According to a new report from Ars Technica, Microsoft recently shut down Bing’s Trending feature after it was discovered that it could surface inappropriate results. As the report explained, the search engine apparently had an issue with the stock photo site Shutterstock, where the "trending results” section would apparently show Shutterstock content with very borderline titles.
More specifically, when searching for “Shutterstock” on Bing, the "trending results" appearing on the first page would have shown links to videos which titles included things like “Boys Erection,” “Big Tits,” or “Girl Take Off Panties.” However, if all of this content did come from Shutterstock, it's important to note that none of it was actually explicit or pornographic.
"Having reviewed the video clips, Shutterstock can confirm that the content is available on the platform and is in compliance with our content policy," Shutterstock said in an email to Ars Technica. "However, the titles of the videos on what appears to be a 'Trending Articles' feature on Bing do not match the titles of the videos available on Shutterstock.”
Shutterstock asked Microsoft to remove all of its content from Bing Trending Results, and Microsoft has now completely deactivated the feature. "We’ve disabled the preview feature responsible for these results while we examine how they occurred and how we can prevent them in the future,” the company said in a statement to Ars Technica.
According to the report, a likely explanation for this snafu is that Bing could have used the existing metadata from these Shutterstock videos, including ambiguous words like “erection” or “tits” (a tit is a type of bird, FYI) to create SEO-friendly titles for this Shutterstock content. As it turns out, what appeared as a “Boys Erection” video with a tent image on Bing Trending results actually led to an innocent video titled "caucasian dad and son assembling tent on holiday outdoors” on the Shutterstock website.
So far, Microsoft has been unable to explain what really happened with Bing Trending results, but the Ars Technica report suggested that the software giant may have been the victim of pranksters. "It can't be a coincidence that four innocuous videos with suggestive titles all became trending topics at the same time. It could have been the work of a hacker or a disgruntled Shutterstock employee, or perhaps pranksters in the shadier corners of the Internet figured out how to drive traffic to those videos in a way that caused them to show up as trending articles on Bing," the report explained.
While the whole situation is still quite embarrassing for Bing and Microsoft, it's not as bad as the child pornography problem that Bing used to have until last year. Back in January 2019, a Techcrunch-commissioned report revealed that Bing search results could suggest child pornography and other terrible things. The company made a good call by deactivating Bing Trending results to figure out what happened, but the search engine will likely remain under scrutiny in the near future.