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Google Puts Blogger Porn Under Wraps

By Jack M. Germain
Feb 25, 2015 5:00 AM PT

Google will place a privacy curtain around sexually explicit images and video on its Blogger platform if users fail to remove the content of their own volition by March 23.

Google Puts Blogger Porn Under Wraps

Google on Monday started notifying Blogger subscribers about the policy change affecting adult content. The ban targets images and video that are sexually explicit or show graphic nudity.

The measure falls short of outright censoring the content or terminating users. However, it does restrict access to the owner or admins of the blog and the people with whom the owner has shared it.

After the deadline, existing blogs that continue to display the disallowed content will be blocked from public access, but Google will not delete the accounts.

Google might altogether reject new accounts that contain explicit content -- but it could be difficult to assess exactly what is forbidden.

Google told blog owners that nudity would be allowed where other substantial benefits to the public existed.

It will allow nudity that qualifies as artistic or educational, documentary or scientific, for example.

Changing Times

"The ones most directly affected who have posted explicit material will have to find another channel," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

"In order to sow as little confusion as possible, it would be wise for Google to communicate its new policies as clearly as possible," he told TechNewsWorld. "The line they are attempting to draw has a history of blurring in the extreme."

Google appears to be sidestepping criticism that its new policy is creating a veil of censorship. The company's prior policy allowed adult content on Blogger, along with images or videos that depicted nudity or sexual activity.

Google previously held the position that censoring sexually explicit content was contrary to freedom of expression. Its only restriction was a requirement that users of the Blogger service place clear warnings about nude images or sexual content on their blog pages.

Google declined to explain the reasons for its policy change.

Why Now?

Why Google decided to act on sexually explicit Blogger posts now is unclear.

The company may have been getting an earful from Blogger regulars complaining about others using the platform to display and promote sexually explicit material, said King.

"I also wonder if this decision reflects Google recognizing that as the Internet is used more and more for delivering entertainment, that effectively creating online channels for specific audiences -- kids, families, etc. -- is both necessary and commercially wise," he said.

Either way, Google could be setting the stage for more controversy. It is a matter of one hand giving and the other hand taking away, King suggested.

"For every user that applauds the policy, there will be another that condemns it. That said, I expect that Google performed due diligence and concluded that pleasing the former group was worth more to it than losing the latter," he observed.

"There is also a large number of Blogger users in the middle who will not care one way or the other," King pointed out. "So this seems likely to be a decision with more upside for Google than downside."

A Question of Overexposure

Google is taking control of the situation before it gets out of hand, suggested Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

Google is simply too exposed in too many areas to what third parties can do on its properties outside of Google's control, he told TechNewsWorld.

"By being more strict on their policies, they appear to believe they can avoid backlash. For instance, some Islamic states take exception to pornography and tend to respond violently to services that violate their rules," Enderle pointed out.

Restricting the display of content it determines to lack value could hurt Google on free speech issues. However, the company's action should alleviate some parents' concerns and reduce potential exposure with certain foreign governments, he added.

A Case of Sanitizing

Google earlier this week launched its family-friendly YouTube Kids app. Perhaps the Blogger decision reflects Google's efforts to sanitize the parts of the Web that are under its control.

Perhaps it's a matter of Google trying to respond to opposing sensibilities, suggested King. "If you look at some of the technology news during the past year or so, there has been a steady stream of distress over the inability of some websites and companies ... to police the outrageous behavior of a minority of their users."

For example, consider Twitter's inability to deal with abusive posts. Google has had some difficulty with that challenge as well.

"It seems as though the company is proactively attempting to create sites of another sort," said King. "There is no guarantee that they will succeed, of course, but as the Internet continues to grow and mature, there may well be a sizable audience to support Google."

Google might face some retalliation if objecting bloggers leave its service, Enderle noted, but "defending pornography has its own inherent risks associated with it."

Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear. You can connect with him on Google+.

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