Google SafeSearch Changes Hit the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and More [CONFIRMED]

    January 29, 2013
    Josh Wolford
    Comments are off for this post.

It’s official: Google’s fragmented, less-useful Image search has spread from the U.S. and is now affecting English-speaking countries all over the world.

Google has confirmed that the previous SafeSearch changes that made it impossible for U.S. users to fully disable SafeSearch have been launched in English-speaking countries internationally.

Although, it’s unlikely that Google would describe the changes in that fashion.

What do you think of Google’s changes to SafeSearch? Do you want to be able to fully disable SafeSearch? Does it really matter to you? Let us know.

Back in December, we told you that Google had made a change to its SafeSearch feature in the U.S. that made it impossible for users to entirely disable SafeSearch when searching for Images on the site.

Long story short, Google has prevented users from disabling SafeSearch altogether in Image search. It’s important to note that this is different from Google censoring NSFW content. That’s all still there, in fact, it’s just that users must now be very specific in their queries in order to access it.

For example, a Google Image search for “boobs” will now yield SFW results, by default. In order to find NSFW results for that query, you must now add a modifier – let’s say “boobs porn” or “boobs nude” for instance.

Users used to be able to turn SafeSearch off, completely. There is a little box at the top right of SafeSearch that used to allow users to pick their level of SafeSearch: “STRICT,” “MODERATE,” and “OFF” completely. But now, Google only allows users to filter all explicit results.

What’s more, Google users are no longer given the option to turn off all types of SafeSearch filtering within the Search Settings.

If all of this sounds a little confusing – that’s because it is. Google has fragmented their Image search in an attempt to keep NSFW materials from popping up without a specifically explicit search.

But here’s the gist of it, in plain English: A search for ‘boobs” in the U.S. (and other English-speaking countries) now yields SFW results, as Google Image Search is now defaulted to “MODERATE” level. Users are not allowed to fully turn off SafeSearch. In order to see those NSFW results, users have to be more specific with their searches.

Here are your SafeSearch options for Google.co.uk, Google Australia, Google South Africa, and Google New Zealand, etc.:

And here are the options in Germany:

Notice the difference? We’ve tested this for other non-English-speaking countries like France and the Netherlands and have seen the same results that we have for Germany. It appears that, at least for the time being, non English-speaking countries have not been affected by the changes.

“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,” Google told me back in December when we first reported on the changes to SafeSearch.

Still, Google has fragmented Image search and ultimately made it worse. Here’s what I said in regards to that last month:

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.

Google’s SafeSearch support page gives us steps for disabling SafeSearch, but it really only tells us how to turn off SafeSearch Filtering. That still leaves us with a “MODERATE” level SafeSearch and no true way to see all web results, both NSFW and SFW at once.

Do you think this makes Google Image search worse? Are results less relevant now that Google is automatically filtering out potential NSFW images? Or are we making a mountain out of a molehill? Let us know in the comments.

[Image via CharlesFred, Flickr]
  • tom g

    I think they did that bc they dont allow their ads on offensive sites and to turn it off would give results without any of googles ads(ense) on the sites. So to get some ads they show some non offensive results.

  • http://WebProNews Tony

    HI Josh, now here also in Malaysia – from one minute to the next – gone, no choice. Jan 28th.

  • nmwa

    its disgusting what google is doing. going to bing.

  • Garrett M

    First and foremost I don’t think that we are making a mountain hole out of a molehill. I think it’s a great thing to be critical of and to ask questions to authoritative sources.

    However, I don’t think this is making Google image search any less relevant to our potential naughty searches.

    As you pointed out in your post the search query “blowjob” doesn’t yield pornographic results anymore and to be honest I do feel a bit of dissonance. But, let’s just think about this long and hard… Ok ok, all puns aside; I can understand how you may expect Google to show porn however when it’s searched however, I feel I must side with Google on just how vague phrases like “blowjob” really are.

    An image search for the phrase “blowjob” could just as be equally referring to a still of Andy Warhol’s movie “Blowjob”, or a “Blowjob” technique that features a phallic shaped object for demonstration instead of a penis, A humorous “blowjob” shirt, or some other phrase that’s related to blowjob but not necessarily related to heterosexual women-on-man fellatio. Were you looking for homosexual blowjobs or heterosexual blowjobs? In fact, a few female friends use the slang term “blowjob” to refer to cunnilingus.

    As for your example of “boobs”, I just have to ask this: Did Google produce images relevant to your search query? For what I can discern it seems that it did. I see many many boobs in the screenshots your provided. Large boobs, Man boobs, Asian Boobs, Small boobs, Boobs with tassels, Bikini wearing boobs; All sorts of boobs! What kind of boobs were you looking for though? There are so many!

