As the digital part of our children’s lives leaves them constantly exposed to both the infinite possibilities and dangers existing on the internet, parents are justifiably concerned about what may pop up during even a routine search. Kiddle is the latest safe-search alternative to the regular Google search engine, joining similar engines as Infotopia, Infotrek, and the Virtual Learning Resources Center.
Most search engines have advanced safety features that parents can turn on in order to reduce the likelihood of harmful or adult-oriented content appearing in the results section. According to Tech Times, this “Google for kids” allows its users to access text and multimedia results, but its editors will have handpicked the first few links, followed by pages with simplified content and then results with more advanced language for higher-level readers. In addition, parents can set additional restrictions on keywords or sites they feel are inappropriate.
According to Kiddle’s About page, since its initial results “are either handpicked and checked by our editors or filtered by Google safe search, you know you get kid-oriented results without any explicit content.” As a librarian, I know such statements are misleading, as no amount of Internet filtering or blocking is completely foolproof or 100% safe. From the eighth search result on, users are exposed to more adult-oriented sites -- still within the safe-search parameters, yes, but inching towards content that might be too advanced for younger users or including links or adware that might be questionable, depending on who or what is sponsoring the resulting site.
Kiddle also states, “In case some bad words are present in a search query, our guard robot will block the search.” Admirable in situations where kids want to look up dirty words (as their parents might have done with a dictionary in the past) or let curiosity get the better of them after hearing a phrase or topic on the playground or bus stop, there is no mention of the subjectivity of semantics. Sites with inappropriate, graphic, or dangerous content have cleverly placed colloquial or slang terms in their search keywords to lure unsuspecting or impressionable viewers that in other instances may be completely innocuous.
While there is no way to entirely block inappropriate content from children’s eyes, there are steps to prevent these instances from occurring. Yes, safe-search alternatives like Kiddle and Infotopia should be used instead of the regular Google engine when children are on the Internet, but lessons on critical literacy and online safety should be taught in schools (both in the classroom and library) as well as home. Parents should be aware of the difference in domain suffixes (for example, what makes a .gov different than a .edu or .org) and how those types of sites produce and manage information. Also, families can visit their school or public library to discover research tools and websites such as Encyclopedia Britannica, EBSCO, or BrainPop that are even safer than the modified search engines. Most school districts have such for-fee databases and sites (as opposed to for-free tools such as Kiddle) paid for by the state or regional education centers and should be taken advantage of when it comes to school papers and projects. Not only do these resources have excellent safety and editing measures in place, but they also weed out misinformation or bias that may affect the validity and objectivity of regular internet-searched sites.
Handy tip for adults and children alike: just because it’s on the internet doesn’t make it true.