Join 3,553 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Google Blacklist
September 27, 2010 9:20 PM   Subscribe

Google recently rolled out its new instant search feature which accompanies its older "suggest" function. Both use an algorithm in an attempt to keep the search engine clean and out of trouble. The people at 2600.com are compiling a list of both objectionable and NOT objectionable terms (NSFW).

"Google Instant is the latest incarnation of the search engine that fills in potential responses as you type them into the Google search bar. Some people think this is great while others feel like Google is reading their minds and are freaked out by it. We believe it's fun for at least one reason.

Like everything these days, great care must be taken to ensure that as few people as possible are offended by anything. Google Instant is no exception. Somewhere within Google there exists a master list of "bad words" and evil concepts that Google Instant is programmed to not act upon, lest someone see something offensive in the instant results... even if that's exactly what they typed into the search bar. We call it Google Blacklist.

Give it a try. Go to the Google home page. Type in "puppy" and see the many results that fill your screen. Now type "bitch" and admire the blank screen. In this case, the two words could mean the exact same thing. But Google Instant is erring on the side of caution, protecting the searcher from seeing something they may not want to see.

Obviously, all you have to do is hit return to get the results like you always could. However, even when your request isn't blacklisted, you're not getting the SAME results that you would get by hitting return. Entering "murder" into the search bar gets you suggestions of mostly band names. It's only after you hit return that you can learn the other sinister meaning of the word. What we have here is a demonstration of how content can be filtered, controlled, and ultimately suppressed. It is indeed a good thing that Google isn't evil."
posted by gman (53 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
To clarify, the "NSFW" link has no images, but is full of naughty words.
posted by shii at 9:24 PM on September 27, 2010


The world's goatsellers breathe a collective sigh of relieve.
posted by ryanrs at 9:25 PM on September 27, 2010 [18 favorites]


I've been hearing about this for weeks. But apparently they haven't rolled it out to google.com.au yet.
posted by Jimbob at 9:28 PM on September 27, 2010


"Marijuana"? Seriously? While Proposition 19 is up 7 points in the polls?

Fuck you, Google.
posted by vorfeed at 9:29 PM on September 27, 2010 [11 favorites]


Fuck you, Google.

My thoughts exactly.
posted by marxchivist at 9:31 PM on September 27, 2010


smells like teEn spirit

What the heck?
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:31 PM on September 27, 2010


vorfeed: "Fuck you, Google."

You're being very undude.
posted by dhammond at 9:31 PM on September 27, 2010


I'd guess they're using the same word blacklist they maintain for use with SafeSearch, which is on by default when you use the plain vanilla Google search box and results page.

I find it hard to be terribly perturbed by this, really.
posted by killdevil at 9:33 PM on September 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


smells like teEn spirit
What the heck?


To be fair, I'd have put "hotel cAlifornia" in there. It's not like the Motel 6 in Anaheim needs any help, anyway.
posted by vorfeed at 9:33 PM on September 27, 2010


Jimbob: "I've been hearing about this for weeks. But apparently they haven't rolled it out to google.com.au yet."

You probably already know this, but you can try it out by going to the "Go to Google.com" link on the bottom right of google.com.au.
posted by gman at 9:35 PM on September 27, 2010


Is this where I get to complain about google trying to finish my thoughts for me before I've even fully enunciated them, because then I'd do that... right here.
posted by thusspakeparanoia at 9:43 PM on September 27, 2010


Well, naturally. It would be a rather distracting feature otherwise, don't you think.

I've long understood that my search for "New Pornographers Tour Dates" won't be auto-completed. I suppose they could make it an option for people who really want to be faced with the disgusting underbelly of humanity each time they do a Google search, but that's not something I would ever enable in sound mind.

There will always be someone who is upset because some particular word is filtered from auto-complete. Sit there in your computer chair and be upset, then.
posted by i_have_a_computer at 9:48 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


killdevil: "I'd guess they're using the same word blacklist they maintain for use with SafeSearch, which is on by default when you use the plain vanilla Google search box and results page.

I find it hard to be terribly perturbed by this, really.
"

Except that my SafeSearch is completely off, yet I get the same "instant" results, or lack thereof.
posted by gman at 9:48 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


You can sort of get a feel for it by seeing how many letters you can type before the suggestions dry up: "marij_". It takes even less chance with "2gi_".

