A 2003 report by Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society stated that SafeSearch excluded many innocuous websites from search-result listings, including ones created by the White House, IBM, the American Library Association and Liz Claiborne. On the other hand, many pornographic images slip through the filter, even when "innocent" search terms are entered. Blacklisting certain search terms is hindered by homographs (e.g., "beaver"), blacklisting certain URLs is rendered ineffective by the changing URLs of porn sites, and software to tag images with copious amounts of flesh tones as pornographic content is problematic because there are a variety of skin tones and pictures of babies tend to have a lot of flesh tones. Google's ability to filter porn has been an important factor in its relationship with the People's Republic of China.
On 11 November 2009 Google introduced SafeSearch Lock, which allows users with Google accounts to lock on the "High" mode of SafeSearch in Google's Web, image and video searches. Once configured, the user can log out of their Google account and the setting will stick to prevent any change to the filtering level. Another approach uses what are known as Safe Search websites, such as KidzSearch that have Google SafeSearch always enabled when a search is done. This provides a consistent platform that children can use where they will always be guaranteed that the results will be strict filtered. Only relying on Google.com to have SafeSearch locked can be a problem when a child is using a different computer, since the search settings may have changed and become potentially unsafe.
On 12 December 2012 Google removed the option to turn off the filter entirely, requiring users to enter more specific search queries to access adult content But this happens only to English sites and non-English users are still required to be careful with their local language search as Google is not filtering most of the adult contents even with safe search on and with specific keywords.
- Benjamin Edelman (April 14, 2003). "Empirical Analysis of Google SafeSearch". Harvard University. Retrieved 3 February 2013.
- "Canada's The Beaver magazine renamed to end porn mix-up". AFP. January 12, 2010. Retrieved 3 February 2013.
- Paul Festa (July 2, 2001). "Porn sneaks past search filters". CNET News. Retrieved 3 February 2013.
- Fletcher, Owen (7 September 2009). "Google porn filter gained China's thumbs-up". Network World.
- Pete Lidwell (November 11, 2009). "Locking SafeSearch". Google Official Blog. Retrieved 3 February 2013.
- "Cyber safety: How protected are your children online?". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2017-02-02.
- Casey Newton (December 12, 2012). "Google tweaks image search to make porn harder to find". CNET News. Retrieved 3 February 2013.
- Matthew Panzarino (12 December 2012). "Google tweaks image search algorithm and SafeSearch option to show less explicit content". TNW. Retrieved 3 February 2013.
- Josh Wolford (December 16, 2012). "Google No Longer Allows You to Disable SafeSearch, and That Makes Google Search Worse". Web Pro News. Retrieved 3 February 2013.