Kiddle search engine for kids is already failing young people
Everyone's talking about Kiddle, the "child-friendly search engine" this week. FYI, it's easily mistaken as a Google spin-off but there's actually no connection — it simply has a Google Custom Search bar embedded within its website.
Kiddle.co has promised a safe alternative to standard search engines for younger Internet users by filtering out adult material, including explicit terms and certain celebrities, such as Pamela Anderson.
Much has been made of the fact that Kiddle hasn't completely figured out how to shield kids from inappropriate web content but what's equally concerning is that all-puberty related words and phrases are blocked.
Such as "menstruation," "menses," "ovary", "uterus" and even "puberty" itself.
Bizarrely, searching for "birth" generates the same message — it's a "bad word."
Period Positive founder and menstruation education researcher Chella Quint raised the issue on Twitter, pointing out that by flagging puberty-related terms as "bad words" Kiddle is sending the message that it's not appropriate to talk or ask about menstruation and reproductive health.
"The 'bad words' bit is the biggest problem," Quint told SheKnows. "These aren't bad words — and there enough taboo around reproductive health as it is. The Kiddle Team should use the 'error' message to signpost helpful, age-appropriate and non-corporate or generic sites like the NHS. [sic]"
"From a design and UX point of view, these things should have been considered and tested before the search engine was released," Quint added. "It's a strange mindset to either deliberately block these things or not think about the implications for site users of doing it by accident."
Quint pointed out that it's perfectly natural for children to be curious about menstruation and that being dismissed in such a negative way can have far-reaching implications.
When Kiddle was first launched LGBT terms were also blocked and labelled as "bad words" but now "trans" and "transgender" generate search results and LGB terms result in the following error message:
"You have entered an LGBT related search query. Please realize that while Kiddle has nothing against the LGBT community, it's hard to guarantee the safety of all the search results for such queries. We recommend that you talk to your parent or guardian about such topics."
This may be a slight improvement on the "bad words" response but is still not particularly helpful for anxious, curious or troubled youngsters.
"Loads of LGBT young people feel they can't talk to a parent or have experienced outright homophobia or transphobia at home, which can have serious consequences," said Quint. "One third of young homeless people identify as LGBT, for example. The 'error message' should signpost safe LGBT information sites for young people in the region in which the query originates."
At the time of publication Kiddle has yet to respond to Quint's points.