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Yahoo! (un)SafeSearch

By on Jun 22, 2006 in Tech Takes | 8 comments

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A screenshot of the search page in question. Top right shows that Yahoo! SafeSearch is ON. Inappropriate content has also been marked. Note that these are not the only ones, there are more on the same page itself. Pictures have been smudged here because the screenshot is only to reinforce the point of this blog post.

Remember that case when a school teacher told students to search for images with the search term ‘WWW’, and was shocked to see the results it turned up? Yahoo! had to face a lot of embarrassment about that. However, it seems that it isn’t enough for Yahoo! Search to pull up its socks.

For a project, I was searching for some information related to Greenpeace. I wanted some images of Greenpeace in news for that, so I tried to look it up on my fave, Yahoo! Image Search. Being a nice little kid, I have SafeSearch with the highest settings, so that all inappropriate / adult results are omitted. Imagine my shock, what the results show. There are quite a few very unrelated adult ones within the top results. Or if they somehow (I don’t know how that can be) they are related, then they shouldn’t show up anyway since SafeSearch should filter it out. And there are quite a few of them.

I immediately wrote to Yahoo! Search customer care about this. The answer I got back was far from encouraging.

Thank you for writing to Yahoo! Search.

You can choose to have explicit, adult-oriented images filtered out of your Yahoo! Image Search results by choosing “block adult content” on the Advanced Image Search page. You can also select “block explicit images” in your Search Preferences. To access your Search Preferences, click the “Preferences” link at: or click the link near the top of your Web results page to view and change your search settings.

Please remember that while the adult content filter removes many explicit images, it cannot guarantee that all adult-oriented images will be filtered out.

Thank you again for contacting Yahoo! Customer Care.

Yahoo! Customer Care

For assistance with all Yahoo! services please visit:

Point is, I had written specifically, stating that entering that search term throws up such results. And it is apparent from their reply (it’s unedited) that they’re only giving a standard reply without looking properly into the matter. The email did NOT offer a resolution, or promise that it would be carried out soon. It simply kept on harping how I should use SafeSearch, and how it can’t help all the time. I’m no novice here, I know how to activate it. And it’s true it may not work everytime, users are there to point out that, but what disappointed me was that they did not care to rectify the mistake. Once bitten twice shy? You are definitely not talking about Yahoo! here.

I like Yahoo! a lot; I accept that fact. It is clear from my other posts on this blog about their services. However, this disregard, I’d say for customer feedback (I’ve praised its customer care many times earlier) is certainly not something that I ever expected from Yahoo!, an entity which gives tips on how to protect children. It even has Yahoo!ligans to provide a safe area for children. Sadly, it didn’t pay attention to my email at least. It’s own house is not in proper order.

I, as a Yahoo! Search user, thus would like to know – is Yahoo! doing enough to protect children online? It has come under flak for that earlier, when it had to shut down chat rooms in Yahoo! Messenger. It’s time that Yahoo! made SafeSearch really safe. And the need is more pressing, since I believe thousands of environmentally conscious kids across the world may search for this term, and be exposed to potentially inappropriate content. The audience which may be affected is large, and something needs to be done soon.


  1. Abhishek

    June 23, 2006

    Post a Reply

    Google rocks, as usual. Smarter algorithms, more brains in computers. Google is after all just a search company, it even says that in Gmail. Their work is organising stuff and GMail is an example of just that. The message archival system is more than just brilliant in Gmail, even though you may not agree. And let me clarify somethings about Yahoo mail. The concept is a total rip of gmail. They are the ones who had Ajax integrated first, and even now Gmail works faster than Yahoo on my PC. It initially takes more time to load, but after that I’ve never seen a faster mail service. And since you are a person who thinks Yahoo is the best of best, Google has always stayed ahead in everything, which is why it was able to go public with $80 a share which has now crossed 400.

    And to talk about filtering adult images….Google…is the plain winner..its time to get things right and not just support the newbies.

  2. Abhishek

    June 23, 2006

    Post a Reply

    And they respond so fast probably because they dont know how to get their work done. See service all ways come before support, if there is no service you dont need customer care. And since google responds to queries with more than just a solution and doesnt say oh yeah our search engine isn’t very efficient in filtering out adult images, it just shows where being professional is better than being neither here nor(amateur) there(pro

    Something to think about:
    Sergey Brin and Larry Page cannot be called dropouts, because after they dropped out and made $10 mn, they went back and completed their education. A pure example of saying, “When there is a will there is a way”.

    Bill Gates leaving Microsoft is as good as saying, “The mighty have no theory of technique”

  3. Siddharth Razdan

    June 23, 2006

    Post a Reply

    Well, Yahoo 360! is only for those 18 and above. Let the kiddo grow :-)

    (Siddharth Razdan)

  4. Great Quizzard

    June 23, 2006

    Post a Reply

    Well, yes, I don’t use Yahoo! 360 because it’s only for above 18. And it’s more of a social connectivity service than a pure blogging tool. But given a choice, I’d have chosen it over Blogger.

    As for Yahoo! Mail vs Gmail, this is not the place to discuss it. But still I will. Most users say Yahoo! Mail Beta loads faster. And it is Yahoo! that is using more of Web 2.0 technologies across its services.

    Calling Yahoo! a newbie is wrong; it’s been around longer than Google. And I never called Larry and Sergey dropouts.

  5. Great Quizzard

    June 23, 2006

    Post a Reply

    I think what happened is that due a large amount of traffic on their customer care addresses, they did not pay much attention to the email when they should have. What they did is lift text from their help page on SafeSearch verbatim, which is not what I wanted.

    The error should be rectified soon, and is more serious because most other major search engines do not show the inappropriate results even with moderate SafeSearch on. So it’s a Yahoo! Search-specific problem.

  6. Great Quizzard

    July 15, 2006

    Post a Reply

    Recently, I tried the same search terms with SafeSearch turned ON. I still got the inappropriate results, although their rankings were 1-2 places lower than last time. Not good enough, Yahoo! Search.

  7. Anonymous

    August 21, 2006

    Post a Reply

    i think Yahoo! has some serious problems…i read this blog nearly two months after it’s orignal posting [ran into it while reading about yahoo! on wiki] and tried the “greenpeace” search. Sadly, even after so much controversy seems like Yahoo! hasnt cleaned up it’s act…it displays explicit images even on safe search….hmmm…not very good

  8. Great Quizzard

    August 22, 2006

    Post a Reply

    Yes, Yahoo! has not yet convincingly responded to the problem. Even after this issue came up in so many places. Whatever happened to ‘customer care’, I don’t see any caring been done to customer sentiments.

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