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What's In And Out on Instant?

Dan Cash

It’s hard to miss the fact that Google have launched a search facility which predicts what you’re going to write and searches as you type. Well, most of the time.

If Google Instant thinks you’re looking for something you shouldn’t it stops tracking and the screen goes mysteriously blank until you press return to see your search results. Even if you have turned safesearch off search terms such as ‘great tits’ and ‘shag’ will require you to press return to see your results, which is a huge disappointment to ornithologists everywhere.

Alright, those are a bit unfair since there are probably fewer birdwatchers on the net than there are people looking for raunch but what other peculiar terms does Google deem unsuitable when idly browsing?  Some blacklistings, (or should I say blanklistings?) are quite simply unfathomable. So, do you have to press return to see results for:

Suck? Yes.    Blow? No.

Cocaine? Yes.  Heroin? No.

Pari Hilto

It gets more peculiar with a couple of other blanklisted terms including Paris Hilton and Pamela Anderson.  Lindsay Lohan apparently is OK.  Some of these seem to be anomalous though, when you’re typing Paris Hilton or Pamela Anderson it’s only when you type the last letter that Google decides the data should be in some way restricted, Paris Hilto and even just Pamela show exactly what you’d expect. It’s only when you complete their names that Google gets twitchy.

But it’s not just things associated with the carnal side of life that Google keeps in the Net Nanny’s Dictionary of Bad Words. Anything in front of “are idiots” pulls a blank while if you type “all *insert minority* are” also comes up with nothing unless you’re targeting Eskimos.

There's Been A Murder

While it’s fun to see what other people think is offensive or presume other people will be offended by, it does throw up a another question. When I searched for “murdered” the instant results are significantly different from the results I received if I pressed space then return. Instant returns a stream of results for a custom car company called Murdered Out, press return and you’ll get what you would have expected; news and Wikipedia entries about homicide.  Murderdolls (US punk horror supergroup)  seem to be trending so they appear before murder,  although last month Murderdolls received 14,800 searches while murder received slightly fewer than the average for the year at 33,100. Of course it’s impossible to differentiate cause and effect from such a small study but are Murderdolls trending because Google is deliberately pointing its users at them or are they coming in high because they are particularly popular at the moment?

So, while you still only have to press return to see all the results you normally would but what are the implications? Does this show how Google have started to control content and information?  Alright it’s only one more keystroke but is it the thin end of the wedge? Is it Google “Nannying the Net”?

When BP’s Deepwater Horizon failed so spectacularly the company’s PR went into overdrive trying to direct users away from news and toward holiday resorts on the gulf coast. It’s rumoured that they were spending $10,000 per day on links that were intended to distract you and drive their results down page one.  If only Google Instant had been available then and it was deliberately avoiding certain results in order to protect people from ‘inappropriate content’ think of the money they could have saved if only they had had a word in the right ear!

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