Google has modified its popular image search to block many explicit pictures, a move that could be a big win for competing search engines.
While you used to be able to turn SafeSearch off to easily find questionable material, Google now only lets you “filter explicit images” or “report offensive images.” As you can see in the image above, a search for the word “porn” brings up some questionable material but nothing explicit.
Users on Reddit first noticed the changes this morning, and several were quick to label the move as “censorship.” VentureBeat can confirm that common searches in the U.S. and U.K. have blocked steamy images from showing up in image results and that SafeSearch is on permanently.
A Google spokesperson told us and other outlets the following statement about the changes:
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 now work the same way as in web search.
Essentially, Google’s decision makes it much harder to find porn using Google. This is a big win for competing search engines, especially Microsoft’s Bing and ICM Registry’s Search.xxx. If Google doesn’t want the traffic, the underdogs certainly will take it.
Microsoft’s Bing, the No. 2 search engine on the web, still offers a robust image search, and we can confirm that it works perfectly well for looking at all kinds of explicit images. (Which is sort of funny considering how Microsoft has serious problems with nudity and pornography being hosted on its servers.)
Search.xxx is another winner. While it does not offer a full-fledged image search, Search.xxx does offer a safe browsing experience when you are looking for adult material. Plus, you know exactly what you’ll find when looking for video or images on it. As we’ve written before, Search.xxx only crawls online pages with the .xxx domain and it claims to be “safer” than using other search engines to find porn because all sites found through it are scanned daily by McAfee.
“We are still digesting exactly what this will mean in real-world search queries for the porn-searching consumer, but this seems to continue a trend we have seen in recent months by the major search engines towards adult content,” ICM Registry CEO Stuart Lawley told us via email. “Google’s decision only serves to reinforce the purpose and usefulness of what ICM Registry has been building: a destination for those adult consumers looking for high quality content.”