Google SafeSearch is a powerful setting focused on reducing the inappropriate content from both search and image search results. But with so much new content uploaded every day, it’s nearly impossible to filter out all – or even a majority – of the “bad stuff”.
Enter Creative Commons, a non profit organization that advocates for the legal sharing of digital content by filtering image searches on the browser once enabled. This multi-faceted tool works complementary to Google SafeSearch, providing additional criteria that further restricts inappropriate content.
To see how the image search results differ between pure SafeSearch and SafeSearch with the Creative Commons filter, we looked at hundreds of side-by-side comparisons of Google image searches and picked just a few of the results to show here, separated by category.
- Because of space constraints, only the first two rows of the image search results were included.
- Image search results from Google SafeSearch appear on the left.
- Image search results with Google SafeSearch + Creative Commons appear on the right.
Chances are that a student has only one thing in mind when searching for the term “playboy”. The results (on both sides) also suggest this is the case.
However, Google SafeSearch results are predominantly of centerfolds from the Playboy magazine cover, whereas the Creative Commons images are mostly focused on the brand, returning results that include logos, the famous mansion, and a private jet associated with Playboy.
Englishman Thomas Chippendale was a famous cabinet-maker and furniture designer from the 16th century.
An unsuspecting student doing a report on Chippendale would be quite surprised to see the results returned by Google SafeSearch, which almost exclusively show the male adult dancers.
We again see a stark contrast here, with the Creative Commons results showing cabinetry and furniture created by the aforementioned British designer.
Dating back to the 15th century, this otherwise innocuous term became not-so-innocent when it started being used to refer to a female’s chest.
For those unfamiliar with this slang term, they would expect to see search results similar to those shown with the Creative Commons filter in place and not those returned by Google SafeSearch, which include a few images that are overtly sexual in nature.
The Creative Commons search results display images one would associate with moisture: contact lenses, vegetation, and a freshly baked loaf of bread. For the same term, a majority of Google Safe Search results return memes that use the word moist as part of sexual innuendo.
Students are creative. We know this much to be true. So instead of searching for the standard terms that are likely to be blocked by their school web filter, they often think of creative workarounds via synonyms.
On the left, we see that not one of the results from Google SafeSearch is school-appropriate.
On the right, Creative Commons has done a great job of filtering out suggestive photos and includes images mostly from news in France (as we know, the word derrière has a French etymology).
Searching for the term “pornstar” is an interesting example.
Google SafeSearch has of course filtered out any nudity that would normally appear in the standard image search results, but the images that remain are still very suggestive in nature.
On the other hand, the Creative Commons license does not return any results, thus deterring a student from searching for this term in the future.
Sexual content aside, there are many images that students should not be exposed to, especially at younger ages.
7) “gun control”
As one watches the news today, it’s impossible not to hear about mass shootings and the debate over gun control in the US.
While Google SafeSearch filters out overtly violent images, it still displays several pictures of handguns and even one violent image that doesn’t leave much to the imagination.
On the right, Creative Commons: a) does not return any images of actual guns (after all, this wasn’t the intent of the student), and b) does a good job of displaying images that are representative of both sides of the issue – those in favor of gun control as well as those in favor of protecting the second amendment. Students will likely find the latter to be more useful in their research.
Suicide is an extremely serious topic, especially when students are involved in the discussion. Often triggered by peer cyberbullying, suicide is listed as the 3rd leading cause of death for adolescents and the #1 cause of death globally for older adolescent girls.
Whatever the intent of the student’s search for this term, the results from Creative Commons are more helpful and appropriate.
While the Google SafeSearch results include images of a noose, a man putting a gun to his head, and a blank background that simply reads “the end”, the Creative Commons results offer facts and figures on suicide and even a few resources to help with intervention and prevention.
One might make the argument that employing the Creative Commons license is too restrictive, that perhaps this feature would prohibit students from doing research on a particular topic related to school.
We performed hundreds of educational searches and found that more often than not, the search results with Creative Commons were as good, if not better, than those returned by Google SafeSearch.
9) “Pythagorean theorem”
For this specific example, Google SafeSearch displays images that primarily state the famous equation of the Pythagorean Theorem: a2 + b2 = c2.
The Creative Commons results go a step further and show different visuals that demonstrate why this equation holds true for right triangles.
10) “solar system”
Here, the results on both sides are fairly identical.
Where the Creative Commons results offer a slight advantage is that for two images, they provide a visual description of all the planets’ relative distance from each other and the sun. One image is even normalized to 100, using a football field as the reference point, something more likely to resonate with students.
While the additional layer of the Creative Commons filter is not by any means foolproof, it serves as a great way to avoid classroom distractions for students and often provides more meaningful, relevant, and helpful content that aids in their research.
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