Lovehoney spanks Google over SafeSearch site block

lovehoneySex toy specialist Lovehoney has attacked the new Google SafeSearch feature – and accompanying changes to the Google search algorithm – insisting the changes have prevented over 700,000 adults from visiting its website in the run-up to Christmas.

The sexual wellness brand has said its website traffic has suffered for the past two months and it has filed more than 600 complaints against Google because of SafeSearch and its negative impact.

The company cites a column written by broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson in which he explains he was unable to find products from Lovehoney and Net-a-Porter via Google.

In its complaints, the brand says Google’s changes threaten consumers’ rights to access sex-positive content and calls for an open dialogue regarding the importance of sexual health information on the internet.

Lovehoney head of sexual empowerment Johanna Rief explained: “While we are in support of Google’s ‘SafeSearch’ feature for under 18s, we would like to understand why we as a sex-positive brand, hosting a lot of educational content on our site, have been unfairly disadvantaged while other types of potentially harmful or disturbing results, like gambling or alcohol, remain visible.

“As a brand, we stand for sexual health, education and empowerment and our products are designed to help people be in touch with their sensual needs and enhance intimacy. We would like to work with Google and have an open conversation on these points.”

In response, Google stated that SafeSearch automatically filters out sexually explicit material, in line with its stated policy. The policy covers content that promotes the sale of regulated goods and services such as alcohol, gambling and sexually explicit material.

Google, which noted that users can opt in and out of the service at any time, added: “Parents have the option to turn it off or block access to Search all together. In the coming months, we’ll turn SafeSearch on for existing users under 18 and make this the default setting for people under 18 setting up new accounts.”

Lovehoney’s Rief countered: “Whilst we understand that users can turn SafeSearch off, to do so they need to be signed into a verified Google account to prove that they are 18+ years old, otherwise Google assumes that they are a minor and will not show our paid ads. Also, a lot of users aren’t even aware that this function exists, due to very little education from Google’s site on this feature.”

“Finally, and where our main frustration comes from, it seems these rules only apply to retailers from our industry. It is far easier for conventional retailers to target ads for sexual wellness products, no matter if SafeSearch is turned on or off or if users are logged into their Google account.

“This means that large corporations are favoured, while companies such as Lovehoney, which has been fighting the sexual wellness taboo for more than 20 years now and have also invested a lot into Google Ads, are disadvantaged.”

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