After a month’s toing and froing, Google Australia (well done Sydney!) made a positive intervention in the case and the good news is that the HomepageDaily website has been re-admitted into the Google AdSense service.
Nevertheless, what is important is to contrast the substance of the reasons given for disabling our account with what the provisions of Google’s Moderate Filtering feature says:
“Moderate filtering excludes sexually explicit video and images from Google Search result pages, but does not filter results that might link to explicit content. This is the default SafeSearch setting.”
For Google there seems to be two definitions for what they deem to be inappropriate content.
For their Moderate filtering it involves ‘sexually explicit’ material but for AdSense (read, their advertisers) the definition is broadened to full nudity. This results in a bizarre situation where images and videos which are deemed too racy for advertisers remain freely available on Google’s own pages for anyone to view.
Where’s the consistency?
Google themselves make the point that occasionally subject matter “slips through the cracks” and that any images or subjects that a person finds offensive should be reported to Google immediately. Understandable considering the sheer size of Google’s content, yet, Google having been made aware of this image on its pages has not chosen to remove it from its Moderate filter suggesting that its policy against pornography is enforced in a reactionary manner - page by page - instead of totally removing the image in question.
Secondly, as this case points up, the principle concern of Google is to “protect the interests of our AdWords advertisers”, and with a full 97% of Google’s revenue coming from advertising, the importance of maintaining good relations with current partners is obvious.
“Of course, Google, like Apple, has become much more than just a tech company,” says Adam Simpson, leading intellectual property lawyer at Simpsons Solicitors.“The pervasive reach into our lives means it has become a powerful social and commercial arbiter. If Google finds itself between two disputing parties, as here, Google’s non-negotiable and decidedly one-sided contract gives them the power to resolve or heavily influence the outcomes. Parties find themselves appealing to Google to exercise their discretion in their favour. It’s effectively a private judicial system.”
In 2007 two cases came to the fore when anti-Scientology sites “Epic Anonymous” and “Enturbulation” received similar notes from Google which read:
"While going through our records recently, we found that your AdSense account has posed a significant risk to our AdWords advertisers"
"Since keeping your account in our publisher network may financially damage our advertisers in the future, we've decided to disable your account."
The issue is this instance was that Google suspected that those that ran the sites were partaking in click fraud by designing automated systems which would click on ads.
The kicker is that Google was putting pro-Scientology ads on these pages and that the owner’s suspect that this was a conspiracy by Scientology so that they could claim these pages were causing financial damange.
Matthew Danziger an Epic Anonymous admin speaking to “The Register” says that Scientology is somehow manipulating Google's system:
"Google isn't doing a good job of looking out for its [AdSense] customers. They aren't saying 'We shouldn't be showing these sorts of ads on these sorts of sites"
"And then, from where I'm sitting, Scientology is taking advantage of this, telling Google that by serving ads onto our site, it's causing financial damage.”
So like HomepageDAILY if only for a month, “Epic Anonymous” and “Enturbulation” was caught at the mercy of Google’s need to appease its advertising partners.
And like these two pages the central principal at stake is freedom of the press; we were reporting on changes to Child Pornography laws and chose to use the example of a Bill Henson photograph as an example of some of the possible criticisms that could be made against this legislative change.
There is no small irony that the image in question was used as an example of the pettiness of law and that both the Australian government and police authorities have cleared it as legal, yet Google in its arbitrary enforcement of its company policy saw it otherwise.
One aspect of the HomepageDAILY experience which was the trigger for all the subsequent events was the private complaint made against its article.
While defending the right of communities to pass laws to protect children from pedophilia and the like when a complaint is made about a bona fide work of art you have to ask – just what else is the complainant hiding?
Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder but so is dirt in the mind of the corrupt spectator.