MOUNTAINVIEW, Calif. (BP) – Google will automatically blur sexually explicit images in search results regardless of security settings, the company announced Feb. 7 in one of the latest moves among tech giants to limit unintentional pornographic viewing online.
The announcement comes months after YouTube demonetized content with sex, violence and profanity. Videos with such content within the first eight seconds of play are ineligible to receive ad revenue, Gamespot.com reported.
Such changes are welcomed, but more is needed to safeguard the public from damaging content online, technology ethicist Jason Thacker told Baptist Press.
“Technology companies have a moral responsibility to empower parents and guardians with the tools necessary to protect themselves and their children online,” said Thacker, director of the Research Institute and chair of research in technology ethics at the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“These tools can allow space for families to have healthy conversations about the benefits but also the real dangers of online activities,” Thacker said. “There is not a one-size fits all approach to the digital age, and we all must cultivate wisdom for navigating these new opportunities and challenges in light of the Christian ethic.”
Google’s change applies to the company’s SafeSearch filter. Within the “coming months,” Google said, “a new setting will blur explicit imagery if it appears in search results when SafeSearch filtering isn’t turned on. This setting will be the new default for people who don’t already have the SafeSearch filter turned on, with the option to adjust settings at any time.” SafeSearch filtering is already on by default for signed-in users under 18.
The changes are especially important in shielding children from inappropriate content, Thacker said.
“Amid much of the gripping polarization in our current cultural and political environment, one thing we seem to all agree on is the necessity of protecting our children from many of the harmful effects of technology and social media,” Thacker said. “While we will never be able to truly shield our children from all dangerous content and activities online, recent changes like this are a welcomed development and more is needed.”
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) and the Parents Television and Media Council (PTC) have also noted the changes.
“NCOSE is thrilled that Google has taken this positive step forward to help create a safer internet. Now there is one more level of protection,” NCOSE said in a press release responding to Google’s move. “Children could easily stumble on sexually explicit images even by typing an innocent search term in Google.”
Google’s new policy can also benefit victims and survivors of sexual exploitation, NCOSE said, referencing assaults and sexual abuse that are recorded and uploaded online.
The PTC commended YouTube for its advertising restrictions, but warned that “YouTube is still a Wild West when it comes to children.”
“We hope YouTube will continue to implement policies to better protect children from harmful content and to discourage bad actors,” PTC Vice President Melissa Henson said in a press release. “Kids are overwhelmingly watching online video – YouTube in particular.
“While YouTube’s new advertising policies are a step in the right direction, explicit or graphic content is still able to be used in videos after the first 8 seconds without being demonetized.”
In its November 2022 report ‘A Tik-Toking Time Bomb’ the PTC reported that Hollywood is marketing TV shows with explicit adult content to young teens through social media sites like Instagram that are popular with 13-17-year-olds.
Facebook must do more to protect children from such targeted advertising, the PTC urged in January, describing the content as “explicit TV-MA and R-rated entertainment.”
“Currently, Hollywood does an end-run around parents by enabling shows with explicit adult content to be marketed to children through social media channels,” Henson said. “Stopping this needs to be a priority for Meta, and for all social media channels.”