Is Google Censoring Users Too Heavily?

    May 3, 2013
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

Now that the chosen few have had time to play around for Google Glass for a bit, many are noticing some unexpected restrictions. Specifically, the voice-to-text system, which is the primary way to interact with the device, does not accept swearing.

In other words, Google Glass will not let you say whatever you want, and if this is really the future of how we interact with the Internet on a daily basis, that could be a problem.

Should Google be dictating what people can and cannot say? Let us know what you think in the comments.

On the surface, this may not seem like a huge deal. Right now, only a few people even have the device, and there’s no telling if it will even be successful or simply just something we’ll all be laughing back at a few years from now. Either way, this is a Google product, and Google is how an incredibly large number of people retrieve information and communicate with others.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Google get a little stricter on what is acceptable behavior from its users in recent memory. Late last year, Google stopped letting users disable SafeSearch in the US, making some queries less relevant as a result. Users were outraged, as shown by the comments we received on our coverage of the story. Earlier this year, we confirmed with Google that the changes had rolled out to more countries.

Essentially, Google took away the filter that gave users more control over what they would see. That adult content is still out there, but Google made it harder to find, making users get more descriptive with their keywords.

Here’s what they said about it: “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.”

Adult content is one thing. Now, they’re simply censoring speech. Given that users won’t be typing on Google Glass, they’re making it a great deal harder to say the words you actually want to say, whether you’re searching or trying to have a conversation with a friend.

As Geek.com (who first reported on this) pointed out, this is also the case for Google’s voice feature on Android. In fact, it’s the same for the desktop voice search experience. Have you tried to voice search a dirty word from your computer lately? It looks something like this:


But it’s probably more likely that you would just type your query from your PC. On a smartphone, tablet or desktop computer, users can simply type what they actually want to say. Why does Google let you type it, but feel the need to censor it when you say it out loud? What’s the point? I’m sure you can imagine the outrage if Google started censoring what you type. What’s the difference? For a device like Glass, which relies on speech (as would a possibly forthcoming smart watch, I would imagine), the default experience is censored.

One interesting angle to all of this is that Google is starting to draw criticism for having a “puritanical” approach to users, similar to that of Apple’s App Store, though you can still find plenty of adult-themed apps in Google Play.

There’s no real consistency to Google’s censorship practices. It will be interesting to see if things change significantly in Google Play.

I have to wonder if Microsoft is busy crafting its next “Scroogled” campaign. As we’ve seen, Bing sometimes goes out of its way to suggest particularly objectionable content (though it looks like they’ve cleaned up things a bit since the linked report was written).

We’ve reached out to Google for comment on its voice censoring, and so far have not received a response.

By the way, taking pictures in the shower with Google Glass is apparently okay.

Is Google right to censor speech with its voice-to-text input? Would you be okay if they did the same thing with just text input? Is the fact that they don’t do this with text input a double standard? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Lead image: Google co-founder Sergey Brin wearing Google Glass on the subway.

  • https://nfanflorida.com/ NFAN

    Let’s not forget that some young children have unlimited access to the internet, it does make sense to make some things harder to find. Adults can take the extra effort if they really need to search for those topics.

    • brent

      i am quite capable of filtering sites for my children and i am not concerned with your children. i do not need a company to protect me. i need searches and should not have to go through the extra work because you data mine me across several devices with same ads.

  • Sherm Stevens

    It’s ironic that Google (a company charged with returning accurate search results) is doing the work of the Federal Communications Commission, a govt agency charged with regulating television & censorship in the USA.

    We already see a great deal of censored content thanks to Google, who ignores the most important Christian holidays (Easter 2013) to celebrate Marxist birthdays (Cesar Chavez), or patriotic US holidays (Patriot Day Sept 11).

    They are also charged with suffocating content from the political right in favor of other sites that fit more closely with their progressive tendencies.

    This is not going to end well if we let Google do their bidding.

  • http://www.greenteethmm.com/google-being-evil.shtml Ian R Thorpe

    Time we faced up to it, Google have always wanted to tell us what we could and could not think.

    I’m sure they never showed that slogan in full. It should have read:
    “Don’t be evil, that’s our job.”

  • http://www.quantisoft.com Howard Deutsch

    I strongly agree with the article. Google needs to back off. They are too controlling in filtering search results. This also includes what they have done with Penguin and Panda. The more Google manipulates search results, the better Bing gets in terms of being the best search engine out there. Some day people will wake up and start to realize this.

