Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Naked Google: Bend Over And Kiss It



When I talk to new people about BDSM related topics, one of the first things they usually ask is "how do I find the information I need?" My stock answer is Google it.

Not anymore.

You see, Google has done something really weird. They've decided to censor certain words so that they don't show up as searches. Ostensibly this is to "protect the children" from all those horrible pornographers and other Bad Words found on the interwebs. I don't know what's going on in the minds behind this instant search thing, but I can tell you that I don't like it.

Words that people might search, like "rape" in order to find a rape crises center near to them, are coming up blank. If you're not web savvy enough to actually hit the return key, you won't get any results. This might lead you to believe that there's nothing for you to be found. Those searching for Naked Fish (a restaurant) or this blog, will find nothing.



Just a Big Fat Empty Space



Perhaps when people get used to the new search, things will calm down. I'm not tech-savvy enough to know will happen with it. All I know is that I find Google to be less and less likeable as my favorite search engine these days. But a quick search of another popular search engine, Bing.com yields the same results. Censorship is apparently coming to a computer you use faster than you can type.

I've tried dozens of searches: BDSM, Shibari, and Naked to name a few. None of those searches yielded any results unless you hit the return key. That small thing of remembering to hit the return key, may prevent some people from seeing information that they are looking for. Go ahead, try it yourself as these people did here: Sex In the Public Square Lest you think it's only the "naughty" words that get special treatment, try typing in a search for "jew". If I was looking for information on jews, jewish, or judaism, I'm betting that I won't find it on the first page results. In case you're wondering, every result on the first page of a "jew" search is for the singer Jewel. Who, I'm pretty sure isn't jewish.

Here's what happened when I searched the fairly innocuous term "jew":

An explanation of our search results

If you recently used Google to search for the word “Jew,” you may have seen results that were very disturbing. We assure you that the views expressed by the sites in your results are not in any way endorsed by Google. We’d like to explain why you’re seeing these results when you conduct this search.

A site’s ranking in Google’s search results relies heavily on computer algorithms using thousands of factors to calculate a page’s relevance to a given query. Sometimes subtleties of language cause anomalies to appear that cannot be predicted. A search for “Jew” brings up one such unexpected result.

If you use Google to search for “Judaism,” “Jewish” or “Jewish people,” the results are informative and relevant. So why is a search for “Jew” different? One reason is that the word “Jew” is often used in an anti-Semitic context. Jewish organizations are more likely to use the word “Jewish” when talking about members of their faith. The word has become somewhat charged linguistically, as noted on websites devoted to Jewish topics such as these:

Someone searching for information on Jewish people would be more likely to enter terms like “Judaism,” “Jewish people,” or “Jews” than the single word “Jew” In fact, prior to this incident, the word “Jew” only appeared about once in every 10 million search queries. Now it’s likely that the great majority of searches on Google for “Jew” are by people who have heard about this issue and want to see the results for themselves.

The beliefs and preferences of those who work at Google, as well as the opinions of the general public, do not determine or impact our search results. Individual citizens and public interest groups do periodically urge us to remove particular links or otherwise adjust search results. Although Google reserves the right to address such requests individually, Google views the comprehensiveness of our search results as an extremely important priority. Accordingly, we do not remove a page from our search results simply because its content is unpopular or because we receive complaints concerning it. We will, however, remove pages from our results if we believe the page (or its site) violates our Webmaster Guidelines, if we believe we are required to do so by law, or at the request of the webmaster who is responsible for the page.

We apologize for the upsetting nature of the experience you had using Google and appreciate your taking the time to inform us about it.

Sincerely,
The Google Team

P.S. You may be interested in some additional information the Anti-Defamation League has posted about this issue at http://www.adl.org/rumors/google_search_rumors.asp. In addition, we call your attention to Google’s search results on this topic.



One of my favorite Justices perhaps said it best:

Censorship reflects society's lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime. ~Potter Stewart


Although D/s is about authority/power exchange, I don't want to live in an authoritarian regime. Certainly not inside my computer. I much prefer to freely explore anything online that I want to, without restriction and without somebody dumbing it down for me. I'm pretty confident in myself and can usually be trusted with all kinds of information.

Mr. Google....you've got some 'splaining to do. In the meantime: Press ENTER to search!!

1 comment:

Subwonder said...

Ah, Censorship ... my lifelong enemy.

As a librarian, I have essentially made a career out of protecting Freedom of Speech. But in the past decade, it's become more and more difficult. The Patriot Act made it so library records aren't "safe" anymore, and various other acts have made it so that libraries will be denied funding if they don't offer filtering on their public computers.

The result? Similar to Google. A patron looking to research information on cancer finds her search blocked because of the term "Breast".

I'm sorry to see that Google is doing this. As a librarian who primarily uses Google, I will need to migrate to a different search engine for exactly the same reasons you have addressed in your blog post: I won't be able to find the information I need for the people who need it.

And I get asked LOTS of question, on a variety of topics.

Thanks for addressing this incredibly important topic. I'd put my money on Google reversing their new protocol, but only time will tell!