Google makes it harder to find explicit materials in search

Martin Brinkmann
Dec 13, 2012
Updated • Dec 13, 2012
Google, Search

Okay so we all have probably experienced one of the following situations. We fired up Google Image search, entered a harmless search term like Peach Princess from Super Mario World, Banana, Ruby or Girlfriends (the TV Show) only to be greeted with explicit images that you were not expecting at all. That may not even have been a problem if you were of an appropriate age at the time of searching, as you simply could have refined the search term to make it clearer to the search engine what you are looking for.

But if you are a minor searching for these terms, you may have been in for the shock of your life - or not. Google apparently thinks so and decided to make a change to its image search engine that affects explicit images that it returns. Images that some search engine users may find offensive are only returned on explicit queries and not on broader queries. When you now search for Banana, you actually get to see pictures of Bananas in the search engine.

The same is true for the majority of other queries that are ambiguous, have explicit connotations or meanings, or are related to them.

That does not mean that the images are gone, or won't be returned anymore when you search Google Image. All you need to do is refine your search term to find the contents you are looking for. The first time you do, you may receive a notification about Google SafeSearch and that you can use it to filter explicit results.

google safe search

What may be interesting in this regard is that it seems to only affect sexually explicit searches and not other types of explicit image searches like gore or violence which many say may be more damaging for someone to stumble upon than sexually related images.

Some say Google is censoring their results but that is not really the case. The company has just tweaked the algorithm to favor non explicit images for broader search terms.

If you think Google went too far, try Bing, their image search is pretty good all in all. What's your take on the change, good, bad or do not care?


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  1. Jasper said on December 15, 2012 at 9:03 am

    I think every parent and webmaster would be in favor of this “tweak” that Google made. It’s easier to make your children play with the computer now that they have done this. Webmasters on the other need not to compete too much with those websites who uses double meaning keywords. I’ve used Bing whenever I get nasty results in Google and I have to agree with you that it really turns good results. I never got explicit content from Bing.

  2. Q said on December 14, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    The most negative change by Google in the past month is the removal of the option to disable the web history tailoring of search results, seemingly while still providing individually tailored search results.

    The Web History Tailoring of Results is explained:
    Google’s Filter Bubble is a scary thing

    In the past, one could go to “” and opt to disable the history-based search results; however, now when attempting to visit the page one gets the Google Accounts login page instead.

    I first noticed the change last week.

  3. Q said on December 14, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    It seems that some browsers receive different search results than others.

    For example, in both Firefox 3.6.28 and Firefox 6.0.2 I tried searching images for “Peach Princess”; the results for Firefox 3.6.28 were noticeably more sexually explicit than Firefox 6.0.2.

  4. Rich said on December 14, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    The problem is that they had set up their search ability with no controls, unless you know all the different parameters that you could use. I am personally glad to have less results with general terms so that I don’t have to view thousands of useless info for pertinent results. Tweak on Google…

  5. TomSpanks said on December 14, 2012 at 6:39 am

    I’m all for a no censored Internet, but I am tired of the Internets big players exposing themselves to minors without consequence. This is the first good thing Big G has done in ages.

  6. jevvv said on December 14, 2012 at 12:55 am

    As a parent of underage children I wish they’d had this as the default setup years ago!!!!

    It’s fine for adults to deal with stuff on their own, but looking something up with your minors has been a minefield

  7. Anonymous said on December 14, 2012 at 12:04 am

    what will i see if i type in peach princess?

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on December 14, 2012 at 12:43 am

      The character from Mario.

  8. ilev said on December 13, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    For porn you can still use Bing.

  9. Tim said on December 13, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    DuckDuckGo image search directs you to Bing or Google though.

  10. Jim said on December 13, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    Yet another reason to use DuckDuckGo.

  11. Tim said on December 13, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    The issue isn’t that they removed adult content from the default search, it’s the fact that they removed the ability to turn safe search off.

    If you type bl*wjob in Google UK search, it displays non explicit search results by default, but you are able to turn safe search off if you choose to. If you do the same in Google US search, it doesn’t give the option to turn safe search off.

    But, the main reason people are not happy about this is not because they were all planning on searching for bl*wjob pics in Google Search, it’s the fact that Google are deciding what users can and can’t search for, which is a slippery slope to ‘Big Brother’ style censorship.

    1. JohnMWhite said on December 13, 2012 at 6:38 pm

      Agreed. I also find it deeply troubling that it is only sexual images that are to be obfuscated in this way. I have a feeling that if little Jimmy googles “bin Laden” for a history paper at school, he’s going to get a lot of grisly images of a guy with a hole in his face, and that this doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as a cartoon of Princess Peach naked seems a bit backwards. Why is it that sexuality is always the priority when it comes to efforts at ‘protecting children’?

  12. Matt said on December 13, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    There goes down the drain the Peach Princess fetish that I had planned for today… :)

  13. Dwight Stegall said on December 13, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    I know my rights, I want my explicit search material and I want it now. :)

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