Lovehoney says new Google SafeSearch feature prevented more than 700,000 adults from visiting its website in the run-up to Christmas.
The sexual wellness pureplay says traffic to its website was hundreds of thousands of visits lower than normal in the two months running up to Christmas and into early January – and puts that down to the introduction of SafeSearch and accompanying changes to the Google search algorithm.
Lovehoney says it has filed more than 600 complaints with Google because of the changes brought about by the SafeSearch feature. It cites a column written by TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson about how he was unable to find products from either Lovehoney or Net-a-Porter as he looked for Christmas stocking fillers for his girlfriend.
Clarkson wrote, in his Boxing Day column for the Sunday Times: “I decided, therefore, to begin with women’s fashion, so I visited a site called Net-a-Porter, which, it turns out, sells every single garment ever invented. I’m not sure but I reckon there were at least 40,000 jumpers. And I couldn’t look at half of them because, for reasons that aren’t clear, my wi-fi has self-installed some kind of filter that blocks any site that contains flesh. For the same reason, I was unable to buy Lisa any stocking-fillers from Lovehoney.”
In its complaints to Google, Lovehoney says the changes threaten consumers’ rights to view sex positive content, and is calling for an open conversation about the importance of sexual health on the internet.
Johanna Rief, director of public relations and head of sexual empowerment at Lovehoney, says: “Whilst we are in support of Google’s ‘SafeSearch’ feature for under 18’s, 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.”
Responding, a Google spokesperson says that SafeSearch naturally filters out sexually explicit material, in line with its stated policy. The policy covers both content that promotes the sale of regulated goods and services including alcohol and gambling, as well as sexually explicit material. The Google spokesperson says that users have to opt into SafeSearch in order to have the filters in place and that users can opt in – and then out – at any time.
Google says that SafeSearch, introduced in the autumn, is currently on by default for signed in users aged 13 – or the relevant age in a given country – who have accounts managed by Family Link. Google’s spokesperson says: “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 says: “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.”
When InternetRetailing searched for ’Lovehoney’ on Chrome, the top five results included the Lovehoney website, its Twitter, Instagram, YouTube social media pages and the Lovehoney Group page, alongside a warning that the site may be sexually explicit. (screengrab below). Similar results came up when we signed out of Chrome.