Monday, 27 February 2012

SafeSearch settings, are they really that safe?

If you've got children who can access a computer, then you more than likely have SafeSearch settings on search engines such as Google or Yahoo set to “Strict” which will filter out any adult content. Theoretically anyway.

The search filters work by searching for key words linked to the image when performing a search, however if there aren't any objectionable words on the website where the image is stored then the filter will not work and adult images will be shown. For example:

I typed “fox” into Google with the SafeSearch settings set to strict and as expected, I was shown pictures of foxes, however I was also shown images of the actress Megan Fox:

Not too bad, but on page 8:

I also tried the same search on Yahoo with the search settings also set to strict which should filter out adult content. The results were worse:

I also tried the same search settings with the word “melons”:

I can’t actually show you the “SafeSearch” results for Yahoo as they’re not safe for work, but I’m sure you get the idea. However if you do want to see how bad it can be, have a search around for yourself with different words.

There is an option to report the inappropriate pictures which is demonstrated in this video:

 However not all images are guaranteed to be removed.

So is simply relying on SafeSearches (which many parents do) enough to protect your children from seeing inappropriate content online? Even if you wanted to check what they were looking at after using the computer by checking the internet history, you’re likely to not realise if they are. Admittedly though, you’d probably realise something wasn’t quite right if you had quite a few page views of “melons”. Obviously, you can’t sit with your child every time they’re using the computer but you can try to keep on top of what they’re doing to keep them safer online. Here are a few useful tips & warning signs to look out for:

  • Keep the computer or laptop in a communal room and if possible, in an area which is easily viewable by you. Be aware if they quickly close or minimise windows when you enter a room or walk nearby and question the reason why.
  • Turn the internet off when everyone should be in bed.
  • Set up parental controls through your admin account on your PC so that the computer will limit internet usage for your child’s account during specific hours – you can also choose to prevent them from playing on certain age restricted games etc.
  • Use pop-up blockers for your browser to stop children being able to click through to other sites.
  • Be aware of ALL computers your child has access to – including smart phones and check them every once in a while – make them aware that the same rules apply to those as when using a regular PC.  
  • Check your child’s internet history frequently – if it is being deleted often then question why
  • Still make use of SafeSearch settings but sit with your child when looking for vague search phrases or explore the idea of lettings them use child friendly search engines such as AskKids or KidsClick.

I hope you’ve found some useful information here. I may look into the parental controls for PCs in my next post – thanks for reading!


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