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Zany Filtering in the Dogpile Search Engine:

So go to dogpile (a search engine results aggregator, it appears), and enter "gun" or anything with it ("gun control," "guns of navarone," and more"). You'll get this response, unless you have a cookie set with dogpile from a previous iteration:

You've entered a Web search term that is likely to contain adult content.

Would you like to:
View Unfiltered Dogpile Web results with Adult Content.
View Filtered Dogpile Web results with NO Adult Content.
Filtered Results only include Web results from partners that provide such results.

Warning!!! If you are under 18 or live in a place that viewing adult content is prohibited, please revise your search.

Your Search Filter is currently moderate.

Of course, "sex discrimination" and anything else with "sex" will give you the same response; "breast cancer," however, doesn't, even though other "breast" queries do. "Murder," "making meth," and lots of other queries do not give this response.

Now I don't want to suggest that the filter is particularly onerous. In fact, in some ways it's the opposite: It lets your kids avoid it just by clicking on "View Unfiltered Dogpile Web results with Adult Content," or, at most by following the Preferences link in the search results (if you've set a preference that prevents the above warning from coming up). Dogpile even prominently tells the user, with every batch of search results, "Your urrent preferences are set to filter results for this type of keyword and/or search. Click here to change your preferences." Oh, and the first result in the "heavy" filtering mode for sex? "Free Sexy Webcam Striptease Videos" (which seems to be exactly what the name suggests).

On the other hand, how can we know? I'm not aware of whether dogpile actually filters out much gun stuff using its filter. The no filtering query returns 65 results while the heavy filtering query returns 62 results; I haven't compared them closely, partly because the most obvious difference is in the order of results — for instance, heavy filtering gives the Wikipedia entry for "gun" as #1 and the official site for "gun the game" as #2, and no filtering reverses that order.

But dogpile's description of its filtering hardly instills confidence: It describes the filter as being "designed to filter out sexually explicit material from your results." If that's all dogpile is doing, there seems to be little reason to warn readers about searches involving "gun." Something is happening under the hood, and we don't know what it is — an inherent problem with all filtering software, but even more of a problem when one part of the site tells you one thing about the filter ("designed to filter out sexually explicit material") and another part tells you another ("gun" is "a Web search term that is likely to contain adult content"). Doesn't make this search engine look particularly trustworthy, it seems to me.

Thanks to Peter Buxtun for the pointer.

UPDATE: Some readers have suggested that "gun" could be flagged because it's occasionally used as a slang term for "penis." But "peter" and "johnson" are probably more commonly used as slang terms for penis than "gun," and they rightly aren't barred. If every term that has a primary meaning far removed from "penis," but has sometimes been used as slang for "penis," were filtered, that would be a very long list.

Syd (mail):
This is my rifle;
This is my gun.
One is for shooting;
The other's for fun!
5.29.2007 3:32pm
Rich Rostrom (mail):
I searched on "General Joseph Hooker" and got the warning.

(BTW, from the warning page to either results set routes through clickit.go2net.com, which I can't reach - it may be in my dummy host file of ad servers.)


If I search on "camel", though, then I get

...

14. The Camel Toe Report, as featured on Stern,
VH1 &Graham Norton ...
The Camel Toe Report, guaranteed to make you laugh
out loud, when your camel toes shows there is always
someone willing to snap a pic, which we then rate.

www.cameltoe.org/ [Found on Google, Ask.com]

Oops.
5.29.2007 4:11pm
Guest J:
If the filter works by an algorithm like Google's search algorithm, it could be that innocuous terms that have a high correlation to sexually explicit material (either because they commonly appear in pages with porn, or in pages linking to porn) would get flagged. With Google, this presents the possibility of "google bombers" creating an artificial affiliation between a particular phrase and a page they link to.

I have no idea if dogpile uses a filtering system with any similarities to Google's search, but I do think the lessons from the complaints about "google bombing" should give you pause; this may be an automated result that does not reflect anyone's intention to filter results for gun searches and might, instead, be a simple matter of coincidence.
5.29.2007 4:16pm
Maureen001 (mail):
Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?
5.29.2007 4:43pm
PGofHSM (mail) (www):
Guns generally are treated as "adult content." Listen to the radio, and you'll hear references to "my gat" or specific names of guns bleeped out along with sexual and sometimes racial terms. This isn't peculiar to dogpile. See Everlast, "What It's Like" -- a song posted by Juan Non-Volokh at one point, but with "He pulled out his chrome .45, talked some shit, and wound up dead" intact. On my hometown's pop station, both .45 and shit are scatted (or whatever you call the noise of a record being scraped).
5.29.2007 4:43pm
Cally (mail):
For more gun-related nonsense, check out this gem:

http://www.citypages.com/databank/28/1379/article15402.asp

I did my undergrad at the People's Republic of Hamline and I have to say I'm not terribly surprised by the administration's response. Sure, the student comes off as a bit of a wacko, but I can remember having similar, albeit unverbalized, frustrations. My final grade was actually docked in a legal philosophy course because I wrote a paper supporting John Stuart Mill's stance on capital punishment -- the professor told me he would have expected me to have a "more sensible opinion" on such an abhorrent practice.

Discriminatory? Nah, they'll happily trample on any freedom you like.
5.29.2007 4:56pm
Dave N (mail):
I guess this is one way for the Volokh Conspiracy to hide behind Dogpile's "adult content" filter.

Of course, this idiocy is a further reminder of why I rely on Google.
5.29.2007 7:23pm
Anthony A (mail):
Interestingly enough, "gun control" returns the same warning.
5.29.2007 9:09pm
Guest J:
Rifle, pistol, shooting, target shooting, bullet, ammunition -- all do not give the filter.

But "gun" with and without filtering gives 81 vs. 91 results. It seems to me completely plausible that dogpile maintains a list of adult sites and any term that ends up producing results (or a certain fraction of results) that link to adult sites is filtered. It may be that there's no intentional filtering of "gun", just a results-based filtering algorithm.

Wouldn't it make sense to ask and find out before posting comments like this one.
5.29.2007 9:43pm
JRL:
"Some readers have suggested that 'gun' could be flagged because it's occasionally used as a slang term for 'penis.'"

I've quite often heard guns used as a term for breasts, but never for penis.
5.29.2007 10:30pm
Maureen001 (mail):
Dave N:

Don't Google; ASK!
5.29.2007 10:50pm
Stating the Obvious:
EV: If every term that has a primary meaning far removed from "penis," but has sometimes been used as slang for "penis," were filtered, that would be a very long list.


That would be a very clever double entendre, Eugene, if "list" is a slang term for "penis"...
5.29.2007 11:36pm
Ian Argent (mail):
Would the list be as long as a yard?

GD&R
5.30.2007 10:37pm