A Kink in Google’s New SafeSearch Filtering?

I think there’s a kink in Google’s new SafeSearch filtering.

I blogged the other day about new image related search quality highlights being rolled out by Google. One of those changes was improved detecting of adult content in image search, which should provide better filtering of objectionable material when SafeSearch is selected. It’s likely a welcome change for many users, but I suspect some expert SEOs would claim Google’s algorithmic changes, near always result in innocent website casualties.

In the example for this post, we see that types of hairstyle images can get caught in Strict SafeSearch filters, resulting in significantly different images displaying for users.

hairstyles unfiltered google image searchA hairstyles image search with SafeSearch off

Take a look at where the green arrow points to see the particular hairstyles searched. The screen shot shows a collection of 18 hairstyle related images, all that I’d consider safe to be viewed. At least 5 of the images appear to be of children, and it looks to me like a good representation fitting the search query. Note that SafeSearch off is selected. Look what happens when SafeSearch Strict is turned on.

google safesearch hairstyles filteredHairstyles image search results

A single keyword has been filtered from the search because Google SafeSearch is active, and the difference in results should be obvious to anyone. Among the innocent victims here are the 304,000+ results that have been filtered, none of which now likely appear among the 47 million plus results when hairstyles is searched.

You could argue that all one has to do is turn the SafeSearch filter off but schools, librarys, government offices, and many corporate environments, may have the safe version of image search locked at the strictest setting.

To correct this issue, Google can either further tweak the SafeSearch algorithm, or those wanting to appear in safe search will have to begin using different terminology when naming hairstyle photographs and images.

brown auburn gold corkscrew hairstyle Misty StoneMisty Stone Corkscrew Hairstyle

Model Misty Stone, has a brown and auburn (with highlights of gold) corkscrew hairstyle, and a great smile. If I want this image to have a chance appearing in safe image search, I’m going to have to be careful how I title and describe it. Believe it or not, some of the images filtered in the example I shared, were removed because a comment was left using the term Google filters as offensive.

Alternatives terms one could use include:

  • Springy Corkscrew Curls Hairstyles
  • Natural Curly Hairstyles
  • Natural Hair Curly Hairstyles
  • Type 4B Hairstyles

For more on the topic of non-adult only content being filtered by SafeSearch, read the 2003 Harvard Law School Study Empirical Analysis of Google SafeSearch, it’s old but covered in great detail.


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