Google says: Don't mess with Malcovich
May 21, 2002 11:21 AM   Subscribe

Google says: Don't mess with Malcovich After Anita Roddick called actor John Malcovich a "vomitous worm" on her Web site (in response to his statement about shooting journalist Robert Fisk), she received a message from Google noting that her AdWord had been pulled. Google sent a message to Roddick stating: "policy does not permit the advertisement of 'Sites that advocate against groups or individuals (even John Malkovich)' on our website. We also do not permit sites that sell these products to advertise on Google." How extensive is this policy? Has anyone else run up against it?
posted by emptyage (29 comments total)
 
I doubt that Malcovich himself would mind...we're talking about a guy who was willing to utter a line in a movie, spoken as a character to himself as an actor: "Shut up, you overrated sack of shit!"
posted by bingo at 11:38 AM on May 21, 2002


Yeah, but, whether or not Malcovich would mind... what business is it of google's?
posted by emptyage at 11:43 AM on May 21, 2002


I'm not surprised. I know someone that refuses to use google based upon the fact that they won't run ads for a certain gun parts dealer.
posted by shadow45 at 11:45 AM on May 21, 2002


It's terrible that Google is taking an editorial stance, but Roddick deserves some retribution. She loves herself - and her horrendous site is a paean to self-adulation. I was amused by the following:

"Take a trip with me into the worlds of activism, ethical business, human rights, environmentalism, womanhood, family, and so much more. One day, you'll be able to visit a women's co-operative in Ghana, the next, a black family farm in Alabama.... Outrage and celebration -- let's run this gamut together."
posted by skylar at 11:48 AM on May 21, 2002


you suppose this has to do with the Scientology case, or is it an editorial policy they developed independent of that? Seems a tough row to hoe; they have ads about dubious medical devices and "natural" supplements -- even borderline illegal drug discounters. How can they possibly keep up? And I would think they'd be a little slower to reject business for such a seemingly innocuous incident. Perhaps one overly enthusiastic advertising wage slave?
posted by brookish at 11:51 AM on May 21, 2002


"Take a trip with me into the worlds of activism, ethical business, human rights, environmentalism, womanhood, family, and so much more. One day, you'll be able to visit a women's co-operative in Ghana, the next, a black family farm in Alabama.... Outrage and celebration -- let's run this gamut together."

Yeah, that really sounds like self-adulation.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 11:53 AM on May 21, 2002


> Not an hour after Anita posted that funny, but pretty
> inocuous comment, we got a notice from the Google
> advertising crew:

> "At this time, Google policy does not permit the
> advertisement of 'Sites that advocate against groups or
> individuals (even John Malkovich)' on our website.

Even knowing Google is a superhuman organization, that seems like an amazingly fast response. Any chance the notice was a fake? It's pretty easy to fake an email. Has her AdWord really been pulled? Just a thought.
posted by Turtle at 11:55 AM on May 21, 2002


it's one thing to love yourself for being a rich arrogant asshole who stomped on the heads of others on the way to the top, another to be proud of yourself for making a real difference in the world.
posted by brookish at 11:56 AM on May 21, 2002


for a little more background: it looks like they were already reviewing the ad because (and this is another aspect of the policy I just do not get) it only had one line of descriptive text, and they require two. It is silly, really; the ad (which read, ironically, "AnitaRoddick.com: Uncensored") was performing much better than the others we had tried. OK, so it's the policy for whatever reason; just don't tell us we have to change it in order to get better performance.
posted by brookish at 12:00 PM on May 21, 2002


i wonder if google will carry the advertisements of sites that advocate FOR groups or individuals who advocate against other groups or individuals?
"This site proudly supports the Society for the Painful Defenestration of Professor Mortimer Nimrod."
posted by quonsar at 12:17 PM on May 21, 2002


If Anita Roddick and those around her stopped making such a big deal about how much of a difference she has made to the world, and instead poured her energy and resources into making *even more* of a difference to the world, I wouldn't have many complaints.
posted by skylar at 12:20 PM on May 21, 2002


Some what off the topic but never the less interesting:
A Better Man Than They
Robert Fisk is Real Reporter, Something
Most of His Petty Critics Will Never Be



This is from a conservative's perspective.
posted by yertledaturtle at 12:33 PM on May 21, 2002


I fail to see how advertising = free speech, or how this is a case of censorship.