  • david

    yes, too many crazy people that feel they can say anything without anybody telling them that it wrong to threaten people or curse them out

  • Al Haffar

    We must not let anyone (violate any part of the constitution, not even compromise any part , that to include the (1st amendment). Having said that we must put Google to the test and see if they are censoring, and if they are we must hold them accountable, there are many ways to so, we can get into that under different topic.

  • Karl Buchanan

    Google playing nanny is ridiculous. Adult freedoms are adult freedoms and the excuses made for censorship are unworthy excuses. Parents are in charge of monitoring what their own family does with internet, not the internet, the government or google. Censorship, privacy issues and service provider controls can all appear to be ploys or weaknesses, neither of which is desirable in free adult society.

  • http://www.daniel-bauer.com Daniel

    Of course, google has to control what we say, what other way could they go to control what we think? In only a few years many of us will try to escape to striclty islamic countries, because their system will seem extremely liberal compared to googles totalitarian ideology.

  • http://bossy-girls.net/ Lila Sovietskaya

    Definitely yes. It is not only Google, other sites also censor in name of morality. Those who do not want to be exposed to adult media can do that through filters. The issue is that many sites want to make the media accessible to all. Therefore they censor adult media rather than segregate it.

  • http://nutritiousfood.info Haroon

    Google cannot dictate us. If it is thinking it can, that will be the boldest blunder ever.

  • John Owles

    Google does NOT have the right to dictate what people say. They are, and have been for some time, setting themselves up as judge and jury. That is certainly not their job.

  • Andy Richardson

    I’m guessing part of the reason is so it doesn’t misunderstand something like duck and turn it into f… Which might be a problem if say a 6 year old was to ask to search for duck, lol. But I’m sure there is more to it than that, however I’m thinking from a programmers viewpoint. I do know that google’s voice to text technology isn’t the smartest in the world. try Google Voice and test out the voicemail transcribe feature..

  • http://www.tipsinablog.com Danny

    Chris, kind of off topic, whilst doing a Google search the other day, I had the opposite experience..

    So, I did a Google search for an SEO – ish(not S&M)…related topic, and the search results pages were mainly porn related sites(mainly videos)….with a few SEO sites sprinkled into the search results…

    Maybe SEO just got Sexy, or it’s an initiative to “spice up” the SEO Niche(industry)….

  • http://guenthervomberg.blogspot.com/ guenther

    Although the right of Free Speech is fought by our forefathers with their life and limbs, they certainly did not had the modern day foul language defamatory style of “voicing ones opinion” in mind.
    In fact, when someone in those days would have spoken to or about other people in the matter things are published now, the person would have probably found his early demise in form of a duel.

    Not to mention Trolls, Online Harrassers, Sociopaths, Cyberstalker, Cyberbullies and others.
    Those psychologically impaired members of society slowly force ISP’s such as Google to restrict access in order to “babysit” those menace.

    Countries will enact more and more laws because of those People and in the end we have a totally controlled Internet.
    Not caused by us regular and behaving users, but forced upon us because of a few mentally deranged “Internet Terrorists” !

    And just like the real Bombing terrorists, only a few people with dubious mental capabilities are leading to a restricted world of the Internet.

    We can not blame google, they only REACT.

  • Louis

    Google should be allowing the device owner to do what they want with it.

    That doesn’t mean that Google shouldn’t offer functionality via means of ‘parental controls’. Even if this is enabled by default it would be an acceptable compromise.

  • http://www.granda-scrub.com/ kellwang

    I agree with the article.In my words,google want to be our parent in fact

  • http://www.linkagoal.com david young

    i think its not wrong what Google’s doing. but there should be an option to enable or disable such issues. because by the end of why would an individual is paying full price to purchase a product that wouldn’t even provide him/her with freedom of speech

  • http://www.smartomset.com Ferry Aryanto

    Saya suka ini…

  • http://www.corsi-recupero-anni-scolastici-diploma.net/ Diploma Online

    something strange is going on with google. First they approached us in an empathic way, like they were a part of our life and our best partner of everything we need. Now they are censoring, closing amazing projects and acting like everyone is expecting from such a big company. All in the name of money.

  • Carlos Comesanas

    Definitely not. It is sad to see “The Land of the Freedom” marching backwards to the stone age under the martial accords of the stupid and ignorant puritanism.

    Oh Apple, Apple, you are the most reactionary company I have ever known. If progress were up to you… Let’s not imitate them please.

