Last week we published an interview with Reza Sadeha, the CEO and Founder of I’m Halal, a search engine that purports to filter out content that goes against the teachings of Islam. It’s an intriguing idea however, after a week of testing the site, I must admit I just don’t get it!
According to the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) there are approximately 1.2 billion Muslims around the world, or approximately a quarter of the world’s population. It’s fair to assume that many a marketeer would love to take a stab at that target audience.
I tried various search terms. ‘Breast cancer’ got a haram rating of 2 out of 3, while ‘Jenna Jameson’ got a lower haram rating of 1 out of 3! Having agreed to sin, the search engine then presented me with the results, with Jenna Jameson’s myspace profile as the top item.
How does Google compare? With the SafeSearch on, the query on ‘breast cancer’ got me a good list of results with my conscience intact, while the search for Jenna returned her profile on Ask Men. The same query with SafeSearch disabled got me Jenna’s wikipedia page. It’s worth mentioning that you can now lock Google’s SafeSearch, which means the user can’t view explicit images or content without the proper credentials.
It’s likely that both search engines excluded the wikipedia result initially because of the reference to Jenna’s career in pornography, but if were to judge it from a visual imagery point of view, her dress on wikipedia is far less revealing!
This, however, is an issue that Reza and his team will probably have to resolve as their algorithm matures and they receive more comments. I’m sure they’d much rather not be known as a site that blocks important female issues.
My major gripe with the site, however, is based on Reza’s claim in our interview last week that they have consulted with an Imam and a key takeaway for them was the exclusion of websites that spread misinformation about Islam. It’s fairly obvious that this is arbitrary and so the team can easily exlude sites they disagree with.
To test this, I entered the search term ‘Fitna’ (Geert Wilders infamous movie) which passed. The site also seemed okay with me learning about ‘Atheism’, while the term ‘Mohammed Cartoons’ does return a haram rating of 1.
Similarly, a search on ‘Nazis’ returns a haram rating of 1. While I profess to viewing the heinous actions comitted by the Nazis with much disdain, they’re more of a political movement than a religious one.
This does, however, present a dangerous trend. If you view one political site as haram, then why not all? Why does my search on the Ku Klux Klan warrant no filtering at all?
So, like I said, I just don’t get it. If you were to go to google a ‘harmful’ search term, you’re just as likely to pick up a Britney Dance video while at Virgin Megastore, or switch on the Fashion Channel late at night!
I have to say, I was quite curious about what would warrant a haram rating of 3, which means that I can go no further. I did persevere and in the end managed to get there. The trick, I have to admit, was simplicity!
The majority of the Gulf dwellers know that their governments have deployed powerful filtering proxies, rivaled only by those used in China, to block content that is viewed as objectionable (who needs Fickr and Corbis?!). One more filter aid, though a good intended gesture, is going to cause more harm than good. A computer dictating what is deemed divinely approved does not sound like a good idea.
Do you agree? Yes/ No/ Maybe? Leave a comment below.