Still a few cracks in it, though. Give it a slight variation and the software insists on being helpful: "marihuana", "1cup2girls". Very helpful, those two suggestions.

This tells me the software is not automatic. There's some poor bastard out there whose job it is to type naughty into a database.

(Psst. Dude, how could you forget tub girl?)
posted by ryanrs at 9:55 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


you can try it out by going to the "Go to Google.com" link on the bottom right of google.com.au.

It's actually in the top left, from where we sit.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:01 PM on September 27, 2010 [25 favorites]


Found of couple of weird decisions/oversights:

-coprophagia and its variations are okay, but coprophilia isn't
-pedophagy shows results for pexophagy, but pedophagy appears in the drop-down list (pedophagia isn't allowed)
posted by clorox at 10:24 PM on September 27, 2010


I try not to be angry that both "bisexual" and "lesbian" are on the list while homosexual and gay get a pass. But for some reason, it really really annoys me.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:29 PM on September 27, 2010 [7 favorites]


Once again, I love the folks at 2600. If you've never checked out your 2600 local, and you are even remotely interested in computers or networking or other things you can hack, you are missing something.
posted by strixus at 10:38 PM on September 27, 2010


Luckily, masterBate cuts out the illiterate wankers.
posted by klangklangston at 10:59 PM on September 27, 2010


That's funny - 'frottage' blacklists on the second 't' and then kicks in again with the 'a'.
posted by unliteral at 11:52 PM on September 27, 2010


Which suggests that it's actually blacklisting some other word that starts with frott-. Trying a number of other letters, maybe frottege is the nono?
posted by hattifattener at 12:38 AM on September 28, 2010


Speaking of weird, why does it take longer for it to decide to blacklist "blonde action" or "redhead action" than "brunette action"? Are brunettes more prurient?
posted by hattifattener at 12:49 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


smells like teEn spirit
What the heck?


Huh. That's interesting. I'd noticed in the past that Google always suggests "Smells like team spirit." Strange that it's something they block, I just always assumed that many people were that stupid.
posted by yellowbinder at 1:18 AM on September 28, 2010


What we have here is a demonstration of how content can be filtered, controlled, and ultimately suppressed.

No. What we have here is a demonstration of how content is filtered and momentarily 'suppressed' (although that's an entirely disingenuous use of the word) until you hit the return key.

Were Google Instant the only way you could search, yeah I'd share the outrage, but Google Instant isn't a search method, it's a novelty.
posted by incessant at 3:04 AM on September 28, 2010


smells like teEn spirit

How bizarre: "smells like te" gets suggestions of the wrong title; "smells like tee" gets nothing; "smells like tea" gets me a link to the correct title, on a lyrics site; as well as a list of suggestions for the wrong title.
posted by Infinite Jest at 3:11 AM on September 28, 2010


I'd noticed in the past that Google always suggests "Smells like team spirit."

Which is ironic, because that has to be the title of a gay porno.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 3:34 AM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


This really doesn't seem to be presented as something to be outraged about, it's just amusing to see the ways in which nannying and automation untersect. Strange that many posters here automatically assume something is provided for their outraging pleasure.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:31 AM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


In case you were ever considering putting ads on your porn site, a buddy of mine who works for Yahoo in Australia once sent me a list of content they don't allow:
“Unacceptable Content” means any content promoting, having links to, depicting, simulating or providing how-to materials about the following: asphyxiophilia (e.g., breath play, erotic strangulation, scarfing); bestiality; bukkake (including but not limited to gangbang facials and group cumshots); incest; necrophilia; pedophilia; prostitution; escort services; rape; non-consensual sex; sex travel; sex tourism; torture; severe infliction of pain (including, but not limited to, fisting, foot insertion, gynecology fetishes, large object insertion, stretching, whipping, trampling, punishment and adult domains that contain the words “extreme” or “shocking); content containing the following words or phrases in an explicit adult context: "young teen," "teen boy," "young boy," "boy," "teen girl," "young girl," "girl," "Lolita;" torture; acts of humiliation (including but not limited to coprophilia, fecophilia, coprophagia, urolagnia, domination + modifier, submission, domiina, punishment and urophilia)
posted by gman at 4:33 AM on September 28, 2010


smells like teEn spirit

I thought maybe they were shielding us from that naked swimming baby on the cover — but "nevermind" doesn't blacklist at all, and the naked baby pops right up at the top of the results list. Oh well.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:55 AM on September 28, 2010


