Censorship by Google
Censorship by Google is Google's removal or omission of information from its services or those of its subsidiary companies, such as YouTube, in order to comply with its company policies, legal demands, or various government censorship laws.
Google has been sharply criticized for a new plan to edit search results based on Google's standards for truthfulness rather than actual Internet proof of what the majority of users deem accurate, which Google has used up to this point in time (March 2015).
- 1 Google AdSense
- 2 Google News
- 3 Google Maps
- 4 Google Play
- 5 Google Search
- 6 YouTube
- 7 2007 anti-censorship shareholder initiative
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
In February 2003, Google stopped showing the advertisements of Oceana, a non-profit organization protesting a major cruise ship operation's sewage treatment practices. Google cited its editorial policy at the time, stating "Google does not accept advertising if the ad or site advocates against other individuals, groups, or organizations." The policy was later changed.
In April 2008, Google refused to run ads for a UK Christian group opposed to abortion, explaining that "At this time, Google policy does not permit the advertisement of websites that contain 'abortion and religion-related content.'"
In April 2014, though Google accepts ads from the pro-choice abortion lobbying group NARAL, they have removed ads for some anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers. Google removed the Web search ads after an investigation by NARAL found evidence that the ads violate Google's policy against deceptive advertising. According to NARAL, people using Google to search for "abortion clinics" got ads advertising crisis pregnancy centers that were in fact anti-abortion. Google said in a statement that it had followed normal company procedures in applying its ad policy standards related to ad relevance, clarity, and accuracy in this case.
In early 2006, Google removed several news sites from its news search engine due to hate speech stating that, "We do not allow articles and sources expressly promoting hate speech viewpoints in Google News, although referencing hate speech for commentary and analysis is acceptable". The sites removed from Google News remain accessible from Google's main search page as normal.
In March 2007, allegedly lower resolution satellite imagery on Google Maps showing post-Hurricane Katrina damage in the U.S. state of Louisiana was replaced with higher resolution images from before the storm. Google's official blog of April revealed that the imagery was still available in KML format on Google Earth or Google Maps.
In March 2008, Google removed street view and 360 degree images of military bases per the Pentagon's request.
To protect the privacy and anonymity of individuals Google Street View in Google Maps and Google Earth shows photographs containing car license number plates and people's faces by blurring them. Users may request further blurring of images that feature the user, their family, their car or their home. Users can also request the removal of images that feature inappropriate content. In some countries (e.g. Germany) it modifies images of specific buildings. In the United States, Google Street View adjusts or omits certain images deemed of interest to national security by the federal government.
In the United States, Google commonly filters search results to comply with Digital Millennium Copyright Act-related legal complaints, such as in 2002 when Google filtered out websites that provided information critical of Scientology.
In the United Kingdom, it was reported that Google had 'delisted' Inquisition 21st century, a website which claims to challenge moral authoritarian and sexually absolutist ideas in the United Kingdom. Google later released a press statement suggesting Inquisition 21 had attempted to manipulate search results. In Germany and France, a study reported that approximately 113 White Nationalist, Nazi, anti-semitic, radical Islamic and other websites had been removed from the German and French versions of Google. Google has complied with these laws by not including sites containing such material in its search results. However, Google does list the number of excluded results at the bottom of the search result page and links to Chilling Effects for explanation.
As of January 26, 2011, Google's Auto Complete feature will not complete certain words such as "bittorrent", "torrent", "utorrent", "megaupload", and "rapidshare", and Google actively censors search terms or phrases that its algorithm considers as likely constituting spam or intending to manipulate search results. In addition, swear-words and pornographic words are not completed. However, they are not censored from actual search results.
As of December 12, 2012, Google's SafeSearch feature applies to image searches in the United States. Prior to the change three SafeSearch settings—"on", "moderate", and "off"—were available to users. Following the change, two "Filter explicit results" settings—"on" and "off"—were newly established. The former and new "on" settings are similar, and exclude explicit images from search results. The new "off" setting still permits explicit images to appear in search results, but users need to enter more specific search requests, and no direct equivalent of the old "off" setting exists following the change. The change brings image search results into line with Google's existing settings for web and video search.
Some users have stated that the lack of a completely unfiltered option amounts to "censorship" by Google. A Google spokesperson disagreed, saying that Google is "not censoring any adult content," but "want to show users exactly what they are looking for—but we aim not to show sexually-explicit results unless a user is specifically searching for them."
