Google Instant, Sponsor Links, and Filtering

Google Instant now anticipates what you are going to search on a letter by letter basis and renders results as you type. This is one of what will be many attempts to help users more quickly find information they are searching for.

I came across an article on Search Engine Land today titled, “At Google Images G is for Girls in Bathrooms” by Danny Sullivan.

Sullivan addresses the issue of suggested content using a forum complaint by a father of a 9 year old, who was helping his daughter with her homework when some not so family friendly suggestions were rendered.

The problem is simple. The web is used by individuals of all ages and not all content is appropriate for all users, but the use of algorithms to make recommendations can’t completely account for what that content is, only what people have been mostly searching when the first letter or sequence of letters is typed.

This is probably a pretty sad commentary on society as a whole that what most people type tends to include more than a fair share of offensive content.

The issue Sullivan address with Google Image is that the suggestions are appearing despite browser settings. The non-logged in, Safe Search Filtering default setting is moderate, you can also select “strict” or “no filter”.

I started on standard search, typed “G” on default setting and got lots of Google products. I added an “I” and got “Girl Games” and other “Girl” based suggestions, but nothing inappropriate.

I switched to Images and repeated the process. I typed “G” and the fifth suggestion was “Girl”. I added the “I” and got a mix, but there was “Girl” as expected, along with “Girls Night Out” in itself not offensive, and “Girls Kissing”, probably starting to lean toward inappropriate, but again the words themself are not an issue no images changed on my screen with the suggestion. When I added the “R” I got no suggestions. When I selected “Girls Kissing”, as expected, it was not material I’d want either of my daughters viewing.

In Google Video, still on moderate, I got my biggest surprise. Turns out “Girls Night Out” is the name of a song and subsequent video by Miley Cyrus. Here is the screen shot:

While I’m not thrilled with the “wildest bachelorette party on the internet” (it is a produced short movie), it is the advertisements that most drew my attention including the first one and the last rendered in the screenshot.

So I tried the search again, this time including Miley Cyrus and got this result (still on moderate settings):

In this instance, the search results filtered, but the top two advertisements were for tequila and a sex toy, not what I’d want marketed to my child.

I then kept the search the same and changed settings from “Moderate” to “Strict” and while the sex toy disappeared from the ad list, the tequila advertisement remained in the top spot.

Obviously, these are baby steps being taken by Google to improve our ability to find information online, but it is also clear that more refinement is needed as we don’t want to make it too easy for children to find what they ought not be looking for or were otherwise unaware of.

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