Activism: Google Ads and Accountability

UPDATE – Direct complaint link for ads – click the button near the bottom of the page to open the form, then click the link after question two in the form to complain and give google the exact ad that is the issue – here – END OF OPDATE

Today is Blog Against Poverty Day and while I get my thoughts together about women and poverty, for today’s targeted post, I wanted to give you all a quick reminder to do the same.

I also needed to register today’s reason Google is evil and this time I am completely serious and I am asking you to do something about it.

While looking for images of of women and poverty for the piece, I ended up at IPSnews, a global news agency that focuses on social justice topics. The article from which I culled one of the pics for my upcoming post was about the feminization of poverty and last year’s UN Conference series on the problem. In the corner of this important article talking about the plight of women and girls in a world that engenders poverty, was a Google Ad to “meet African women.”  The Ad, with its provocative shots of backsides in skin tight spandex and air shots of cleavage on barely legal girls smiling in the camera, was likely little more than a “legitimate” front for trafficked women and/or poverty driven sex work that leaves few choices available to women in purposefully underdeveloped nations and fills their heads with the idea that they will be the one who gets married to a decent Canadian, American, Brit, German, etc. and lives happily ever after. In the sickest twist of irony, the Google Ad actually underscored the gendered impact of poverty and the engendering of poverty alleviation.

This is the third time I have been working on issues related to women in the so-called “third world” online and had Google Ads undermine the social justice intent of both my work and that of the web designers and article authors by offering up thiny veiled sex work in a Google Ad.

  • While looking at issues of generational sex work in India – Google Ads offered a cartoon advertisment of an alluring Indian woman, promising me I could have “whatever” if I just gave the age and weight of the woman I wanted
  • While looking at issues of rape as a form of social control against lesbian and bisexuality in S. Africa – Google Ads offered me a chance to “meet as many women as you want” all I had to do was put in the country and the number of women
  • And today’s event – while looking at an article on the feminization of poverty and the UN Conference in Africa – Google Ads offered up images of women and girls in provocative poses asking if I wanted to “meet an African woman”

Not only do these ads undermine social justice journalism and activism, they also implicate Google and the websites/blogs that contain their Ads in the potential trafficking of women and girls and the sexualization of “third world women.”

Google’s decision to allow Ads that imply and rely on recognition of sexual exploitation means that internet based social justice work is being funded by the exploitation of women and girls and everybody gets a piece except the women and girls themselves. (And even if they do, it is unlikely enough to sustain.)

This is why I moved my blog off of WordPress. I do not ever want there to be a day when a comment maker tells me they were reading an article about the selling of girl children in Afghanistan and a Google Ad popped up asking if they wanted an “Arabian Night” just enter the number of women and the location. (this is a metaphor, I am not implying that the Arabian Night stories occurred in Afghanistan or that these stories reflect the exploitation I am writing about).

How is this related to blog against poverty day?

Neo-liberal economic policies have bankrupt much of the world and destroyed their social service and economic infrastructures, leaving women and girls vulnerable. Demand for natural resources, oil, minerals for lap tops and cellphones, amazon wood, etc. lead to war related poverty and instability that leaves women and girls at their most vulnerable. Many of these women and girls are targeted by human traffickers, and while some buy passage with traffickers because their choice is sex work or starvation, sex work or abject poverty, sex work or DSV, etc., many are not even making that choice, they are simply sold, kidnapped, or shunned into service.

Enter tech savvy traffickers who buy ad space from Google. They do so with the understanding that they must use thin codes about age and willingness to avoid prosecution. Google accepts those Ads on the basis of these thin codes implyng the law is upheld. And everyone with a brain, including Google and the authorities supposedly monitoring trafficking, know what they are really looking at. (Even if no actual exploitation is involved, these Ads traffic in the idea of exploitation, sexual availability of impoverished women and women of color, and make money of off people who desire to participate in the fantasy, if not the reality, of said exploitation.)

Then you, the social justice writer and/or activist, create a website or blog to raise awareness about women’s issues. Having limitied funds, you choose the quickest way to offset your own costs and ensure you can get your message out there: embed Google Ads. Whether the ads are actually trafficking women or solely the “fantasy” of it, your work is now coupled with real or mythic exploitation.

Your working class status + “third world women’s”  poverty + Sexism + Google’s consistent inability/unwillingness to interrogate oppression in its ads/images = You making money off of trafficked women while you are writing against the exploitation of women

Much of what I say about Google is tongue in Cheek. Clearly I use google all the time, like everyone else. But today, thinking about the ever widening number of women and children living in poverty and seeing that Google Ad pop up asking me to exploit an African girl so that Google, the traffickers, and the banks and the governments that put neo-liberal policies in place that either completely exploited those girls or so narrowed their choices that they participated in having their breasts plastered on the internet with the promise of more could make money … Asking me to click on ad potentially exploiting African girls and women from an article about how to help them … Knowing part of that potential blood money was headed back to the author who wrote the piece about ending exploitation who may never see the Ad (b/c Google Ads change) … No. This time I am not joking. Google is evil.

Take Action

Please consider writing Google and asking that they develop policies governing their Ads that prevent the sexual exploitation and/or potential trafficking of girls through their advertising. Ask them to also work harder to filter out the erroneous connection between the words “women” or “women of color” and “sexually explicit material.”

You can reach them at:

Google Inc.

1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043
Phone: +1 650-253-0000
Fax: +1 650-253-0001

Adsense direct: 1-866-246-6453

If You have Google Ads or a Google Account please also consider bombarding their Adsense Help Pages here

Then ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the money you make from your Google Ads worth the exploitation of women and girls?
  • Is it worth the undermining of your social justice aims?

(Google lurker from California – yes, I know you’re there – if you would like to weign in on this issue or give us some idea of how we can better impact the policies governing Ads at Google, you are welcome. You don’t even have to identify as a Google employee if you don’t want to. The important part is that women and girls are not exploited or appear to be exploited on sites that work against such things.)

3 thoughts on “Activism: Google Ads and Accountability

  1. Thanks for this, Prof. I’m on WordPress but ad free thus far and plan to stay that way, although I know some hosts make bloggers pay for ad-free content. Even so, this gives me plenty to think about and I will be contacting Google. Thanks again – you always make me think.

  2. the google ads are actually embedded in the wordpress design unless you upgrade to a paid account. WordPress has been making money off of all of its free users hits this way so that it can then give the free account holdres all kinds of data and perks that would normally cost them. (This by the way is also why you get mediated stats from wordpress; they are running google tracking software and then deciding which pieces of tracking info you can have and which you cannot.) I only became aware of it when they told users that they may start displaying ads to some of the readers. (see those posts from wordpress for the full info) If you have a paid account you are right tho, you are ad free.I really loved wordpress and I worked hard to make my blog one people would want to read there. It’s been a major pain starting over but I cannot have those ads (invisble or otherwise) making someone money off my content.

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