Timeline: Google's role in global sex censorship

While you were busy freaking out about government surveillance, censorship blossomed at the one corporation that has the most power to fight -- or enable -- suppression of speech: Google.


While you were busy freaking out about government surveillance, censorship blossomed at the one corporation that has the most power to fight -- or enable -- suppression of speech.

Google is the world's dominant force in both advertising and search, deciding what one out of every two internet users is allowed to see.

Until today, Google's Blogger platform allowed "images or videos that contain nudity or sexual activity," and stated that "Censoring this content is contrary to a service that bases itself on freedom of expression."

That was policy reversed abruptly Monday when Google informed Blogger users they'd be effectively disappeared if Google decided their blogs contain "sexually explicit or graphic nude images or video."

Read more: Google bans 'explicit' adult content from Blogger blogs

This slap in the face to users who abided by its policies is now part of Google's ever-worsening record on restriction of sexual expression, and what's becoming a downward slide for free speech on the powerful corporation's many communication, commerce and information products and utilities.

Here's a handy interactive timeline of Google's anti-sex censorship:

A legacy of anti-sex censorship

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.

Advertising purge

Google accounted for nearly 32 percent of online global ad spending in 2013, according to estimates from eMarketer; the firm also estimated that Google controls 46.8 percent of all mobile advertising (Facebook came in second with 21.7 percent).

Last year, after 12 years of peacefully doing business with so-called "adult" companies and websites, Google enforced conservative changes to its AdWords policies against adult advertising -- decimating an entire advertising sector overnight.

In June 2014 Google's AdWords enforced a prohibition on any promotion of most sexually-themed sites, specifically those that feature "graphic sexual acts with intent to arouse including sex acts such as masturbation."

One of many advertisers caught in Google's sex purge was sexual health advertiser, "Keep A Breast Foundation." The breast cancer youth-based organization educates and engages young people on how to lower their risk for breast cancer.

Keep A Breast's Luis Mendoza took to Google AdWords forums to appeal the ban, saying "Our slogan [I love boobies] is perhaps being penalized by the system but has nothing to do with sexual acts, pornography or anything of the sort."

The AdWords move sent a strong message about the powerful corporation's relationship with the porn industry -- and cemented Google's widening role as both enforcer and gatekeeper of conservative values across its products.

Google's role in the decline of the open Internet

The Internet as we know it is gradually being replaced by mobile apps.

Access to those apps is controlled by just two companies: Apple and Google (Apple iTunes apps and Google's Chrome Store apps). For the large world of phone and tablet users, Apple and Google have replaced the Internet with their own walled garden app ecosystems.

This is interesting in context of what's left of the open web on mobile. If Chris Dixon's "Decline of the mobile web" numbers are on the money, the lion's share of internet access is now mobile and in 2013, 80 percent of the time spent online on mobile devices was through apps.

Dixon explained that because people don't actually browse on the Internet anymore, we have yet to realize we're staring down the barrel of a free speech nightmare. "This is a worrisome trend for the Web," he said. "Mobile is the future. What wins mobile, wins the Internet. Right now, apps are winning and the Web is losing."

Adult "tube" site PornHub released a 2014 June report on data left by its estimated 38 million visitors a day, showing that half are now using mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones.

So, with the majority of internet porn viewers and adult content readers now shifting to mobile, those millions of people must be using porn apps, right?

No, they're not. Because Steve Jobs hated porn so badly, adult and sex apps are super-banned from Apple's prudish app-topia. This combined with Google's censorious push to purge its Play Store has quietly, insidiously formed a censored duopoly controlled by two companies that make Morality In Media very, very happy.

In fact, Google's AdWords sex-purge was claimed by Morality In Media as a victorious outcome from their pressure and meetings with Google to crack down on porn. Google never commented on this claim, leaving us to guess what it all meant.

Ultimately, it all harms more than adult website operators, for few users are aware of just how censored their Google products are.

Google still can't seem to treat the adult human beings who use its services as adult human beings -- which is arguably a very basic thing to do.

Users whose only gateway to the Internet is through a Google product are only seeing filtered news, search results, art, health information and content.

Relegating adult content to the fringes, away from the "clean, well-lit Internet" is a move that bodes ill for anyone looking for safe adult information and entertainment. Homophobia, transphobia, and racism are alive and well today, and the backbone of these hideous things is censorship.

One thing is clear after Monday's change to Blogger's policies: Google wants you to know that the fight against censorship is your problem now -- not theirs.

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