Hmm. On further investigation, "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" and "Teen Titans" also blacklist. Looks like it's just the "T" word.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:58 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


It appears as though AdAge writer Irina Slutsky has been erased from instant google entirely.
posted by orville sash at 5:18 AM on September 28, 2010


Google Suggest, security theater...how much time, expense, and energy is expended protecting morons from nothing but the crap in their own heads.
posted by umberto at 5:31 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think this is evil, but it IS notable and much, much more than a novelty. When you get used to any sort of auto-complete it quickly becomes something you rely on, and I am certain that it affects the actual thinking process. So, if it is on, shouldn't it be unfettered? But, although I don't know the numbers I do know that prurient stuff is a large part of what people are looking for on the web, so really, shouldn't Google be assuming you mean, "smells like teen asshole party"?

I don't know a better way to combat this than a blacklist. They should let you opt out of the blacklist, but not having my 8 year old neighbor or 80 year old grampa see what the great unwashed are looking for when they start to type "blow up" or "goatseller" is not nec a bad thing.

And the thought structuring works both ways. I remember in the old days watching the Alta Vista "what other people are searching for" ticker with the specific goal of finding dirty pictures - other people knew better search terms.

Finally, on the very periphery of the subject, I was laughing while NOT making a google search at work a while back. My search was "sex link pictures". Fired, right? Well, for wasting time, sure, but Sex Link is the name of the breed of some of our chickens. Go ahead, google it.
posted by dirtdirt at 5:35 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


vorfeed: "Fuck you, Google."

Just so we're all on the same page: to search for whatever blacklisted words you like, all you have to do is press the Enter key. Which is exactly what you had to do a month ago when this didn't exist.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 5:44 AM on September 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


I find that the enter key is such an automatic part of my Google experience that I'm still hitting it even when there's no difference between the instant results and what comes up normally. I wonder how long it will take before I've trained myself out of hitting enter -- if ever.
posted by Jugwine at 6:09 AM on September 28, 2010


-coprophagia and its variations are okay, but coprophilia isn't

Because while Google may eat shit, it doesn't have to like it.
posted by Splunge at 6:13 AM on September 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


But, although I don't know the numbers I do know that prurient stuff is a large part of what people are looking for on the web, so really, shouldn't Google be assuming you mean, "smells like teen asshole party"?

I don't know a better way to combat this than a blacklist.


The thing is, the blacklist seems really spotty and ad-hoc. (I mean, "brown showers" is included, but "brown shower" isn't?) And Google's already got a pretty robust technology for letting people avoid stumbling into unpleasant stuff: SafeSearch. What I don't understand is why they don't just run all the Instant searches with strict SafeSearch on, and do autocomplete based on the subcorpus of pages that SafeSearch "likes." I'm not offended by the blacklist, but I am amused, because it seems like a halfassed hack and Google's got the resources to do this in a less-halfassed way.

If you search for "brown shower" with strict SafeSearch, you get brown shower curtains. Yay it works. Amusingly, if you search for "golden shower," you get senna fistula — which despite the horribly unfortunate name is a very pretty, totally SFW tropical plant.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:41 AM on September 28, 2010


Lesbian is a dirty word? Thanks, Google.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:58 AM on September 28, 2010


Just so we're all on the same page: to search for whatever blacklisted words you like, all you have to do is press the Enter key. Which is exactly what you had to do a month ago when this didn't exist.

Baby steps. Autosuggest is a way to nudge people in one direction or another, and Google believes (perhaps accurately) that its users want to be guided or even led. From CEO Eric Schmidt: "We can suggest what you should do next, what you care about .... We know where you are, we know the things that you like...Ultimately, we think we can understand things like what you really meant…. what is the problem you’re really trying to solve?"

Autosuggest means that you don't even have to manipulate search results in order to guide people to a conclusion. If you guide them to use particular search terms, they'll see the results you want while maintaining the illusion of user control and autonomy. Sure, there will be individuals that turn off suggest or instant search, but this is about the aggregate, which is something Google understands extremely well.

Right now this it's being used for mostly banal, mostly harmless purposes. But it could very easily and very subtly be modified for evil ends. Here are a couple of examples:

Google could sell manipulations of the instant search as a form of advertising, so that if you start typing "dish soap" it will autocomplete with Brand X instead of Brand Y. Or one step further: it could use you search history, GMail, etc to more effectively target such manipulations.

