Google No Longer Allows You to Disable SafeSearch, and That Makes Google Search Worse

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UPDATE: Google SafeSearch Changes Hit the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and More

Google has just made their Image search worse in an effort to protect your virgin eyes.

If you’re in the U.S. and trying to search for boobs on Google Images right now, you’re going to have a tougher time. That’s because Google has prevented U.S. users from disabling SafeSearch. And if you want to find NSFW images, you’re going to have to be more specific with your searches.

Google users should be familiar with the SafeSearch toolbar at the top right of Image searches. Until recently, that bar allowed users to select MODERATE, STRICT, or OFF. As of right now, those options have been removed from the drop-down menu – but only in the U.S.

Do you think Google should have messed with the SafeSearch format? Do you think it makes Google Image search worse? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Here’s what it currently looks like:

And here’s what it looks like on Google.co.uk (and other countries). This is what it looked like in the U.S. before today:

Note that “SafeSearch” is the only option for U.S. users. For a search for “boobs” for instance, this means that the results will not feature any “explicit” images (nipples showing). The only other option is the “filter results,” which in our boobs search filters out all results. “The word ‘boobs’ has been filtered from the search because Google SafeSearch is active,” reads the results.

It would appear that the only two options Google is giving U.S. users are STRICT and MODERATE. Or in other words, you can’t turn off SafeSearch.

The default “SafeSearch” results for U.S. users are the exact same results for a MODERATE SafeSearch results for U.K. users:

U.S. default:


If you go to Google’s SafeSearch help page, they tell you how to disable SafeSearch from your settings:

Here’s how to disable SafeSearch:

  • Visit the Google Preferences page.
  • In the “SafeSearch Filtering” section, select Do not filter my search results.
  • Click Save Preferences.

But when U.S. users visit their search settings, they are only given the option to filter explicit results:

But moderate SafeSearch is already on by default.

If you go to another country’s Google, say Google.com.bz, the search settings provide the option to turn on “no filtering.”

So, what gives? Is Google guilty of some seriously awful censorship? The quick answer is no, but it’s a little more complicated than that.

You see, you have to be specific if you want NSFW results. Searching for “boobs porn” does give you plenty of nudity. But for searches on words without specific qualifiers, you still don’t see any of these results. In essence, Google has changed their search settings to only display adult results when queries are specifically adult-oriented.

That means for all intents and purposes, users in the U.S. now only have two options – default SafeSearch and filter explicit results. The default SafeSearch is akin to MODERATE. The option to turn off SafeSearch completely for all results is gone in the U.S. And the big question is why? What was wrong with the old Google image search format (and the one seen in the rest of the world)? Why did Google feel the need to change it?

Let’s look at two different responses we received from Google. First, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller had this to say:

“The default should continue to behave similarly to what most users have had as the default so far (“moderate”). Our algorithms are designed to downgrade explicit content when you’re not specifically looking for it. If a search term is very explicit, relevant adult content may show up, but we’ll err on the conservative side. So if you want to see adult content in Image Search, just make it clear with the query — we’ll show the most relevant content for each search.”

Now from another Google spokesperson:

“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 work the same way as in web search.”

Ok, so the point here is that users need to be specific with their searches. Got it. Apologies for the frankness, but if I want to find blowjob images, I now have to search “blowjob porn.” There is now no way that I can edit my own personal settings to make a search for just “blowjob” yield all results, both NSFW and otherwise.

In essence, Google is fragmenting their image search. A “no filter” search is a true search of the most popular images across the web. U.S. users no longer have this option. We’re now only given the choice between filtered results for “blowjob” or the most popular results for “blowjob porn.” That smattering of all results, both NSFW and SFW for the query “blowjob,” cannot be achieved anymore.

Plus, is there really a question about what I’m looking for when I search “blowjob?” Do I really need to provide any more detail?

It seems like a big gripe about a small change, and it is in a way. But one could make the argument that this actually is a form of censorship. If I go to Google images and search “blowjob,” I want to see the best of what the web has to offer – all of it. Not what Google thinks I should see based on their desire to prevent adult results unless users are super specific.

Go ahead and try a search for “blowjob” on Google Images right now. Those aren’t really very relevant results, are they? Users should see the most relevant results for their searches, no matter what. And they should have the option to simply turn off the SafeSearch filter, which they all had just a couple of days ago.

