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How Google Tackled Its Early Porn Problem

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Ten years ago, the web was honeycombed with porn infiltrating search results at the most unexpected times--a problem Google had to face developing a spam-free search engine.

In his new book In The Plex, author Steven Levy describes the method Google used to rid itself of early porn spammers. Though engineer Matt Cutts developed SafeSearch in 2000, a product to filter pornography from search, some sites still slipped the block.

So how did Google deal with the unwanted naked spam?

"Google asked Cutts how he felt about porn," writes Levy. "He'd have to see a lot of it to produce a system to filter it out of Google."

Though Cutts tried to get his co-workers to help him find porn sites to filter, they were simply too busy. So he upped the ante. After complaining to his wife that "No one will help me look for porn!" she volunteered to bake chocolate chip cookies for those that found porn that escape Cutts' filter.

And so, Look for Porn day was born, catered by the cookies of Cutt's wife.

"She's still known as the porn cookie lady at Google," he recalls in the book.

Big porn sites were accepting of the move--they didn't want 12-year-old girls stumbling into their pleasure palaces accidentally, either. But other porn sites took it as a challenge and found ways to game the system and up their page rankings.

"It was an eye-opening moment," Cutts said. "Page-Rank and link analysis may be spam-resistant, but nothing is spam-proof."

It was an early example of a phenomenon representing a new and more complicated problem for Google: the use of Search Engine Optimization in artificially boosting page rank. That issue is one Google still grapples with today.

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