  • http://www.graciousstore.com Gracious Store

    I don’t see anything wrong if Google detects the “code of conduct” for anyone who chooses to use any of their products. The important thing is that Google should clearly stipulate the conditions and guidelines for the use of their products including Google glasses. If anyone does not accept the conditions of usage, the person may then not use the Google products or services.

  • T

    Fuck Google!

  • Eric

    This isn’t a problem for me at all. I think that swearing has it’s place but not 100% of your vocabulary needs to be negative. It’s about time we all learned to “use our words” and interact with each other in a civilized manner.

    Act your age, not your shoe size, ya know?

  • http://freehomejobs.bigbig.com Bill

    Google is getting very anal latley like on You tube! OMG they cause me to lose my 1st account by saying i had matched 3rd party content on 1 video that was not there and some troll decides to flag me because he also agrees with anothers comments about my cover pics.

    I never will get this product nor have any need for it !

  • Loki

    This problem of money whores and both clueless and malicious bigots playing off each other is far broader than Google, noting Microsoft’s more perverse services TOS a few months ago, and the degree of fraud in FCC “indecency” policies and the roles of Congress and SCOTUS to pervert honest definitions of civil rights boundary law, linked to accurate protected criteria societal “fact”.

    Ignoring complications of international net presences, and practical issues like how to get corrupt government to play by its own rules rather than pander to mass bigotry and functional illiteracy, large online services have become more like “public accommodation” class quasi-government businesses, than meatspace businesses serving food, housing, transportation, or in some states any services or goods sold to the public. As such, it’s long overdue (give or take practical details and the fact that part of the problem is with the most likely enforcers) to ban religious and culture and artistic and political viewpoint based discrimination by online hosts with far greater potential for oppressive discrimination, than a lunch counter or bus driver.

    In effect, the most common targets for content based censorship (not to be confused with off-topic forum abuse, or technical bombing, or mindless idiocy in competency driven forums) are in fact issues of religious supremacy and rights abridgment, noting that the legal meaning inclusive of generic and personal religious values applies, not corporate sectarian ones. (See labor law in 29 CFR 1605 & cited precedents, or prison diet case law, for good exaples.)

    Most of what’s presented as if “neutral criteria” is really gross fraud pandering to economic centers for profit, or to advance child abuse by indoctrinating kids to be unaware or intolerant of different values over sexuality or life path core cosmology, and disappear anything that causes serious conflicts into the night, like secret police of some countries disappearing select dissidents. That applies to predator companies that depict themselves as if liberal, like some divisions of IAC/I Match Media, and not just an eHarmony that’s lost court cases for over the top class exclusion discrimination, rather than ideological value censorship whether for profit or because few people companies hire understand institutionalized bigotry at the needed level of depth for diverse society and a functional grasp of neutrality and free exercise of millions of variants of ideological values, that cannot be knowable in detail beyond the types of issues they include, properly being hands off for quasi-government organizations, just as for government.

    BTW, that FCC public comment period on how they might clean up their paradoxical censorship policies runs until May 20th (30 days after Federal Register publication, contrary to confusion about press release dates). Censorship needs to be recognized as an insidious form of hate speech, and banned, not extorted of public service licensed spectrum holders.

    How many kids develop needed information processing skills to become functional democratic citizens, and don’t run into sites like iXXX.com, xHamster.com, Redtube, or similar? Since that answer is nearly none, bigot adults in denial about our information age need to GTFU or FOAD, as we recognize that it’s become child abuse to not teach kids to deal with such content in stride, and censorship “for the kiddies” dogma is fraud in most cases, or cluelessness of modern reality for others.

    As a sex-positive pagan who sees fear based theology as pathology, and ecoterrorism and illegal wars, not anything related to sex or other body functions, as obscene, how would rabid fundies and corporate whores catering to them like to see the tables turned on what’s censored?

    What if instead, we required airing evidence of war crimes and genocides on nightly news, and prosecuted our own politicians and military when they act like violent thugs? What if not just Exxon and BP went down for cutting corners on well safety devices or shipping tankers from a port that had never met legal standards for the first ship to load, but all their conspirators in those crimes against humanity?

    The fact that profits and abuse of power are such severe problems, is why we have civil and human rights laws. It’s overdue they be honestly enforced, and that cannot legitimately be done while taking 7 words from an Edward Albee play, via a George Carlin humorous sociology commentary, played on a nonprofit arts radio station, and pretending that hiding those away somehow makes the ills of society disappear.

