Since I wrote last week about Google’s Secret Sexual No-Fly List, Tony Comstock has been doing some more digging into the perversities of Google’s various admitted and secret adult keyword filters. He’s been blogging up a storm about it, with posts like this:

In that last one, Tony shared the startling discovery that Google’s SafeSearch algorithm returns thirty three million “safe” results for [penis], but not a single one for [clitoris]. On top of all the other problems, Google’s filters are sexist! Tony expounded on this in his subsequent post, Dragged into Google’s Sex Ghetto, Kicking and Screaming:

As mentioned previously, I had been working on a post tentatively entitled “Does the Googlebot have Asperger’s Syndrome?” but I realize now that the analogy is too generous. People with Asperger’s see and understand the world differently from “normal” people, but I’ve never read anything about Asperger’s that suggests that Aspies are especially lazy or malfeasant.

The way that Google’s SafeSearch filter handles returns for [penis] vs. the way it handles them for [clitoris] isn’t a product of seeing things differently. It’s just plain lazy. Somewhere inside of Google, an engineer was tasked with filtering “adult” sites from returning under “strict filtering” searches. Somehow he (I’m going to have to assume this engineer is a man,) when confronted with the vagaries English language, was able to write an algorithm that allowed 30 million “safe” returns for [penis]. But when faced with the same problem for [clitoris] he found it easier to simply put clitoris on a list of banned words.

That’s not Aspie-ish, that’s just lazy and sexiest.

[Erotic] was too much trouble for him, so it got banned too. [Nude] and [naked] were too much trouble, so they were out. His algorithm couldn’t tell the difference between a nursery rhyme rooster and a raging hard-on, so [cock] got banned. Is this webpage talking about kitty-cats or cunts? His algorithm couldn’t tell, so [pussy] went on to the list, along with [bastard] and [anus]. For some reason his algorithm could find 4.7 million “safe” returns for [glans] and 2.5 million “safe” returns for [testicle], but not a single “safe” return for [fellatio] or [cunnilingus], so they went on the list as well.

That’s not the product of a odd blind spot to social interaction, that’s just lazy and ass-covering; not to mention laughable coming from a company that touts its “advance proprietary technology.” (I’ll leave it to someone else to decide whether or not it’s [evil].)

Now Susie Bright has gotten her teeth into the sexist implications of the penis versus clitoris filtering, and has written, in “Clitoris” on Google’s Banned Word List:

I recall the 1970s abortion rights poster that read “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” The sexism of the Internet infrastructure is the same joke. There is no way that men would consider “prostate cancer” an inappropriate search or conversation item. They would never for a moment consider that their “penis” was a word that couldn’t be allowed in a respectable business or learning environment.

But women’s bodies? Oh, you’re familiar with the filthy and unspeakable territory those will lead you into. It’s in the Bible, right?

Let’s stop coddling Internet censorship as if it were an etiquette or a “children’s” issue. The people suffering from being firewalled and banned aren’t commercial porn-makers with some gonzo to pitch — they’re educators, healthcare professionals, midwives, nurses, doctors, researchers, artists, writers, filmmakers, political activists, critics and analysts— all of whom find their interest in women’s lives to be shrouded in the great Internet burqa of “safeness.”

Look. I write a blog with “sex” right up in the title, and I make part of a living at it. So it’s no surprise that I’ve always hated the lame and weak approach to filtering that Google (well, all the search engines, but who else matters?) uses to disrupt and marginalize the great internet conversation about sex. It’s also no surprise that I can’t talk about this without some mental genius popping up in my comments to suggest that I wouldn’t care about this if I didn’t want more visitors to my blog. Happens, I’ve got six years of blog posts that prove I care passionately about the free exchange of sexual ideas, so I don’t let the nattering slow me down much. All of which is preface to my point, which is that I’m freaking delighted to see the beginnings of a noisy conversation about this.

Is there any hope that the sex bloggers of America can shame Google into being less shame-faced about the sexual contents of its search index? Given the massively overwhelming numerical superiority of the prudish majority to whom Google is catering with searches “safe” from female sexuality, probably not. But it’s important to remember that the actual people at Google are unlikely to be all that prudish or sexist; they are just, as Tony has pointed out so well, taking the lazy way out when attempting to do something (catering to sexist prudes) that they’d probably rather not be doing anyway, but for their perception (or perhaps assumption?) that it’s a corporate necessity.

Thus, I see at least a faint hope that if the mockery of their weak and lame filtering shortcuts is loud enough, they’ll have to improve their filtering systems out of a mix of professional pride and a sense of public relations necessity. If we can just disrupt their comfortable assumption that all sexual discussion is acceptable collateral damage, to be readily sacrificed in their (very difficult and endless) war against spammy porn sites, that alone would be a worthwhile step in the right direction.