- Change Your Child’s Homework Mindset - September 8, 2016
- GCSE Rating Changes and the Impact on Kids and Parents - September 1, 2016
- Are You a Grammarista? Try our Grammar Test to Find Out - April 18, 2016
You might have heard of the Kiddle search engine for kids. It was in the news this week, when it was discovered that search terms such as ‘lesbian’ and ‘transgender’ were blocked. We took a closer look to find out what people were annoyed about, and if Kiddle is safe for kids to use.
One of the reasons that people were so upset was that the above search terms led to a page stating the query contained some ‘bad words’. This now seems to have been changed, as the company responds to the criticism. As I was writing this, the site was changed again. Now when a rude word is entered, the message reads simply ‘Oops, try again’.
We could see this as positive, that they are listening to the concerns of users, but there are other issues with Kiddle.
How the Kiddle Search Engine Works
According to the company website, the search results are either hand-picked by their editors, or filtered by Google Safe Search. Some websites appear to be completely banned – including Jump! Mag, which is totally safe for children!
Who is Kiddle Aimed At?
I’m assuming it’s aimed at younger kids. Even my 12 year old would be unwilling to use Kiddle search engine, since it blocks so many search terms that would be needed for homework.
The filtering is so incredibly random. You can search for ‘holocaust’ but not for ‘nazi’ or ‘genocide’. ‘KuKluxKlan’ is allowed, but ‘KKK’ is not. ‘Abortion’ is banned, but not ‘contraception’.
There is also no provision for age appropriate filtering of content. I’m pretty open and honest with my kids, but I presented information in a different way when they were younger. First discussions about WWII and the Holocaust were more general and didn’t go into great detail. Now they are older, we’ve talked about the gas chambers and concentration camps.
Blocking Sex Education
While ‘contraception’ is allowed, ‘sex education’ is blocked. Parents who are abusive towards their children could use this blocking software to stop their children accessing advice. Other children don’t have anyone to talk to about sex, and rely on information that they find online. Kids who are questioning their sexuality can find non-judgemental advice online.
We are raising digital natives. Even kids who have a good relationship with their parents, and have talked about sex and relationships might feel more comfortable searching online for information.
If you have not yet had The Talk (and it actually helps not to think of it as a one-off, excruciating monologue, but rather as an ongoing discussion!), have a look at our tips on talking to your kids about sex.
What Slips Through The Filter?
Then we come to the search terms that are allowed, and this is where the site fails completely.
Search for ‘snuff’, and on the second page, there is a search result about a snuff film. Ironically, you have to go a lot further into Google (even without Safe Search), to find anything about this topic.
When I googled ‘homosexual’, the 5th search result was a link to the New Catholic Encyclopedia. You won’t be surprised by the information presented on that site. This made me wonder about their filtering algorithms, and how they choose which results to show.
How can a company filter search results in a way that presents unbiased information on any subject? And that will satisfy all parents, regardless of their political views and opinions? Think of the controversial topics of discussion online. Race, sexuality, religion, abortion, creationism vs science, vaccination vs homeopathy … which websites does this search engine present as reliable?
And parents will have very different views on what they wish their children to find. Some parents don’t wish their kids to be informed about sex until they are teenagers, while others are very open and honest. There is no way for this product to be strict enough to appeal to the former parent, while open enough to appease the latter parent.
It is simply impossible to filter the search results to an extent that everything is safe for children. They couldn’t employ enough editors to check all the search results for ‘homosexual’, not to mention the dozens of alternative words that kids might google. Words that they’d heard in school or on TV, that they didn’t understand.
What about slang and regional colloquialisms? We’ve all heard the joke about a Brit asking an American friend if he could ‘bum a fag’. Both words are banned on Kiddle by the way. Even the rather benign ‘poo’ is banned.
Kiddle search engine uses Google Safe Search, and so the ‘safety’ aspect only works for the initial search. Once the child has navigated to a page, there is no more control or blocking of content, and they are just a few clicks away from images that parents would prefer they didn’t view.
Is Kiddle Search Engine Safe for Kids?
From the changes they’ve made in the past few days, it’s clear that the company is tweaking the site to provide a better service. A longer testing phase (and feedback from parents) may have saved them from the negative publicity this week. It remains to be seen if they can offer a better service, but the reservations I have remain.
The Kiddle search engine may seem like a good idea at first glance, but exactly this illusion of safety is the danger. Parents think that if they restrict their children to using this site, they are protecting them. When in fact, they’d be just as well using Google Safe Search, and keeping a close eye on what they are doing online.
I’ve seen other sites that promise similar ‘safe search’ results, but as yet haven’t seen one that I would whole-heartedly recommend.
Generally, I’d advise parents to be aware but not panicked about what their children will see online. Read our blog post on internet safety here for more advice.