A Chink in Google’s Safe Search Armor + Happy St. Patty’s!

Happy St. Patricks Day

I wanted to throw up a quick “Happy St. Patty’s” here on our digital marketing blog and thought it might be fun to see who’s running AdWords ads on some holiday related terms.

Nothing too interesting when you do a search on St. Patty’s Day: all t-shirts, which you might expect. They did throw in some product results as well, which were more interesting and included personalized gifts, posters, and boutonnieres (misspelled on the ad and the product page – way to go, Target).

Overall, nothing too exciting, although if the click costs are reasonable, I’d imagine all of these companies are making money today for being on top of the holiday.

So I was about to do some more searches to see if I could find anything more interesting, when the Realtime results caught my eye.

For those of you not familiar, Google will include realtime results within their standard results for certain search queries that are trending and likely to have lots of people talking about them right now (like “St. Patty’s Day” on the actual day).

The vast majority of these results come from twitter, but they can come from other sources as well, like Google Buzz.  I mean, I think they still do – need confirmation that Google Buzz still exists.  [Quick search]  Yup, it still exists. If you want to see Realtime results for any search phrase regardless of whether or not Google is displaying them within their standard results, no problem.  Under the date range section on the left hand side of the results, choose “Latest.”

Bing also offers up real time results, although theirs are exclusively from twitter.  These results work okay in IE, but not so much in firefox, or at least my version / OS system combo.  They tend to run over the paid ads, which I’m sure Microsoft adCenter advertisers are thrilled with:

Anyway, back to Google.  When I looked down at the Realtime results, I saw this (click to zoom):

Well, at first I had normal SafeSearch set at Moderate, the default setting.  But then, I went in and changed it to Strict and still got this same result.  If you don’t want to click to enlarge, I don’t blame you.  It shows a tweet from a woman whose twitter profile pic is basically her face and her hands holding / covering her bare breasts.  Her twitter handle?  PunkRockT**s.  Now, there was nothing wrong with her tweet itself: “Happy St Patty’s Day! Crack open a Guinness!”  I’m not prudish about these types of things, but with three kids under six who use the computer and will be Googling soon, this does bother me.

SafeSearch Strict Difficulties

Let’s be fair about this to Google:

  1. The tweet itself should not have set off any flags.
  2. With twitter handles, there’s no spacing.  So if you would automatically filter out this site owner’s / affiliate’s profile based on the handle, you’d also be filtering out other combinations.  For example, what if someone really hated TSA’s current security features and set up a profile for AntiTSA?
  3. Pictures can be tricky.  No nipples are showing and you’ll see cleavage walking down virtually any street in the U.S. on a hot summer day and certainly at any beach.  It’s easier for a human to tell that this picture is skanky and likely to lead to an unsafe result for children.

Now, let’s be a little more critical:

  1. If you’re choosing to make your SafeSearch results strict, you probably don’t care about a little collateral damage and want Google to err on the side of caution.  That would be enough to kick out this twitterer’s tweets based on the handle.
  2. They do have the ability to scan images to determine – to a large degree – what should appear in image results, so they could use this same technology for social media profile pics.  However, you wonder if Google has the same definition of “Strict” as the average person when you have that setting applied and do an image search for breasts (CAUTION – EXTREMELY NSFW, especially if you don’t have your settings already set to “Strict”).
  3. Google absolutely knows how to crawl sites.  If they crawled her landing page (which is what you’d see if you clicked on her name – I keep defaulting to “her” because of the name even though I’d bet dollars to donuts that it’s some guy running this stream), they would see some absolutely unsuitable words in her timeline, and right at the top.  They’d also see a ton of links to a tumblr for a site called “naughtyamateurs.”  I thought at first this might be for Phil Fulmer’s former players.  Turns out, no.  The other thing you’d expect from that name.

I completely understand posting real time results creates difficulties in this arena for any search engine.  But, if you’re going to offer supposedly safe search results, you need to figure it out BEFORE you start including the results.  If you can’t, why not just turn off Realtime results for anyone with the Strict setting?

Happy St. Patty’s

And now, back to the real reason for this post.  A very merry St. Patrick’s Day to ya.  Enjoy all the green-laden festivities and best of luck to you in your NCAA pool.  Let’s Goooooooo, Mountaineers!  And ‘Dores!

Justin Seibert

About The Author

Justin Seibert is the President of Direct Online Marketing. Justin holds a Bachelor of Arts from Vanderbilt University. He contributes a wide range of online business-oriented topics, including the subject of exporting. His contributions can be found on publications such as the Pittsburgh Business Times, Advertising Age, SES Magazine, and La Voz del interior. Justin and his family enjoy learning about new cultures during their travels.

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