Censoring results from google is one thing that clearly in many ways blocks access to information, but it isn't censorship when you decline to take an ad that some might find offensive and/or dangerous.

Frankly, I think google has trashed their adwords service by taking quite a bit of questionable ads. When I search for almost anything now, the ads off to the right frequently approach the language and tone of most spam I delete each day. General terms often fetch eBay sales, questionable software, and/or home remedies. Due to the poor quality of most ads, I rarely look over there anymore, and usually ignore them. I can't remember the last time I found something useful in a Google adword that I clicked.

There is a clear distinction in my mind between google's indexed listings of web pages and the ads they place on the site. I have no problem with them exerting control over the ads, while keeping the search results on target. I don't see a parallel with the church of scientology because that was a battle over google search results. Didn't google refuse or cancel anti-CoS ads from CoS search results as well? I don't have a problem with that decision.
posted by mathowie at 12:43 PM on May 21, 2002


I make fun of Bush, but you can still hit my site on a google search.

But then again, they'd loose half their results if they censored on that basis.
posted by rich at 1:13 PM on May 21, 2002


I agree Adwords are more spamlike every day, though they're not usually as bad as the "sponsored links" at the top. Try those with any word involving money or consumer products and you basically get hawked at. Still, advertising is not a right; I think Google is making a tremendously bad decision regarding this basically blog-like one-time opinion being a violation of a very vague policy, but it remains their right. Assumptively they're returning her money, pro-rated.

As for Malkovich, what an ass -- even given the circumstances. I see his comments as little different from the much more calculated Alec Baldwin "stone his family!" rant about Henry Hyde -- just what we need, more ways to take political speech beyond the realm of good taste. But Roddick has a right to call him an ass, too, and Fisk has a right to make an ass of himself by playing Fiskic or Fiskullah or whatever, and though his critics may not be as worthwhile in a ten-story pile as him, they still get to say what they think about him. That's the beauty of the two-way web and proletariat publishing.
posted by dhartung at 1:19 PM on May 21, 2002


it's one thing to love yourself for being a rich arrogant asshole who stomped on the heads of others on the way to the top, another to be proud of yourself for making a real difference in the world.

::looks around... nope, the world still pretty much sucks.

I can't remember the last time I found something useful in a Google adword that I clicked.

I can't remember the last time I read any of Google's ads, and I don't think I've ever clicked one.

I agree with Matt and Google on this. Results and ads are two different things. Businesses are not public institutions, and are within their rights to turn down a customer for any number of reasons.
posted by joemaller at 1:26 PM on May 21, 2002


I ran into the same thing a couple of months ago. I was running a poll to find the most annoying person in Boston. The ad was up for about, oh, 8 hours before Google stopped it. It read something like:

Who's more annoying?
Bernie & Phyl or Mike Barnicle. Vote!

along with the URL. Those of you in the Boston area will know, of course, that that's about as inoffensive as you can get when talking about those people.

But it was just the ad that got pulled - do a search on Bernie & Phyl (or Giant Glass or Hayley Kaufman) and see what comes up in the third position.
posted by agaffin at 1:29 PM on May 21, 2002


A more relevant article on the Adwords/Scientology stuff is here. It notes that Google doesn't seem to have been very consistent with its policy. An ad for a keep-your-baby book that appeared next to search results for "abortion" was allowed, for example.

Google has been getting pickier about its ads recently because it wants to put them on lots of other sites that use its search results. The ads are already on AOL even though Google search results won't show up there until sometime this summer.
posted by davidfg at 1:47 PM on May 21, 2002


what business is it of google's?

What business was it of Roddick's?
posted by BentPenguin at 2:00 PM on May 21, 2002


I haven't seen a Google text ad since the first week they started them. And I haven't seen a Metafilter text ad since the second week THEY were up. The mind filters out non-essentials quite quickly.
posted by rushmc at 2:07 PM on May 21, 2002


Quickly: I'm not saying that Google pulling an ad is censorship per se; they certainly have the prerogative to take business or turn it away. Again - they haven't stopped indexing her site; only stopped running her text ad.

