Last week Norway´s largest newspaper Aftenposten published an article with the headline “Google asks online stores to ‘hide’ weapons” . The article tells the story of how Friluftsmagasinet, the largest hunting and fishing store in Norway , was suspended from advertising on Google. The reason being that they sell hunting and fishing equipment – weapons – that obviously can hurt animals.
This week Google is threatening to shut down Norway´s largest online cosmetics shop because of UPS Revitalash . Google claims this word/product is an illegal supplement . What are the people in Google´s global policy team thinking?
Global Policy or Local law?
I’m no expert on the law , nor on Google policy. I like Google and I think it is positive that Google prohibits advertisements for alcohol, tobacco and chemical weapons , but where should Google draw the line? Is it possible a large American company to keep track of all local laws and regulations in all countries? Is it really Google’s responsibility to ensure that businesses worldwide have appropriate ethical guidelines? If that is the case :
- Should Google refuse McDonalds in the United States to advertise because obesity is a major health problem?
- Should Google refuse local cosmetic shops to advertise for products that may have been tested on animals because the EU prohibits animal testing?
- Should Google refuse Norwegian hunting and fishing stores to advertise fishing poles and hunting rifles?
- Should Google make it illegal to advertise for mouse traps because California requires that you have a hunting license to set it up ? 😉
Google’s core values
In the Aftenposten article, the issue is whether Google should abide by the Google global policy and/or local laws and culture. I admire Google and how they operate in the marketplace, but in this case I think the search engine company have ignored the Google core values . Here are some of Google´s core values: (with my comments below):
Google core value #1: Focus on the user and thus solves the rest by itself
Comment: Focus on the user has been a mantra at Google since its inception. This user centric approach has turned Google into one of the world ‘s strongest brands. In this case Google is not focusing on the users (local Norwegian businesses and local consumers ). Instead Google employees are acting like bureaucrats referring to the the great “Global Policy”. Where´s the critical thinking? Are lawyers and bureaucrats running Google now?
Google core value #2: It is best to do one thing really well .
Comment: Google is good at search technology . Google should continue focusing on search. It is impossible , even for a large American company (even with some assistance from the NSA ;)) to keep track of all local laws and regulations worldwide. Perhaps Google’s central policy department should hand over responsibility for policy to those of its employees who are really good at NORWAY ?
Google core value #4: Democracy on the web works
Comment: Why should a central body in Google determine what is legal and what is illegal in democratic countries. Shouldn´t a democracy decide? Why not create a system that gives people the opportunity to decide what should be allowed in each country ? Give users the opportunity to complain about the ads ( Facebook does it already) . If enough people complain, a local Google representatives in consultation with local authorities and NGOs should decide whether ads should be banned. Look to Wikipedia. Their system seems to work quite well!
“Do no evil” or abide by Googles global policy?
Google´s mantra is “Do no evil”. But what happens if the notion of “evil” is different in countries where Google operates. Who defines evil? If someone within Syria had created an Adwords account with the sole purpose of identifying the location of chemical weapons in Syria, how would Google´s central policy team react? Would they blindly follow the Google policy? Would they apply critical thinking? Would they notify the Syrian Government about a potential national security breach or would they ignore it and let a foreign state bomb the locations? My point is that Google should strive to let their core values determine what they do – not a global policy that is forced upon all the countries in the world. I like Google, but I don´t think Norwegian hunters agree that an American company should that decide what Norwegian companies should be allowed to advertise for!