Google has become such a huge and hyperactive company that it is often difficult to keep up with all its initiatives, and even its conflicts. Among the latter, the one that has been drawing most attention recently has been its problems in Europe regarding the collection of data on private wireless networks by its Street View cars. But I have been following another conflict that, even though it is not getting much publicity, I find to be quite interesting.
In late April, a coalition of abortion clinics in Spain requested Google to lift its ban on abortion service ads in Adwords Spain. In 2008, Google updated its advertising policies to forbid abortion clinics ads in 15 countries—Germany, Poland, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, France, Italy and Spain. [You can read here an interesting exchange of emails between Planned Parenthood Oklahoma and a Google representative regarding this decision] The recent petition in Spain was triggered by the upcoming legislative change that will lift some restrictions on abortion practices in the country–abortion was until now legal, but subject to wider restrictions. What ensued was an exchange—both in private and through the media—between Google and the petitioners, with Google showing its willingness to discuss the issue and review its norms if necessary, and the clinics engaging the Government in their support and threatening with legal action.
This whole exchange lead me to Adwords’ policy page, in which Google lists the types of ads that are not allowed, and specifies the country variations to the general policy. To my surprise, I could not find any reference to abortion clinics in it. And I wonder why. Looking at all these forbidden topics and their local variations also made me wonder how exactly these decisions are made inside Google. Who decides what is acceptable advertising, and on what grounds? Regardless of the answer, the page is a great reading to understand the local contours of Google’s version of “…evil”.
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