How about you? Do you think this is a form of censorship? Are we making mountains out of molehills? Could this Image search tweak make you seek out a competitor’s image search? Tired of reading the word “blowjob?” Let us know what you think in the comments.

Google No Longer Allows You to Disable SafeSearch, and That Makes Google Search Worse
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  • Rob B

    Well… guess who’s switching to Bing…

  • BigJ

    Google, this is EXACTLY how you lose your costumers. Sadly, you live off of your pre-established popularity. I guess Bing is the next search engine.

  • a. greige

    check the google forum for lots of vague, evasive non-answers from Google rep “Albert”…


  • Mike M.

    Google has already been lacking in the past few years. This is the final straw. Google has ended its reign in the web browser war. They just handed it over to Bing. I never ever thought I would be switching over to bing or rephrasing search requests to “Just Bing It!” I won’t be coming back. Google, you represent everything wrong with the freedom of the internet. You are the machine we rage against.

  • Mike M.

    I meant search engine not browser…. boo.

  • J

    Wow really Google? Fuck your shit! I am done using you. I am now censored. Don’t give me your bullshit saying I’m not. Choosing to filter nothing and something is one thing but I had the choice. Now I do not. It’s automatically pre censored. Fuck your ass I am removing you from my search browser. I will use Bing or Yahoo. Fuckers. You are useless to me now.

  • David Henderson

    I tried for over an hour last night to fix this and now I see that I can’t. Well I guess I will have to use Yahoo search from now on. Google you have messed up. People will stop using Google search altogether if you keep this up.

  • fuck

    It is now time for bing to get some love.

  • Charles

    Guess I’ll switch to Bing. Google has been sucking hard.

  • Elf Raad

    Great! Now Google is behaving like Facebook. This is the worst case of cowardice in de facto censorship I have seen in a long time. It is especially outrageous that Google sprung this on their users without notification (as far as I know)… I thought I had some kind of malware! (In a way, I guess I’m right.)
    I just watched what I thought was one of the true pioneers of the Internet commit marketplace suicide. Goodbye, Google, it’s been fun. Off to Bing (or some other non-repressive competitor with more smarts) I go!

  • JB

    Off to Bing I go… never thought I would say that. I find Google’s responses to be totally disingenuous. It should be entirely up to us what we do. I certainly don’t need a “net nanny”.

  • http://www.TOONYS.weebly.com 700NY5

    OMG! You saved my life, simply changing from “google.com” to “google.co.uk” solved the problem xD thank you!!

  • outfctrl

    I spent 45 minutes playing with the safe search junk on Google this morning thinking I was missing something or had a virus.

    Thanks for the Google UK advice. I am now back to normal.
    A question:
    Do I get the same results using the UK version vs. the US version?

    • Posi X Mosh

      No. The results for different countries are entirely different for all but the most ubiquitous terms. In fact, the internet as we perceive it is entirely different depending on if you are signed in and your geographical location.
      Isp’s are compounding this (what I see as a…) problem. Through DNS injection and throttling, ISPs have profoundly changed how the lay user experiences the internet. If you are bored one day, use tor, or better, a bespoke VPN that is directed towards open internet and anonymity. Once you are logged in, do a few searches. Then clear your cookies, log out of everything, and do some searches again. Then log back in (still using the VPN… This may take a while and set off some security warnings), and then search again. You will get three separate versions of the internet via search (which is how most folks wander through cyberspace.) It’s fascinating, frustrating, and enlightening all at once seeing how profound the differences in search results is effected by how and where you search.

  • Tony

    I don’t like having my choice taken away. Users who “choose” to remove safe search from their searches are aware of the consequences or what they might see in the results. If I choose to do my searches unfiltered, then I should be allowed that choice.

    I wasted about an hour trying to figure out what was going on.

  • Maku

    Well im completely DONE with google, switching to Firefox and bing.
    FUCK you google

  • Chris

    google your fuckin NAZIS

  • http://www.f_ckgoogle.com Randie Teats

    The job of the f_cking search engine is to show me what’s out there, not to show me what they think I might want to see, or what might be good for me among everything that’s out there, or what my f_cking neighbors might want me to look at because they are indoctrinated by puritanism. When I want to see people with clothes on, then I type “people clothed,” but when I type “people,” I want to see all kinds of people, with and without clothes, because that is what is on the internet today.