    … and by definition “Boobs” could also be equally referring to a foolish or stupid group of people. But thankfully Google got that one right and produced images of female breasts.


    I guess a question that I found myself asking while reading your article was: Under what context are we searching for sexually explicit terms? Should sexually explicit terms necessarily return sexually explicit acts? How do we use sexually explicit terms in our everyday language and what is the context of how it’s being used? and Ultimately how can an algorithm understand the context of our searches?

    Specificity is one way.

    • http://www.webpronews.com/author/josh-wolford Josh Wolford

      Although you make a good point about specificity, I still think that the results are not as relevant as they were before Google enacted these changes. A true Image search that was producing the most relevant results would display all results – both NSFW and SFW. There’s no way that the results page for “blowjob” is full of the most popular, relevant results. Just look at a search for “blowjob” in any country where you can simply turn off all SafeSearch filtering – now that’s relevant.

      • Garrett M

        I did a Google Image search for the query “blowjob” on both the American (.com) and Hong Kong (.com.tk) versions of Google and it’s definitely clear to see that Google is leveraging certain terms to produce SFW material and stripping out nearly all NSFW.

        I even did a search for “blowjob” on the American version with the “Filter Explicit Results” on and it produced no results! Not even the SFW images that was produced with it off were shown. All I received was this text – “The word “blowjob” has been filtered from the search because Google SafeSearch is active.” I do find that to be very inconsistent.

        The issue here is true relevancy for a particular query. True relevancy. I think I see your point in that it ought to be the goal of a search engine to produce thee most accurate results possible. Or at the very least that it’s users ought to be entitled to an option to see completely non-filtered results for the sake of accuracy & search truthiness if they so wanted to do so.

        Perhaps Google is beginning ranking in factors that Tom G mentioned? Or maybe uniqueness and usefulness?

        Hmm, quite the conundrum.

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

        As I mentioned in another comment, is Google admitting that their results before this change were completely wrong?

        I don’t think we can say that, because previous results were decided through relevance and supporting page information, as you correctly suggest.

        So this has nothing at all to do with relevancy. Nothing has changed with regard to relevancy. The content is still out there, it hasn’t been removed from the internet.

        So Google is actively censoring their own image results against the wishes of the user. They are now deciding that I am not allowed to see something explicit even when it has for the last five years been the most accurate result for an image search.

        If I type “blowjob” into Bing image search, I see the results I would expect to see based on the names of the images, and the text associated to that image on the source page. This is how Google has worked throughout.

        If I wanted a SFW version I could just select that AS MY CHOICE and get the results I am now seeing from Google.

        Therefore, the accurate results are being refused to the searcher and the filtered results are instead being supplied as standard.

        Google has effectively decided that the world should not be looking for adult images through their search, and they are blocking the accurate results in favor of presenting censored results.

        Ergo, Google is now doing exactly what it criticizes China and Iran for doing – censoring the Internet. The problem is that Google is global.

  • billybob1

    publisher of the article wants shagging up arse with pick axe handle for such rubbish and the owner and editor of site should be hung by thier balls for allowing this shiiiittt.
    he google change is a load of cccraaaappp

    it was better when you could choose or look for other sizes beloiw an image in search results so that you could see the ones without any watermarks on them and okay to use.. This new change is wwwwannnk

  • Linda Dotson

    Don’t really care. Have led such a G-rated life that I figure anyone that read about me on a search would only be bored to death. So have at it…

  • Gale

    Probably worse. But I no longer use Google as my homepage ever since I heard that they are doing away with iGoogle. I use Yahoo now.

  • http://www.bradleyanderson.me Bradley

    I hate all of the changes Google has made to it’s image search. I never thought I would say this, but I’m now using Bing. I don’t appreciate ANYONE trying to dictate anyTHING in my life.

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

      That is the fundamental problem that people are seemingly glossing over…

      Google is now a dictator, deciding what you have a right to see in their search results. This proves once and for all that Google manipulates the natural process of even their own algorithms for their own ends.

      This of course began a long time ago, but then it only affected webmasters trying to compete. Links being ignored and “rated” by Google (and oversight which no one elected or voted for I might add!), sites being ignored if Google didn’t like them, aspects of a site disregarded if Google decided so… but now their manipulation is out in the daylight for all to see, including searchers in the general public.

      It’s not just webmasters seeing the man behind the curtain anymore, it’s the entire public seeing paid inclusion in their shopping searches, censored image searches, and what next? Corporate partners able to pay Google to have their competition removed from listings?

