Kiddle: a search engine which endangers children

Content note: this post discusses child abuse, homophobia and transphobia

A new search engine for kids has been launched, and my goodness, it’s terrifying. 

Kiddle is supposed to help kids navigate the internet safely, using a combination of human editors and Google’s Safe Search. However, it’s also been criticised for blocking searches relating to LGBT issues.

Last night, when I had a bit of a fiddle with it, it seemed to have a bit of a double standard regarding what it just wouldn’t provide results for, and what it decided was Bad:

Before you ask, it wasn’t down to what’s known as The Scunthorpe Problem, a product of automatic filtering which causes innocent words to be blocked.

However, more has changed since last night. While last night, a search using Kiddle for “transgender” returned some results, today it’s been deemed A Bad Word, with the judgmental robot wagging his metallic finger.

Blocking searches pertaining to LGBT issues is dangerous. It keeps young people from accessing resources to help them better understand themselves. Telling them words they’ve heard that they feel might apply to them are bad is more dangerous still: it feeds guilt and shame.

Kiddle’s solution to some (but not all) LGBT-related searches is woefully inadequate and, again, could turn out to be dangerous. Instead of just not returning any results, it now tells children to ask their parents.

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Eagle-eyed readers may spot an issue here: a young person is using the internet to seek answers, they’re probably not in a position to ask their parents the questions they have. Asking could, in fact, put children at risk of violence–physical violence, emotional violence, conversion therapy.

It’s not just LGBT-related searches that are blocked, though. Dr Jill McDevitt tried some common queries that children and young people may have, and found that information about puberty, is-my-body-normal type questions, searches related to menstruation, and searches about abuse were also blocked, sometimes with the Bad Words robot appearing.

The Bad Words robot appears on a search where anything judgmental definitely shouldn’t appear.

When dealing with child abuse, a sensitive approach is necessary. Children are likely to feel shame and guilt, and being told off for using bad words is hardly going to alleviate this.

It gets worse. Say an abused child was looking for contact details of someone who could help. Too bad.

Apparently other helplines and services are similarly blocked, the stern robot repeating over and over that these are bad words that should not be used.

This site is an abusive, controlling parent’s dream, barring their child from access to any possible sources of help. If, by accident, something useful does slip through the net, parents can request blocking a search. I assume that this is what happened within the last 24 hours to the search term “transgender”, which returned results last night, but is A Bad Word today.

So who actually owns Kiddle? In truth, we don’t know. All we know is that it isn’t Google–which is hardly helpful information considering more than 7 billion people on this planet aren’t Google. It’s all very fishy. There’s no transparency on who owns the site, or who’s involved in editing it. Do they know that they are enabling child abuse? Would they be mortified if they did know, or is it their goal all along? For all we know, Kiddle could be run by a paedophile ring hoping to keep kids blissfully ignorant that what’s happening to them is not OK.

In theory, a child-friendly search engine using safe searches and human moderation is a good one, but it cannot and must not block things which parents find unsavoury. Instead, if a child searches for information about sexuality, they should be able to access it. If they want to know about what’s all right and what isn’t, they should damn well be able to access it. Keeping children ignorant only opens them up to abuse. Question why parents (or perhaps just the owners of Kiddle) don’t want children to access information about being queer, or resources for child abuse.

The view of parents as an all-powerful authority over their children, able to control what they see and do not see is a dangerous one in and of itself, but sadly all too prevalent. The only source of hope we can perhaps draw with this Kiddle incident is maybe they won’t be supervising their children online so much, so young people can go about being more digitally-savvy than their parents and find the information they need online themselves.

15 thoughts on “Kiddle: a search engine which endangers children”

  1. Yep. All this. Also the word sounds like a portmanteau of “fiddle” and “kid”. I’m not remotely surprised to hear it’s propping up child abuse, with a name like that. They’ve led people to believe the site is part of Google, which it’s not, and claim that editors hand-pick the top three results for any search, which is obviously impossible. The whole thing is dodgy beyond belief.

  2. CN child abuse
    I put some queries in after seeing the blocking of LGBTQ sites, stuff like “my dad hits me” my dad touches me” the sort of searches I could imagine a victim of child abuse using. Every single one of them got the “bad words” message. Its exceptionally worrying and as you highlight, actively dangerous.

    1. That’s actually terrifying. If phrases as bland as “X hits me” or “Z touches me” are blocked, then how are kids supposed to be able to get any sort of help?

      Fuck Kiddle. I’m sort of hoping Google will stomp them over the *le branding, because of the implications that they’re somehow linked.

      1. Yep, sadly I think that’ll be the way this site dies. A lot of people–including journalists–still seem to be under the impression they’re part of google, so hopefully google will stomp soon.

      2. Google could simply block them, since Kiddle uses Google search.

        Also, I’ve noticed, if you misspell a word, it will return results containing “banned” words – try “trans gender” or “domesticabuse”

      3. I agree. I mean using kiddle means if your being abused and search up [A man hit me, I need help] then kiddle says NOPE NO ENTERY. WTF? Also, when you type “sex” that means the gender of which you are, not the “you know” I hope you agree.

  3. [CN for suicidal feelings]

    I grew up pre-internet. When I was a teenager (and for years as an adult) I felt SUCH shame and guilt over my trans feelings and how going through ‘male’ puberty had mixed them up with my sexuality. It was only this century, in my 30s and 40s, with help from books and the internet, that I finally came to accept myself. The thought of a child going through those feelings, trying to find a way to stop feeling like they just want to die and seeing that horrible robot admonishing them is just…

    Ban this now, I say.

  4. I just entered “I think I’m gay; should I tell my parents?” Got the ridiculous page saying they have “nothing against” gay folks.

    I then entered the exact same term, substituting the word ‘gay’ with ‘straight’. I couldn’t be added to read their bullshit-sanctioned search results, but the fact that they appeared at all instead of that wanted robot was telling.

    I hope my son can approach me (or his father, other relatives, friends, teacher, whatever) about anything, but if for whatever reason he doesn’t feel comfortable doing so, then by fuck I hope he uses Google rather than this dangerous sack of shite.

    1. *wanker robot. Jesus Christ. Can you correct the post inline please? Sorry! Must learn to proofread before clicking the ‘Submit’ button.

    1. Looks like you were only searching .co TLDs. I did a Whois lookup (on register.com) and got:

      Registrant Name: Stanley Pace
      Registrant Organization:
      Registrant Street: 4700 Nantucket Ct.
      Registrant City: Flower Mound
      Registrant State/Province: TX
      Registrant Postal Code: 75022
      Registrant Country: US
      Registrant Phone: +1.3109297555
      Registrant Phone Ext: N/A
      Registrant Fax:
      Registrant Fax Ext: N/A
      Registrant Email: lorinpace@gmail.com

      Also, their registration expires on April 2nd, if anyone wants to try to snipe them…

  5. NOT a good idea, giving children limits to information they can find. The world is not choosy about what it introduces to them-blocking knowledge breeds ignorance, not innocence. And ignorance has ever been the user’s best friend. Well not be using this site.

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