Home You Can’t Say That On Google: The Phrases Google Instant Won’t Suggest

You Can’t Say That On Google: The Phrases Google Instant Won’t Suggest

Searching for Canadian rock band Barenaked Ladies? How about William S. Burroughs’ novel Naked Lunch? Or 1990s teen angst anthem Smells Like Teen Spirit?

If you’re looking on Google Instant, the newest version of Google Search that suggests search phrases as you type, these are among a slew of phrases that the search engine just won’t suggest. According to the folks at legendary hacker zine 2600, “somewhere within Google there exists a master list of ‘bad words'”, and they’ve begun putting them together into what they’re calling the “Google Blacklist – Words That Google Instant Doesn’t Like”.

Upon unveiling the new feature earlier this month, Google acknowledged that there would be a number of terms and phrases that wouldn’t have any suggestions and, immediately, one reporter in the room by the name of “Slutsky” pointed out that her own last name falls under the “blacklisted” variety.

A Google spokesperson, however, told us that there is indeed no master list, as it just wouldn’t be technically feasible. Instead the entire issue is handled by an algorithmic approach.

There are a number of reasons you may not be seeing search queries for a particular topic. Among other things, we apply a narrow set of removal policies for pornography, violence, and hate speech. It’s important to note that removing queries from autocomplete is a hard problem, and not as simple as blacklisting particular terms and phrases. In search, we get more than one billion searches each day. Because of this, we take an algorithmic approach to removals, and just like our search algorithms, these are imperfect. We will continue to work to improve our approach to removals in Autocomplete, and are listening carefully to feedback from our users.

Our algorithms look not only at specific words, but compound queries based on those words, and across all languages. So, for example, if there’s a bad word in Russian, we may remove a compound word including the transliteration of the Russian word into English. We also look at the search results themselves for given queries. So, for example, if the results for a particular query seem pornographic, our algorithms may remove that query from Autocomplete, even if the query itself wouldn’t otherwise violate our policies. This system is neither perfect nor instantaneous, and we will continue to work to make it better.

Both Google and 2600 point out that, while Google may not suggest certain terms and phrases, if you want to search for something all you need to do is type in the whole phrase and hit enter. Google limits the removal of search results to very specific cases, involving issues of legality or search engine gaming. Want to search for “Barenaked Ladies”, not the band? Feel free – Google just won’t suggest it, to keep the entire search experience family friendly.

If you too think “it would be great fun to compile as many of these objectionable terms as possible – and also see what objectionable terms were NOT included”, then email [email protected] and make your contribution to the big list of terms Google won’t suggest you search for.

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