At Google Images, “G” Is For “Girls In Bathrooms”

The launch of Google Instant last month drew new attention to what Google suggests that people search for — and what it purposely omits to keep things family friendly. But over on Google Images, some of the suggestions that appear as you type are more of the soft-porn variety.

Girls Gone Wild On Google

Here’s what I currently see when I enter the letter G at Google Images:

Fair to say, autocomplete suggestions like:

  • girls without dress
  • girls breast feeding each other
  • girls in bathrooms

aren’t exactly the type of things that Google generally wants to suggest to most people. After all, this is the company that won’t suggest anything at all if you type in the letters “lesb,” because apparently suggestions related to the word “lesbian” might be too much for the average searcher to take.

Filters To Protect Kids…

The Five Words You Can Never Suggest On Google Instant is my previous in-depth article that covers the issue of Google filtering suggestions. What Do Pamela Anderson, New Pornographers, & Women Rapping Have In Common? Google Blacklist Knows is a follow-up piece that focuses on a list of blacklisted suggestions that’s been compiled.

In my “Five Words” piece, I explained that there are good reasons why Google needs to have some filtering in place:

Imagine a teacher doing a search in front of a class of children, looking for information about fuchsias. “Fuc….” they start to type, only to find Google automatically bringing up results for another and far more popular search topic that begins with those letters.

…That Fail To Work In Front Of A Kid

Ironically, it’s this type of situation that brought the current problem at Google Images to light. Gary Price at ResourceShelf tipped us to a Google support thread, where a father is complaining about these suggestions that came up in front of his daughter:

I just came across this today — embarassingly enough, while helping my 9-year old daughter with her homework.  This is extremely inappropriate.

Using US Image Search ( I typed just the single letter “g” and was immediately offered “girls without dresses”.  Needless to say, I did not want images of “girls without dresses”, nor did I even want my daughter to see that suggestion at all.

My original search was using my iPod Touch; later, and without my daughter present, I confirmed that the same autosuggest was offered whether I was signed in or not, using multiple browsers and computers.

More Surprising Suggestions

The father went on to note that for other letters, he also got surprising queries such as “hot girls wallpaper without bra” for the letter H:

or “kim kardashian no clothes” for the letter K:

SafeSearch For Autosuggest?

Google seems to come under fire both ways. With the suggestions on Google Images, the father is rightly upset that it isn’t protecting his daughter in the way Google itself says it should. Meanwhile, Comedian Max Goldberg does a funny bit about Google Instant’s “massive, unforgivable censorship.” He exaggerates the issue and simplifies it in ways I don’t agree with, but it makes the point on how Google can come under fire for filtering:

I think a step in the right direction remains a solution I wrote about earlier:

One thought is that Google should let people control filtering themselves. Using the Search Settings area, searchers can already decide if they want to override the default setting that applies SafeSearch filtering to images:

You can turn it off or make it even more strict, applying it to web searches.

SafeSearch only applies to the actual results that appear, not to search suggestions. But that could be changed. Anyone who wants uncensored suggestions could get them by toggling the filter off. But leave it on by default, and then you’ve ensured that children are better protected.

That’s assuming the filter is working right, of course, which in the case of the Google Images examples above, doesn’t seem to be the case. I’m sure that will get fixed shortly. As for the father who was concerned, I suppose the good news is that Google Instant hasn’t come to Google Images yet. If it had, his daughter might have been shown some images that matched what was suggested, rather than just seeing the suggestions.

Postscript: Google Instant filters misfire on video search from Malcolm Coles covers a similar situation at Google Video.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: Analysis | Google: Instant | Google: Suggest | Google: Web Search | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Vanessa Fox

    That video makes me angry because he keeps saying that you can’t search for any of those things when really, you can search for all of them and the results aren’t censored at all. You just don’t get the words autofilled for you as you type. But if you’re an adult (as he keeps repeating), you should know how to type in what you want and not have to rely on suggestions anyway.

  • Chris Silver Smith

    You’re right – I love how he’s being purposefully oblivious to the text below the search box that says “Press enter to search” for each of those words. Like how the search engines have always worked prior to Instant.

  • Kenny Hyder

    Except that the video is prefaced with a title that says “Censorship on Google Instant”

  • Danny Sullivan

    I didn’t agree with Max’s piece. I just included it because I’ve seen other people take this angle, and it was a way to illustrate that Google comes under fire in both directions. But I’ve added a note about this, too.

  • stevemarshallsem

    If you really want to see some interesting results, just do a google search for “gaping”. If you have blended results running you will get the shock immediately, if you dont have blended results, you will have to click the images link. Suprise!!!

    Because of this non family friendly behavior of the search giant, and it not getting any better any tie soon, I created a family friendly search engine. It simply shows Google safe search results through adsense for search. Basically automatically blocking the “porn” content and “bad” sites from your kids for you. It is simple and straigt forward, the way Google used to be. You can also set it as your home page for added security for your youngsters.

    Steve Marshall

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