Google as Big Brother in the Forums

As we cede control of public functions to private entities we may gain some functionality or efficiency but we often loose control of other more critical, less commercial aspects of our lives.

For example, as we cede control of money, traditionally a public function, to the likes of PayPal or Bank of America in the form of internet or credit card payments we run the risk of them unilaterally and arbitrarily removing access to this form of exchange, as in the case of Wikileaks. As commercial entities, they are not held to the same standards as a government of due process and can behave without much criticism or oversite, limiting access to given individuals to a critical public function at a whim.

But we run the risk of not just losing control over public functions but of language as well. In the novel 1984, George Orwell articulated the idea that the control of language was a way to control not just actions but thoughts. I.E. The loss of language can lead to a loss of freedom.

I work, study and breath in a very small corner of the internet, Google Places. In that corner, I interact with Google in all of their glory and weirdness.

In Google Places, Google feels a need to control language. Perhaps that is a good thing, limiting use of drug and sex terms in a public directory. But it requires any business that is using those terms to go to Google and request permission to use them. A very strange relationship for sure. And a slippery walk down the  slope of language control indeed.

But even stranger has been a recent “discovery” that Google is intervening, humanly or algorithmically, to prevent the use of some non controversial terms in the forums. Forums, unlike Places pages, are meant for “open” discussion.

The phrase that they are deleting? World Trade Center. That’s right, a word that is embedded not just in our language but in our psyche is being actively deleted when used in the forums. Their handling of the phrase is inconsistent, allowing it sometimes and deleting it on others. But delete they have. And on more than one occasion.

Google is a company that proclaims from the height of the highest newspaper hill that they are the essence of openness …. open systems, open technology, open source, open information. They use words like “transparency” and phrases like “Open will win” as mantras.

Yet for whatever reason, they can not abide by the the words “World Trade Center” being used in posts in the Places forums and see fit to act as arbiters of our language… very weird indeed.

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Google as Big Brother in the Forums by

15 thoughts on “Google as Big Brother in the Forums”

  1. great post as always… I don’t get the whole censurship thing even for words like fuc… I mean duck 😉 sex, etc. The world is rude, violent and offensive… Why the cyber copy must be different?

  2. @James

    Yes. There was a post that showed on a forum search for “World Trade Center” but when clicked said “part of this page has been removed”:
    Reviews listed do not belong to my business – Google Places Help
    Nov 11, 2010 … Your business name as it is in your Google Places account: Seaport World Trade Center Boston
    Your business type/category (e.g. photographer, …
    Google Places Help Forum

    This post is still visible with a search in the main Google index but disapppeared from the Forums search index sometime after 12/23.

    Here is a screen shot of the Google search so that we have a visual record.

  3. Hi Mike,

    Although, I love a good conspiracy, Google did not delete the forum posts. I did as the original poster for any of my posts that do not receive answers, plus I was able to get the reviews removed by the original source.

    To try and figure if “world trade center” really is a banned keyword, I renamed the listing to say “WTC” instead. I am still rejected, and my other edit removing the term from the description has yet to be recognized by Google, but I see the change within my dashboard. I do not have access to the “post” section of places, therefore I cannot attempt to remove another instance of “world trade center” there.

    My places page is still live for both brand /non-branded search terms, and I tend to think it is only because I have a tag in place. I am afraid that at some point, I will not have access to this places dashboard due to the rejection as this happened once before when I had duplicate listings in my dashboard.

    So, there is no conspiracy on the forum, but the listing is still flagged rejected.

  4. The words “make money editing from home” will make them ban a website from Google Checkout. That’s the name of the book I’m selling, but they accused me of running an MLM scheme.

    Three days later, they apologized and restored access, but what if they hadn’t? Judge, jury, executioner. Keeping in mind that I was in the right, as they finally acknowledged, who could have gone to? Who’s got more authority than Google?

  5. It is propperly dangerous for Google to have as much power as they have. I personally try to avoid google whereever I can, but it is getting harder and harder. the should be controlled by the government.

  6. We have all created Google’s power over the internet by using them so much instead of other search engines of which there are many. We often give up rights or freedoms for simple convenience as Mike mentions with regards to the financial system. Certainly most people are aware of how powerful that system is after living through the induced market “crash” of 2008-2010.

    Still people, by the hundreds of millions, spill their personal guts on places like Facebook or Twitter or MySpace. I fear most don’t see the connection between this open use of the internet and the slowly closing noose of censorship and loss of personal freedoms.

    Those of us who use the internet for out business certainly have power, we just tend to think we don’t. Take the infamous Google “slap”, for instance. This has pissed off lots of people and made others afraid, of the big, bad, Google-wolf.
    What is the power we have as internet marketers? Turn off all your Adwords and Adsense ads for a month (mine have been off since Feb 2010). What do you think the big G would do? They don’t make money from search; they make it from ads, and they long ago made it clear that their “customer” is the searcher, not the advertiser. But we are paying them billions in ad revenues every year like as if we had no choice!

    The problem we face is that too many people will put up with crap because they are too lethargic to fight back. So, we end up getting exactly what we deserve, like it or not.

  7. Mike, thanks for your opinion on this. Oddly, this is a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last two months and just a couple of days ago, hanging with my teenage cousins, I learned that YouTube censors videos of children and mutes certain audio when spoken. In alignment with you post, they have censored the phrase “United States of America” but not “USA” or “United States”. Rightfully, they censor cursive language.

    Anyhow, it’s going to be an interesting year in 2011 and I’m afraid my feelings of the Open internet are days that are past as corporations begin to control that environment for profit, as we know controlling the people doesn’t work.

  8. @Tom

    While on a theoretical level we have the power, as a practical matter it is only accrued when large numbers act in concert. Capital is very competent at the divide and rule method so aggregating then numbers is always difficult

    I wonder what the thought process is behind the censoring of “United States of America”?

  9. @Mike
    It would seem that we would need to mobilize large masses to get any result and, as you indirectly suggest, that is the difficult part. However, history is replete with cases that it took only a few people to get the masses motivated enough to let go of their TV remote controls long enough to get made and do something! 🙂
    I am confident, however, that there is an awakening of sorts going on in many sectors. Our biggest challenge is Capital, as you say, since we have created lifestyles where we can not seem to live without it/them.

    I would disagree that the corporations don’t control the people. Look at big agriculture, big pharma, big banks, big supermarkets, big media, etc. Is the Matrix here already? 🙂

  10. @Mike…

    just wanted to wish you and yours a Happy Canuck New Year….and that I’ve learned lots from you in the past couple of years….

    and keep up this blog Mike…it’s the best source I’ve yet found on “all things Google” eh!



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