Tobold's Blog
Monday, July 01, 2013
Fortunately games are for children

This blog is about games. And games are for children. So this is definitively not an adult blog. Lucky me, because Google closed down adult blogs yesterday if they have any links to commercial adult websites. Curiously there has been no public announcement of that on Blogger or Google+. People with adult blogs got an e-mail instead giving them just 3 days to remove all links to commercial sites or get deleted. And the discussion then happened on Twitter, not on a Google social network.

Being European, what strikes me the most about this is the prudery. Even the e-mail sent out didn't use words like "sex" or "porn", but said "If your adult blog currently has advertisements which are adult in nature, you should remove them as soon as possible as to avoid any potential Terms of Service violation and/or content removals.". That is a very strange definition of "adult", which probably is only comprehensible to Americans. Presumably a blog with a very adult discussion about let's say global warming will not be deleted, because for Google something is only "adult" if it relates to sex.

As a blogger I frequently get mails asking me to put up some banner advertising in exchange for money. I decided to run this blog without advertising. But I observed that the people who ask me to promote their products usually want me to promote a game or game-related product. Because my blog is about games. I very much doubt that a blog about sex is getting anything but "adult" advertisement offers. So unless somebody had a sex blog with no advertising at all, he'll either get his blog deleted, or will run into trouble with whoever paid for the ads.

Now of course there are a lot of fake blogs only used for search engine optimization, and I very much support deleting those. But they aren't necessarily all "adult", and not all "adult" blogs are such fakes. Having a banner add to a commercial porn site isn't sufficient proof that a blog is not written for a valid discussion about sexuality. And, again as a European, it appears rather strange to me that you would be allowed to discuss anything including ultra-violence on a blog, but not sexuality.

Ultimately the problem is one of freedom of speech. The first amendment is not of much use to anybody if the right to express whatever you think is only theoretical, and in practice a private company can limit your freedom of expression to whatever they think is inoffensive. And if the law decided to allow to limit freedom of expression, then why would you even want to start with porn? Isn't there a lot far more harmful content around, like hate speech, cyber-bullying, or instructions on how to create illegal weapons?

I don't know. We Americans are rather odd on the way that fetid , disgusting corpses and massive violence are perfectly fine for broadcast TV, but a pair of tits get you fined.

As far as the First Amendment goes, well, you are free to say what you want, but you can't expect other people to help you say it. Since you delete comments you find offensive, I think you can understand why that is. Since Google has an interest in not letting blogger get a reputation as the place for zombie porn sites, it's not necessarily prudery. Might just be an acknowledgment that the porn industry is currently abusing the system.
Whilst I agree that removing such content is prudish, I don't really see an issue with private companies refusing to host it.

They are within their rights to choose their own rules.

If individuals want to discuss or view "adult" material they are still within their rights to host it themselves or find another private company with a different set of rules.

But Google can do as they please.
Not a freedom of speech issue. It would be if this were a government imposing a law that a company is required to block certain content. Instead, this is a private company setting guidelines for how their services can be used. This is no more a violation of our rights than an MMO having restrictions on character names or banning people for RMT advertising or 'free' hate speech.

It's not a very nice thing for google to do, though. Abuses should be fixed, but I worry this will adversely impact legitimate content blogs such as development blogs for sex games or erotic interactive fiction, blogs which include reviews/critiques of erotic material, blogs of artsy types displaying photographs or artwork that has nudity, or blogs focusing on finding/sharing niche, specific erotic content.

I'm hoping that violations will not be broadly sought down and punished, rather as simply providing a ready excuse for when they do want to shut down specific sites. Like how driving speed limits are kept artificially low so that anyone can be pulled over for speeding, or like how many companies have largely unenforced standards for personal use of office computers to check facebook/etc, just so they have something unequivocally in violation to protect them from litigation by their employees when firing them.
" That is a very strange definition of "adult", which probably is only comprehensible to Americans."

Not true. I refer you to the Oxford English Dictionary definiton:

Granted it's the last definition in the list but it is a valid use of English, not just American English. I don't know when the usage began but I'm in my 50s and "adult" certainly had that variant meaning even when I was a teenager.

On the other hand, to describe a discussion on global warming, to use your example, as "adult" would be an idiosyncratic choice. The normal expression would probably be "a mature discussion" or even "a grown-up discussion". These words might superficially seem to be synonyms but they have significant differences in nuance and usage in British English and probably have further differences in American, Australian and other Englishes too.
Self-hosted blogs are not that expensive these days. Yes, it's not free, but no more than $30 a year.

Yeah, "adult" is pretty common in the US for "porn". I don't know who came up with that. I think they were trying to shelter the kids. "We can't talk about porn or sex in front of the kids!" So they use adult as a code word. Of course kids figure out what it means very fast.
The crazy bit to me is that they are giving three days notice and not actually defining what they mean by "adult" explicitly. If they were just going to lock down blogs and make them invisible to the public it wouldn't be so bad. But as it is they are giving a very broad group of people short notice to backup all their stuff and move or risk it being deleted.
Prudish thought on sex has always puzzled me, especially when pursued with more zeal than the issue of violence.

Violence is not normal or healthy or necessary for a harmonious, functioning society. Sex is.
Your mother did it for God's sake... at least once. And the probability is more than once.

I can think of a few 'valid' (in my opinion) reasons why one is censored more heavily than the other, but while amusing I wouldn't be surprised if it boils down to the fact that it's so great that if we didn't spend every waking minute cultivating a culture of shame around sex, we'd spend all our time doing it and never get anything done.

As any American with a basic Civics education could tell you, the First Amendment restricts the government's regulation of free speech and not private entities on their private property. Google is entitled to do whatever they like on their own property (i.e. servers).

But don't sweat it, mistaken claims of "Freedom of Speech" are rife even in America. The First Amendment has absolutely nothing do with this.
On the other hand, to describe a discussion on global warming, to use your example, as "adult" would be an idiosyncratic choice. The normal expression would probably be "a mature discussion" or even "a grown-up discussion".

But if you say "this blog has mature content", you could also be referring to porn again. Although in my opinion porn is neither "adult" nor "mature".
First I've heard of this. A bit curious as to why but yeah, the land lords get to make up the rules to their own buildings.

Tenants just have to deal with it or find a better or more suitable spot for their needs.
Hmm. Curious to see if Game of Thrones related blogs suddenly vanish. That's pretty adult/mature content, but I don't think you would have "ads" per say of it, instead of being the main topic?
Heh, quite sad, I suppose Fifty Shades of Grey would be deemed too "adult" for Google.

Maybe the russians will come to the party and give us a .ru solution ;-).
Like Bhagpuss said, the usage is standard east of the Atlantic also.

And in point of fact there is a reason why you can more easily show somebody murdering another person than raping another person on TV. It is because in the first case it is more difficult to convey a subtext that [if we ignore Cylons or extremes of psychopathology] the victim might like it.
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