Google in 'cougar' ad sexism row
Google has become embroiled in a sexism row after reportedly censoring advertisements for a so-called "cougar" dating websites for women despite taking no action against similar sites for men.
The search giant labelled CougarLife, which promotes relationships between older women and younger men, “non family safe” despite allowing website that publicise such liaisons between older men and younger women.
Google officials then refused to allow the advertisements for the Canadian-owned dating service, which introduced “women in their prime with younger men”, to be sent to third party websites.
The company said the campaign, which cost US$100,000 a month, generated referrals that accounted for almost two thirds of its traffic, The New York Times reported.
The company’s decision prompted critics to accused Google of hypocrisy and sexism.
It reportedly deemed advertisements for ArrangementSeekers.com, which puts "ambitious and attractive" young women in touch with "successful and generous benefactors to fulfil their lifestyle needs”, as suitable to “family” audiences.
Both CougarLife and ArrangementSeeks are owned by the same company, Avid Life Media.
It also allows similar advertising for other sites that “match” older men and younger women, such as DateAMillionaire.com, which says clients can meet “sugar babies”.
Google denied it was engaged in sexism claiming that certain “trigger” words can prompt reviews of certain sites.
The “cougar” phenomenon has been popularised by Cougar Town, a successful television series in the United States starring Courtney Cox as a 40-something mother who dates younger men.
A "cougar" is a slang term used for such women in the US and is epitomised by celebrities such as Demi Moore, whose husband, Ashton Kutcher, is 16 years her junior.
The 1967 Hollywood film The Graduate, starred Anne Bancroft played the original "cougar", where she chased after a young Dustin Hoffman.
A study recently found that while women in their late thirties or forties who dated much younger men may believe that having a younger partner would help to keep them youthful, the opposite appeared to be true.
Researchers found having a much younger husband can send a woman to an early grave.
Claudia Opdenkelder, the founder of the CougarLife which boasts more than a million members, accused the search giant of sexism.
Miss Opdenkelder, whose partner of two years, Paul, is 14 years her junior, said she had been told the ads were deemed unsafe for family audiences.
Google, she said, argued even if they contained no suggestive words or images they would still be classified as adult content. She said they asked her to amend the “cougar” search term.
This meant the advertisement, which had been operating since October, would no longer be available to almost 7000 non-Google websites.
She argued that the site’s home page disclosed nothing that was not out of place in mainstream women's magazines.
"It's just wrong all around," she told The New York Times.
"It's age and gender discrimination. It's just about older, successful, independent, strong women who enjoy someone that's younger.”
She added to Canada’s National Post: "It's a huge double standard and I think women should just be appalled.
“We just want to be treated the same way as all the others, and the discrimination against the word 'cougar' makes it even worse.
"It makes us – cougar women – feel like dirty perverts.”
A Google spokeswoman denied it had engaged in sexism.
She said the company had a list of words which trigger a review of the site and the ads before a decision is made but declined to say if the word “cougar” was one of them.
“It’s not just about the ad, it’s about the ad and the landing page of the site,” she said.
“Anything that’s considered non-family safe will not run on the Google content network at this point.”