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It’s Very Easy to Bypass Google Shopping’s Block on Guns

Google blocks users from searching for ‘gun’ in its shopping service. But you can just type ‘gnu’ instead.

by Joseph Cox
Mar 1 2018, 6:01pm

Image: Flickr/Sean

The ease of access to weapons is back in the spotlight after the recent Parkland school shooting. Naturally, one way potential gun owners may try to source a weapon is on the internet, and Google has, for years, blocked its shopping results from displaying results for searches of firearms.

Turns out that block is trivial to circumvent, however, simply by misspelling the word ‘gun’.

On Tuesday, a Twitter user shared several screenshots of them first searching for ‘handgun’ on Google Shopping. The search returned no results. But when they entered ‘handgnu’ instead, Google returned a list of relevant results. They also found that typing in “fully automatic firearm,” instead of “fully automatic gun” provided results.

Motherboard replicated and confirmed the issue on Wednesday.

A Google spokesperson told Motherboard in an email, “Thank you for flagging. We're experiencing an error in our Shopping results and are working to address it.”

Google said it banned weapons related listing on Google Shopping back in 2012, and pointed to its policy against the sale of guns and functional parts. That includes “Any part or component necessary to the function of a gun,” the policy reads.

Google said it conducts daily manual sweeps for these sorts of listings on top of its automatic systems, and that some Shopping searches returned results for bump stocks—weapon modifications that can essentially turn a semi-automatic rifle into a fully automatic weapon. Google said it has removed those offending results and it is reviewing further to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

In another direction, Google Shopping’s systems around weapons stopped results returning for searches of innocuous items, such as “Burgundy wine,” The Telegraph reported on Tuesday.