Google “Censors” Porn in Image Search

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Google “Censors” Porn in Image Search

The mighty promoter of the free Internet for all, freedom of expression and the like, has made a significant change to the way it displays explicit images in its image search. reddit users, and not only them, are in disbelief, and their concerns about censorship attracted immediate media attention. While Google denies intent of censorship, users can no longer find porn easily with Google image search. The ability to turn SafeSearch on and off on Google image search is now replaced with “filter explicit images” and “report offensive images.”

Google image search screenshot.

Google image results for a common sex act are funny and far from porn. But when you “filter explicit images” this particular search will show no results.

Some more innocent queries like “boob” (a term listed in any English dictionary) will not return any results with “filter explicit images” on – a silly thing if you consider the first definition of the term: a stupid awkward person. Only the second definition of the term refers to a woman’s breast. One could argue that Google image search is now broken, if “boob” will not show any results when SafeSearch is active. This is just one of the many examples we could use to make the point.

Although censorship may be too strong of a term for this algorithm change, it is now very hard to find porn using Google, regardless of SafeSearch settings. To address censorship concerns, CNET managed to get a response from the search giant:

We are not censoring any adult content, and want to show users exactly what they are looking for — but we aim not to show sexually-explicit results unless a user is specifically searching for them. We use algorithms to select the most relevant results for a given query. If you’re looking for adult content, you can find it without having to change the default setting — you just may need to be more explicit in your query if your search terms are potentially ambiguous. The image search settings now work the same way as in Web search.

But many users found the response unsatisfactory, debating that the whole purpose of safe search off is to find porn, without having to be too explicit in their queries. When the queries are explicit enough, Google is still not sure of user’s intent, and gives a warning:

google safesearch

For many reporters, Google’s decision to make the search for porn harder is a possible win for Bing and competitor search engines. This would only work if porn was Google image search’s “bread and butter.” But this is not the case. Porn consumers already know where to go to find porn, and they don’t need Google image search for the purpose. Nevertheless, it is still puzzling that Google makes it more difficult for its users to find what they are looking for, when its declared purpose is to “show users exactly what they are looking for.”

Mihaela Lica Butler
Mihaela Lica Butler is senior partner at Pamil Visions PR and editor at Everything PR. She is a widely cited authority on search engine optimization... Read Full Bio
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