To Google, 'Bisexual' Still Equals Porn

An issue that bisexual activists had with Google seemed to be resolved, but it turns out that's not the case.

BY Michelle Garcia

March 21 2014 1:49 PM ET

A new petition is making the rounds demanding that search engine Google firmly update its autocomplete function to utilize the word "bisexual," as it does for other words relating to sexual orientation and gender identity, such as "gay," "lesbian," and "transgender."

A Google spokesperson told The Advocate Thursday that search terms often do not show up through the autocomplete function because they may be highly correlated with searches for pornography.

"Autocomplete offers predicted searches to help you more quickly find what you’re looking for," the spokesperson said. "These predicted searches are produced automatically based on a number of factors, including the popularity of search terms, so they may change over time."

Faith Cheltenham, president of BiNet USA, and other activists say Google's inability to adjust the function prevents countless people from accessing information about bisexuality and further perpetuates bi erasure.

The issue has raised the ire of LGBT and bisexual-specific organizations since 2009, when the omission was first discovered. Google explained that it was because the term was used mostly to find pornography. In 2012, the search engine announced that it had unblocked the word, and suggested terms would then pop up, like “bisexual quotes,” “bisexual rights,” and “bisexual parenting.”

Over time, though, the algorithm seems to have reverted to its old ways.

As of Friday, a search for the word "gay" yielded 302 million results, "lesbian" had 155 million results, while "bisexual" had 43.1 million, and "transgender" had 12 million. While Google has explained that the autocomplete function has dropped off for bisexuality because of its high correlation to porn, other words with a high correlation to pornography are still available with the autocomplete function. Searching "gay porn" will produce 527 million results. A search for "lesbian porn" yielded 69.1 million results, and "transgender porn" yielded 19.2 million (though one could argue those are not necessarily the terms a person would naturally use). Meanwhile, searching for "bisexual porn" came up with 40.1 million results.

Other words that do function with autocomplete are "pansexual," "genderqueer," "cisgender," "FTM, and "MTF."

"One of the biggest issues facing bisexuals is isolation and lack of community," Jim Larsen of the Bisexual Organizing Project said on the Change.org petition page. "When the #1 search engine in the world makes it harder to find information and a community, it is terribly unfortunate."

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