15 pm on Apr 21, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

vincevincevince, just a minor correction -
it is a total fallacy put forward by porn sites
The age verification was put forth by the credit card companies initially, and not porn sites.

And if I am correct, it is now legislated, in the U.S., into law (state or federal) to use credit cards as age verification. I could be wrong, but I think this happened around 1997, around the Reno vs. ACLU thingy. I also think it was part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (CDA), but might have been removed because at that time it was too costly or something.

All in all there is no real way to verify someones age through the Internet today at a reasonable cost. It all depends on the truthfulness of the user. If I remember well my teenage years, I would have taken imprints of my parents finger prints if that would have helped me see adult material.

So, leave the filters OFF by default, and let mom & pop deal with their child.


3:27 am on Apr 22, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

If I remember well my teenage years, I would have taken imprints of my parents finger prints if that would have helped me see adult material.

LOL T. Which makes me VERY afraid of the new ATM machines where a thumb-print is used instead of a PIN. Just hack off some rich guys thumb...

Oh wait! I don't have to be afraid, I'm not rich. But I do have a 17 year old son...

~Dian :)


4:42 am on Apr 26, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

The problem with credit card validation is the total loss of privacy and anonymity. Most people don't want to be linked to porn sites, if they can help it. Most people also don't want to be giving out their CC information, and who could blame them? As far as I'm concerned, this is an awful solution.

Oh, and what's up with censoring that word? You WW guys are more zealous and trigger-happy than those TOS guides at AOL.


2:18 pm on May 14, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

In my opinion, the best way to filter results would be to create a standard meta tag that describes each page content. This would filter adult content as well as well as objectionable content to some people or locations.

SERPs would be organizad like that:

1. All pages with matching results and meta tag found sorted by PR (or similar on other SE)

2. All pages with matching results and meta tag not found sorted by PR (or similar on other SE)

As this would be easily spamable, there should be created a easy way to report misleading meta tags.

On the client side, a PC administrator (parents,...) would configure witch categories would be available for witch PS user.

I have nothing against adult content and in my country not many things are considered offensive, but I think this would please both moralistics and webmasters (their industry would not be so consider the EVIL OF THE WORLD)


6:48 pm on Jun 25, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

OK, I'm coming to this late from another thread linking to the same Harvard study.

I just wanted to say that we put far too much emphasis on protecting kids, and give kids far too little credit. We want to keep them stupid as long as possible, as far as I can tell. I don't appreciate that, and didn't as a child either.
My father sat me down when I was about 7 and explained swear words to me. He told me what they all were, what they all meant, and why he personally felt it was dumb to use them except in very specific circumstances. If I have kids, I'm going to do the same with them. I will also do the same with them about porn. It exists, this is what it's about, you might find it, this is what it means, this is why it's all over the Internet, and this is why you probably want to avoid it.
I didn't swear, as a child, until I was in my late teens, because my father's lecture made so much sense. I still think it's a pretty good guideline on using offensive language. It's just common sense.
And I think it would apply to porn as well.

So, my point:
the solution to filtering is to put the responsibility on the parents. When your kids take up a new hobby, sport, activity, pastime, go with them and watch it. They're interested in the Internet? Sit with them and find out at least nominally what it's about. If you hear that there's something disturbing on it, talk to your kids about it.

I don't understand why that's so hard.


9:24 pm on Jun 25, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

First point...the issue with CCs...yes at some point the US government said using a CC was good enough to prove age for the adult sites. That is changing currently and will become quite a storm within the next few months as age verification will no longer be able to be done with CCs (Visa will be the first)

Secondly...DragonLady7...the reason that is so hard is that most parents use TV,video games and the internet as a babysitter...they dont have time to interact with children (theyre too busy) let alone teach them to make good decisions on their own


1:45 am on Jun 25, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Written in a completely different language than we are used to here, high end academia studies G's effectiveness with its Safe Search feature. Put this one aside for a long rainy day of treats! here [cyber.law.harvard.edu]


5:28 pm on Jun 25, 2003 (gmt 0)

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

Thanks pshea, this does look interesting.

After a brief look over the article, it seems to take the view that SafeSearch has a lot of false positives.

Google are absolutely right to play it safe with SafeSearch. It's not on by default, so SafeSearch users are people who particularly want to avoid 'adult' content at that time; and they probably know how to turn it back off when they want to get into adult topics.


5:31 pm on Jun 25, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator bakedjake is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Here's a thread about it:



6:00 pm on Jun 25, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

What I found most interesting was the variety of factors Google uses to exclude things under SafeSearch.
Not just sexually explicit content, but also if they haven't been able to cache the page.
Exactly. It seems almost entirely random to me. I guess they're playing it safe, in that they don't want pages they can't spider showing up, as they have no way of knowing whether their content has changed.
But some of the URLs that showed up there boggled my mind. Why on earth would NASA's space shuttle page be filtered?

But I'm not really sure how I feel about this issue. I mean... I don't have kids, or anyone I need to prevent from seeing the Internet in all its glory and sleaze. If I did, I don't know how I'd feel, letting them go online.
I want to just say "you should watch your damn kids" but I know that's not possible. You can't sit there while they play online for hours.
I'm not sure how my parents would have handled it with me, either. I was 14 or so by the time we got Internet access. I did whatever I liked. I didn't look for porn because it didn't occur to me. And I knew my parents could walk by at any time and see what I was doing.
I think that right there is the rub. Nothing can beat a supervisor of some kind simply walking past the computer. That, not censorship, is the way to go. We can't hold Google responsible for what's on the Internet, and asking them to fudge results is neither correct nor fair. Kids need to learn to look away. You click on something, it's not what you thought it was, you click the back button and go scrub your eyeballs with brillo pads to get the horrifying pictures out of your mind, just like the rest of us. Right?

Of course that'll never happen. I think the approach the author advances, that of pointing out when a site has been omitted, is probably the best. As long as you know your results are filtered, and what's being filtered out of them, you'll sidestep a lot of the issues presented there.
And that also goes a ways towards making users aware that Google is not The Internet. I understand, it's good for their image to appear omniscient and authoritative, but they're not, and that causes a lot of problems (or so a lot of journalists and forum-watchers would have you believe). Simply pointing out that their index does not contain the entire Internet, but rather an impressive portion thereof, might help that...
I certainly understand, however, that the next step, that of emailing everyone excluded from the index or from the SafeSearch index, is asking too much of Google. Out of 4 billion pages (is that the # now?) they cannot possibly spare a human to email the owner of every one that is excluded. It just seems overwhelming.

Oops, back to work for me. Enough pontification about Google.

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