  • Foil Hat

    Google becomes more and more irksome, and at this point, I really can’t wait until something better comes along. They make so many “upgrades” without giving the option to go back, and it’s really irksome.

    For instance:
    – Gmail aesthetic and functionality changes
    – Youtube. Every change
    – Signing into google / youtube / everything else, Big Brother style
    – Saving your search history database eternally
    – And this, moderate searches.

    I will leave you as soon as someone better comes along, google!

  • Foil Hat

    PS – Thanks so much for this article! No one else on the internet seems to have covered this, and gmail has failed to update their support pages, or explain this anywhere.

    And yes, it DOES feel like a form of censorship.

  • Foil Hat

    PPS – WebPro News ironically blocks out curse words. Fuck.

  • TM

    So they decide to censor Google instead of focusing on more important issues plaguing our country? Bull. We didn’t ASK for our internet freedom to be tampered with. Google Search is turning many of its once-faithful followers away, including me.

  • Tabitha

    I’m stuck on seriously trying to figure out how any search containing the word “blowjob” could be considered SFW. Really, Google. Some things are pretty unambiguous.

  • Al

    For a while I tried to change the setting, but it was in vain. So I switched to Bing’s images. I didn’t know that Bing images is tidy and fast as I experienced, so I recommend everyone Bing search engine.

  • pissed

    There’s only one way to look at this. Google is the new Microsoft. Absolute power, has absolutley corrupted. Fortunes are made or lost based on minor changes tot heir SEO, face it, your lives are being deeply affected by money-grubbing, power-maddened, justify-my-job meddlers. They love coming to work every day because they get to manipulate you, a terribly human tendency, and they believe you are too stupid to avoid them. Soon it will be impossible. They know this. For the first time in my life I am glad that Microsoft is there, to reduce the effect. Google badly needs to be broken up.

  • KB

    There’s only one way to look at this. Google is the new Microsoft. Absolute power has absolutely corrupted. Fortunes are made or lost based on minor changes to their SEO algorithms, face it, your lives are being deeply affected by money-grubbing, power-maddened, justify-my-job meddlers. They love coming to work every day because they get to manipulate you, a terribly human tendency, and they believe you are too stupid to avoid them. Soon it will be impossible. They know this. For the first time in my life I am glad that Microsoft is there, to reduce the effect. Google badly needs to be broken up.

  • urmomsmilkman

    I’m done with google as well, they now kowtow to our goobermint for everything, now they are censoring everything and changing looks to the point that nothing is enjoyable with google anymore.

  • Michael Montoya

    I am both sad and pissed. I loved the old Google search. LOVED it. In my opinion it was perfect. my computer signed in search results were uncensored. My wife’s were moderate and my son’s strict. Now it is harder to search by say color, size, type, etc. I keep my settings the way they are because it gives me the most flexibility with my searches. I hardly think porn will creep up in “Vector Blue Abstract Patterns” but if they do I knew the risk when I selected “unfiltered.” New algorythm or not, I prefered the ability to choose unsencored results. so on the fly i could search for models in bikinis, to vectorized labels then css color tables with codes and back to woman’s nude back without having to click options, or advanced search options. I loved the on the fly adjustments I could make including changing safe search on the fly to weed out the porn I didn’t need. I liked that it was my choice and google delivered the content. I miss choice. I feel like I went into a mall and only certain stores were open because they didn’t feel like I had enough sense to not take my child into spencers, or victoria secret. Botom line, I am not a child but I feel google doesn’t care that I am not.

  • http://tofudi.com arya

    I don’t like to use google anymore. I prefer to bing xd

  • knysna

    LOL. So much for the “ government takeover of the Internet” venture Google’s against. Meaning, controlling the net!!

    Haha. Hey Matt, every ones saying fu%ck you. And I say, I don’t particularly mind blow jobs and boobs (if you know what I mean?)

    And then Josh Wolford says

    “Why did Google feel the need to change it?”

    And I say

    Surmise it to say, its not very surprising. The porn industry does at the end of the day rule above all others. Specifically when it comes to Google generating bucks from adds.

    You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure that one out.

    Hey Matt Cutts, my Panda janitor friend. What’s up Doc? Your wife is going to be baking a lot of cookies for all the Google employees. Considering you offer them out for free and have already earned the nickname “porn cookie guy”!

