Does Google Filter Search Results for Kids?
In March I wrote about How an Automated Assistant May Respond to Queries from Children. My post was about a Google patent about children using a smart speaker device, and that Google could tailor the answers to those searchers.
I am not surprised to see another patent from Google that is geared towards younger searchers, but the idea that Google might modify search results based on the age of searchers was an interesting one to come across.
Technology is making content accessible to younger audiences, and sources that may deliver content may have to play a role in making sure that content available through a search engine is safe for such audiences. A patent granted to Google at the start of June begins with this line:
This disclosure relates to the field of content sharing platforms, in particular, to modifying scores of content search results by selectively modifying scores of youth-oriented search results.
The Web allows for a way to share a wide range of content of different types, such as video content, audio content, from TV shows and movies and music videos, video blogging photos. Most of that content doesn’t necessarily have assigned content ratings about the age-appropriateness of that content. Some of it may.
Content Labels with Ratings Based on Ages
A patent from Google tells us about how it might use information about content to manage access to content. As that patent tells us:
In one implementation, a method for selectively modifying scores of content search results based on a content label, such as a youth-oriented content label, is disclosed. The method includes identifying, by a processing device, a plurality of search results corresponding to a search query generated at a client device, each search result of the plurality of search results being associated with a content label and with one of a plurality of scores.
So, imagine that each search result that Google might show a searcher has an associated content label that provides a score indicating youth-oriented appropriateness of content for viewing, like a movie rating at a movie theater. Search Results may be geared towards searchers of different ages, with some content ranked with youth-oriented scores. The patent shows some results on a query for the term “blue” which may provide selections that have both youth-oriented content and adult content.
Different results may have content labels with different scores.
This Youth Oriented Content Scores patent can be found at:
Selectively modifying scores of youth-oriented content search results
Inventors: Jonathan Frankle, William Chambers, Charles Thomas Curry, and Eileen Margaret Peters Long
Assignee: Google LLC (Mountain View, CA)
US Patent: 10,671,616
Granted: June 2, 2020
Filed: February 22, 2015
A method for selectively modifying scores of youth-oriented content search results is disclosed. The method includes identifying a plurality of search results, with each search result being associated with one of a plurality of scores. The method further includes selecting a subset of search results from the plurality of search results and selecting a subset of scores within the plurality of scores that includes scores associated with the selected subset of search results. The method further includes modifying each score of the subset of scores with a query-dependent factor.
Youth Oriented Content Scores
Search results may be ranked in part based on a score assigned by the search engine. This is nothing new, and the patent points this out to us as it tells us more about content scores for pages:
For example, the score may depend on the relevance to a search query and/or other quality measures, such as logged past behavior of users.
This patent is aimed at modifying that content score:
For content labeled as having particular interest to younger users (e.g., labeled as “youth-oriented”), raw scores may be boosted, for example, by a multiplicative or additive factor. In some implementations, the factor is a query-dependent factor derived from data generated by a search engine system for a particular search query. In some examples, the boost may be further restricted to results that meet a minimum relevance threshold (e.g., a relevance value of the search result assigned by the search engine is equal to or exceeds the relevance threshold).
Like ratings for Movies, the content may be given labels that indicate appropriateness:
Content is often assigned a content label indicating suitability for a particular audience, such as “Y” (young), “G” (general), “PG” (parental guidance), “TEEN” (teenager), “MA” (mature audience), and “X” (adult/X-rated).
The patent defines these ratings for us.
“Y”-rated (e.g., youth-oriented) and “G”-rated (e.g., general audience) content are both considered safe for children, but that safety label alone does not tell us that it will be engaging or interesting to children.
Limiting Results to Youth Oriented Content Results
The patent makes a point of telling us that, “providing youth-focused content searches that simply restrict search results based on content labels are disadvantageous.”
The patent then points out that content rated “y” may show content suited for children under 8, but might not appeal to older children. And content that is rated “G” for a general audience may appeal to older children, but may not interest younger children at all.
Also, there tends to be a lot more “G” rated content on the Web than “Y” rated content. And “content geared towards younger viewers is highly unrepresented in the search results” since youth-oriented content is typically not scored as high as general audience content by search engines.
The patent aims at providing safe content for younger audiences, and improving search results so that they are interesting to a broader base of children (e.g., ages 2-12).
The search engine system may restrict the search to find content associated with specific label types, such as a joint search returning both youth-oriented content and general audience content. Or the search engine may perform two separate searches based on the search query: the first search with only youth-oriented content, and the second set of search results that are restricted to general audience content. Both approaches return results with content labels; a youth-oriented content label (e.g., “Y”-rated content, denoted by set Y), and a general audience content label (e.g., “Y”-rated content, denoted by set G).
On receiving those results, the search engine decides whether it will boost some of the results it can boost the youth-oriented content scores or the general content scores
That means that all of the content should be OK for a younger audience, but the mix of results may be geared more towards a younger audience, or an older audience.
Other Criteria for Youth Oriented Content
The patent tells us that other criteria could also be used to compute the query-dependent factor to determine if the content is Youth Oriented:
- References to Children – A greater boost may be applied to scores of content that directly include references to children. For example, the boost module may generate a different score for search results having associated metadata (e.g., stored in the content database) that includes youth-oriented keywords, such as “kids”, “children”, “young”, etc.
- Likenesses of Children in Videos – Video processing may be performed on content (e.g., by the content server) to identify likenesses of children in video content, and may update the associated metadata to indicate as much.
- Descriptions – Metadata/descriptions associated with the content may be edited/added by users of one or more of the client devices, and the descriptions may have been modified based on a crowd-sourced review. In such cases, a reviewer may have included, for example, a phrase that reads “great video for kids”.
- Keywords for Kids – The content screening module may identify youth-oriented keywords in such data, and the boost module may modify a score of associated content accordingly. In some implementations, a boost may be a function of many times a youth-oriented keyword appears in the metadata/description associated with a search result.
How Old Do You Have to Be to Google?
The patent doesn’t tell us about how they might identify the ages of Google users. So, I Googled the question, “How old do you have to be to Google?” and a page with more information was returned to me that told me:
You can create a Google Account for your child under 13 (or the applicable age in your country), and manage it using Family Link. With Google Accounts, children get access to Google products like Search, Chrome, and Gmail, and you can set up basic digital ground rules to supervise them.
The Family Link App works to:
Help your family create healthy digital habits
Whether your children are younger or in their teens, the Family Link app lets you set digital ground rules to help guide them as they learn, play, and explore online.
There is a Family Link App FAQ which does ask a question about whether the app filters search content for children:
Does Family Link block all inappropriate content for my children?
No. Family Link does not block inappropriate content, but some apps may have their own filtering options. Certain Google apps like Search and Chrome have filtering options that you can find in Family Link. For parents of teens 13 and older, Restricted Mode in YouTube is an optional setting that can be used to help screen out potentially mature content. Please note that these filters are not perfect, so explicit, graphic, or other content you may not want your child to see makes it through sometimes. We recommend reviewing app settings, and the settings and tools Family Link offers, to decide what is right for your family.
There we are told that Google Seach has its own filters built into it, and there are settings that parents can set in the Family Link App for search.
If you have a child searching Google, it looks like it is worth spending time getting familiar with this Family Link App, and the search settings within it.