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Google opposes UK web porn opt-in scheme, attacked for being motivated by ad revenue

google-censored-censorship-sopaAt the beginning of the month, the UK government unveiled a plan to force Internet users to “opt-in” with their ISPs to view pornographic material on their computers. It was the latest in a string of measures designed to make the web a safer and easier-to-police environment, this time under the guise of protecting children by making it impossible to view explicit material online.

The scheme gained support from MPs, groups related to parenting and if you’re inclined to believe government statistics (page 12 of the linked questionnaire), 36-percent of surveyed individuals too.

Now, Google has added its voice to the debate, but has called the scheme a “mistake,” and would prefer to see parents educated on the situation instead of a drastic technical solution.

Speaking at Google’s Big Tent conference held at The Grove Hotel in the UK, Google’s head of public policy, Sarah Hunter, said an ISP filter would “deskill” parents and give them a “false sense of security.”

Google’s statement has seen it side with other dissenters including the Open Rights Group and the London School of Economics.

While it’s good to hear Google comment on potential government-imposed censorship, and thankfully side with those against it, the question of bias on its part has subsequently been raised.

Google ads

As we all know, Google makes money through advertising, and it does allow AdWords adverts to be served alongside search results for adult content. In fact, although it pains me to state the source, the Daily Mail (a publication which supports the adoption of a porn filter) says an ad linked to the keyword “porn” costs £8000 a day.

So could Google’s statement be driven by an interest to maintain advertising revenue, over a desire to keep the web as censorship-free as possible?

Before deciding if bias is involved, it’s worth knowing the facts the Daily Mail left out, as although ads in search results can be linked to adult content, it’s banned from AdSense. Google also offers SafeSearch to filter out explicit content, a feature that can be password controlled and extended to YouTube and mobile phones.

So yes, Google probably sees a decent income from its unfiltered search page ads, but it certainly won’t be the first port of call for pornographers keen to place ads on their sites, backing up Sarah Hunter’s claim that Google “doesn’t go out of its way to make money from pornography.”

Impossible to filter content effectively

Perhaps the real reason why these efforts are being glossed over is because it adds weight to the argument that filtering content effectively is almost impossible.

A quick look at webmasterworld.com reveals at least 350 threads with questions related to Google’s AdSense policy on what is classified as adult or mature content, many of which come from health and educational sites trying to avoid being banned.

If Google, who can safely be considered particularly knowledgeable in the ways of the web, finds it difficult to separate so-called harmful material from the non-harmful, what chance has the UK government’s anti-porn filter got?

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