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September 30, 2010

Is Google Instant Censoring the Internet?

Anyone who has used Google’s (News - Alert) search engine over the last few weeks has almost certainly noticed a change to its functionality. In an effort to make searching even faster, the company recently launched Google Instant, which streams results as a user types terms or phrases into the query box. The new function allows Web surfers to see streaming search results without ever having to click “Enter.”

Although Google Instant has received generally strong reviews from critics, users are beginning to recognize that the search function restricts or “blacklists” certain terms that Google deems to be inappropriate.

“There are a number of reasons you may not be seeing search queries for a particular topic,” a Google spokesperson told CNN. “Among other things, we apply a narrow set of removal policies for pornography, violence and hate speech.”

While it is difficult to say that the search engine giant is censoring the Internet, (all users need to do is hit “Enter” to generate more “adult-themed” results) many pundits are questioning the consistency of Google’s policy.

The website 2600.com recently compiled a list of terms that are banned from Google Instant. When these words or phrases are typed into the query box, the streaming results no longer appear.

Not only is the list filled with relatively innocuous terms, like “amateur” or “Pamela Anderson,” it seems to be put together in a somewhat random fashion.

When a user types in the word “lesbian,” Google Instant shuts itself off. However, when the word “gay” is typed into the query box, a full page of search results will begin streaming on the page. While the word “cocaine” is blocked, “marijuana” and “heroin” are not.

“It’s important to note that removing queries from autocomplete is a hard problem, and not as simple as blacklisting particular terms and phrases,” a Google spokesperson told PC Magazine. “In search, we get more than one billion searches each day. Because of this, we take an algorithmic approach to removals, and just like our search algorithms these are imperfect.”

It will be interesting to see how Google’s policy affects the world of SEO and online marketing. Companies that use terms that may be misconstrued by Google’ software could face an unintentionally harsh reality.


Beecher Tuttle is a Web Editor for TMCnet. He has extensive experience writing and editing for print publications and online news websites. He has specialized in a variety of industries, including health care technology, politics and education. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Tammy Wolf

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