Bisexuals No Longer Blacklisted on Google Autocomplete

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Sept. 13 2012 1:14 PM

Bisexuals No Longer Blacklisted By Google Autocomplete

bisexual_autocomplete_2
Searching for "bisexual" on Google now turns up some autocomplete suggestions, after years of campaigning by activist groups.

Screenshot / Google.com

Type "hete" into Google's search bar, and it will suggest the word "heterosexual." Type "homos" and it offers "homosexuality." Enter "ase" and you get "asexual." But start typing "bisexual" and there's a good chance you'll be greeted with a blank screen. That could be changing, though. A bisexual rights group has been pressuring Google for years to remove "bisexual" from its list of taboo terms that return no autocomplete results, and now the activists are claiming victory.

“It’s not every day one of the biggest companies in the world changes its mind, but we are thankful that Google now sees bisexual people just like everyone else,” wrote Faith Cheltenham, president of the nonprofit BiNet USA, in a blog post this week. Cheltenham tells me in a phone interview that her volunteers first noticed the change on Aug. 21 and are now seeing terms like "bisexual quotes," "bisexual rights," and "bisexual parenting" appearing on the site.

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"Bisexual" was among hundreds of words identified as part of an apparent Google Blacklist two years ago by the hacker site 2600. The terms ranged from the potentially benign—"adult," "amateur"—to the truly offensive, which you're welcome to look up for yourself.

Cheltenham says Google never offered a clear rationale for including "bisexual" on the list. But she believes its omission from autocomplete suggestions has hurt her organization and bisexual causes in general. Of course people can still type the full word into Google's search bar and hit "search." For many people, though, the autocomplete feature serves as a guide to the search terms that will yield the best results. Cheltenham says the omission also felt like a slight to a group of people who already struggle with perceptions that their sexual orientation is false or illegitimate. "I think this is probably an easy fix for them," she says of Google. "But unfortunately it took three years. And we don't know how many people were affected by that."

On my browser, Google still does not autocomplete the word "bisexual" nor offer any suggestions when I type in the full word, though it does propose "bisexual quotes" as the fourth result when I type in "bise." Autocomplete suggestions can vary based on multiple factors, including your personal search history when you're logged in to the site.

I've asked Google for comment and futher clarification and will update if I hear back.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.