Imagine the same thing, but for a political campaign. "2012 presidential campaign" autocompletes with Gingrich instead of Obama. Or "Proposition 19" autocompletes with "vote no."

All it would take would be a few subtle tweaks in just the right places for it to be extremely lucrative to advertisers. And remember that advertisers are Google's real customers, accounting for over 96% of its revenue.
posted by jedicus at 6:58 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Typing "horses" into YouTube, and looking at the *FIRST* autocompleted result offers a horrifying glimpse into human nature.
posted by schmod at 7:04 AM on September 28, 2010


I like that "doing it" shows up further down the list, though. Confirms my prejudices about the average mental age of heavy YouTube users.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:24 AM on September 28, 2010


Baby steps. Autosuggest is a way to nudge people in one direction or another, and Google believes (perhaps accurately) that its users want to be guided or even led.

Sheeple. Lemmings.
posted by anniecat at 7:45 AM on September 28, 2010


Typing "horses" into YouTube, and looking at the *FIRST* autocompleted result offers a horrifying glimpse into human nature.

Mine goes "hotmail"->"horoscopes"->"horses for sale". Which is sort of a horrifying glimpse into human nature, in a we-enslaved-the-Cylons kind of way, but I'm guessing it's not what you saw...
posted by vorfeed at 8:47 AM on September 28, 2010


Google could sell manipulations of the instant search as a form of advertising, so that if you start typing "dish soap" it will autocomplete with Brand X instead of Brand Y. Or one step further: it could use you search history, GMail, etc to more effectively target such manipulations.

Uh, your future is already here, considering they already sell manipulations of regular search but are nice enough to tag it as advertising in that dim yellow box. Oh, and gmail? Yeah, they've got targeted ads there too.

Conspiracy theories are conspiratorial!
posted by incessant at 9:00 AM on September 28, 2010


Google's porn classifying technology is way more complicated than a blacklist of dirty words. I've got no specific knowledge of how Instant's filter works, but I'd be very surprised if it wasn't based more on the content of the search result pages than the content of the search term itself.

I wouldn't mind a "no, I'm an adult" option that didn't have any filter. But you can see why Google would prefer not to surprise their users with sexually explicit results when they're searching for "cunning" or "analysis". It's not some secret mind control experiment, Google's just trying to satisfy all their users with a very simple interface.
posted by Nelson at 9:10 AM on September 28, 2010


The main thing this list made me want to do is google certain phrases that I have no clue what they mean... but I'm going to refrain from doing that protect my eyes and what-not.
posted by biochemist at 10:08 AM on September 28, 2010


jedicus: "Google could sell manipulations of the instant search as a form of advertising, so that if you start typing "dish soap" it will autocomplete with Brand X instead of Brand Y. Or one step further: it could use you search history, GMail, etc to more effectively target such manipulations."

And when they do, it'll take all of five seconds to switch to Bing. Until then, it's silly to call a company evil for making up a technology that could possibly, at some point in the future, maybe be used to push advertising (in a way, appropos of nothing, that would compromise the entire brand).
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:11 AM on September 28, 2010


This is fine, except for the third of the following SafeSearch options, which actually means "Filter my search results extensively". posted by doublehappy at 12:47 PM on September 28, 2010


This reads like a list of passwords I've used over the years.
posted by mazola at 1:51 PM on September 28, 2010


It's relatively harmless if you know what you're searching for. It just won't *feed* you the nonos.

Lesbian is a dirty word? Thanks, Google.
Agreed ... but if you type in "dike" the 4th choice is "dykes-on-bikes" ... now I'm wondering if the programmer is a high-school volunteer ...
posted by Twang at 5:15 PM on September 28, 2010


...or somebody who thinks the link is about cycling tours of Holland.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:20 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I liked this article that points towards a reason why insta-google exists.

I turned it off nearly immediately.

I'm half considering a FPP about a combination of this, and the recent Google/Facebook press releases about 'serendipitous' search
posted by codacorolla at 2:23 PM on September 30, 2010


Surprising Google Instant blacklist word: "amateur". It completely stopped the search process, even though it was preceded by "Thames" and followed by "archaeologist".

And when I clicked the search button, there was not one NSFW link on the page.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 1:28 PM on October 9, 2010


« Older The Good Men Project:...  |  The Angry Monk... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments