The Privacy Probe

Does Google's Sensitive Events Policy Harm Free Speech?

Google's Inappropriate Content Policy is due a significant update in February 2024.

The revised policy defines a "Sensitive Event" as "an unforeseen event or development that creates significant risk to Google's ability to provide high quality, relevant information and ground truth, and reduce insensitive or exploitative content in prominent and monetized features."

Such events may include:

  • Natural disasters
  • Public health emergencies
  • Acts of terrorism
  • Conflicts
  • Mass acts of violence
  • Civil emergencies

Google's actions during a Sensitive Event could include modifying search algorithms, changing the way ads are displayed, and banning advertisers/ads that don't comply with the policy.

The updated policy prohibits practices like price gouging, exploiting sensitive events for traffic, victim blaming, or making claims that marginalize the suffering of those affected.

Free Speech Concerns

From a consumer standpoint, the policy could protect users from exploitative or insensitive content during times of crisis. This could enhance the overall user experience and ensure access to relevant and respectful information.

However, there's a flip side to consider.

The broad definition of a "Sensitive Event" and the discretion Google holds in enforcing these policies could potentially limit the spectrum of information available to users.

This raises concerns about free speech and the diversity of perspectives, especially in situations where the line between exploitation and legitimate content is blurred.

Some Reddit users - bearing in mind, this was on r/conspiracy - pointed out that this change is timed conveniently close to the next US election.

They argue that the policy could be used to limit discussions and advertisements around politically sensitive topics, potentially influencing public opinion and voter behavior.

With what we've seen from the Twitter Files, and how big tech companies have previously been involved in political bias controversies, these concerns are not unfounded.

As the policy rolls out, its real-world implications will become clearer.

It's important for all stakeholders — Google, advertisers, content creators, and consumers — to engage in an ongoing dialogue about the balance between protecting users from exploitation and preserving the free flow of information.

Only through such collaborative efforts can a fair and equitable digital landscape be maintained.

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