Bil Browning

Google: Profit before people

Filed By Bil Browning | October 23, 2008 11:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media
Tags: California, Google, Prop 8,, rightwing nutjob, same-sex marriage, selling blog ads

Several readers wrote in when ads started showing up for our California readers. The pro-Prop 8 graphic was arriving via Google ads. Since none of the Editorial Team is in California, we had no idea they were popping up. One alert Projector grabbed this screenshot for us.

Picture 1.png

We had another flare up recently when the anti-gay ad started popping up in another ad space on the site. The company that services that spot will fill any unsold space and occasionally they use Google ads to do so. Like a bad penny, the pro-Prop 8 ad just kept turning up.

Angrily, I started investigating what our options are. As I dug into Google's documentation, I realized that the ad violated Google's established advertising policy. Since the company had recently made a statement opposing Proposition 8, I was curious what their reasoning for accepting the advertisement could be. The answer might surprise you.

For all of the positive press the company got for Sergey's anti-Prop 8 post, they're quickly losing goodwill in the gay and politically progressive blogosphere as readers and bloggers alike recoil from supporting discrimination. Blogs across the nation have reported angry readers and the instructions on how to ban the ads quickly spread across the internet.

I shouldn't have to step in and ban a bad apple though. Google is supposed to be our advertising agent - always looking out for our best interests and preventing unwanted and illegal ads from reaching our sites. Google's Advertising Policies clearly state that an ad advocating against the LGBT community (among other minority groups) is not allowed. (Emphasis mine.)

Don't promote violence or advocate against a protected group.

Ad text advocating against any organization, person, or group of people is not permitted.

Advertisements and associated websites may not promote violence or advocate against a protected group. A protected group is distinguished by their:

  • Race or ethnic origin
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Sex
  • Age
  • Veteran status
  • Sexual orientation/Gender identity

After I inquired with Google to see why they approved the ads since they are obviously in violation of the posted policy, spokesperson Diana Adair told me, "Google allows ads that advocate for a particular political position regardless of the views that they represent. We currently allow ads advocating both for and against Proposition 8." She directed me to another page of the advertising policy entitled, "Political Advertising."

Thinking that there must be a different set of rules in place for political advertising than other ads, I clicked the link and this is what met me.

Political advertising is allowed.

We permit political advertisements regardless of the political views they represent. Stating disagreement with or campaigning against a candidate for public office, a political party, or public administration is generally permissible.

However, political ads must not include accusations or attacks relating to an individual's personal life, nor can they advocate against a protected group.

And what do you get if you click the link in that quote? What is a protected group? Why the link goes back to the first page I cited. Same page. Same answer.

The ads are in violation of Google's stated Advertising Policy.

Google's co-founder, Sergey Brin, recently posted on the official Google blog that the company opposed Proposition 8. Part of what he said points out that the company realizes this is a civil rights issue.

However, while there are many objections to this proposition -- further government encroachment on personal lives, ambiguously written text -- it is the chilling and discriminatory effect of the proposition on many of our employees that brings Google to publicly oppose Proposition 8. While we respect the strongly-held beliefs that people have on both sides of this argument, we see this fundamentally as an issue of equality.

Which leads me to wonder, if an amendment somehow made it on the ballot to rescind interracial marriage, would Google allow advertisements in support of segregation? I highly doubt it. The answer is obvious which side of the political advertising/protected group fence interracial marriage would fall. The ads would never have been accepted.

GoogleLogo.jpgI also wonder how LGBT Google employees feel about their employer helping Proposition 8 by allowing it's ad servers to be used to promote an amendment that has a "chilling and discriminatory effect" on their employees. Talk about a hostile work environment! I don't know about you, but knowing my employer was making money by promoting an amendment to prevent me from getting married would definitely make me feel uncomfortable.

I definitely wouldn't feel like a valuable employee. Apparently, the ad buy from Proposition 8 supporters is more important than LGBT employees or customers. Civil rights went up against cold hard cash.

Civil rights lost.

CALL TO ACTION: If you think these ads should be pulled from Google ads for "advocating against a protected group" and causing a "chilling and discriminatory effect" on Google employees and customers, please send Google an e-mail or call them at (650) 930-3555. Ask them to stop making money from our fight for equality. Remind them that - as Sergey said - this is "an issue of equality."

