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December 13, 2012

New SafeSearch Settings for Google Image Search

Google tried to simplify a feature using some clever algorithms, but made some people unhappy. Google's SafeSearch settings have always been difficult to understand and Google replaced the three options that were available (strict filtering, moderate filtering - default, no filtering) with only two options (filter explicit results, don't filter explicit results - default).

Here are the old filtering options:

- "Strict filtering filters sexually explicit video and images from Google Search result pages, as well as results that might link to explicit content."

- "Moderate filtering excludes sexually explicit video and images from Google Search result pages, but does not filter results that might link to explicit content. This is the default SafeSearch setting."

- "No filtering turns off SafeSearch filtering completely."

The new filtering options are even more difficult to understand. The default option is supposed to disable filtering, but it's actually a combination of "moderate filtering" and "no filtering", depending of the query. For innocent queries like [sherilyn fenn movies] Google switches to moderate filtering since it's not very likely that you're asking for explicit content. If you add some unambiguous keywords like "xxx" to the query, Google actually disables filtering.

Here's how Google describes the new settings: "In the SafeSearch Filtering section, click the checkbox to filter sexually explicit video and images from Google Search result pages, as well as results that might link to explicit content. If you choose to leave it unchecked, we will provide the most relevant results for your query and may serve explicit content when you search for it." So Google may show explicit images, but only if it's obvious that you're searching for it. No algorithm is perfect, so you'll probably find many examples when this doesn't work as intended.

A Google representative told CNet: "We are not censoring any adult content, and 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. 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. The image search settings now work the same way as in Web search."

For now, Google only changed how SafeSearch works for, so the old settings are still available at and other country-specific Google sites.


  1. This new algorithms makes it impossible to search for what I want. If I add xxx to my search term, the results will consist of pictures from sites with this term. That's not what I want, because those sites are often the bad ones with a lot of keywords to lure the searcher.
    I also don't understand why this change is considered to be an improvement as it is more difficult to understand and does not work as expected (from the users side).

  2. "we aim not to show sexually-explicit results unless a user is specifically searching for them"

    This is the definition of censorship. Google applies its own filters to the results.

    Remember stupid user : Google thinks it is better for you not to see any sex. He knows better than you.

    Who knows what else he will filter out in the future.

  3. Searching for "hot girls porn images", and as result is Ben_Roethlisberger‑300x225.jpg?????????????? Good improvments for a gay.

  4. This is pathetic. I want the most relevant images to my search. If a pornographic picture pops up so what? Maybe it is relevant to me. Really bad move and I hope they bring back the option to show ALL results, not just the bowdlerized ones. Using more keywords does not always work, especially if I don't know exactly what I'm looking for.

  5. im not bothered about porn, but i hate the fact that i have to click on every pic to see its information even when i click on the pic the info is water down....stupid, buts that's Google

  6. Saw this story about someone possibly finding the "top half" of Courbet's famous "The Origin of the World".

    Since the article didn't have the bottom picture, or a link to it,I jumped on GIS to do a quick, safesearch off, search for "Courbet".

    Guess which image GIS didn't show. Weirdly, it still pulls up plenty of nudes.

    What is the point of using a search engine that secretly filters out relevant results while purporting not to be?

    If I can't find artists works by searching the artist what is the point?

    If I can't trust the results of my searches what is the point?

    If I have to use another search engine to double check my results what is the point?

    If a search engine requires me to type in a query so specific I am not actually searching for anything what is the point?

    You've managed to do something that none of your competitors have managed to do. You've made yourself less useful.

  7. Its pathetic. I am not searching for porn, but I have to use sexually explicit words to carry on with my search of bio-medics as well. Simply waste of time. I fully agree with Mr. Unknown. Thanks to GOOGLE, You people have made it simpler for BING and complicated for USERS.