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Google announced today that it will enable its SafeSearch filtering technology by default for all users in the coming months. The filter is designed to help people protect themselves and their families from inadvertently encountering explicit imagery on Search. The search giant says it’s announcing the feature today to mark Safer Internet Day.
The setting will soon be the new default for people who don’t already have the SafeSearch filter turned on. As a result, Google will blur explicit imagery if it appears in Search results. Explicit results include sexually explicit content like pornography, violence and gore. Google notes that users have the option to adjust the setting at any time. Prior to this expansion, the filter was already on by default for signed-in users under 18.
Once the setting becomes the default, Google will notify you that it has turned on SafeSearch blurring. If you come across an explicit image, you can choose to see it by clicking on the “view image” button. Or, you can select the “manage setting” button to adjust the filter or turn it off altogether. For instance, you can choose the “filter” option, which helps filter explicit images, text and links. Or, you can select the “off” option, which means that you will see all of the relevant results for your query, even if they’re explicit.
It’s worth noting that SafeSearch only works on Google search results and that it won’t block explicit content you find on other search engines or websites that you go to directly. Google also notes that while SafeSearch isn’t 100% accurate, it helps filter out explicit content in Google search results for all your queries across images, videos and websites.
Google initially turned on SafeSearch by default for signed-in users under 18 in August 2021 around the same time when Congress pressed Google and other tech companies on the negative impacts their services may have on children.
By making its SafeSearch filtering on by default for all users, Google is making it easier to ensure that children and teens don’t encounter explicit imagery, given that not everyone uses Google while logged into an account, which means the filter may not be enabled for them even if they’re under 18 years of age. The expansion also exposes the feature to people who may been unaware of it otherwise, but might find it useful. And of course, if you don’t want to have the filter on, you can always just turn it off in your settings.
Last year, Google said it was starting to use AI to improve its ability to remove unwanted explicit or suggestive content from Search results when people aren’t specifically seeking it out. Even when Google’s SafeSearch filtering technology is turned off, Google still attempts to reduce unwanted explicit content from those searches where finding racy content wasn’t the goal. But the AI technology known as BERT now works to help Google better understand if people were seeking explicit content.