Bug Turns Google “Anti-SafeSearch” On, Provides Porn Results

google-search-censored-featured

There’s a strange bug on Google where search queries that should return no matches are instead turning Google into a porn search engine, almost as if an “anti-SafeSearch” feature is being enabled.

Impossible Queries = Porn!

The Verge highlighted a Quora post about the bug, where doing some searches for “contradictory” or impossible to solve queries brings back porn listings.

For example, queries like the ones below currently do this (and be forewarned, you’re going to get porn results at Google if you click on these links):

Here’s an example of what the first query brings back, which I’m showing because the descriptions themselves are fairly “safe” even though the content they lead to is adult in nature (for some of the other queries, the descriptions can be graphic):

-s _s 2_ - Google Search

Impossible Queries?

In each of the searches above, you’re asking Google to find things that should have no matches. For example, this:

  • -s “s 2″

means you’re asking Google to find pages that do not have the letter S on them but which have the letter S in a phrase like “s 2.” It should be impossible to find a match for this. If there’s the phrase “s 2″ on a page, then the letter S will also be on that page.

The use of numbers seems to be key to causing the anti-SafeSearch to kick in (SafeSearch is a feature from Google designed to filter out porn results). For example, a query like this:

  • -title title

comes up with a message that no results could be found, rather than a set of porn results.

It’s Not A Feature; It’s A Bug

Why is this happening? Google doesn’t know. Google software engineer Jeremy Hoffman commented in the Quora thread, saying it was a bug:

As a web search query, [-4^(1/4)] is interpreted like [-4 "1 4"], as in ”Find me pages which contain a 1 next to a 4, but which do not contain a 4.” This should return zero results, because it is impossible to satisfy both requirements.

However, we have uncovered a bug that causes some web pages to “match” these contradictory queries. Since these are the only results that “match” the query, they are the results that get shown. We are working on a bug fix. Thanks to the Quora community for bringing this to our attention.

Somehow, somewhere buried in all the code that Google uses to rank websites, these types of queries seem to be triggering results for sites that match adult content. No doubt the bug will be fixed shortly. In the meantime, for those who want that, enjoy Google XXX.

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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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  • daveintheuk

    Another sign that Google’s algorithm is ludicrously over complicated.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fawadn2 Fawd Noor

    Great post.Thank you for updating us.
    http://superioreducationz.com
    Education Information

  • http://twitter.com/BIGELLOW Bob Bigellow

    Ah, yes. One mistake and it’s time to just close up shop.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cyberbryce Bryce Lewis

    -s “s 2″
    this means you’re asking Google to find pages that have the letter S on
    them but which don’t have the letter S in a phrase like “s 2.”

    No, it means you’re asking Google to find pages without the *word* “s” but that have exactly the phrase “s 2.” Learn.

  • dingclancy

    Danny please comment on this from The Verge: “It’s a result of the combination of impossible questions and what appears to be nefarious search engine optimization (SEO)”

    And this “… As for why these pages appear instead of something more innocuous, that’s less clear. The most obvious answer would be spammy SEO. These sites may not have targeted this specific bug, but by casting a wide net of links across the internet, they appear to be benefiting from it. Solving the immediate problem of not returning results for impossible searches will be much easier than fixing the SEO spam issue — but Google will need to tackle both.”

    http://www.theverge.com/2013/2/9/3969912/google-search-bug-returns-porn-for-contradictory-queries

    I fail to see any basis for this bug to be blamed on SEOs. This is just plain ignorance.

  • http://www.nathanielbailey.co.uk/ Nathaniel Bailey

    If you think that way I guess you best stop posting comments here as people don’t agree with you and your wrong!?

    Also have you closed your website’s’ yet? Because I take it you don’t have 0 bounce rate, thus not everyone thinks your site has what they want, so maybe its time to give up on that too?

    Google is the same as any other site/company, they can’t get it right all the time and will from time to time make mistakes etc (as we have seen more then once and generally in a funny way like this), but that don’t mean they are “spreading themselves too thin” it just means they need to fix what’s wrong to keep people happy again!

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Yes, it’s nothing to do with SEO or spam, as best I can tell. I did leave a comment over there about this.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Thanks, wrote it backwards, sorry. Got that fixed now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/scowan24 Stephen Cowan

    I have noticed when i google searched my business name “Awesome Sack” It pulls up some pictures that i am not happy to see being associated with that search. If this bug doesn’t get fixed i will even consider re-branding.

  • pcl

    Well … maybe we don’t really need that Google “driverless car” just yet. Take your time guys, we can wait until your sure you have it right. Really, we’ll understand.

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