Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Setting up Safe Search for Kids - Google, Bing, Tablets

Have you set up Safe Search on your kids devices and family computers? Have you even heard of it? In this article we'll explain how you can configure Safe Search for popular search engines and devices and what it does (and doesn't do.)

One of the questions we're regularly asked is how to keep children safe online. Parents are keen to find quick technology fixes. Our advice is don't rely on technology to do this, you need to supervise young children, teach older ones the skills they need and keep an open dialogue with teens.

But tech can be useful in some places and filtering out the worst content on the web is one of those areas. This is what Safe Search does.

What is Safe Search?

Safe Search is a feature on both Google and Bing search engines that will filter out explicit and violent content from search results (web sites, images and videos.) It's not perfect, but it will catch a lot of the most unsuitable content. 

Safe Search is a blunt instrument, it doesn't filter by age and it will allow through content that isn't appropriate for children. 

Note that Safe Search is a feature of search engines rather than web browsers or operating systems (that's a separate topic). 

Why is it Useful?

In our experience there are two main reasons why children might come across very unsuitable content:
  1. Accidentally. Kids might misspell a word and end up with results for something with a rather different meaning! Or they may have an entirely innocent query that would have a different intent when searched for by an adult. 
  2. Intentionally. Kids or teens are curious and go looking for content that you consider inappropriate.  
Safe Search helps with the first reason. It will remove very inappropriate content from search results so that kids and teens don't accidentally come across it when they weren't trying to find it. 

Safe Search isn't much help with the second option. It may stop a teen finding content on a specific device, but don't imagine that they can't find a way around it! Don't rely on Safe Search from stopping your teenager or tech-savvy tween viewing inappropriate content. There are plenty of ways around it. 

Should we Use Safe Search?

It's a good idea to turn on Safe Search in browser that are used by kids and youngsters. In fact, I have Safe Search turned on in my own settings, I don't want to see the worst of the web either.

You can show kids how to check for Safe Search being turned on, for example at a friend or relative's house and they can turn it on for themselves. It's also easy for you to check. This is about giving kids the skills and tools they need to stay safe.

What About Search Engines for Kids?

Most 'search engines for kids' use Google custom search. Most of them have a lot of ads and in our experience, these ads are less appropriate than the ones Google itself shows for the same queries. 

The layouts of Google and Bing are clear and it's easier to teach kids what they are seeing (ads, content pulled from authority websites, etc.)

Some search engines for kids prioritise content from certain websites that they deem appropriate. This tends to result in less relevant results which can be frustrating for kids. 

We've also found that most kids search engines return US results which doesn't work well in other countries for many queries, there's a reason why localisation exists!

The intentions of some search engines for kids are unclear and if kids use them they are giving them a lot of data. I'm actually more comfortable with kids using search engines directly from the main providers, they get a lot more scrutiny.

What About Internet Filtering?

There are lots of products that aim to offer internet filtering. While some families may find these products useful we've found that most have issues in practice and a lot of families just don't get around to purchasing and setting up a system. 

Some solutions only work on the home network (which means kids don't have the filters away from home and parents may not teach them the skills they need as they assume the filters protect them), others require the use of a specific custom web browser (which may not support other useful tools that kids want to use and which won't be available in other environments), most have limitations on some operating systems. 

Additionally, internet filtering usually takes some effort to set up and costs a significant amount of money each year. Most parents don't have internet filtering set up. We may come back to internet filtering in a future post.

Safe Search is free and easily available and enabled with a few clicks. 

Setting Up SafeSearch - Google

Google Safe Search can be used with or without an account. 

Safe Search is accessed by going to Google for your country and clicking settings. 

If you have an account you can lock Safe Search so that it can't easily be turned off (but there are ways around this). 

Note that children under 13 can only have 'Family Link' Google accounts for use on Android and iOS devices.  

You can find more information at Using Google Safe Search.

Setting Up SafeSearch - Bing

To turn on Safe Search in Microsoft Bing, choose "Safe Search" from the drop down menu and select Strict for use with younger children:

Microsoft allow you to create Child Accounts within a Family. When logged in to a child account, you will also get safer search results. 


Safe Search is a useful browser feature that helps prevent children from accidentally coming across very inappropriate content. It's not a substitute for supervising younger children or teaching older children and teens the skills they need to stay safe online. 

You'll need to turn Safe Search on for every web browser and device a child uses unless they are logged in to an account. 

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