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Bing Includes Anti-Porn Tools

Microsoft's new search engine offers features to counter "porn theater" mode.

Paul McDougall

June 10, 2009

2 Min Read

Microsoft is taking heat for a feature in its new Bing search engine that allows users to watch full-motion snippets of porn videos -- China and certain Muslim countries have disabled the function -- but the software maker is emphasizing that Bing also includes tools that allow users to turn off anything they find offensive.

"There are several preventive features incorporated into Bing to help block this type of material," a Microsoft spokesman said in an e-mail to InformationWeek on Tuesday.

Most basically, Bing incorporates a filter called SafeSearch. If it's set to "strict," SafeSearch will prevent any explicit images from turning up in a search.

SafeSearch is set to strict by default. "This is a bit more of a conservative approach than others in the industry," Bing general manager Mike Nichols said in a recent blog post.

"If you set SafeSearch to strict, you will not see any explicit text, image, or video content. If you turn SafeSearch off, which requires you to change the setting and then click again to acknowledge that you are over 18, then explicit content may appear," wrote Nichols.

Microsoft also has added a tool that lets network managers enforce the SafeSearch mode at the network level. 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 SafeSearch was set to strict," said Nichols.

Nichols said Microsoft may introduce some other tools that help Bing users block explicit content. "We think our current search safety settings are solid, but at Microsoft we are always working on pushing this stuff farther," said Nichols.

Microsoft has good reason to beef up Bing's safety features. The fact that it displays video content without redirecting users to the original source could expose the company to copyright suits. Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo have been sued in the past by publishers of adult-themed products over image search results that display still photos from their products.

Microsoft is looking to make a bigger splash in the search market. Through the first nine months of 2008 the company committed more than $1.5 billion to acquiring search, or search-driven businesses -- including a $1.3 billion buyout of enterprise specialists Fast Search & Transfer.

Redmond is hoping to catch up to Google in search market share. But it's got its work cut out for it. Google presently controls about 64% of the U.S. search market, while Microsoft owns only about 8% of the market, according to researchers at ComScore. Yahoo, the No. 2 player, holds 21% of the market.

About the Author(s)

Paul McDougall

Editor At Large, InformationWeek

Paul McDougall is a former editor for InformationWeek.

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