    I think you need to pull out some of your Panda janitor cleaning implements, and needless to say, start cleaning the dirty filthy net instead of promoting BLOW JOBS and BOOBS. If you know what I mean??????

  • knysna

    No Matt Cutts! How can you do this to your poor wife? Its totally unexpectable making your wife slave in the kitchen baking cookies for BOOBS and JOW JOBS!

    No man. Your wives going to file for a divorce. I suggest you get a good lawyer.

    Slavery in all countries is inhuman and not accepted.

    You were the big mouth offering all Google employees that came across porn, free cookies!

    You not only going to loose your wife due to slavery, but you will indeed be the main contributor to Google obesity. Meaning, all Google employees will now wobble around the Google centre like beached whales from eating to many of your wives blow job, porn cookies!!

    You should be ashamed of yourself, considering you are head of the Webspam Team and SAFE SEARCH “porn cookie guy”

  • Chris 54

    A simple fix – just go bookmark www.google.co.uk and do your search.

    Guess what. Google can do what they want. If you want to build a better search engine, go right ahead (Microsoft keeps trying, but so far, Bing is not even close).

    There are lots of things that I do not like (web enabled phones, 3D-TV, Mp3’s, McRib sandwiches, and shopping online for starts) but the world does not revolve around me.

  • http://www.bloketoys.co.uk BlokeToys

    I actually think this is good news, because Google is only turning people towards their competition, and that’s a great thing! It’s almost as if a someone from Bing managed to sneak themselves within, and then convinced them that this was a good idea lol

    Anything which reduces the use, and dominance, of this gigantic corporation is a very good thing indeed.

    As others have said, and I have said countless times, monopolies should be broken up or destroyed. Google has maintained a monopoly on the search business for far too long, and their power has gone to their heads.

    No single corporation should have the power to be able to wipe out entire industries with the click of a button, and that’s what Google can now do.

    Forget terrorism, forget a banker losing a billion, Google is capable of destroying the livelihoods of millions of people around the world.

    In any other industry or business this would not be permitted. But Google has been allowed to become the guardian of information, the controller of industry, the mouthpiece of news (real or not), the peddler of illegal content… all through public pandering and government ignorance.

    It’s about time people woke up to this danger and stopped supporting this.

    • http://www.floridacleaningconcepts.com Bravery

      Good point and well said. Competition helps develop new/better ideas, products, and services.

  • Man with clearly dig bick

    Oh no, as a manly man, I now need to enter clear search terms when looking for my images of women engaging in fellatio. It’s so hard for me to enter a few extra words to yield the same responses.

    Instead of making an effort, I’ll rattle off vague notions of US-centric “rights” justifying my decision to fail to alter my slovenly behaviour.

    Then I’ll become part of a 1% of 1% that switches to a competitor so I don’t have to enter extra words, *parrot off more rights that I supposedly have*

    *end by claiming Google is too popular and this is a form of government censorship*

  • http://wizzerdwerks.com Greg Hicks

    Just one more confirmation that Google has become the most useless search engine the web has to offer. I switched to Bing when Google shopping went to paid inclusion only. I want honest results. Not what Google thinks I need or who paid the most for the ranking. Who the hell do they think they are denying me honest search results anyway.

  • http://easyonlineclassifieds.com John Hogan

    Google indexes small mom and pop shops, as well as listings in Business directorys (like the yellow pages/Manta/Linkedin) while Bing – Not so much.

    I suppose if you are looking for a Boob, you would use Bing for easier results (which is likely to change at Bing too) while if you are looking for something else (small, large sites/businesses) you would do much better using Google.

    Google is also much better with handling the Mobile Web (can you Say Android) than bing by a long shot.