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So what's the upshot, Bil? Can you block the ads, even if Google isn't?

It obviously sucks, but look at a silver lining. The Pro-8 forces are wasting their money buying ads where they won't do any good, and putting money directly into GLBT pockets. If you can't stop the ads, perhaps you can figure out how much ad revenue the right wing is giving to you; and donate that amount to the No on 8 campaign.

I hadn't realized before how the space was sold, so I was mystified why I saw McCain ads some months ago. But I figured that if they wanted to spend their money that way, so be it. More revenue for Bilerico.

We've blocked the ads ourselves and all of our ad services have also blocked the ads now. Our grand total of money earned from the ads is .03, so we're not making money off of them. Bilerico Media LLC gave a donation to Prop 8 - but it was more than that! :)

Jeff Koertzen | October 29, 2008 5:54 PM

Did Bilerico Media LLC donate to the NO on Prop 8 or YES on Prop 8. I would assume that you gave to NO on Prop 8 given your position state here, but your response is rather vague. You say you donated to "Prop 8." Please clarify. Thank you in advance.

Google's Adsense picks ads based on a user's location, content on the webpage and the other content they visit. Since this blog obviously talks about Prop 8 a lot, it displayed ads related to Prop 8. lol

Granted, bought based on the keyword "gay" among others. It's a stupid choice on their part. That said, it doesn't negate the fact that the ad is clearly in violation of their stated advertising policy.

One of the reasons I moved my site from the WordPress servers to a server I rent was to avoid having Google ads. As it's a trans site, there was just too much risk of 'shemale sex' ads appearing and I know that a particularly detested company in the UK which preys on the transgendered (Transformation and their Albany Clinic) buys Google ad words.

In many ways I admire Google and use an awful lot of their services. However, this is something which they need to fix. There is no way I could accept having anti-GLBTIQ ads or trans porn ads on my site and I wouldn't want any right-wing political content to appear.

Unfortunately, until Google provide a means for site owners to shape the ads their site will display, I think it's very risky for GLBT sites to display them.

The other alternative is to adopt the same outlook as The Nation magazine. They are inclined toward free speech, especially if it is speech with which they disagree. I appreciate the irony and certainly don't begrudge Bil the revenue.

Thank you for sounding the alarm on this, Bil. It is rather shitty of them to ignore their own policy and to be obtuse in their explanation.

Their actions (or lack thereof) remind me of those of a few of our other "allies" like: Obama, Feinsten, Schwarzenneger, etc. They have issued statements against Prop 8 and have done nothing to back up their words - no campaigning, no advertising, and as far as I know, no money.

Unfortunately, with the stock market circling the drain yet again today, Google employees (LGBT or "friend" of gay) will be crying over their stock rot and paying no attention to ad revenue.

I just wrote Google. I want to work there someday because I like the idea of "don't be evil" and the idea that social networking can change the world for the better. I explained that they were risking taking my marriage away; I support them nearly every way I can, from my blog to the tools I use.

We need their support as well if we are going to live "don't be evil." Hopefully, someone might listen and realize how important this is to some of us.

DMV Policy on Gay Married Names
zechariah aloysius hillyard
Kevin Malone, Public Information Officer, NV DMV
... on a recent newlywed's three failed attempts at the DMV to change the last name on his driver's license to his new married name. The agency at first would not recognize his marriage certificate from California, basing their decision on Nevada's Defense of Marriage Act.
Download Mp3 File
FORGE (Fighting Oppressive Resistance to Gender Equality)

I sent Google the following email message:


I just read an article that informed me that Google has a policy of not promoting violence or advocacy against a protected group. I am a member of one of these protected groups, "Sexual orientation/Gender identity"

California, Arizona and Florida have ballot propositions that are a threat to my ability to marry the person I love, because we are the same gender. Proposition 8, Proposition 102 and Amendment 2, respectievly.

I was also made aware that certain groups in favor of passing these bigoted amendments have purchased advertising on Google to promote their bigoted propositions.

I then learned that Political advertising is allowed by Google, so long as that "Political advertising" does NOT advocate against a protected group.

Again, I am a member of the "Sexual orientation/Gender identity" protected group.

