Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Google goes after the Library of Congress for "mature content"

UPDATE: They relented. Woo-hoo!

LibraryThing shows Google Adsense ads on a small number of templates. The ads appear only if you're not a member at all—paid or unpaid. They don't make much money, but we've never had a problem with them.

Today I got a form letter from Google, alerting me that Google had detected "adult or mature content" on LibraryThing. They gave one example, the page for the Library of Congress Subject Heading (LCSH) "Erotic stories." No doubt some algorithm caught a few keywords, like "sex" or the common porn-word "Lolita" (it's a book, guys).

Needless to say, they run ads against most of these books on Google Book Search. Our competitors, who all rely on Google Adsense for all their revenue run ads against the same books, apparently without incident (although, I suppose, one can hope!). I must therefore conclude, the problem is the Library of Congress Subject Headings, and that it's a good thing the Sandy Berman-inspired LCSH "Strap-on Sex" hasn't made it into LibraryThing yet!

A follow-up email triggered another form-letter, including the helpful suggestion to remove content like:
"image or video content containing lewd or provocative poses, strategically covered nudity, see-through or sheer clothing, and close-ups of breasts, butts, or crotches."
I have accordingly been consulting with Casey on how to remove all the butt-shots from the Yale University MARC records.

I have three days to comply or be terminated. So, what do I do? Clearly I'm not getting anywhere with their response system. And LibraryThing has something like 100-millon pages. Should I start running pages against keyword lists before showing Google Ads?

That sounds like a big pain, I'll tell you—and not worth it.

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Blogger HeathMochaFrost said...

Wow. Just, wow. Better get busy cleaning up those MARC records.

Thanks for sharing this with us, Tim. I wish LT had lots more money, but I'm glad you don't get enough money from those ads to worry about them disappearing!

7/30/2008 1:27 PM  
Anonymous Lyza said...


Stand by your philosophy and ideals. And we, your supporters, will be happy to concur: this is inanity. I'll happily pony up another few bucks to LibraryThing to support you in removing these ads.


7/30/2008 2:01 PM  
Blogger Greg Schwartz said...

AdSense is a mess. You've already wasted more of your valuable time than it's worth for the meager revenue it generates for you. Dump 'em.

7/30/2008 2:46 PM  
Blogger JLH said...

Geez, I was in Seattle this summer fr a brief visit to the wonderful new public library. The library features on its walls somewhere a list of the bid donors, people like the Gates and other Very famous People and groups. The library that they have helped come into being has enormous elkectronic displays of tagclouds, recent circulation categories, and such over the main desk. When I stood before it, Dewey categories including such headings as "sex" and I think "erotic" were glowing out over the ehads of the unsuspecting public. What's wrong with those Google people, anyhow? Don't they know nothin'?

7/30/2008 3:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It sounds like people aren't looking at LT and thinking. You could keep going up chains of command until you find someone who can think about things.

7/30/2008 4:01 PM  
Blogger jrochkind said...

I notice the first book listed there is Nabakov's _Lolita_. Wouldn't surprise me if the close proximity of "lolita" and "erotic" is what triggered their censor robot. I think I heard once of a search engine that censored the name 'lolita' everywhere.

But yeah, that's pretty infuriating.

7/30/2008 5:14 PM  
Blogger jrochkind said...

Aha, Jodi Schneider refreshes my memory that it was indeed google that was banning 'lolita', as noticed by Karen Coyle.

Yeah, my bet is on the word "lolita" disturbing Google Skynet.

7/30/2008 5:16 PM  
Anonymous raydulany said...

You could always make the situation less absurd by actually putting some pornography on the site. I'm thinking something topical like "sex with books".

Perhaps a good idea for the latest "Book Pile" contest?

7/30/2008 11:54 PM  
Blogger Pádraic said...

Quote from Tim: "I have accordingly been consulting with Casey on how to remove all the butt-shots from the Yale University MARC records."

What a priceless bit of prose that is. I am envious. I startled my entire office with laughter after reading that bit. You are a pretty amusing gent in general, but this one really shines.

Tim, put me down on the list for "quite willing to pay a few more dollars for lifetime membership for *all* of my LT accounts" if you have to drop Google Ads. I know that does not mean much (only three accounts thus far), but there it is.

What a crock this is. Mature content?!?! Even my conservative soul cannot find a whiff of trouble here.

You could make a real annoyance of yourself and work up the food chain to someone who will actually read your e-mails. LT is not exactly small potatoes on the Web these days. I say go for it. Do it on principle. You know as well as we do that there is nothing wrong with the content here as far as Google should be concerned.

7/30/2008 11:56 PM  
Blogger Oakes said...

You might also eliminate from LibraryThing all negative references to the current government of China--you know, books by the Dalia Lama, references to Mao being less than 70% good, complaints by athletes about being asphyxiated by smog--that sort of thing. It sounds complicated, but it's easy, really: Don't be evil.

7/31/2008 12:41 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

I should probably also remove those photos of Larry Page murdering kittens.

7/31/2008 1:13 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

I think you're right about the 70%. Does that float freely now, or is it fixed?

