Filtering Sex in the Arab World

From the OpenNet Initiative blog (which I edit and curate):

Google’s recent decision to stop filtering keywords on its Chinese platform,, sparked discussion in the media about the role of corporations in controlling access to online material in repressive nations.

Microsoft recently added a new layer of complexity to the ongoing debate regarding the filtering and censorship practices of U.S. search engines via its own search engine, Bing. ONI testing reveals liberal filtering by Bing in one of the most censored regions in the world: the Arab countries.

The new OpenNet Initiative report, authored by Helmi Noman, explores Microsoft Bing’s practice of filtering keywords related to sex and LGBT issues across the Arab world.

I put some time into this report, including an title brainstorming session with my boss, Dr. Rob Faris, that borderlined on the absurd and concluded with Rob’s genius idea (sex gets headlines!), and it was all I could do not to snark about ‘Arabian countries.’  While filtering is worthy of serious debate and has multiple conclusions, I’m pretty certain that referring to a region properly requires only a cursory Google Bing search.

6 replies on “Filtering Sex in the Arab World”

Other places, too. Check out the report (it’s linked up there) – Bing’s filtering in the Arab world is non-specific; it simply offers an “Arabian countries” (note the incorrect terminology) version that is IP-located to users in Arab countries (I’m not 100% sure that all Arab countries get this version, but have confirmed Syria, Algeria, Jordan, Saudi, Tunisia, UAE and a couple of others).

I can’t think of all of the other countries offhand, but I tested the word “sex” in a number of other countries’ versions and it was filtered by all. The ones I remember off the top of my head are Turkey, China, Thailand, Indonesia, and India. We’re currently testing more terms for those countries.

It’s fairly easy these days to record anything, including sex scenes, with the help of a mobile phone, then to exchange the material through Bluetooth or by simply publishing them on the net.

I should mention the fact that advertising for international websites was what funded all of the porn sites I visited. Still, they seemed more about breaking the taboo of the intimacy of private relations between men and women as opposed to pure profit motive.
It is impossible to talk about the exact number of Arab porn sites. But their growing numbers reveal that Arab voyeurs will do whatever they can to get around official censors.

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