But their policy seems to be being applied in an awfully haphazard fashion. If they plan to implement this with consistency, they'll pretty much have to eliminate ads for all blogs except the kitty kat ones (unless they advocate against dogs), all newspapers that carry opinion pieces ... and on and on.

What business was it of Roddick's?

Is it not reasonable for someone to have an opinion and to express it in their blog? If you're opposed to that, methinks you're in the wrong place.

One thing that made the AdWord campaign sensible is that because Roddick's site is new, and she's been around for so long and so widely written about online, Google was logically not putting her site anywhere near the top on a straight-up search of her name. Until she built up a core of traffic and awareness, it was the only way to get on the first page of the search results. I hardly think her ad was irrelevant to users who searched on "Anita+Roddick".
posted by brookish at 3:32 PM on May 21, 2002


What seems weird to me is that the story implies that someone at Google went and looked her site and decided on this policy based upon what was on the site-- not what she was advertising on Google.

If her ad on Google was for keywords 'Malkovich' and led to an anti-malkovitch page, I would understand. But this doesn't make a lot of sense to me as a policy, as it would essentially mean that every site advertising in Google for whatever reason would have to be indexed personally by Google employees to make sure that no part of that site violated these vague conditions. Not an efficient policy and not one that makes editorial sense if the offense is not part of the ad campaign.
posted by cell divide at 3:42 PM on May 21, 2002


>What business was it of Roddick's?

>>Is it not reasonable for someone to have an opinion and to >>express it in their blog? If you're opposed to that, methinks >>you're in the wrong place.

Its emminently reasonable. But if you elect to shoot your mouth off as CEO of multinational cosmetics outfit, be prepared for the consequences. Roddick made a small fortune drawing free publicity to her retail empire by spouting off about all kinds of eco-thangs. This little stunt backfired.

Maybe its just me, but famous people blogging isn't quite blogging anymore.
posted by BentPenguin at 4:01 PM on May 21, 2002


That's a good point. The only search string associated with the ad was "Anita+Roddick." So that DOES mean that they are personally reviewing every site that advertises. Or at least, checking some and applying the policy in a totally random manner.
posted by brookish at 4:04 PM on May 21, 2002


"I haven't seen a Google text ad since the first week they started them. And I haven't seen a Metafilter text ad since the second week THEY were up. The mind filters out non-essentials quite quickly"

Been a while since I've seen a rushmc post...
posted by websavvy at 5:05 PM on May 21, 2002


I'm not necessarily a fan of Fisk, Roddick or Malkovich, but apparently Fisk is not the only person he has wished ill on in public (dug up by our very own skallas, BTW. I wonder if Google would accept a text ad from Malkovich?
posted by Lynsey at 6:33 PM on May 21, 2002


Cell Divide:

If Google didn't vet the content of the sites advertised in Adwords, then they might accept innocent looking ads which lead to porn sites or worse.

For example, an innocent-enough Adword ad for "See Anita at her best!" might lead someone who searches for Anita+Roddick to a celebrity porn site.

(Not that there should ever be a celebrity porn site dedicated to Anita Roddick. Ever. *ew!*)

So like it or not, Google have to vet site content too. It was just unlucky for Roddick that her site just happened to have had a anti-Malkovich statement on the front when the Google editor happened upon it.
posted by timyang at 7:06 PM on May 21, 2002


Doesn't look like Google's too keen on Anita at all -- searching for her name brings up a category for Serious Critiques of SRI (Socially Responsible Investment), including this gem, 5 lines down:

London Greenpeace on The Body Shop: London Greenpeace provides scholarly, penetrating review of the hypocrisy and double dealing of this publicly traded, and "so called" ethical firm.
posted by flimjam at 6:20 AM on May 22, 2002


Yeah, but, whether or not Malcovich would mind... what business is it of google's?

It's Google's Business entirely. Aren't we in fact talking about their ad policy? What are you smoking?
posted by glenwood at 7:38 AM on May 22, 2002


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