Search engines voluntarily block harmful content in Germany

By EDRi · March 10, 2005

According to a report in the German e-zine Heise all the major search engines in Germany have voluntarily agreed to filter out harmful content for their German audience. Google, Lycos Europe, MSN Germany, AOL Germany, Yahoo, T-Online and t-info have founded a self-regulatory organisation that will voluntarily block a list of URLs considered to be harmful for the youth. The list is provided by a governmental media classification organisation, ‘Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Medien (BPJM)’. The new organisation is a subdivision of a larger self-regulatory initiative of multimedia service providers, the FSM, founded in 1997.

The search engines will continuously check the central blacklist of indexed URLs to prevent Germans from seeing any of the banned websites. There will be a complaint mechanism to address possible gaps in the filtering by the search engines, but no provisions have been made for users to complain about wrongful blacklisting. A spokesperson from the new organisation told Heise the majority of filtered sites was hosted outside of Germany. It has not yet been decided what kind of message users will get when they try to find a blacklisted website.

Since it is a completely voluntary business agreement, there seems to be no legal recourse for adults who don’t feel the need to be protected against contents that might be harmful for minors. The BPJM gives the following definition of harmful content: “Objects are considered harmful or dangerous to minors if they tend to endanger their process of developing a socially responsible and self-reliant personality. In general, this applies to objects that contain indecent, extremely violent, crime-inducing, anti-Semitic or otherwise racist material.”

Heise: Selbstregulierung der Suchmaschinenanbieter (24.02.2005)

Freiwilligen Selbstkontrolle Multimedia-Diensteanbieter

Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons (BJPM)