Google’s Weird Little List of Naughty Words

Dec 18, 2013 • Culture, Technology

Google bans autocorrect and auto-complete from certain words

Just last month we saw a crisis erupt around Apple’s definition for the word “gay,” which some editions of its dictionary app forgot to inform readers that certain usages were pejorative. With the release of Android’s KitKat operating system, it’s clear our huffing and puffing over dictionaries is not about to let up any time soon. Google’s sin is not that it has made a word list to keep its devices from auto-completing or auto-correcting inappropriate words (not that we mind when other people mess this up), but which words it’s restricting.

You won’t be surprised to hear that sex has been banned, along with all its variations. Google, like other companies, is terrified to accidentally lead you to porn due to a mistype into its search bar — or even not a mistype. Google is so afraid of showing you porn that you basically have to straight up ask for porn when you’re searching for it in order to see it.

If you don’t believe me, look up “dick” or “tits” on Google Images. Now look up “dick porn” or “tits porn” — see the difference? Forget Britain’s opt-in for porn measure — Google has been silently forcing us to opt-in for porn on search for over a year.

So no one should be surprised that sex is off the table. But some of the other words that form part of this 1,400 blacklist are just bizarre. Lactation, for instance. Uterus. STI. “Preggers,” even, is disallowed. I understand that there are lactation fetishes. And pregnancy fetishes. But there is a lot more online that relates to this usefully. People need access to this content, not a hurdle.

Interestingly, Jon Christian, who originally reported on this for Wired, pointed out that the blacklist of words is longer for the US English dictionary than it is for other languages running KitKat. So this isn’t just Google’s personal statement about what’s acceptable or not — this is Google’s commentary on the tolerance of its users, divided up by language. If there’s misogyny in it, as Amanda Marcotte suggests, perhaps we are as much to blame as Google. Of course, we’re not going to get anywhere if we continue to stigmatize such language.

We need to use it. Normalize it. Change the direction. I leave you with this post by Terran Echegoyen-McCabe:

The discussion started because Fredi, who is wearing new underwear, said that her vagina was bothering her. Both of my daughters just turned two and have been saying vagina from the moment they were able. We didn’t use words like “privates,” “hoo-hoo,” or any other word that means something else, or nothing entirely, to describe a word that already exists in the English language.

When the gentleman asked me why I would do that, and not just give them the term “privates” to use, I asked, “why are parents inserting non-existing words into children’s language during childhood to describe their own bodies?” I have two daughters, their dad’s “privates” don’t look the same as theirs. Don’t they deserve to be able to know the difference between the two and apply the proper words to each? I think they absolutely do, but there is a lot more to it than that. The reason my daughters know that they have a vagina, and not “privates” is to get rid of any shame associated with such an amazing part of the female body.

Header image by Dragonlord 878.