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Google Blocks Mobile Porn Searches, but It's an Accident. Sort of. Maybe [Update]

Last Updated Nov 24, 2010 8:15 PM EST

It seems that users of Google (GOOG) Mobile search have a problem if they want unfiltered search results: They're not available. Within the last two days, consumer complaints have begun to flood Google support forums.

A regular reader tipped me off to the problem. As of yesterday, many mobile users found that they could no longer turn off safe mode when searching with Google. Safe search "blocks web pages containing explicit sexual content" from appearing in search results. There are three levels from which users have been able to choose:
  • "Use strict filtering (Filter both explicit text and explicit images)"
  • "Use moderate filtering (Filter explicit images only - default behavior)"
  • "Do not filter my search results"
Typically, a user can click on the Search settings link at the top of any Google search page. From some quick experimenting, it seems "explicit" is not so strict that, for example, a search for "nude art" turns up only clothed figures.

An answer from a Google employee stated that the company is aware of the issue. As of yet, there is no update on the situation:


According to user reports, the problem is widespread and extends not only to different model Android phones, but also to the Apple (AAPL) iPhone and Research in Motion (RIM) BlackBerry operating systems. A number of users posting in the support forum suggested that this was some intentional action on the part of Google to censor search results.

Given that someone found a workaround by viewing sites as normal and not in mobile mode, censorship seems unlikely. However, as a Google employee didn't address the question until a day after the complaints started to come in, even though it is a day before Thanksgiving, people then began to complain about the delays in support.

What Google probably wants to avoid is the unauthorized business slogan suggested by one user writing under the name freyianodin: "Where everything is always new, but rarely improved."

[Update: I just heard from Google. Apparently, engineers have found the problem and are rolling out a fix that could "take a few hours to complete." However, while a Google employee on the forum said, "The team was able to quickly diagnose the issue and provide a fix," it still took a good day before anyone noticed the problem.

Another point: given the roughly 12-hour time difference of the posts and a reference to "happy Thanksgiving to all of you in the States," it seems clear that Google runs its customer service from overseas. My guess is somewhere in Asia.]

Related: Image: Flickr user moggs oceanlane, CC 2.0.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.