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Google to Ban Domestic (REVENGE) Porn

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,” Singhal wrote.

Google's Mountain View, Calif., campus     (Photo: Martin E. Klimek, USA TODAY)

Google’s Mountain View, Calif., campus
(Photo: Martin E. Klimek, USA TODAY)

In a significant step to combat “revenge porn,” Google will honor requests to remove from search results nude or sexually explicit images posted on the Internet without consent.

Google says it will remove the search results the same way it does other sorts of highly sensitive personal information such as bank account numbers and Social Security numbers.

“Our philosophy has always been that search should reflect the whole Web,” Amit Singhal, senior vice president of Google Search said in a blog post provided to USA TODAY. “But revenge porn images are intensely personal and emotionally damaging, and serve only to degrade the victim — predominantly women.”

Victims will be able to submit requests through an online form in coming weeks, Google said.

“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,” Singhal wrote.

University of Maryland law professor Danielle Citron, an expert in online harassment and author of Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, applauded the move. The search engine used the world over has unparalleled influence over what people can and cannot find on the Internet.

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Google and other technology companies have come under growing public pressure to take down intimate photos posted without the subject’s consent and remove links to that content.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) is about to introduce federal legislation that would ban revenge porn. Comedian John Oliver is planning to feature the subject Sunday on his HBO show Last Week Tonight.

“What we have seen in the last six months is this public consciousness about the profound economic and social impact of that posting nude images without someone’s consent and often in violation of their trust can have on people’s lives,” Citron said. “What victims will often tell you and what they tell me is that what they want most is not to have search results where their employers, clients and colleagues can Google them and see these nude photos. It’s not just humiliating, it wrecks their chances for employment. It makes them undatable and unemployable.”

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She says Google’s decision is consistent with its policies.

“Some special narrow categories of sensitive personal information have no value to public debate and exact serious harm,” Citron said.

Google usually only removes search results with a valid legal request. It makes an exception for images of child sexual abuse and sensitive information such as bank account numbers and signatures.

In Europe, under the right to be forgotten law, Google has removed nearly 1 million links. The ruling gives European residents the ability to demand that search engines remove links that appear in searches for an individual’s name, but so far only in Europe.

“Google has long been hesitant to mess with its search results and there are some good reasons for that. If you pull out one kind of content, other people will want you to pull out another kind of content and it can become a slippery slope,” said Danny Sullivan, founding editor of SearchEngineLand.com. “Having said that, this is one of those cases where I think people would nod in agreement that yes, this is terrible, this stuff should be removed.”

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Sullivan said Google’s decision could have a deterrent effect.

“If it’s not in Google, does it actually exist? The answer is yes, it does exist but it’s a heck of a lot harder to find. Even this won’t make it impossible but it does make it more difficult and, when it’s more difficult, it makes it less attractive for people to do this kind of behavior.”

Yet for years there was little anyone could do when intimate photos appeared online.

Under a federal Internet law passed in 1996, Internet providers and websites aren’t legally responsible for third party content posted by users as long as that content does not violate intellectual property laws or federal criminal laws.

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