7/31/2008 1:14 AM  
Blogger Lee said...

Sounds like Google is going down the same road to stupidity that lead to a conservative Christian news site renaming athlete Tyson Gay to Tysone Homosexual. Good luck dealing with them.

7/31/2008 8:35 AM  
Anonymous richardderus said...

Oh for heaven's sake. This conservative crapola is growing intolerable. Dump AdSense and charge all us lifetime members a $10 annual maintenance fee. I'll pay 10 years up fromt just to know that you're not truckling under to these virtual book-burners.

7/31/2008 10:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A Women's Breast Cancer Group had a similar problem with AOL censorship last century (1995?). I believe the ACLU had to intervene. A story here:

7/31/2008 2:30 PM  
Blogger Childerelda said...

At least they gave you something of a reason - a friend was recently banned for posing a "significant risk" to their advertisers with no explanation of how. Several emails, blog posts on InfoWorld, and 18 days later, they just as mysteriously reinstated his account....

7/31/2008 7:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dump AdSense and charge all us lifetime members a $10 annual maintenance fee.

While I do think that (a) lifetime membership is too cheap, and (b) $10/yr is insignificant, I would leave LT immediately simply on principle if Tim actually did this. Those of us who have paid for lifetime membership have paid for lifetime membership - you can't go changing the terms of the deal on us after the fact.

8/01/2008 2:07 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Don't worry, I agree.

8/01/2008 2:29 AM  
Blogger Simon Spero said...

Now I'm sorry I hooked you up with the L**H.
I should have removed the normal and juvenile headings, and switched to just the infantile.

However, I suspect the real problem is your Dead Rabbits and panties fetish.

[ Top 5 Porno films Richard Adams no longer admits to:
1: Going Watership Down
2: Hardik
3: Diseased Bitches
4: Fiver's Threesome
5: Dogs in the ARSE

8/01/2008 8:31 AM  
Anonymous Pilliwinks said...

If Google/AdSense censors "Lolita" everywhere, I wonder if it would also object to a person whose perfectly legit name was Lolita, say, a biography of Lolita Davidovitch?

8/01/2008 8:38 AM  
Anonymous Bob from Michigan said...

Two of the most frustrating (and infuriating) trends of the computer age: 1) Human intelligence is being replaced by digital intelligence. 2) The big companies have no accessible, intelligent human to solve the very real problems created by the digital intelligence.

What I like about LT and Bidnapper and a few other smaller organizations is that when I send an email to the webmaster I actually get a response and a solution - usually directly from a programmer. Try that with Citibank or Google . . . or MICROSOFT!

8/01/2008 9:18 AM  
Anonymous DrBubbles said...

Remember that Google's motto is "Don't be evil." So if Google does it, it's not evil.

Tell 'em that not only have I heard of the Cuil search engine, I turn to it first, all because of Google's worsening netizenship. (No usey the Google, no see-ey the ads, no revenue-ey for anyone.)

8/01/2008 11:03 AM  
Anonymous staffordcastle said...

Might be they're reacting to the favorite examples of "strap-on sex" and "vampire smut" :-/

8/01/2008 2:04 PM  
Blogger RicketyCat said...

I can't believe that Google, with all of its (supposedly) high-powered heads employed there, relies on a bot to tag something like this.

Isn't there anyone human that fact-checks behind the bot to see if it knows what it's talking about? It's enough to take AdSense off my Blog (like I've made more than 3 cents with it anyway).

Wait, I know that Lolita has come up a couple of times with the LT widget, so why hasn't my blog been targeted?

Ya think they're pickin' on ya, Tim? Tryin' ta cut ya off from a (bwahahahahaha) revenue source so they can, "input capital," (read "buy you out")? Gonna get paranoid, Riff?

Oops... sorry, got carried away there.

8/02/2008 3:49 PM  
Anonymous yapete said...

"1) Human intelligence is being replaced by digital intelligence. 2) The big companies have no accessible, intelligent human to solve the very real problems created by the digital intelligence."

So true! Just look at Microsoft: Each time they come out with a new Windows or Office, it's even more obnoxious than the previous one in telling you what you want and insisting that you do things this way or that way, while at the same time making it more and more difficult to be creative. These products are becoming more and more useless because the programmers think that we all are stupid and that they know better what we want to do than we do ourselves.

8/03/2008 11:17 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Anonymous - screw the terms of the deal - haven't you heard about standing up for something?

Tim - dump Adsense. In fact, why are you even on a terrible blogging platform such as Blogger? Why don't you get onto something much better such as Wordpress?

Once you've got shot of Google, pass the Paypal collection tray around and I'll give you a generous donation to help you out. I'm sure lots of other LT members will too. Don't count on "Anonymous" though. He/she is sitting in the corner with their principles.

Mark (obsessedwithbooks)

8/04/2008 11:41 AM  
Anonymous Peterse said...

I think this is a very bad situation. Maybe it would be better to ask people if they would be willing to donate a small amount of money to make shure LT can continu to exist.

8/06/2008 5:48 AM  

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