A couple of weeks ago—I know: that’s an eon in internet time—the mom blogosphere started blowing up as news outlets and bloggers reported on Kiddle, a new kid-friendly search engine. Initially, the reports were that it was a Google product, but that was an error. Kiddle is powered by Google, which means the Kiddle people created a page and slapped a custom Google search bar on it. Anyway, the point of Kiddle is that it’s supposed to filter out adult content when children conduct an internet search. Which sounds great! In theory…
Unfortunately, Kiddle had some big bugs right off the bat. One of many parents’ fears is that their children will come across inappropriate sexual material while searching the internet. I got news for ya: It’s gonna happen. I’m going to get up on my sexuality educator soapbox here: That’s exactly why “the talk” should be an age appropriate conversation that you’re having with your kids from birth on. Parents are their child’s primary sexuality educator and what you say—or don’t—about bodies and sex and relationships shapes how your child feels and behaves when it comes all-things-sex. Okay. I’m stepping off my soapbox now.
That being said, kids are curious and sometimes shy or embarrassed about asking questions about their developing bodies. Maybe you’re a totally approachable and askable parent, but your child was looking for clarification on something you said, or information before broaching the subject with you. So what would happen if your child tried searching, say, “menstruation” on Kiddle? On February 28, a fellow sexuality educator, Cindy Beal of Justice and Peace Consulting, began sharing Kiddle screenshots, including this one:
Oh my. There were more words, like “gay,” “LGBT,” “domestic violence,” and “abuse,” that returned that same phrase: “Oops, looks like your query contained some bad words.” Now, to give Kiddle their due, by the next day a search for “LGBT” returned this message: “You have entered an LGBT related search query. Please realize that while Kiddle has nothing against the LGBT community, it’s hard to guarantee the safety of all search results. We recommend you talk to your parent or guardian about such topics.” Um…better? Ish? By March 4, the message a child would receive when searching for “inappropriate” words—AKA body parts and stuff—read: “Oops, try again!” It’s not all about sex, though–what about drugs? As of March 11, a search for “drugs” returned the try again message, as did “marijuana.” “Pot” got me some great recipes for the crock pot and a variety of pot pie, as well as information about Pol Pot. And I did not “Kiddle” rock-n-roll.
Speaking of rock-n-roll, though, when you search for a public figure, Kiddle is also supposed to block out things like celebrity sex tape and nude photo scandals, with the results geared toward providing things like biographies. As of March 4, a search for Khloe Kardashian brought up sex tape results for her and for Paris Hilton (some kind of two-for-one bonus?). On March 10, the same search brought up a kids’ encyclopedia page for Depo-Provera—which, by the way, is a searchable term although “birth control” and “condom” are not. And as an aside, what happens if you search for “Paris Hilton”?
Aside from the troublesome and inconsistent search results, I worry that parents and teachers will just assume that Kiddle’s got it covered without checking out the site for themselves. There’s a danger in thinking that Kiddle will monitor your child’s content for you and believing that the kids are fine and, therefore, that less supervision is necessary. Clearly, that’s not the case here. Regardless of what search engine or website your child is using, be aware of what they’re searching for and what they’re seeing. Have a plan in place for how they should respond when they find adult content. (Hopefully something like: “If you see pictures of a naked person, come get me right away.” That way you can address anything that might be confusing or disturbing to your child.) Be aware of the limitations of existing and new technology—and don’t jump on the bandwagon without exploring the tools on your own!
*We notice that several of these issues have been fixed in the last few days. Thanks Kiddle! But parents, please be aware that nothing is ever 100%.