In September 2012, multiple sources reported that Google had removed bisexual from the list of blacklisted terms for Instant Search. Up until late 2013, the word bisexual still did not autocomplete and LGBT activists renewed efforts to have it whitelisted. However, "bisexuality" does autocomplete as of 2015.
Removal of SafeSearch options
Leaked celebrity content
On August 31, 2014, almost 200 private pictures of various celebrities, containing nudity and explicit content, was made public on certain websites. Google was criticized for linking to such content after some of them became popular enough to reach the front page of some search results. Shortly after, Google removed most search results that linked users directly to such content from the incident.
Following a settlement with the United States Food and Drug Administration ending Google Adwords advertising of Canadian pharmacies that permitted Americans access to cheaper prescriptions, Google agreed to several compliance and reporting measures to limit visibility of "rogue pharmacies". Google and other members of the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies are collaborating to remove illegal pharmacies from search results, and participating in "Operation Pangea" with the FDA and Interpol.
In January 2010, Google was reported to have stopped providing automatic suggestions for any search beginning with the term "Islam is", while it continued to do so for other major religions. According to Wired.com, an unnamed Google spokesman stated, “this is a bug and we’re working to fix it as quickly as we can.” Suggestions for "Islam is" were available later that month. The word "Bilderberg" and the family name "Buchanan" were also reportedly censored in the auto-complete results, but were available by February 2010 as well. Nonetheless, Google continues to filter certain words from autocomplete suggestions, describing them as "potentially inappropriate".
The publication 2600: The Hacker Quarterly has compiled a list of words that are restricted by Google Instant. These are terms the web giant's new instant search feature will not search. Most terms are often vulgar and derogatory in nature, but some apparently irrelevant searches including "Myleak" are removed.
In September 2012 multiple sources reported that Google had removed bisexual from the list of blacklisted terms for Instant Search. However, as of late 2013 the word bisexual still does not autocomplete and LGBT activists renewed efforts to have it whitelisted.
In 2013, the Swedish Language Council attempted to include the Swedish version of the word "ungoogleable" ("ogooglebar") in its list of new words. Google objected to its definition and the Council was forced to remove it to avoid legal confrontation with Google. There have been accusations that Google is trying to control the Swedish language.
In January 2010, Google Australia removed links to satirical website Encyclopedia Dramatica's "Aboriginal" article citing it as a violation of Australia's Racial Discrimination Act. After the website's domain change in 2011, the article resurfaced in Google Australia's search results.
During 2013, Google Australia removed links to news articles, websites and blogs that questioned or criticized alleged 'cult' Universal Medicine, an esoteric healing business who used the services of private investigation firm Phoenix Global for reputation management. Google Australia acted on numerous unsupported defamation assertions by Phoenix Global and owner Serge Benhayon who claims the media has printed "scurrilous" lies about Universal Medicine. It removed links to at least seven news stories from established newspapers and TV as well as 15 independent websites.
On 19 June 2014, it was reported that Google had been ordered to remove search results that linked to websites of a company called Datalink by the Supreme Court of British Columbia. The websites in question sell network device technology that Datalink is alleged to have stolen from Equustek Solutions. Google voluntarily removed links from google.ca, the main site used by Canadians, but the Court granted a temporary injunction applying to all Google sites across the world. Google argued that Canadian law could not be imposed across the world and was given until 27 June 2014 to comply with the Court's ruling.
Google adhered to the Internet censorship policies of China, enforced by means of filters colloquially known as "The Great Firewall of China" until March 2010. Google.cn search results were filtered so as not to bring up any results concerning the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, sites supporting the independence movements of Tibet and Taiwan, the Falun Gong movement, and other information perceived to be harmful to the People's Republic of China (PRC). Google claimed that some censorship is necessary in order to keep the Chinese government from blocking Google entirely, as occurred in 2002.
Google claimed it did not plan to give the government information about users who search for blocked content, and will inform users that content has been restricted if they attempt to search for it. As of 2009, Google was the only major China-based search engine to explicitly inform the user when search results are blocked or hidden. As of December 2012, Google no longer informs the user of possible censorship for certain queries during search. The Chinese government has restricted citizens' access to popular search engines such as Altavista, Yahoo!, and Google in the past. This complete ban has since been lifted[when?]. However, the government remains active in filtering Internet content. In October 2005, Blogger and access to the Google Cache were made available in mainland China; however, in December 2005, some mainland Chinese users of Blogger reported that their access to the site was once again restricted[who?].
