Things You Can’t Ask at Ask.com

Ask.com censorship

Ask.com has such a blatantly stupid filtering engine that legitimate searches are blocked when they trigger some keywords about sex and children — even when they’re completely innocuous. Thanks to the threat of lawsuits against search engines for not actively monitoring their databases to remove illegal sites, they’ve chosen to completely darken a broad swath of information when asked with the wrong words. Here’s a short list of searches at Ask.com that return the TOS error:

laws against pedophilia
talking to your children about sex
blocking porn from kids
warning your kids about sex offenders

What kills me is that law enforcement could actually be using the same search engines to find and shut down child porn sites (or getting them removed from the index on a case-by-case basis). But instead the idea is to scare the search engines into throwing the baby, the tub and all the plumbing out with the bathwater.

posted by vforvandyke
  • http://www.gabejohnson.org/ Gabe J

    whew, I’m not sure I want to touch this one…

    ask.com is a private company, and i suppose that in the end, thay have a right as such to block whatever thay see fit, i mean, hell, google, yahoo, you can get answers to these questions there. You know, as we enter into this new age, and persons have the degree of choices that they will soon have, in all things, from the type of taco they eat to the type of internet search engine they want to use, we will see more and more of this, and I say, good.

    I hope that an all christian search engine is produced, and an all satanic one too. Ask says no to to pedophiles, maybe another search engine will do nothing ut return iems retated to child sex. I see this not as an invason of civil liberties, but as a glorius affirmation thereof.

  • http://www.gabejohnson.org/ Gabe J

    It’s me again, man i tried quite a few tricky little terms to sneak by the ask.com people, and dont you know, they busted me, you cannot ask about children and sex AT ALL on ask.com, friggin crazy! with all the money they’re spending on avertising, I cant believe they would surrender a market as strong as teh pedo market, those guys spend money! (though mostly on child sex/porn)

    oh, hell, i just know you are going to take that more seriously than it deserves.

  • Stephen VanDyke

    Gabe J: I know you’re approaching this from the free market angle (and humorously in your second post), and I appreciate that and agree with you that a diverse market is best for consumers.

    But I still have to wonder if Ask.com decided to block these searches because of legal reprisals rather than as a conscientious choice to cater only to a certain customer.

  • Brian R. Miller

    I have no doubt the legal firestorm around “the internet is a den of perverts waiting to consume your child’s soul” plays into the whole thing.

    However, on a broader level, it illustrates how useless filters are as a way to stop criminal activity but how they block legitimate activity. For instance, what if someone wanted to google about learning what the “sex of their newborn child” is? The filter would pick up “sex” and “child” and block it.

    Ditto for gay web sites — most filters block out sites related to HIV education and even sites as tame as Advocate.com and GLAAD.org simply because they have the word “gay” or “lesbian” in them.

    Ask.com is unlikely to lose much revenue from just this one instance of clumsy filtering, but if the fad catches on, it will lose its utility as a reliable search medium in any area which has any tangential or incidental link to bad things or bad words. Not good for them.

  • Oje

    And if it was the other way where you guys entered what you are putting in and something came up you didnt like you would be on here bitching about that. You people are never happy i swear.

  • http://www.gabejohnson.org/ Gabe J

    I’m happy, oje.

  • Wes

    I think Oje has us confused with other people.

  • Wes

    DontAsk.com

    But wait! Register.com does list an owner for dontask.com

  • Oje

    Im not confused, i just understand why a site would do something like this. If they pick and choose they run the risk of blocking a site by accident that may not need to be blocked. Then if that site finds out they are being blocked they would probably file some sort of law suit for being grouped together with child porn sites and things like that. So rather than risk that, they just block everything dealing with that topic to make it easier on them.

    If you need to go online to find out tips to teach your child how to avoid a predator than you are failing as a parent. The internet isnt 200 years old, 50 years ago people didnt search how to teach their kids this, they used what are called parenting skills, something most parents are lacking these days.

  • http://UnCivilDefence.blogspot.com MRJarrell

    “explaining human reproduction to children” garners 50,600 results.
    “laws against sexual criminals” yields 136,400
    “filters for pornography” got me 90,000 (and a warning that some content had been filtered).
    “teaching kids about sexual predators” got a whopping 18,900.

    Where there’s a will and language there is a way. The word pr0n alone gets you numerous results, pedophilia gets you a ToS notice. While I don’t necessaril agree with their unstated stance I must say that it’s their right to go off in this direction. Silly? Maybe on a personal level but from a marketing outlook? Genius.

  • IanC

    Here’s what I find amusing. I know for a fact that these blocks wouldn’t stop actual kiddie-PR*|\| sites from being able to be searched for. It’s all in the terms.

    Don’t you people think they removed the easily-found terms a long time ago? These are criminals posting their information to the public! The only way they could keep from being killed in prison with ten-foot-long poles rammed up their asses would be to use subculture specific jargon as the search-terms.

    So, yeah. It makes ‘em feel warm ‘n fuzzy but doesn’t accomplish much but tick off people looking for legitimate things. More power to ‘em. (The freedom of a society is measured in the length of rope it permits people to claim when making their own nooses…)

  • nemo

    Regarding IanC’s comment.
    That would make sense, except that for years I’ve had a steady trickle of disturbing queries reach a mirror I made of a public domain text site before it disappeared from the internet.
    http://m8y.org/NakedWord/

    Anyway, due to the coincidence of one character’s name, I get countless queries looking for “boy” and that character’s name.
    http://m8y.org/NakedWord/-w_winfield-c-s_arthur-s_m-p-t_the-s_rover-s_boys-s_in-s_new-s_york.html

    The IP addresses are all over the U.S. and all kinds of carriers – mostly Yahoo! searches interestingly.
    Maybe Google doesn’t know about me, or uses different algorithms. Otherwise, would make for a rather poor marketing slogan for Yahoo! – “The engine of choice for perverts!”

  • IanC

    Yahoo’s been that for years. I used to frequent the public chatrooms they had there, right up until they all got shut down because it turned out they were being funded by pedo peddler websites. There were lawsuits involved.

    I’m still in contact with a few people from there. Mostly it was trash, but occassionaly I found a good person or two to chat with when insomnia had its (then-frequent) grip on me.

  • http://www.tom-hanna.org Tom Hanna

    For instance, what if someone wanted to google about learning what the “sex of their newborn child” is? The filter would pick up “sex” and “child” and block it.

    I don’t feel particularly sorry for anyone who isn’t bright enough to use the word “gender.”

  • Phil

    Once again it come down to personal choice and the mechanics of the free market.
    If I can’t get the answer I want/need from ASK.com, I will go to another search engine that does not have the same filtering.
    As it exists now (and I know ther are forces out there that want to change it), the ‘net allows me the freedom to choose where I get my information from.
    This is about as Libertarian as it gets my friends and if you object to ASK’s filtering policy what you are really asking for is REGULATION that conforms to you beleifs.
    Get over it! If you object, don’t use ASK.com

  • http://www.gabejohnson.org/ Gabe J

    well, stephen, i maen, thats the real question, isnt it, what was teh mindset of teh ask peope when they put this policy in place. i totally agree that if a company refuses to allow certain searches due to government fears, that is inappropriate, but we havn’t confirmed this fact to be as such. i prefer to think positively about things like this, bottom like, there is a market out there right now for pedophile search engines, and I truly hope that some enrepenurial spirit with a bit more internet programming knowledge than I will profit therefrom.

    good luck, you sick bastard.