Google has updated its policies on Blogger, its blogging platform, to preclude new users from hosting adult content. Blogs that are created after March 23 and contain “images and video that are sexually explicit or show graphic nudity” may be summarily deleted. Existing blogs will be set to private; the only way to visit them will be for the blog owner to explicitly give permission to individual browsers.
If that sounds too cumbersome, Google has some other suggestions for administrators of blogs with adult content: they can remove the offending content. Or they can remove the blog. In short, Google no longer wants their business.
A Google spokesperson said the change was to bring Blogger “in line with our policies across Google’s hosted products (including products like YouTube or Google+).”
The change is a surprise only in that it came out of the blue—there was no major campaign calling for Google to clean up Blogger. But seen more broadly, it is no surprise at all. The sanitization of the web has been a long running project at Google. Google voluntarily makes little to no money from adult content on its websites. Google does not allow its own ads on blogs with adult content, and in 2013 it stopped allowing adult-oriented blogs on Blogger from displaying any ads at all. Last year Google banned porn from all of its ad networks.
Google is not the only prude in town. Facebook removes any remotely sexual material and Apple disallows all adult content on its app store. Even services that started off as freewheeling have changed: Tumblr recently started hiding adult-oriented tags and Vine banned sexual content.
If such restrictions were simply about adult content, it would be easy to argue that big, public, risk-averse companies are simply ensuring that they can reach a wider—and younger—audience, minimize any chance of offense, and please shareholders.
But large companies also decide whether their users can criticize the service or talk about competitors. And as a handful of large companies continue to consolidate their hold over what people do online, they effectively shape the nature of online debate.