Thursday, February 26, 2015

Google and Kim Jong-Un

At its founding, Google’s mission statement was: "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." Its unofficial slogan was "Don't be evil.” In January 2013, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt traveled secretly to North Korea to plead with Kim Jong-Un to stop censoring Google. Early in 2015, Google decided to be evil.

from the paternalistic-nonsense dept

Apparently, Google is getting prude in its old age, suddenly deciding that it will no longer allow "adult" content on its Blogger platform, giving bloggers on the site just 30 days to find another home or have their content set to private. Here's the note that some bloggers received yesterday:

Frankly, this is ridiculous. Yes, Google is a private company and has the right to do whatever it wants, but this sort of prudish, paternalistic role in determining what content is appropriate and what content is "artistic" or "educational" is a path with a lot of landmines that will lead to stifled speech on a platform that used to be celebrated for enabling free speech around the globe. On top of that, you have people who have used the platform to post this kind of information and content for over a decade suddenly being evicted with 30 days notice. Yes, this is always a risk that you take when you rely on someone else's platform, but it's a really unfortunate move from a company that one would hope would know better than to take such a hamfisted position on what content it "allows."

Of course, as Violet Blue notes, this is only the latest in a long line of moves by Google to 
stifle, hide or block any content that is sexual in nature. Here's just a snippet of a much longer piece by Blue, detailing the timeline of recent decisions by Google, all of which push content the company deems inappropriate further and further away:
It was one thing when Google Plus rolled out in June 2011 with a strict anti-adult, no sexual content policy for its troubled attempt at a social network; many of us just didn't bother participating, knowing how the content-policy ax always falls (not on the side of artists, writers, activists, LGBT people, or cultural outsiders who speak up).
But Google began its palpable aggression against erotic content in June 2013 when Google banned adult content from Google Glass apps, as well as enacting an affiliate porn purge across its Blogger platform.

December 2013 saw Android's Google Keyboard updated to exclude over 1,400 "inappropriate" words, returning no results for typing or swiping words including "intercourse," "lovemaking," "condom," "panty," "preggers" and "STI."

In February 2014 adult and erotic content was banned from Chromecast, followed by March 2014's ban and purge of adult and erotic apps from Google Play (Android's app and media hub).

April saw an ongoing series of Google Search algorithm updates that savaged existing adult website rankings, causing major disruptions in traffic and revenues for many websites.
So it's no surprise that many people believe that Google won't uphold its "freedom of expression" stance when it comes to organic adult search results.
I'm sure there are plenty of good business reasons why Google no longer wants to have this kind of content available on its site, but it's disappointing on multiple levels. It's not "censorship" in the classical sense, but it does seem like a really bad move by Google. It's a company that should know better, and often holds itself up as enabling more speech around the globe, and avoiding making any sort of "artistic" decisions on the worthiness of content. It is immensely troubling that this company now suddenly wants to determine which content it thinks is "appropriate" and which is not, not based on any legal requirements, but on a very subjective standard. Facebook did this sort of thing from early on in doing ridiculous things like banning "breastfeeding" images, and one would hope that Google would take a more reasonable stand. On top of that, giving people just 30 days to figure out where to go, when many have built up their blogs for over a decade just seems tremendously callous.

Google is a private company and can make its own choices, but this one seems like a particularly bad choice, which may have other consequences as well. For years, Google has pushed back on demands from copyright holders to magically monitor all its content, saying that it's just not possible. Yet, here it is now saying that it's willing to do exactly that, including making "artistic" judgments on the merits of whether adult content is purely prurient or done for a more artistic or educational reason. The company seems to be opening itself up to charges that if it can make such determinations for that type of content, it can also magically figure out what other content is "infringing" or not. This seems like a move that the company will regret.

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