May 10, 2006

Yahoo Italy Keyword Search Problem - Censorship Or Bug?

Yahoo Italy has been denying results for searching certain search keywords, reported by Jacopo Gonzales, echoed by the Google blogs ( Inside Google, Google Blogoscoped,, SEW Forum)

To summarize what's known, including some of my research:

1) A few affected words have been found: "shit", "shithead", "preteen"

2) The pattern-matching is tight - searching [shit] will be denied, but [Shit], [sHit], [shIt] and [shiT] are all fine, as well as [shit shit]

3) It's very easy to see the problem at a low-level. Searching with a denied keyword generates a HTTP 302 redirect response to the Yahoo directory, whereas anything else gives a normal HTTP 200 OK response. That is

Gives a low-level HTTP response of:


(which is a redirection to the directory)

Someone might want to spin through wordlists to find other words (I'll pass). Though I've found [shits] and [shitting] are affected too, as well as, err, the Nabokov character (this post has enough strange keywords!)

All in all, while some people are wondering if this is a censorship issue, it looks at least partly like a bug to me. Some wordlist has gotten misplaced - "shit" is much too mild a word to be a censorship target here.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in yahoo | on May 10, 2006 11:59 PM (Infothought permalink)
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> "shit" is much too mild a word to be a censorship target here.

I could imagine this word list was included to please some politician/ gov't who didn't really check into this; a sort of cover-your-ass alibi censorship of (because lots of nasty words aren't censored). Maybe the Italian gov't has stricter censorship rules? Just guessing here...

Posted by: Philipp Lenssen at May 11, 2006 12:22 PM

This is pure paranoia!

Grassroots journalism isn't necessarily going to replace traditional journalism, but I see that the temptation of the attention-grabbing title is just as common.

The difference is that we, the readers, can say so here and/or elsewhere.

Posted by: gianni at May 13, 2006 02:36 PM

Philipp: The problem is that many obvious words aren't on the list.

Gianni: Given all that's happened with outright goverment censorship of search engines, I don't think "pure paranoia" is a fair characterization. There's real examples of governments mandating search results be removed. So while I don't think this is such an extreme situation, I can see where people are coming from.
Attention grabbing title - well, guilty, I guess, though I'd say it's *accurate* too.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at May 13, 2006 10:52 PM