Google causes controversy as it removes guns from Google Shopping, but it’s not a conspiracy

Neo Bullets The MatrixGoogle attracted controversy recently when it announced changes to the way Google Shopping would work, shifting it from a relevance-based search system to one where results would be based more on how much money merchants spent to promote their stores.

This, understandably, upset those with smaller budgets, as inevitably links to their sites would slip down the results page; but this response pales in comparison to the vitriol that has been aimed at Google over the past few days, thanks to a tweak of the Google Shopping rules and regulations.

A letter, which appears to have been first published by gunsandammo.com, has informed relevant merchants that Google now restricts the “promotion or sale of weapons and any related products such as ammunition or accessory kits on Google Shopping.” The letter suggests any products which fall into this category should be removed.

Google’s Shopping policy can be found on its support pages, and sure enough “guns, ammunition and knives” are listed under “prohibited categories” where they join other products such as vehicles, tobacco and cigarettes, and anything related to gambling.

Since the letter was published, the story has found its way onto various gun related blogs, along with sites like prisonplanet.com, where some of the comments are enlightening to say the least. Google’s own Product Forums are also filled with threads questioning the restriction.

Some of the comments on the above posts say this as a politically driven statement on Google’s part, with those most up in arms (sorry) over the change, threatening to boycott Google and all its services. However, the real reason for this policy change has to do with Google Shopping’s aforementioned transition from a free to a pay service.

Adwords caused the policy change

Like the regular Google Search, Google Product Search (or Froogle, as it was previously known) was mostly unregulated, but now it’s in the process of becoming Google Shopping and therefore a pay service, it’s bound by the same rules as Google’s AdWords program.

Google’s AdWords policy hasn’t allowed guns, bombs, knives or associated hardware since the beginning of 2012, and a glance at the policy reveals in a little more detail what Google won’t accept.

According to Google’s Advertising Policy, its decision regarding weapons covers all countries, and has been made “for legal reasons and based on user feedback,” a point it repeats on the weapons specific page, saying the policy has been created “to comply with legal regulations.”

Google isn’t the only site to restrict the promotion of weapons. Yahoo won’t accept ads for firearms and ammunition, and as a result, Bing doesn’t either. But as neither has (so far) linked their advertising to their shopping sites, results for guns still appear in both. However, if Google Shopping proves successful (for Google, that is), there’s every chance they’ll follow.

Just as it was accused of being driven by money after it opposed the UK’s planned adoption of an opt-in online adult content filter, Google is now apparently turning its back on advertising revenue by removing weaponry from Google Shopping, and is instead accused of doing so for nefarious political reasons. Google just can’t win in these situations.