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Monday 22 September 2014

Google u-turn on sex worker group's advert

Campaigners claim ad was 'abruptly stopped'

Published 07/08/2011 | 05:00

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WAR OF WORDS: Members of Turn off The Blue Light, a sex worker-led group, protest outside Google’s Dublin headquarters

A small group of campaigners for the legalising of prostitution and rights for Irish sex workers is claiming a victory against internet giant Google.

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Members of the group held a protest outside Google's European headquarters in Dublin and wrote to complain after an advert they had taken out with Google was "abruptly stopped" in May, they said.

The group also said that after Google stopped their advert, any attempt to look up their website directed users to the websites of groups seeking to have prostitution outlawed and men who pay women for sex prosecuted.

The sex worker group, calling themselves Turn off the Blue Light (TOBL), took out the advert on Google AdWords as a way of promoting their campaign.

In a statement, they said: "Google emailed us stating that our advert did not comply with their terms of service and advertising policies, and as a result our account had been suspended and we were prohibited from possessing or creating any other accounts now or in the future.

"A link was provided to a help page explaining that the reasons for such suspensions are egregious violations. We looked up 'egregious' in a dictionary, as it is not a commonly used word. It means outstandingly bad, shocking, offensive.

"We wrote to Google, asking them why they had taken this action. Google replied stating 'The reason your AdWords account has been suspended is because your landing page turnoffthebluelight.ie violates our policies on unacceptable business practices -- adult sexual services. Google AdWords doesn't permit ads for websites that promote escort services or related content where intimacy is implied -- for example, erotic massages, tantra/tantric massages and companionship services'.

"We would like to make clear that TOBL is not offering or promoting any adult sexual services. Nowhere on our website do we encourage anyone to become a sex worker or avail of the services of sex workers. We do not advertise contact details for sex workers or link to any websites that do. We are a sex worker-led association campaigning for the rights of sex workers. Our website contains information about us, about sex work in Ireland, our views on relevant issues and news."

After their complaint was received Google apparently reviewed the situation and agreed to reinstate the advert last month.

Asked about the episode last week Google said the company did not "share information about individual sites".

The company added: "We permit political advertisements regardless of the political views they represent, and apply our policies equally. Just as the net itself provides space for a thousand political opinions to bloom, Google is committed to being a neutral platform for people to advertise their political messages."

A spokeswoman for Turn off the Blue Light said last week that when their advert was stopped anyone trying to access their website through Google was directed to an organisation which is seeking to have Ireland's laws on female prostitution made tougher. No one was available for comment from this group last week.

They added: "Unlike the main organisation in Ireland calling for further criminalisation of the sex industry, we don't enjoy generous government funding that enables us to advertise widely, so we looked to Google AdWords as a form of advertising we could use.

"Currently in Ireland a debate is going on about bringing in new laws relating to sex work, but sadly sex workers have been excluded from this debate thus far. Not allowing sex workers to speak is discrimination."

Sunday Independent

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