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]