David Amerland

Google instant’s ‘censored’ list of terms

When you are the world’s most popular search engine, fielding over a billion search queries a day censorship of any kind, however well-intentioned is most likely to land you in hot water. Google Instant is changing the way we use Google search and Google have placed some restrictions on what it can show in order to ‘protect the innocent’.

Basically it has altered the algorithm so that if certain words are input, even if they are immensely popular the results stop appearing for them and you then have to manually click yes, you want to go on and see them. Not much of a restriction in terms of safeguarding anything and you must wonder why it’s there at all if all it takes is a single click to make it go away. For example type in “bisexual” or “lesbian” in the Google search query field and Google Instant stops working.

Google gives two reasons: first, because the suggested results are the direct result of popular searches and because the search terms “bisexual” and “lesbian” may have been followed up by the search term “porn” Google wants to put in place a measure of protection so that those sites do not automatically come up and a search query for what may be honest research purposes turns into a sojourn into the seamier side of the web.

Second, it wants to avoid potential issues which might be raised by minors accessing material which is not suitable.

We know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions and Google’s approach here is bound to raise controversy. First, many researchers use Google Instant to see exactly what’s trending in search. Google Instant does not just look at the entry input and predict what we want. It actually looks into its index of popular searches and sees which are the most popular so that it serves us suggestions based on other users’ query terms. This is what makes it both useful and a tool for checking trends. Now, with this block in place we lost that, without being really protected as all it takes to overcome the safeguard and surf on a thousand porn sites is a click of the Google search button.

Second, Google Safesearch is still on even in Google Instant and it can filter out unseemly sites even after a user has clicked on the Google search button (or hit Enter). So, this does seem as a play with censorship, at least to the eyes of the politically orientated, which is going to create the usual PR nightmare for the Google press people.

If you want to check out the complete list of search terms which deactivate Google Instant point your browser over to 2600 and enjoy.

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