  • David

    Google is and has continued to become a dumbing down of society and now injecting morality into their search? (morality – by selecting just porn and not all searches) No more auto-suggest for porn? No Google Instant for “porn”. The money grab now in PPC is amazing they have any customer left. They are free to charge whatever they want for their product but sheltering over $10billion in off shore accounts along with intentionally manipulating search results not just for users but SEO/Webmasters shows they are more worried now about share holders than their original service claim. Yes, they have turned political, “for massive profit” organization and buy out companies and brand them as their own like some other company we all know and hated for a decade, like Urchin, and have even turned this into dribble-like stats package. No, no beef from me on making a user actually type in the search engines exactly what you want without guidance, “boob” did you mean this or that political leader” being showed in my face or results that are different if I am or am not logged in! Taken to serps based on my first letter or autofill and auto-correct spelling. No beef taking search back to 2005 levels where a user had to actual thinking about long-tail terms, associated terms, use outside tools to see trends and popularity, not chewed for me and placed in a golden users paid bowl to slurp up without questions. I use Google like a cops use a hooker (no, not fishing gear thank you) if I want the general dirty results knowing I will have to determine if this info to be right, accurate, what I really asked for or was handed over due to some coder thinking this is close….. I use Google, now. 83,000,000 results, yeah, I believe that one too!

  • Apres Ski

    This is an opening for another Search Engine to pick up this slack.

  • http://streemit.net Daniel Mahoney

    Once again Google makes unneeded and unwanted changes. I still use them as my search engine, but if they continue to screw with things for no good reason I’m going to have to think about going elsewhere.

    Come on Google – quit “fixing” stuff that doesn’t need to be fixed.

  • http://Www.directcaravans.co.uk New static caravans

    In the UK Google already has problems. There is a campaign regarding their lack of Corporation Tax liability. We have seen a drop in traffic from them and an increase in Bing and Yahoo. This adds to their global problems. Maybe they have become too big now and moved too far away from what we used to love about them.

  • John

    Please someone come up with something else….Google, Bing and Yahoo are all total crap.

  • Rob

    Another corporate move that is very bad for the general public. Well Google looks like this about end of the road for you as a corporation. Your going to learn what AOL did a long time ago the hard way. Then you will never be the same afterwards because your reputation will go to the dogs.

  • Bestbuycafe.com

    I think it’s great at least the parents have one less thing to worry about on the internet! Thanks google


  • Janet

    Not a bad feature where children are involved. They can’t be supervised 24/7, and all indications are that children and teens become sexually active earlier when exposed to porn. If they search on porn, obviously this won’t help, but when they get home from school, wondering about a new word they heard, a little bit of info is better than suddenly entering a gateway of everything. It’s a trade-off I’m willing to accept.

  • John

    It really should be up to the individual, as it has always been , to choose how they want the search engine set up operate.

    This is a form of censorship.
    Our indiviual freedom of choice is stripped from us while others still retain theirs.

    If you’re going to do it to us, then do it for everyone as a whole.
    If they still have their choice, then we must have ours too.

  • http://twitter.com/leslie Leslie Poston

    I tied searching for a favorite site and – had I not already bookmarked it – it did not come up on the first few tries. This site: http://bookshelfporn.com/

    SafeSearch and Moderate Safe Search has always been set to off for me because they don’t just filter out porn. Also – why do companies in the US want to be my nanny?? Porn is only taboo if we make it that way. This is bad news from Google, and it takes after Steve Jobs’ anti porn crusade on his devices. No bueno.

  • http://www.marketingarticlesdaily.com Raymond

    Good news in a way, just the next dumb move by Google which drives more traffic to Bing. In Bing the safe search disable is right at the top of the screen in plain sight. Bing! Plus it is easier to rank a website there anyway. I think Bing is going to keep growing the more Google does things like this.

  • chris

    a while back in Ireland they introduced the criminal assets bureau designed to take ill gotten gains from criminals, within a short period of time they were using the the powers of the cab against regular citizens.

    so anyone who thinks this move by google is good should think again, all it is is censorship which is google using its power to decide what content on the web should be available to end users.

    it is up to parents to police their children’s web browsing habits not look for google to do it for them.

    who knows perhaps there will be a day when all that shows up on google for any given search will be results that enrich google in some way or other.

  • Anthony

    The big issue is why pick on only U. S. users? In a country that boasts about personal freedom it’s ironic that we now are less free that the rest of the world because Google feels we “can’t handle the truth!”, but everybody else can. Who the f#*k do they think we are?

  • Yo

    “Apologies for the frankness, but if I want to find blowjob images, I now have to search “blowjob porn.””

    Censorship is inside of us, WASPs, — Google just makes it all too apparent.

  • http://googleisbigbrother.com Brill

    try the bing image or video search. you’ll be glad you did.

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