In January 2006, Google confirmed its intent to filter certain keywords given to it by the government of the China. The restrictions apply to thousands of terms and websites. Google has claimed that some censorship is necessary in order to keep the Chinese government from blocking Google entirely, as occurred in 2002. The company claims it does not plan to give the government information about users who search for blocked content, and will inform users that content has been restricted if they attempt to search for it. Searchers may encounter a message which states: "In accordance with local laws and policies, some of the results have not been displayed."  As of 2009, Google is the only major China-based search engine to explicitly inform the user when search results are blocked or hidden.
Some Chinese Internet users were critical of Google for assisting the Chinese government in repressing its own citizens, particularly those dissenting against the government and advocating for human rights. Furthermore, Google had been denounced and called hypocritical by Free Media Movement for agreeing to China's demands while simultaneously fighting the United States government's requests for similar information. Google China had also been condemned by Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Google has been denounced and called hypocritical by Reporters Without Borders for agreeing to China's demands while simultaneously fighting the United States government's requests for similar information.
In June 2009, Google was ordered by the Chinese government to block various overseas websites, including some with sexually explicit content. Google was criticized by the China Illegal Information Reporting Center (CIIRC) for allowing search results that included content that was sexual in nature, claiming the company was a dissemination channel for a “huge amount of porn and lewd content”.
On January 12, 2010, in response to an apparent hacking of Google's servers in an attempt to access information about Chinese dissidents, Google announced that “we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all.”
On March 22, 2010, after talks with Chinese authorities failed to reach an agreement, the company redirected its censor-complying Google China service to its Google Hong Kong service, which is outside the jurisdiction of Chinese censorship laws. However, at least as of March 23, 2010, "The Great Firewall" continues to censor search results from the Hong Kong portal, www.google.com.hk (as it does with the US portal, www.google.com) for controversial terms such as "Falun gong" and "the June 4th incident" (Tiananmen Square incident). ”
In July 2014 Google began removing certain search results from its search engines in the European Union in response to requests under the right to be forgotten. Articles whose links were removed, when searching for specific personal names, included a 2007 blog by the BBC journalist Robert Peston about Stan O'Neil, a former chairman of investment bank Merill Lynch, being forced out after the bank made huge losses. Peston criticised Google for "...cast[ing him] into oblivion".
The Guardian reported that six of its articles, including three relating to a former Scottish football referee, had been 'hidden'. Other articles, including one about French office workers using post-it notes and another about a collapsed fraud trial of a solicitor standing for election to the Law Society's ruling body, were affected.
The Daily Mail reported "a series of MailOnline stories censored from Google", including its report on the Scottish referee story, a story about Tesco workers posting insulting comments about its customers on its online forum, a report about a couple having sex on a train, and a story about a Muslim airport worker accusing airline Cathay Pacific of racism.
The Oxford Mail reported that its publishers had been notified by Google about the removal of links to the story of a conviction for shoplifting in 2006. The paper said it was not known who had asked Google to remove the search result, but there had been a previous complaint to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) in 2010, concerning accuracy and claiming that the report was causing "embarrassment", requesting the story to be taken off the paper's website. The paper said two factual amendments were made to the article and the PCC dismissed the complaint.
The Telegraph reported that links to a report on its website about claims that a former Law Society chief faked complaints against his deputy were hidden. The search results for the articles for the same story in the Guardian and the Independent were also removed. The Independent reported that its article, together with an article on the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 and one on new trends in sofa design in 1998, had been removed. The Telegraph also reported that links to articles concerning a student's 2008 drink-driving conviction and a 2001 case that resulted in two brothers each receiving nine month jail terms for affray had been removed.
The Spanish newspaper El Mundo reported that some results were hidden over a 2008 news report of a Spanish Supreme Court ruling involving executives of Riviera Coast Invest who were involved in a mortgage mis-selling scandal.
On 19 August 2014, the BBC reported that Google had removed 12 links to stories on BBC News.
Germany and France
On October 22, 2002, a study reported that approximately 113 Internet sites had been removed from the German and French versions of Google. This censorship mainly affected White Nationalist, Nazi, anti-semitic, radical Islamic websites and at least one fundamentalist Christian website. Under French and German law, hate speech and Holocaust denial are illegal. In the case of Germany, violent or sex-related sites such as YouPorn and BME that the Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Medien deems harmful to youth are also censored.