I ask that you live up to your standards and cease and desist immediately on "Political advertisments" against my protected group.

Thank you!

Next, I will call them and voice these same opinions!

California - Vote "NO" on Prop. 8!

Arizona - Vote "NO" on Prop. 102! AGAIN!

Florida - Vote "NO" on Amendment 2!

Connecticut - Vote "NO" on Question 1!

Here is a copy of the letter I have sne to Google twice now, also Ellen, 365GAY, HRC, PLANEOUT, JUSTOUT, THE ADVOCATE,just to name a repsonse from anyone at this date!
MattOlsen created the code & offered up to me to put on my website!
Hi,I am venting & maybe we can tell everyone together. I am writing to tell you about my frustration.
I have an IGoogle account & it's set as my home page on my computer. I have it all set up with several “gadgets” as they call them. I had one that was “ Learn To Sign” and the creator of the gadget has put a link on the top of it. What is Prop 8? Click on the link and it is a Yes on 8 page. A really misleading website, full of untruths. I was sick after I read some of the info on it and I then emailed the creator of the gadget, Matt Olsen. As I asked him if it was his idea to put the link on there.

"Yes it was - are you happy that I did"?
"Do you need the code to do same?" Matt Olsen
Google was picked last year as one of the top 100 Gay friendly companies to work for. I wonder if they approve of this. I have emailed them with my concerns, protest & disapprovals. No response as of yet. So, should an employee for a company be able to push his agenda using the company he works for?
Thank you, Eva Hoffman

David Peterson | October 25, 2008 2:17 AM

Great sleuthing work, Bil !!!

A wonderful resource for other blogs that are facing or may face the same issue!!

The pro-prop8 ads I have seen fail another criteria (not sure whether Google "tests" for this): Telling the TRUTH, ie not telling LIES.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | October 25, 2008 5:39 PM

I just emailed the following to Google:


I am one of the California residents and Google users who are quite incensed to have Google pop-up ads in support of Proposition 8 appear on some of my favorite websites.

From what I understand, these ads—which advocate re-writing the California State Constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage—violate Google’s stated policy against accepting advertisement that “advocates against a protected group," –sexual-orientation/gender-identity being listed as just such a group.

These ads also seem to go against Google founder, Sergey Brin’s, vocal opposition to Proposition 8, recognizing as he does that the Proposition targets a sub-set of his employees.

Since its founding, Google has justifiably gained a reputation of one of the most progressive companies to work for or do business with. Google is now seriously risking this reputation by accepting money to run these offensive ads in support of a ballot initiative which, if passed, will go down in history as the first time a constitution will be re-written to take away rights from a sub-group of citizens.

Brynn Craffey

Just emailed google, and wanted to let you know that you have another problematic google ad up - "Is Gay Marriage Wrong? Have Homosexual activists gone too far? Share your thoughts." (Not pro-prop 8, but a weird survey that def. conveys an anti-queer bias to these queer eyes.)

The email:
I'm writing because I recently heard about the appearance of pro- prop 8 ads on websites that accept Google Ads, and saw one myself. Considering that google has said that it will *not* accept political ads that "advocate against a protected group", accepting these ads is incredibly disappointing. The ads were from and one which states "Is Gay Marriage Wrong? Have Homosexual activists gone too far? Share your thoughts." (The latter was a survey that wasn't overtly anti-gay, but the text itself is.)

I was very heartened to see Google take a position against Prop 8. However, that stand is hollow if you won't even follow your own advertising policies to prevent inappropriate ads from showing up through your program. Taking a stand against discrimination is a good thing; working to make sure that the temptations of financial gain aren't undermining your point and furthering discrimination is a good act, and is more clearly in line with the goal of 'don't be evil.' I'm disappointed and saddened by your lack of integrity on this issue, and hope that you will take steps to correct it.

StevefromCT | November 4, 2008 3:51 PM

I would look at it this way - the bigots for Prop 8 are spending their money advertising on a site where they will get no traction at all. The same thing has been happening on In fact, I suggest that anyone who comes across the ad click it and surf around the Yes on Prop 8 site to increase Google's perceived clickthrough rate and what they can charge these idiots. Then just laugh to yourselves, knowing that a portion of the money they are paying Google has been donated (by Google) to defeating Prop 8.