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This article was published on January 24, 2010

Google’s Nexus One Censorship: Oh ####!

Google’s Nexus One Censorship: Oh ####!
Jacob Friedman
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Jacob Friedman

Jacob is a tech blogger and IT professional living in Chicago, IL. Follow him on Twitter here, like him on facebook here, or email him here. Jacob is a tech blogger and IT professional living in Chicago, IL. Follow him on Twitter here, like him on facebook here, or email him here.

androidGoogle’s new Nexus One Smartphone is apparently a bit of a prude.

The phone’s voice recognition software, one of the phone’s biggest selling points, refuses to transcribe curse words. Instead, the offending words are replaced with a string of # symbols. If you’re calling a friend out for a lie by text message with your Nexus One, your intended message gets edited to “we both know that’s bull####.” If you’re angrily texting Google to ask why your Nexus One’s been spewing out number signs, your intended message will get replaced with “Hey Google, what the #### were you dumb ############# thinking when you censored the Nexus One?”

While this form of censorship isn’t nearly as offensive as Google’s old policy of censoring searches made on, it’s still irritating to those of us with foul mouths.

So what gives, Google? Isn’t it our right to be vulgar on our phones if we feel like it? A Google spokeswoman addressed the topic today, saying that “We filter potentially offensive or inappropriate results because we want to avoid situations whereby we might misrecognize a spoken query and return profanity when, in fact, the user said something completely innocent. Ultimately our goal is to return results that show exactly what you said, and we’re constantly working to improve the technology to better fit our users’ needs.

It’s good that Google’s being blunt about the limits of this phone’s technology. As anyone who’s used Google Voice Search can attest, while the service is quite good, there are definitely moments where you receive a really unexpected interpretation of what you just said. By censoring the voice to text feature on the phone, they’re avoiding potentially awkward moments, like when your Filipina mother says “Alpha Kenny Body.”

It does bring up an interesting set of questions, though. Does the phone take into account people who swear in other languages, like Spanish, French, Italian or (if you’re like me) Hindi? Do the integrated language settings on the phone, which include all of the above languages (minus Hindi), also censor words in these languages? Is there a designated “swear word guy” in Mountain View going through and coding in words? I hope that some intrepid multilingual Nexus One user has figured this all out.

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