      Don’t say you haven’t considered that. Any powerful corporation like Google is going to be looking at every opportunity for continued monetary growth, it’s their job. It will ultimately lead to massive corruption of the Internet, and this process has now officially begun.

      I would seriously advise all readers to immediately show your disgust by switching to another search. I don’t care who, just anyone BUT GOOGLE!

  • http://www.theakurians.com Colonel Robert F. Cunningham

    Isn’t this just one more layer of KAK (infinitely unqualified) doing our ‘thinking’ for us? Another very UNcommon layer of Marx at its most intrusive?

    It’s the dichotomy that the best way to shut down all anti-Capitalists is to CUT OFF their funding!

    Colonel Robert F. Cunningham,

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

    I work in adult business, so this does affect me both in sales and in research.

    I stopped using Google a while ago, because they are one of the most damaging corporations on the planet when it comes to manipulation and domination of business. No single business should EVER have the power to control entire markets and industries the way Google does.

    I was looking at the image results yesterday after a friend tipped me off that the changes had come to the UK, and I can foresee that Google is going to regret this change as more searchers go to Bing instead.

    They have chosen to alter the results of their own search algorithms for nothing more than Victorian attitudes and censorship.

    Are they claiming that their methods for detecting relevance, accuracy and popularity have always been wrong, and that this is a correction? Or are they deliberately manipulating the results for censorship?

    I think we know the answer to that. But even if we claim ignorance to Google’s censorship, It’s either one option or the other, and neither makes Google look good, or even trustworthy.

    Google seems to be making some terrible decisions lately, and while in the short term I think it’s terrible, anything that contributes to the demise of this global superpower on the Internet is a good thing.

    I hope Google dies a horrible death, and that this blatant and imposed manipulation of reality hastens their demise.

  • John

    It does matter.
    Its a form of Censorship.

    By preventing me from freely choosing what I wish to search for and making it difficult for me to do so is censorship.

    And, this censorship is Forced upon us, in a country where we are supposed to be free to make our own choices.

    We as individuals , in a so called free country does not need any corporation from restricting us in how we search and how we choose to set our own individual settings.

    If they can not respect us enough to have make our own choices, then perhaps its time for the mass to search for another engine that will not treat us in such fashion.

  • http://www.zazzle.com/artnip* Kelly

    I hate to sound like a paranoid nutty, but maybe it’s a govt. conspiracy.

  • Judith Eddy

    I don’t think that I should be held “hostage” to any particular search engine. I want to be able to disable or enable whatever i like for my searching use. I don’t know if it was this or another that showed up with Firefox a few updates back but it was more like a virus and i could not even get search out of tabs! I read the comments and i was not the only one that hated this “thing”.

  • http://bhubaneswarclassified.com rabijit

    what they doing same happens here in india…i hate this change…

  • http://bhubaneswarclassified.com rabijit

    what are they doing ..it affects india also it filters the words also..

  • http://www.infowars.com Banatu

    Google playing nanny net. No surprise after they decided guns are too scary to include in shopping results.

  • JackR

    I think the bigger issue at play here is the new framing of images “and hotlinking” at nearly fullsize images. Now users are far less likely to come to the website someone has spent time and resources to create.

    Google on the other hand keeps users on their site and continues to make money off of someones hard work. Soon enough we’ll see ads on these framed pages once users get used to them.

    When is some big player going to wake up a realize this is a massive copyright case.

  • Realist

    Yeah, I don’t like having my results filtered but really people, Google built this and let you use it. If you don’t like it, change search providers or build your own search index! Like the old saying, if you don’t like what’s on the TV, change the channel.

    If enough people abandon Google, they will quickly revise their decisions.

  • http://www.webdesainindonesia.com nugroho

    I think the author of this article MAY BE a porn addict… 😀

  • http://Mabuzi.com Kevin Rack

    Ads are coming, we all know it.

    I noticed the change last week already in Sydney. Well we will always, us outsiders of course, be kept in the dark.

    As with news sites, sharing sites, free Adult content will go and it will be paid only.

  • admin

    If you intend to use acronyms in articles – spell out their exact meaning or title as I have a different understanding of SWF than you do.
    Support clearer non-technical speak.

  • Jerrie DeRose

    I unhooked from Google and went into the registry and deleted anything related to google about three months. And these kinds of changes are why. I use bing a little, but for the most part stick with yahoo which has more and better links to web sites I am looking for. No Google for me, I used to like Google but have grown more and more disappointed with them over time. . .

  • http://www.graciousstore.com Nina

    Google is the master, he dictates what he chooses

  • http://www.jakeshinepromotions.com Jake

    Qualifiers, mind games and red herrings, the better to recreate you my dear.

