Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Google Censors War Coverage

A week or so ago I was standing in line at Dunkin' Donuts and was captivated by what I saw on the TV up on the wall. CNN was showing a video from YouTube that was shot by a college student in Lebanon depicting how she escaped the country to safety. While amateur video has been part of news coverage for years, the fact that the "source" was YouTube reminded me that the internet continues to play a vital role in the information we consume. I considered writing a post about the power of user generated content but never quite got around to it.

Today I was surprised and disappointed to learn that respected Producer, Directer and blogger Steve Rosenbaum was being censored by Google. Wayne Porter does an excellent job of digging into the issue, and I urge you to also read Steve's original post here:

To summarize, Mr. Rosenbaum created a useful site that collected various user shot videos of the Middle-East conflict and built an Adwords campaign to spread the word. What happened was that Google not only rejected the ads but deleted the entire campaign from his account.

The offending ads:


Israel/Lebanon War Video
See real video. Post Your Own
Comments and Opinions.

Israel War Video
User-Generated Video from the
Front Lines. Uncensored.


Hezbollah War Video
Uncensored User-Generated Video
from the Front Lines.


Lebanese War Video
Uncensored User-Generated Video
from the Front Lines.


The explanation from Google:

SUGGESTIONS:-> Content: Due to the sensitive nature of this matter, we are not able to run this ad at this time. As noted in our advertising terms and conditions, we reserve the right to exercise editorial discretion when it comes to the advertising we accept on our site.

Unacceptable Content: Google believes strongly in freedom of expression and therefore offers broad access to content across the web without censoring search results. Please note that the decisions we make concerning advertising in no way affect the search results we deliver. Please note that both your ad and keywords have been suspended at this time.

I have several issues with this. Obviously we know the war is a "sensitive issue" but does that mean that we're supposed to ignore it and pretend that it isn't going on? Where exactly does Google draw the line on what topics are acceptable and which are not? I understand Google has the right to reject whatever ads they want but should they? Google doesn't seem to have much of a problem showing ads for the term "sex video", but "war video" shows 0 paid results?

Mr. Porter sums it up best:

To Google: Perhaps you mean well, but the user, many of us are intelligent ones, can decide on the sensitive nature of world matters. Afterall we are your customers. We drive your business. We rely on you for relevant information in both advertising and search. In this case it was a needed civic experiment.

Monday, August 07, 2006

AOL Apologizes for "Screw Up"

AOL has apologized for their obvious mistake of releasing search history on more than 600k users. The offending file along with the rest of the page on AOL's research center has since been taken down but not before thousands of people had the opportunity to download the data.

"This was a screw up, and we're angry and upset about it," Andrew Weinstein, an AOL spokesman said. "It was an innocent-enough attempt to reach out to the academic community with new research tools, but it was obviously not appropriately vetted, and if it had been, it would have been stopped in an instant."

An ugly and embarrassing day for AOL, but hopefully they will learn just how important privacy is and ensure that nothing like this can happen again.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

AOL Releases Search History for 650k Users

Just when you thought AOL was making some smart moves by no longer charging broadband users to access AOL services, a blunder of biblical proportions has come out of the AOL camp.

For some reason, AOL thought it would be a good idea to release data on 20 million search queries over the past 3 months from 650k users. While they contend this is "annonomys" data, there are obvious fears that people can connect an actual user to this data. One user commented:

12:09 by lando?: Hmm, i find it fascinating that user 545605's searches are "shore hills park mays landing nj", "frank william sindoni md", "ceramic ashtrays", "transfer money to china", and "capital gains on sale of house". I wonder how Mr. Frank William in Sindoni, Maryland will feel about being included in your publicized data.

The research along with user comments and the actual data file can be found here:

Every search users assumes their personal information will never be shared with anyone - this is a serious breach of privacy and it is things like this that give our industry a black eye. The file has already been downloaded by 1k users and there is no telling how dangerous this can be in the wrong hands.

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