    Where are the public service prizes for Brad Manning and Julian Assange? And the whistleblowers and dissidents who get attacked for refusing to conform to a society so sick, DSM-5 reportedly classifies over 50% of Americans as mentally ill, while more informed books on corporate practices discuss “Liespotting” and how Psychopaths are valued leaders, all too similar to convicts?

  • Loki

    It raises a whole slew of business ethics and hypocrisy issues, when in a discussion about the abusive nature of Google’s inclusion of overt and institutionalized bigotry to chill the values and manner of their expression by users, this site censors words even more broadly.

    Presumably anyone working with Web design necessarily deals at times with overt explicit sex, and news stories of war crimes and genocides that are grossly violent, unlike sex as a necessary part of our animal nature.

    Like the Congressional badgering of the FCC to pretend that f-u_c_k is always sexual, even when not so in many language contexts, AND that sexual expression is somehow damaging or has neutral basis for chilling unConstitutional prior restraint and crushing after the fact arbitrary penalties, discussion of corporate predators acting abusive by depicting them as w_h-or_es in no way belongs censored in any honest discussion of public policy or quasi-government organization ethics and practices (noting that the privileges given corporations are akin to a King’s men being sovereigns, and don’t exist absent that quasi-royalty legal fiction).

    Of course Web designers might know tricks to protest bigotry based censorship, with entries using parentheses escaping, hex or decimal Unicode as is necessary to express many international language characters or glyphs, etc.

    As another example, Google uses an illusory “adult opt-in” for the Youtube version of this French filmaker’s sociology documentary, filmed openly on public streets in Germany, whereas the filmmaker hosts the original on Vimeo (an IAC/I property, with their own hypocrisy issues):


    More telling are the stories about that documentary in international media. Chinese and Croatian versions have social prejudice based asides appended. The best distributed London paper pixelates the pelvic region, but respects topfree equality ethics otherwise. A New York City yellow fishwrapper grossly pixelates breats as well, despite topfree equality being a litigated right in New York state, as it is across Canada, and in a third of other US states (why not all?).

    Arguably, Google, this site, the FCC, and many others, promote child abuse when they use ideological censorship to stunt adult development to respect civil and human rights such content issues reflect, and at the same time send overt messages by content tampering, that humans shown as censored are somehow second class or defective people, rather than the reverse.

    In theory, deprivation of rights under color of law, or conspiracy therein, are felonies under US Federal laws, 18 USC 241 & 242, albeit rarely enforced. Google’s based in California, whose Unruh Act from the 1950’s was one of the first among US states to define “public accommodation” businesses banned from such discrimination very broadly, as New Jersey is among others to do (resulting in eHarmony losing litigation for its anti-gay prejudices and practices).

    When censorship amounts to demonstrable forms of child abuse, and serial felonies even if rarely prosecuted, that’s way over the top abusive corporate practice.

  • k

    FUCK google! They have no right to censorship what people can or can’t see! The problem is they are too big a company now,so they think they can do whatever tehy want! FUCK those motherfucking bastards!

  • k

    Awaiting moderation?? Yes sure…bhecause you arte censoring too! FUCKING BASTARDS!

  • TruthExposed

    I guess you’ve never seen the muslim’s version of media censorship or perhaps you just don’t recognize it but to Christians who just want open communication, it’s called Sharia and is not a new concept. It’s more like an arab stalker in control of too much powerful politics who freely shuts you up simply because you are not muslim. The world of cyberspace is no different and doesn’t change their blood lust/thirst for absolute control. Although most out of control parents are also to blame for failure to be parents and restrict internet use for their own kids, it’s not just about protecting kids online who have too much access. The internet has become the newest in a line of elecronic babysitters while the adults are barely allowed online. Kids don’t even need to learn how to read anymore or learn phonics sounding out letters forming words, no, they just see, type, and get automatic results. It’s the age of Artificial intelligence. No learning, just a curve ball thrown back at you. Censoring should be required in households like for pedofiles and sexual offenders but the average family should be able/have the freedom to still decide their own internet or technological uses. Sadly we have oppressive stalkers from other nations controlling our everyday lives through politics. And they hate it when you protest. Our government has become lazy like most americans so our control over anything including our internet is failing. I have the urge to call it “passing the buck”, but google now playing the role of the FCC is more like an internet manager getting a promotion. Think about it that way. The more power a monopolizing giant of a corporation has, the less power the general public has to govern our own lives. It’s how society falls.

  • Christina Maclane

    Odd thing from the other side of the spectrum is that Muslims and Christians and Orthodox Jews have also noticed the censorship.