Google cleans up on porn ads

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As the debate grows over the internet’s supposed contribution to the degradation of society, Google has moved to outlaw porn ads. This might well point the way to a safer, saner cyber space, writes Clifford Agugoesi.

GOOGLE’S recent crackdown on pornographic advertisements in AdWords and Google Play has sparked off a lively debate within the media and the internet community. This move has both global and regional implications.

CNN reported: “In an email sent last month to porn site advertisers on Google’s AdWords network, the company said it will no longer allow ads that contain sexual imagery, ‘including, but not limited to, hardcore pornography; graphic sexual acts including sex acts such as masturbation; genital, anal, and oral sexual activity.’”

Google’s AdWords appear on millions of sites across the Web. The new rules went into effect last month.

The e-mail, which was first spotted by Morality in Media, came several months after Google (GOOGL, Tech30) updated its porn ads policy. In a blog post in March, Google said it made the decision to no longer allow porn in ads “as an effort to continually improve users’ experiences with AdWord”.

Google still allows the “promotion of pornography,” according to its AdWords policy. But the ads cannot contain sexually explicit content.

In addition to banning sexual imagery, AdWords advertisers are forbidden from marketing prostitution services, erotic massages and “intimate companionship services”. Google does, however, allow the advertisement of strip clubs, lap dancing, and adult and sexual dating sites.

The porn advertising ban comes a year after Google decided to remove blogs from its Blogger network that contained advertisements for online porn sites. Faith-based non-profit and pornography watchdog Morality in Media stands out among similar bodies committed to ridding the internet of obnoxious content and safeguarding children and young adults essentially from consuming such content.

The GSMA has championed several initiatives to guarantee child protection online.  These include Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), which works to make the online world safer for children and their families by identifying and promoting best practice, tools and methods in the field of online safety that also respect free expression.

Another is the ITU Child Online Protection (COP), which works to share knowledge and experience of mobile phone safety and develop them into the industry guidelines. Then there is the Financial Coalition against Child Pornography, a coalition of credit card issuers and internet services companies “seeking to eliminate the profitability of commercial child pornography by following the flow of funds and shutting down the payments accounts that are being used by these illegal enterprises”.

The GSMA also works closely with INHOPE (the International Association of Internet Hotlines) as well as other external stakeholders that are actively engaged in combating online child sexual abuse content.

The erstwhile Acting Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, Dr. Bashir Gwandu, noted: “It is not all goodness in the internet. The virtual world is laced with landmines and booby traps some packaged and passed off as innocuous eye-catching prompts. This is why the child needs online protection. Child Online Protection (COP) has become a global concern with many countries using the instrumentality of legislation to protect the child.”

Speaking at a child online protection stakeholders’ consultative forum in Lagos, he added: “Other technical therapies like software filters and firewalls had been deployed but with little success. This has prompted governments and civil society organisations to look to legislation to save the child from the depraving and sometimes opiating effect of the internet. But legislation is failing in some places. The US Child Online Protection Act (COPA) passed by the US parliament in 1998 has remained dead on arrival. The Act was meant to restrict harmful sites from children but the US courts including the Supreme Court shot it down as infringing on the constitutional right to free speech.”

Gwandu called for a collaborative framework that would promote online protection for the Nigerian child by providing guidelines for safe online behaviour. Such collaboration, he said, would integrate service providers, law enforcement agencies, advocacy groups, policy makers, educators/parents/guardians, social welfare, religious groups, industry players, other agencies and partners. A call, many believe, has been taken seriously by Google.

The UN through the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is at the apex of efforts aimed at promoting safe cyber space.  Secretary-General of the ITU Dr. Hamadoun I. Touré in May last year appointed the wife of the Nigerian and President, Patience Goodluck Jonathan, as the ITU’s Child Online Protection (COP) Champion.

“It is a great honour for ITU to have the support of Nigeria’s First Lady,” said Dr. Touré. “Her commitment is further confirmation of the key role that ITU is playing as a global catalyst and facilitator in international dialogue and cooperation in the area of cybersecurity.”

Nigeria’s First Lady commended the ITU and its strategic partners for the confidence reposed in her with her appointment as the child online protection champion. “It is a call to play a key role in the focal stage in the fight to protect our children from harmful practices in the cyberspace. This is why I have seized my appointment as ITU champion to work closely with our partners to ensure that the huge responsibilities placed on my shoulders by the United Nations through ITU becomes successful,” she said.

A CNBC report noted: “Porn companies and porn performers have seen several industries curtail their ties with porn performers and companies lately. In April, Chase Bank closed the accounts of hundreds of people who work in the industry. In May, Amazon …began deleting the wish lists of several adult stars. And PayPal recently has closed the accounts of porn actresses.

“Beyond this, the porn industry has also been fighting a bill that would make condoms mandatory in any adult productions shot in California. (The bill cleared the Senate Labour & Industrial Relations Committee last week and now moves on to Senate Appropriations Committee.)”

International best practice suggests that a concerted effort must be taken by all stakeholders to avoid exposing children to harmful content.  And the ban on porn ads by Google is a step in the right direction that needs to be affirmed by all who aspire for a serener, saner and safer cyber space.