Google to Fight Revenge Porn; Will Remove Photos from Search

Jun 22, 2015

Liron Samuels

Liron Samuels is a wildlife and commercial photographer based in Israel. When he isn’t waking up at 4am to take photos of nature, he stays awake until 4am taking photos of the night skies or time lapses. You can see more of his work on his website or follow him on Facebook.

Google to Fight Revenge Porn; Will Remove Photos from Search

Jun 22, 2015

Liron Samuels

Liron Samuels is a wildlife and commercial photographer based in Israel. When he isn’t waking up at 4am to take photos of nature, he stays awake until 4am taking photos of the night skies or time lapses. You can see more of his work on his website or follow him on Facebook.

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Revenge_PornGoogle hates messing around with its search engine, stating the company’s involvement should be limited to ensuring the relevance of the results, it usually removes search results only once legally forced to do so.

In an uncommon move, however, Google has taken initiative in this matter announcing that it will remove photos of ‘revenge porn’ victims from its search engine’s results.

“In the coming weeks we’ll put up a web form people can use to submit these requests to us,” said Amit Singhal, the senior vice president in charge of Google Search in the company’s blog.

What caused Google suddenly take responsibility for its search results and does this mean Google’s becoming more lenient towards photo take-down requests?

Revenge porn, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, ranges from the unauthorized sharing online of nude photos by ex-lovers, and goes all the way to extortionists looking to make some easy money by charging a fee from the person in the photo in order to have it removed.

“Revenge porn images are intensely personal and emotionally damaging, and serve only to degrade the victims — predominantly women,” said Singhal, and the Daily Mail states that other major websites, Reddit being one of them, have set policies in place against posting nude photos without the subject’s permission.

This move may not come to some as a total surprise after Google’s attempt earlier this year to remove sexually explicit content from the public websites on its Blogger platform (which failed due to users’ backlash and claims of unwarranted censorship), but there might be another reason.

Back in April a man was sentenced by the San Diego Superior Court to 18 years in prison for operating that made its money by hosting revenge porn photos; publicly shaming and then extorting the subjects.

The scumbag at hand, Kevin Bollaert, would host nude photos sent in without permission by ex-partners and hackers along with personal details on a website called ugotposted.com. Those who reached out to have their photo and information removed from the website were directed to another website, changemyreputation.com, where they were charged between $250-$350 to be removed.

With more than 10,000 photos posted in the ten months the sites were up, Bollaert is believed to have earned $900 a month just from website ads and a whopping $30,000 from victims who were being featured on his site.

According to The Guardian, Bollaert’s lawyer claimed that “the business was gross and offensive, but that their client did not break the law by allowing others to post the explicit material”.

Following the failure of that defense in court, it is possible that Google felt it was next in line to be attacked, or worse, for enabling people to find such photos.

The reports of Google’s new image policy had sparked hope in some, and fear in others, that this could be the beginning of a more lenient policy on the company’s behalf when it comes to censoring the internet and removing objectionable content.

That idea, however, was addressed and declined in Google’s blog post: “This is a narrow and limited policy, similar to how we treat removal requests for other highly sensitive personal information, such as bank account numbers and signatures”.

Whatever the real reason behind this new policy may be, and regardless of whether or not it will have any effect on other policies, this is no doubt a welcome move on Google’s behalf.

Estimated to hold 67.6% of the U.S. search engine market share, and a massive chunk of the global market, this could have a detrimental effect on ‘revenge porn’ websites.

While Google can’t remove the actual photos from the internet, and this new policy probably won’t entirely eradicate the problem, it will definitely make the victims’ lives a lot easier.

You can read Google’s full statement below:

“We’ve heard many troubling stories of “revenge porn”: an ex-partner seeking to publicly humiliate a person by posting private images of them, or hackers stealing and distributing images from victims’ accounts. Some images even end up on “sextortion” sites that force people to pay to have their images removed.

Our philosophy has always been that Search should reflect the whole web. But revenge porn images are intensely personal and emotionally damaging, and serve only to degrade the victims—predominantly women. So going forward, we’ll honor requests from people to remove nude or sexually explicit images shared without their consent from Google Search results. This is a narrow and limited policy, similar to how we treat removal requests for other highly sensitive personal information, such as bank account numbers and signatures, that may surface in our search results.

In the coming weeks we’ll put up a web form people can use to submit these requests to us, and we’ll update this blog post with the link.

We know this won’t solve the problem of revenge porn—we aren’t able, of course, to remove these images from the websites themselves—but we hope that honoring people’s requests to remove such imagery from our search results can help”.

[via Daily Mail]

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Liron Samuels

Liron Samuels

Liron Samuels is a wildlife and commercial photographer based in Israel. When he isn’t waking up at 4am to take photos of nature, he stays awake until 4am taking photos of the night skies or time lapses. You can see more of his work on his website or follow him on Facebook.

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