Google.com now 'censors' explicit content from image searches

Summary:Google.com image search now restricts sexual or not-safe-for-work content, thanks to changes in the search engine's SafeSearch settings. However, some are calling it "censorship."

Search giant Google has modified its "SafeSearch" feature, which has removed most pornographic, not-safe-for-work (NSFW) or explicit content from its image search results.

Screen Shot 2012-12-12 at 19.39.17
Google.com no longer dishes up 'NSFW' content. Screenshot: ZDNet

First reported on news-sharing site Reddit, hundreds of users have reacted angrily to the move. The new options only appear to affect Google.com for now, whereas other regional sites -- such as Google.co.uk -- have not yet changed. (My search history is not looking good right now.)

Google search users now have to be a little more specific before receiving goods of an explicit nature. For example, if one were to type in a particular sexual act, Google.com will no longer dish up what one was expecting. If users are more specific in what they are after, then it will return what one expected in the first place.

For instance, searching for "breasts" will retrieve a vast array of clothed results, but a more specific "naked breasts" search term will dish out, well, naked breasts of a more explicit nature. The same goes with pretty much every other explicit term.

The changes to SafeSearch now remove the "on", "moderate" and "off" settings, and instead offer the option to "filter explicit content," which will remove any such content identified as such, regardless of how specific the searches are.

Those with a Google account can also "lock SafeSearch" to prevent children or those at work from accidentally stumbling across a high-resolution picture of naked breasts, for instance.

When Google.com users do search for explicit content, a warning appears, offering users to enable SafeSearch:

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Those searching for 'naughty' content will now be presented with this warning. (We have blurred the image for 'family-friendly' reasons.) Screenshot: ZDNet

However, the changes to Google's search settings came without warning. There has yet to be an announcement by the search giant, or a blog post to reflect the changes. This default setting, however, does appear to be more reminiscent of the "moderate" SafeSearch setting rather than a total overhaul to the system.

But the Internet has already reacted badly to the changes. Users on Reddit are known for their... cander, and they are certainly showing it. 

One user said: "You can take away our privacy, but if you mess with porn, the internet is going to be MAD," while another likened the move to "communism," adding quite simply: "BRING BACK THE PORN." On a more serious note, one user remarked that it left users with, "a choice between censored search results, and completely censored results."

Many can avoid such painful barriers to such explicit content by switching their default search provider to Google.co.uk.

(If you don't want to jump through hoops, you can always 'Bing-it,' which doesn't filter search content -- but does in some cases offer even more explicit search suggestions.) Or, failing that, simply be more specific in your porn-searching habits.

A Google spokesperson told sister site CNET, who first reported the news, that the search giant is "not censoring any adult content," but, "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."

The search giant also noted that the change brings image search results in line with existing settings for Web and video search. The spokesperson added: "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."

Topics: Censorship, Google

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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