Wednesday, February 25, 2015

On Google and Censorship

A few years back when I decided to create this blog—or as I like to think of the time, the good old golden days when I was too ignorant to realize what I was getting myself into—I searched for a long time before I chose Google’s Blogger platform. I went with Blogger for a few reasons. It was free, which I wanted. It was fairly easy to use, and allowed me a certain amount of customization without my having to delve deep into the HTML coding pot. It was fairly easy to remain anonymous upon. It had, at the time, a robust system that allowed users to track and read series of blogs fairly easily, along with a healthy network of already-existing sex bloggers.

But most of all, I felt encouraged to use the platform because among Google’s promotional materials was the following promise about adult-oriented material: "Censoring this content is contrary to a service that bases itself on freedom of expression." Sure, Blogger would display an adults-only warning that had to be clicked off before one could proceed to the good stuff. That didn’t bother me. When Blogger eventually decided it didn’t want adult advertising on its site, I was a little perturbed despite the restriction not applying to me. As long as I had the company’s say-so that my sex blog was welcome on their site, I could live with those limitations.

Well, that certainly came to an abrupt end Monday when Google sent out an email to every blogger with adult content notifying them that “in the coming weeks, we'll no longer allow blogs that contain sexually explicit or graphic nude images or video.” The abrupt U-turn was like a fucking bombshell to the blogging community here; I got panicked tweets and emails from other bloggers within the hour. By Tuesday morning I had an email box full of letters from readers asking what I was going to do now that Google was banning my blog.

Part of the panic was bad reporting from the press. Various news outlets repeatedly said over and over that Google was banning all adult content from their blogging platform. It’s not; the letter that Google sent out explicitly states that it applies only to sexually explicit nude images or video. To any blogs on the site that still contain these images or videos after the twenty-third of March, Google reserves the right to shut down public access. The blogs will by fiat become ‘private-only,’ and anyone who wishes to view them will have to request permission and a password from the blog’s owner.

Wait, how bad can that be?, I know some of you are thinking to yourselves. To some people, not that bad at all. The problem, however, is that casual web consumers will be unable to find with ease new blogs to read; a reader running across an intriguing blog title would have to contact the blog’s author and wait for hours or days or longer to receive permission and a password to access the thing—and only then find out it either wasn’t to his or her taste or hadn’t been updated in three years. Worse yet, the private blogs require readers to have and to use and request passwords through their Google accounts. Those valuing their privacy (and there are already enough justifiably paranoid men and women out there) won’t like that option. The simple fact is that Blogger’s password-protected blogs lose a lot—a lot—of readers.

So no, I wouldn’t be happy about being forced to go private-only. It would cut down on casual readers stumbling across my blog, and I still have plenty of those. It would prevent readers who use RSS feeds from catching up on new posts, as well as those who read it through websites relying on RSS updates like RawTop’s Breeding Zone. (In Breeding Zone’s case, though, the RSS sucker for all the blogs the site used to propagate has been fucked up and non-functional for nearly a year, and although I’ve asked him about it twice, RawTop seems blithely uninterested in fixing it.)

Well fuck, just leave Google then, another big chunk of you are saying. Sure, I could do that. I’m not sure where I’d go. Tumblr is the Wild West of porn for now, but I’m not placing any bets that it will stay that way forever. I could go to Wordpress, start my own site . . . but some of those options aren’t free or low maintenance. I’d also lose the already-robust ledger of readers I have who access me through Blogger’s blog-reading tools (though how robust that particular stable will remain, once dozens of their favorite blogs all vanish at once, is doubtful). I’m keeping my options open in the longer term, but I’m not going to migrate as a kneejerk reaction.

The simple fact is that my blog really has never relied on photos or videos to grab readers. I post them occasionally (not enough, according to some people). But not regularly. They are the occasional spice to the buffet of verbiage my readers are accustomed to feast upon. I will need to change the sexually-explicit photo showing off my copious pre-cum in my blog header—which I’ve done already. I will need to go through the past four years’ of posts in order to see which ones have explicit image, in order to delete them. Which I will spend some time doing, very shortly.

To be honest, though, doing that sounds like a royal fucking pain in my ass . . . especially when, as I’ve noted in a couple of recent entries, the blog already has been feeling like work instead of fun.
More important, that option may be fine for me, but it’s not so okay for bloggers I admire who are fine, robust writers and who do tend use a lot of erotic images in their writings—my friends FelchingPisser and BikeGuy13 come to mind. As tedious as removing images sounds to me, it’s going to be a hundred times worse for them and for my many other brother and sister bloggers who are suddenly anathema to Google. Nor do I have any faith that the company won’t bring down the hammer again and demand that all writers of erotica vacate the premises immediately.

Plus I’m just generally pissed off. I understand that Google is allowed to host and deny whatever it wants on its servers. I get it. But it’s infuriating for a company to claim for years that it is a bastion of freedom of expression that opposes censorship, and then overnight to start a rampant campaign of that self-same censorship.

My brand of sexual expression here is not illegal. The pornography posted in Blogger’s adult blogs is not illegal, either. The company has quite simply decided, after a decade of welcoming and encouraging sex bloggers to use their services, to turn its back upon them. Again—their right. But it’s equally our right to be angry over the abrupt about-face. It’s our right to bitch about and protest it. It’s also our right to wean ourselves away from the parts of Google that the company wants us to use and make a profit from, whether that means their email services, their phone ecosystems, or the Google search engine itself.

What all this ruckus boils down to is that in the short term, my blog won’t be disappearing. I’ll obediently weed out the offending photos, change my header, and keep posting here for now when the fancy strikes. In the longer term, though, I’ll see what the fallout might be and weigh my options.