Google has complied with these laws by not including sites containing such material in its search results. However, Google does list the number of excluded results at the bottom of the search result page and links to Chilling Effects for explanation.
On 21 September 2006, it was reported that Google had 'delisted' Inquisition 21st Century, a website which claims to challenge moral authoritarian and sexually absolutist ideas in the United Kingdom. According to Inquisition 21, Google was acting "in support of a campaign by law enforcement agencies in the US and UK to suppress emerging information about their involvement in major malpractice", allegedly exposed by their own investigation of and legal action against those who carried out Operation Ore, a far reaching and much criticized law enforcement campaign against the viewers of child pornography. Google released a press statement suggesting Inquisition 21 had attempted to manipulate search results.
In 2002 Google was found to have censored websites that provided information critical of Scientology, in compliance with the United States' DMCA legislation. Google replaced the banned results with links to the DMCA complaint that caused the site to be removed. The DMCA complaint contains the site to be removed, and the organizations that requested the removal. The publicity stemming from this incident was the impetus for Google's making public of the DMCA notices on the Chilling Effects archive, which archives legal threats made against Internet users and Internet sites.
YouTube blocked the account of Wael Abbas, an activist who posted videos of police brutality, voting irregularities and anti-government demonstrations.[when?] His account was subsequently restored.[when?]
In 2006, Thailand blocked access to YouTube for users with Thai IP addresses. Thai authorities identified 20 offensive videos and demanded that Google remove them before it would unblock any YouTube content. In 2007 a Turkish judge ordered access to YouTube blocked because of content that insulted Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a crime under Turkish law. On February 22, 2008, Pakistan Telecommunications attempted to block regional access to YouTube following a government order. The attempt subsequently caused a worldwide YouTube blackout that took 2 hours to correct. Four days later, Pakistan Telecom lifted the ban after YouTube removed controversial religious comments made by a Dutch government official concerning Islam.
In October 2008, YouTube removed a video by Pat Condell titled Welcome to Saudi Britain; in response his fans re-uploaded the video themselves and the National Secular Society wrote to YouTube in protest. The video was eventually restored. During the December 2008 Gaza Strip airstrikes, YouTube removed videos of air strikes against Hamas that were posted by the IDF. During the 2008-2009 Gaza airstrikes, many videos that were criticizing Israel's actions in Gaza were being removed by Pro-Israeli groups such as The JIDF.
Approximately 6 weeks before the 2009 New York City mayoral election, YouTube suspended the account of New York City artist and citizen journalist Suzannah B. Troy, who posted videos criticizing the controversial change in term limits law that enabled Michael Bloomberg to run for a third mayoral term in 2009. Her account was subsequently restored.
On November 5, 2009 YouTube cancelled the account and all videos from Michael Patton of dogtv.com after Patton uploaded a short documentary style video on his experience over the years with dogs, two of whom were fighting to the death until they were trained not to do so by Patton. In another blocked video, the camera caught a spontaneous dog attack on another dog. The fight is quickly stopped before any harm is done and instructions are given on how to break up dog fights which inevitably occur in multiple dog households.
Following the 2010 Moscow Metro bombings, the consequent video claim to the attacks by the Caucasus Emirate claimed 800,000 viewers in four days before it was removed, along with all videos of Doku Umarov, from the site. It was reported that over 300 videos from the Kavkaz Center were removed citing "inappropriate content." Russia was blamed for having pressured YouTube to take such measures.
On May 10, 2007, shareholders of Google voted down an anti-censorship proposal for the company. The text of the failed proposal stated that:
- Data that can identify individual users should not be hosted in Internet-restricting countries, where political speech can be treated as a crime by the legal system.
- The company will not engage in pro-active censorship.
- The company will use all legal means to resist demands for censorship. The company will only comply with such demands if required to do so through legally binding procedures.
- Users will be clearly informed when the company has acceded to legally binding government requests to filter or otherwise censor content that the user is trying to access.
- Users should be informed about the company's data retention practices, and the ways in which their data is shared with third parties.
- The company will document all cases where legally binding censorship requests have been complied with, and that information will be publicly available.
David Drummond, senior vice president for corporate development, said "Pulling out of China, shutting down Google.cn, is just not the right thing to do at this point... but that's exactly what this proposal would do."
CEO Eric Schmidt and founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin recommended that shareholders vote against the proposal. Together they hold 66.2 percent of Google's total shareholder voting power, meaning that they could themselves have declined the anti-censorship proposal.
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