Microsoft’s Bing search engine has a problem with surfacing results that are blatantly offensive, uniformly exploitative towards women and girls, and full-on racist. And that’s before you even turn the “SafeSearch” feature off.
A report from HowToGeek’s Chris Hoffman shows that image searches for innocuous terms such as “Jew” or “Michelle Obama” are met with truly awful suggestions from the search engine itself. Examples include “Jews are evil” and “Michelle Obama is a man.”
Hoffman also points out that misspelling the world “girl” as “gril” prompts exploitative suggestions. We did the same search here at TNW and came up with results such as “cute girl young 16,” which, upon clicking, immediately brings up more Bing-surfaced image search suggestions — the second of which is “girl ages 13 no shirt.” And that’s unacceptable.
It’s worth pointing out that the “gril” misspelling results are from a search with the SafeSearch filter turned off. However, an image search for “Teen gril” from the Bing search box in the Windows 10 search bar with SafeSearch turned on, to its default setting, surfaced clearly pornographic images showing hardcore sex acts.
This is disturbing because, again the default settings were on, and these images are mixed in with pictures of girls, who were obviously minors, some depicted in their underwear and without shirts on. The context makes it incredibly disturbing.
It doesn’t stop there. Typing in pretty much anything to do with girls, women, womanhood, females, or almost any female celebrities’ name without SafeSearch turned on results in hardcore pornographic websites, images, and videos. Keep in mind, these are often the top results in each category.
Unfortunately it gets even worse. Misspelling “girls” as “grils” prompts Bing to suggest you turn off SafeSearch so you can see adult content. It’s right up top, making it so easy to change the settings that even a child could enable access to hardcore pornography with a mere two-clicks. It doesn’t matter whether it’s “grils” by its own, “teen grils,” or even “underage grils,” the misspelling prompts Bing to surface pornographic content and solicit you to turn off the filter.
And did we mention none of this requires you to be signed in to Bing? We tested it all using Chrome in Incognito Mode, and also logged in normally. The results are the same either way.
Bing doesn’t stop at begging you to look at exploitative images of girls. You’re also never more than a few clicks away from beastiality with SafeSearch turned off — the images that surface first are truly disturbing.
And then there’s the racism. It’s not just Bing’s search suggestions that are problematic. It’s the results: The ones that surface first have the most impact.
That’s why it’s offensive that a search for “black people” (no matter whether SafeSearch is on or off) returns first-page hits like a four-year-old satire video that begins with depictions of a cartoon black man smiling at watemelon and fried chicken, and then moves into an equation explaining that black people steal money and shoes from white people. Satire or not, is this really what needs to surface first?
And, conducting an image search (again, with or without SafeSearch on) for the word “Jew” results in a glut of horrific imagery of deceased people. It’s important that we never forget the Holocaust, but are corpses really the first-page imagery that Bing needs to surface in 2018 when someone searches for the word “Jew” by itself?
Microsoft can blame the algorithm, or claim its results are surfaced based on what people are searching for, but that’s not good enough.
Google Search doesn’t suggest “ugly black people” when you type in “black people” for an image search, Bing does. Yahoo Search doesn’t suggest you unblock your porn filter if you search for “underage girls” and accidentally misspell the word girl as “gril,” Bing does. The problem is obviously bigger than the algorithm, even though some of the search problems are obvious examples of AI not catching everything.
We’re not saying Microsoft is in the wrong because its algorithms aren’t perfect – every company employing AI to moderate content is playing “Whack-A-Mole,” we get that. It’s the fact that nobody seems to have noticed or, if anyone has, no one at the company seems to care.
There is no excuse for Bing to, in essence, work as a concierge for lecherous reprobates and bigots. The world is evil enough without Microsoft peddling exploitation with every copy of Windows 10.
We reached out to Microsoft for comment and will update this article if necessary.
Update 10/10 4:44 CST: Jeff Jones, Microsoft Sr. Director, gave the following statement to TNW: “We take matters of offensive content very seriously and continue to enhance our systems to identify and prevent such content from appearing as a suggested search. As soon as we become aware of an issue, we take action to address it.”