Searching the Internet

With ever increasing amounts of material on the internet, virtually any information you need can be found using search engines such as Google and Yahoo! In addition to the benefits that search brings, however, there are some risks.

The risks

  • Exposure to material that may be offensive or illegal.
  • Visibility to search engine providers of your search activity.

Search safely

  • Know how to use search filters. These can be accessed via the ‘Advanced Search’, ‘Settings’ or similarly named link found on search engines. Some search engine filters remember settings between search sessions, provided you log in every time you search. If you do not log in, you can assume that the filter is not activated. You can always click on the filter settings to check the status.
  • Some search engines also use warning pages to warn you that you are about to receive results which may contain or link to potentially harmful material. These will not prevent access to sites, but will enable you to make an informed decision on whether to visit them.
  • Installing filtering software on your computer is another way of helping to protect you from offensive or illegal websites.
  • Search engines normally offer you a choice between a UK-only or worldwide search. You are less likely to return illegal content by selecting a UK only search, as UK-hosted sites are subject to UK law and therefore easier to police.
  • Ensure you use accurate search terms (words and phrases) in order to return the most accurate results, and avoid unwanted ones.
  • Make sure you use correct spellings: even the slightest error can return unwanted results.
  • Remember that not all the information in websites returned in searches is reliable.
  • Remember that some search results are listings paid for by companies to promote their products or services, so the result may be biased towards them. These can be identified by words such as ‘Ad’ or ‘Sponsored Results’ and normally appear at the top or the page and in a column on the right of the page.

What to do if you encounter illegal material

  • If you come across content during a search that you consider to be illegal such as child abuse images or criminally obscene adult material, you should report this to the Internet Watch Foundation
  • If you come across content that you consider illegal such as racist or terrorist content, you should report this to the Police.



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A Glossary of terms used in this article:


A popular search engine