Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Holier-than-thou Google demands iTWire alter innocuous story

Holier-than-thou Google demands iTWire alter innocuous story

In what is probably its latest bid to cow down and intimidate a small business, Google has sent us an unreasonable demand for alteration of an iTWire article that has no offensive content.

The email from Google asks for changes in an article that was published in 2006, regarding an adult shop that was using mobile technology. No links to any porn sites or adult sites or anything of the kind. No links of any kind in fact!

Of course, Google, with its high moral standards, cannot stand something like this. And so it imperiously demands: "Please make changes immediately to your site to follow AdSense program policies."

And, it goes on: "Google ads may not be displayed on adult or mature content. This includes displaying ads on pages that provide links for or drive traffic to adult or mature sites."

When a company that steals more than 11,000 lines of code and tries to pass it off as fair use tries to adopt a moral posture of this sort, it speaks of chutzpah by the tonne. Nay, by the container load.

Google speaks a great deal about "doing no evil". But it is the biggest censor on the web.

Despite having billions in revenue, Google has no customer service or support setup, so getting a demand like this redressed is a laborious task and one that puts a considerable workload on a small business which gets by on a small budget.

There is an easy way out for Google: this is a computerised system and the email is sent automatically. We cannot do anything to stop it. As its chairman Eric Schmidt once said, if you have done no wrong, you should have no objection if people look at your personal data. This is the same Schmidt who threw a hissy fit when an enterprising Cnet reporter published his mobile number – after finding it through a Google search!

Such logic is disingenuous in the extreme: if Google's so-called engineers cannot write code that can pick the difference between adult content and innocuous news stories, then it's time for them to learn to do so.

How does Google advise iTWire to keep issues like this from recurring? Pretty simple: "to reduce the likelihood of future warnings from us, we suggest that you review all your sites for compliance".

This kind of behaviour is old hat when it comes to Google: there is tonnes of material on its YouTube site that violates copyright left, right and centre. But will Google spend some money to get programmers to write code that can detect such infringements? No, it waits until copyright owners protest and then takes its own sweet time to take down the offending material.

More than 70% of Google's revenue comes from its AdWords service – which it implemented in 2000 by infringing on a similar system patented by Overture Services. As you can see, this is exactly the company that should be setting the rules for what one can, and cannot, link to.

And the stories about AdSense customers getting ripped off is available by the dozen. The book Search and Destroy by Scott Cleland is full of the indiscretions of the company that styles itself as a world leader.

iTWire editor-in-chief Stan Beer did not mince his words. "This is another case of Google's ham-fisted automated censorship technology attempting to bully its clients," he said.

"With Google you are presumed guilty and have no avenue of appeal. There is no phone number, email address or chat line you can easily find that will enable you to talk with a real person in order to explain the circumstances of your case."

Google has been contacted for its take on this incident.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.