by Larry Magid
This post is adapted from one that first ran in the Mercury News
Just about everyone uses Google to search the internet but, what some people may not know, is that Google offers lots of search options, including “SafeSearch,” which filters out links to explicit content as well as the ability to use “operators” to fine tune your search, for example, finding results from specific sites or specific types of sites like those operated by government agencies or schools, colleges and universities.
Why use SafeSearch
By default, Google can find nearly anything on the web, including sites with sexual, graphic violence and other explicit content that is not suited for children and may be offensive to some adults or inappropriate in certain situations, like when you are at work or around other people.
As Google states on it’s SafeSearch page, “SafeSearch isn’t 100% accurate.” Based on my testing, it’s very good but no filter is perfect, which is why — even with SafeSearch turned on — it’s important for parents to monitor their children’s use of connected technology and be available to talk with and support them if they come across anything they find disturbing. It’s also important for employers to have clear rules about the type of content employs can access on company devices or even their own devices when connected to company networks at the workplace or remotely.
Also, Google SafeSearch applies only to Google searches on accounts where it’s turned on. It does not apply to other search engines or websites that might link to inappropriate content, it does not block the content if a person goes to a site drectly and, unless you’re using device or network level filters or on a network with SafeSearch locked in, it will not apply if you log out of the Google account where it’s configured. By itself, SafeSearch won’t prevent someone from accessing explicit content if they know where to find it, but it will help prevent accidentally stumbling on that type of content. There are other tools that run on devices or networks that can be used to block inappropriate content. You may even find filters on some public Wi-Fi networks.
Setting it up
If you have children under 13, you can manage their Google accounts using the Family Link, app which gives parents the ability to lock in SafeSearch for their children’s accounts. SafeSearch is turned on by default for teens under 18 but — unless there are other controls in place — the teen can turn it off at any time. Parents who use Google’s Family Link App — designed for children under 13 — can control their children’s search experience. For those kids, SafeSearch is on by default and only the parent can turn it off. For school accounts — SafeSearch for Google Workspace for Education accounts are controlled by school administrators who can turn on SafeSearch, which applies even when the account is being used away from school. There are also ways to lock in Safe Search on workplace or home networks, which you can learn about at tinyurl.com/locksearch.
If you want to turn SafeSearch on (or off), on the web, start by logging into the Google account, going to Settings (lower right corner) and selecting search settings. On mobile, go to the Google app, click on your profile picture, click on settings and click on “hide explicit results.” As long as you’re not on a managed network or have a child or student account, you can change your settings at any time.
Refining your search
When you do a Google search you get results from all types of domains including .com, .org, .gov and .edu. Often that works out well since Google does a pretty good job of showing you what it considers relevant results, but sometimes you might want to refine your search.
There’s an easy way to refine your search to either news, videos, images, books and other options (maps, shopping, flights and finance) is to select from the menu that appears above your search results, but there are a lot more ways to limit your search, including the use of search operators. These are little codes that you type in along with the search to fine tune your results.
For example, let’s say you wanted to find something that about Oprah Winfrey from the TIme.com website. One way to do that is to use the site operator by typing Oprah Winfrey site:time.com. Notice that there is no space between site: and the site name.
Perhaps you’re trying to find out information about a drug, but only want government sites. You could type in synthroid site:.gov and the only information you’d see is from government sites. You could do the same with .edu for education sites, .org for nonprofit organization (though not all .org sites are non-profit) or any other top level domain. For example, if you wanted to find out what Canadians were saying about Oprah you could type in oprah winfrey site:.ca.
As Google shows in its Refine web searches page, there are several other types of operators such as putting a – in front of a word to leave it out of a search. For example musk -elon will find references to the musk gene but not the Tesla and SpaceX CEO. If you’re looking for an exact match, put it in quotes such as “strawberry soda.” If you’re shopping for something within a price range, you can put in the range of prices with .. in the middle like bicycle $700..$900.
There are other search operators. The easiest way to find them is to search “Google search operators” or, if you want to limit your search to information from Google type “”google search operators” site:google.com.
Disclosure: Larry Magid is CEO of ConnectSafely.org, a non-profit internet safety organization that receives financial support from Google and other companies.