As I pointed out in an earlier post, searching for certain terms on Microsoft's new Bing.com search engine brings up videos that display hardcore porn within the Web site and because the porn is playing within Bing instead of the site where it's hosted, the videos are not necessarily blocked by parental control filters. And monitoring programs designed to tell parents where their kids have been are likely to simply report Bing.com instead of the site that actually hosts the video.
As Tom Krazit pointed out, Microsoft has responded to the issue in a blog post Thursday. That post is defensive--"we think our current search safety settings are solid"--but it does acknowledge "we also are listening to customers, and some have told us they want more control and they want it now."
The company says that it has a "short term workaround" but not only do I find the description of the workaround incomprehensible, I couldn't get it to work even while on the phone with a Microsoft executive. If you can figure out how to implement these instructions, please let me know:
So for right now, we wanted to let people know that you can add "adlt=strict" to the end of a query and no matter what the settings are for that session, it will return results as if safe search was set to strict. The query would look like this: http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=adulttermgoeshere&adlt=strict (yes it is case sensitive)."
But even if this can be made to work, it might help companies prevent employees from viewing porn but doesn't even begin to address the concerns of parents who don't want their kids playing porn movies from within the search engine of the world's largest software company.
To its credit Microsoft does have a "SafeSearch" option that does not bring up porn. In fact, it's the default setting. The problem is that if someone searches for an adult term with the setting on strict or moderate, they immediately get an invitation to "change your SafeSearch setting" right there on the screen. I love things that are user-friendly but, for kids, that may be a bit too user-friendly. At the very least, Microsoft would be better off following Google's example by requiring the user to manually go into the preference area to change the settings. It wouldn't stop a cybersavvy teen from finding porn, but it would at least slow them down a bit. And it probably would stop younger users from finding it. Another solution would be to have a family version of Bing with a different URL. The best solution is probably simply not to let porn videos play within Bing.
I'm not suggesting there is a silver bullet to this problem and I understand that Microsoft may have been caught by surprise over this, but it strikes me that a solution can be found and quickly implemented.
In the meantime I did get an e-mail today from Microsoft's Chuck Cosson telling me, "today we provided filtering companies as well as network administrators with a simple solution for restricting Bing to filtered searches." And he added, "while we give some further thought to Bing, I think it's also still our thinking that safe search settings on a single search engine can't substitute for a complete parental control offering--one reason to work with the filtering companies for example, but also that will inform how we respond here over time."
I agree. I don't think it's appropriate to demand that Microsoft make its search engine entirely kid-friendly. Porn may be inappropriate for kids and distasteful to some, but the type of porn you find on Bing is legal material and adults should have a right to search for it. I think parents do have the responsibility to set and enforce rules for their kids and, in some cases, monitor what their kids are doing online. But I also think Microsoft needs to put a bit more thought into how it can better empower parents to shield their kids from inappropriate material without censoring search results for adults. This may not be easy but it is possible.