Google’s Ridiculous AdSense Morality Police Strike Again

Nearly a year ago, we wrote about an absolutely ridiculous situation in which Google AdSense threatened to cut off all of our ads (which they had just spent months begging us to use) because the ads showed up on this page, which has a story about a publicity rights dispute concerning a music video that includes someone dancing suggestively around a pole. The morality police at AdSense argued that this news story — which was about a legal dispute concerning the video — somehow violated AdSense’s terms against putting the ads on content including “strategically covered nudity” and “lewd or provocative poses.” Apparently, the AdSense team has no “newsworthy” exception to these idiotic policies.

After that story was posted, we heard from people inside Google who insisted that they were pushing the AdSense team to deal with similar situations in a much smarter way: such as simply turning off the ads on those individual pages rather than killing entire accounts. But, frankly, even that is pretty pointless. Why not fix AdSense’s terms so that having ads appear on a news story about such content doesn’t trigger the threat to shut down AdSense altogether?

It appears that the AdSense morality police still haven’t figured this out. Last week a similar kerfuffle arose when the AdSense team threatened antiwar.com because it had an article (from a while back) that posted the infamous photos of US soldiers mistreating prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Those photos are famous for their newsworthiness, and yet Google AdSense said they were a terms of service violation for being “violent or disturbing content, including sites with gory text or images.”

After that story started to get some press attention, Google backed down… but only for a few hours, before coming back and complaining about another article on Antiwar’s site, showing images of people killed in Ukraine.

As with the threat to kill our own AdSense account, this is simply idiotic. Yes, Google can set whatever terms and conditions it wants for sites to use AdSense, but acting as morality police — especially over newsworthy content on news websites — is profoundly stupid and shortsighted. We had hoped that our experience with a similarly ridiculous policy decision by Google last year would convince the company to fix its policies. Unfortunately, it appears that Google is still playing morality police and trying to dictate editorial choices.

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