    • http://google SATYANARAYANA


  • http://www.dewaldthuysamen.com Dewaldt Huysamen

    It definitely matters as some times safe search blocks other content that I would not define as porn or content suited for adults only.

  • mark

    Of course it is censorship. If I go into a library or bookstore I don’t expect to see a sign saying ‘These shelves are off limits to you by order of the management.’
    What Google is doing to image search is exactly what the Chinese authorities do to their online population, decide what they can see, i.e. censor.

  • Joe

    The problem with this “qualifier” method that Google now uses is that the qualifier modifies the search. Using the example mentioned in the article, a search for “boobs porn” yields explicit images that have “boobs” and “porn” as qualifiers, while leaving out explicit images that have “boobs” as a qualifier but not “porn” as a qualifier. I search for “boobs” yields images that only have “boobs” as a qualifier, but only SFW images. As a result, there is no way to get explicit images that only have “boobs” as a qualifier.

    Anyone who has used Google Image search in the past can tell that no matter how you try to modify the search, it’s just not the same. Try doing the same search in bing images and you’ll see just how much content is being censored, and whether or not that censorship is intentional, it IS censorship.

    Google already had a way of qualifying that you wanted to see explicit images: turning safe search off. People who like Google the way it is now already had a way of getting it the way it is now: by leaving moderate safe search ON, and it is turned on by default, so there was no way of accidentally being shown explicit images, and for those who wanted to be extra careful, they can set it to strict.

    Google could have even made it so that you have to be signed into your Google account to turn safe search off, but taking away the ability to turn it off completely. I’ve switched to bing, and I probably won’t be changing back. I’ve since realized that bing’s image search is way better, and while Google’s video search only shows videos from Youtube, bing search’s the entire internet for videos. Even if Google switches back and admits that they’ve made a mistake, they’ve permanently lost customers to bing. I may even switch away from other services such as Gmail if this is Google’s attitude.

  • Wayne

    I can still use the “safe search off” option by changing Google UI language. Just simply switch to espanol or french

  • Iron

    Bing does not censor your results. Forget google, make Bing your home page, I did, and I like it allot more than google.

  • Bill

    The days of Google are numbered. Bing is now on everyone’s lips!

  • eduardo


  • hollic43

    Ill tell you what it bloody infuriates me. I think ive had just about enough of google. Since they took over Youtube its totally gone down hill in terms of content and creativity. For example they introduced this horrible grey look that everyone has to use regardless. They are snooping on people (confirmed) keeping all manner of information on users that they at first tried to deny they were doing and now they are even demanding cell phone numbers in order to create a google account.(All the better to track you on gps) This company is just a front for the US government and i am beginning to understand why the Americans want to keep their firearms to protect them against their naturally fascist rulers. I am going back to yahoo for now. Lets start boycotting google.keep the planet free no more Big Brother.

  • Daniel

    I think this is BULLFUCKING SHIT!….this really gets me angry how dair they do this….and the dickheads think they cutting porn off…OHHHH NOOOOO you dick heads which are retards you also cut off normal images which are not porn which is still known as less results which are ok. You are were so thick to take that opition away.


    And I hate how annoying it is just to contact them about a problem with just select a issue and writing up an email…..which it ist that simple anymore……you now have to go through like 10 bleedying pages being asked retarded questions and selecting your issue of your problem and do a more advanced version of the same question again just to find there is no bastard page to tipe up an email which websites today seem to do alot of that and that makes so stressed that I want to send them a virus if i know how to make one.

    Im now thinking of giving google the BOOT! on my PC.

  • Daniel

    (virus) sorry not “know” If I knew.

  • Daniel

    Websites of today seem to bring a bad habbit of making the public dislike them very much they can’t just leave things alone with the public liking them….they’ve always got to change something or limit opitions more….giving us the result we have against them now….making us more stressed rather than us feeling content with them…..(Just what were they thinking the fools).

  • les

    I don’t like my results to be filtered by any way. I’ve always used to use no filtering mode whatever i was looking for. Now I’ll have to give up on google. Since you are unable to turn off filtering its a crap. I’ts not an internet any more. As long as they will not change it I will stop using google.

  • 1@2.com

    I use Bing now. Google is now removed from all my computers and devices. It is sad… but too bad. Bye google!

  • dan

    there was absolutely nothing wrong with the

    no filtering

    set-up, so why have they decided to fuck people around like this?
    it is none of their business what people want to look up.

  • http://GOOGLERENAMEDGIGGLE! weekendlad

    Last week I found myself having to fone BT and ask why they were making it so difficult for me to have a quick five finger knuckle-shuffle….. as my personal search settings had been changed and I could not reset them. Needless to say BT couldn’t explain or help although ‘Darren’, the live IT expert, did share some of his explicit-content whilst having our remote session together which was quite refreshing… thanks BT. I may be giggling about it now and I hope it makes you giggle too but I was not amused at having to re-install windows on my system, re-install Norton – using up 2 of my remaining downloads, changed every setting known to exist on my system only to discover eventually that Google were responsible. So Google renamed Giggle as they are now just a big joke ! . I will also be UN-installing Giggle from my system tonight then I have a date with Pam and her five sisters. W*NKERS

  • marky

    good bye Google.. hello Bing

  • Patricia

    Anyone who THINKS and uses the word “retard” has a problem with their intelligence, maturity and humanity, Daniel.

  • Patricia

    Daniel. Anyone who even THINKS the word “retard” has a problem himself, with a lack of intelligence, maturity and humanity. Think about yourself.

    • Marcus

      You’re a retard.

  • Ralf Hedtfeld

    To complicate matters even further, Google also filters search results in countries like Germany and France, and has been doing so for years.
    It is mainly neo-Nazi / white supremacism content and other types of political extremism, anti-Semitism and racism that gets caught in the filter, but also a few anti-abortion sites. Apparently, pro-life equals terrorism for Google.de. And yes, this also affects the image search, despite disabled SafeSearch.

    So if you think “Well, I happen to speak a little German or French, so I’ll just change the URL to Google.de / .fr and set the search language to English”, think again. You will now get different search results in pretty much all localized versions of Google, and *none* of them will be unfiltered. It’s time to switch to another search engine.

  • Bob_the_wrecker

    Here’s something to ponder…

    Google press release *edited to prove a point*:

    “We are not censoring any content *with black people*, and want to show users exactly what they are looking for — but we aim to show *white* 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 *black* 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.”

    If it really said that; tell me that wouldn’t get you up on the barricades in a second. It’s censorship, no matter how they try to spin it.

  • Tobi

    Who do Google think they are?? What gives them the right to force censorship on everyone? If parents fail to put safeguard on their home PCs that stop minors from viewing non safe imagery then that is their fault. I personally don’t always need to search for “unsafe” images but I would like to find what I am looking for when I search for it. I for one will start using Yahoo again as they have yet to decide they are God and have the right to tell us what we can and can not do.

  • http://binge vic

    No longer will be using Google as my search engine .Big brother has gone to far .

  • Ross

    This is absolute crap. By Google doing this they become as places like North Korea and China. I mean wtf? Google are clearly more prudish than ever.

    Here’s some irony for you, Google don’t want you looking at filthy pornography yet you can see hundreds of images of dead bodies. Is it just me or is there some wrong with this picture.

    Screw you Google, I’m just going to use Bing now, at least Microsoft haven’t got a problem with me looking at a pair of boobs.

  • Seve

    Google now censoring what we can see.
    To hell with that, I’m off to Yahoo.

  • annon

    If they filter porn, whats stopping them from filtering other content?
    I do not like this draconian approach to search one bit.
    If I cannot find a way to disable it….I’ll be forced to stop using google all together and I currently use google for everything but I disable google from tracking me. The internet should not be censored. This is NOT googles job. Googles job is to find stuff for me. If google is censored then it is no longer a search engine but a filter engine!

  • word

    lol, i thought this was some kind of bug that would be fixed soon. this is one STUPID “fix”. what in their right mind are they thinking?

    i’m studying website design at the moment and would NEVER do something like that.

    goodbye google, hello yahoo

  • arcobelina

    just found this page and tried to load google.com.de and cant load it from australia – problem loading page

  • Mack

    I actually really dislike this rolling towards hate. One would say just be more specific if you want more “explicit”. But what if you just want slightly more explicit pictures. Like a search for “ebony booty short girls” with safe search off pulls up a few photos that you would expect and the rest irrelevant. Now you add a modifier to trigger the release of NSFW content and you get more irrelevance or people banging one another in other words still not the content I’m looking for. So for things like this google has censored. I don’t want “porn” but I don’t want the daily news either. Google has made it very hard to get this type of content.

  • Courier

    The change makes me incredibly angry at google. I take it as a switch from passively screwing with the way I work for potentially good reasons (that button might work better over there) to active screwing me up because of their whims.

    Censorship as option. grr, admitedly necessary.
    Forced censorship? Really we’ve arrived at this?
    Google doesn’t care what people say, it does what it wants.

    “Our new feature gives you the freedom to choose what we want”
    Hope the megacorp dies.