Monday, June 16, 2014

Google to Ban Ads for Legal Gun Accessories & "Dangerous" Knives: Threatens to Shut Down Sites

This morning we received an email from Google with the following title: "Google AdWords Policy Update - Weapons policy restriction."

The email, from the "Google AdWords Team," announces a new policy starting in September for those who advertise on Google Adwords, a service used to attract traffic to Web sites. It bans Adwords advertising for products such as knives "that can be used to injure an opponent in sport, self-defense, or combat" plus "Any part or component that's necessary to the function of a gun or intended for attachment to a gun
  • Examples: Gun scopes, ammunition, ammunition clips or belts" [and even bb guns!]
We certainly have no problem with Google prohibiting ads involving weapons such as nail bombs and grenades, as it does. But we see a big difference in banning ads for legal products used by many millions of Americans. The ban specifically includes sport and recreational guns and their components.

And it's not just ads that are being threatened. The email (see excepts below) includes the following: "When we make this change, any ads or sites that are identified as violating our revised policy won't be able to run."

In other words, is Google not just threatening to shut down advertising campaigns, but also to address Web sites with content about legal products (or topics?) that it finds politically incorrect? The email does not provide additional detail on the issue of the Web sites. Presumably, Google could stop running ads on sites with the disapproved content, a significant revenue hit in many cases for the site owner, or even shut down sites running on Google's Blogger. Should publishers worry the company might use its dominant search engine to make offending sites sink in search results?

This is no idle threat. As users of Blogger and Adwords know, Google rejects ads and shuts down accounts with regularity, referring to often vague policy guidelines. Appeals -- including, for example, to have a Blogger site reflecting many hours of work restored after it ran afoul (wrongly,we think) of a rule about reusing content -- are routed to customer service personnel outside the country whose written responses and knowledge of the content issues at hand are, to be charitable, uneven.

This ban will no doubt impact Web sites (and advertising campaigns) built by small businesses at great time and expense, potentially including some online stores that invested to build sites selling legal products that may now be banned. [note: We have not yet gone back to Google's existing rules to determine exactly what is being changed by the new announcement.]

To be sure, we very much appreciate Google and its services, both free and paid. But the announcement gives us pause for several reasons.

For example, in the email Google warned us that certain of our ad campaigns/sites are in danger. But it did not specify which ones or why. We can only guess. Have we offended with ads for our military history site on the long American effort to secure the Korean DMZ; our page on how to prepare for a possible war with Syria and Iran; a shuttered site we had on zombies with links to "Zombie kits" from a major knife company; the page on fly fishing in war zones and dangerous places; or something else entirely?

Presumably ads with forbidden messages and/or linking to forbidden sites will be refused. But what if Google goes after our sites directly? What topics and products are next to be banned?

Of course, Google can do what it wants with its services. What Google can give, Google can take away. This is a business, not a 1st Amendment, issue.

Let us know what you think about this Google policy -- Political correctness run amok or a sensible response to potentially dangerous products and the liability threat that goes with them?

XXXX

Check out excerpts from the email and the page to which it links:

Email: "We're writing to let you know about a change to Google's advertising policies that might affect your AdWords account.

Around September, we'll be clarifying and simplifying our policy on knives, guns, gun parts, and other weapons designed to injure others in combat, self-defense, or sport. Some products that we currently allow won't be allowed under the new policies. Examples of products that will no longer be allowed include paintball guns, airsoft guns, BB guns, gun scopes, ammunition belts, stun guns, and tactical knives...When we make this change, any ads or sites that are identified as violating our revised policy won't be able to run.
Our system identified the following accounts associated with your email address as potentially affected by this policy change:"

The email directed us to a Web page entitled "Dangerous Products and Services," which says the new standards will become effective in September. Here are excerpts from the page:

 "Functional devices that appear to discharge a projectile at high velocity, whether for sport, self-defense, or combat 
(Note that we err on the side of caution and apply this policy to sporting or recreational guns that can cause serious harm if misused, or that appear to be real guns.)


  • Examples: Handguns, rifles, shotguns, hunting guns, functioning antique guns, airsoft guns, paintball guns, bb guns

  •  Any part or component that's necessary to the function of a gun or intended for attachment to a gun


  • Examples: Gun scopes, ammunition, ammunition clips or belts

  •  "Dangerous knives"
  •  Knives that are designed or promoted as products that can be used to injure an opponent in sport, self-defense, or combat" 
  • Thursday, June 12, 2014

    Why is the Air Force Still Classifying Information on the Hunt for Hitler & 60-Year-Old Research Projects?

    We like a spy story about a glamorous Nazi test pilot as much as the next guy, so we were excited when we saw what was inside a recent delivery of documents we'd asked the Air Force to declassify.

    But what jumped out was the fact the Air Force is still keeping part of the story secret after almost 70 years.

    President Obama promised in 2009 "...my Administration is committed to operating with an unprecedented level of openness. While the Government must be able to prevent the public disclosure of information where such disclosure would compromise the privacy of American citizens, national security, or other legitimate interests, a democratic government accountable to the people must be as transparent as possible and must not withhold information for self-serving reasons or simply to avoid embarrassment."

    Yet historical information decades older than the President is still being kept classified. That's frustrating for historians but heartbreaking for others, especially the families of Korean War POW/MIAs who are still not allowed to see 60-year-old record files -- from various military and civilian agencies -- believed to have answers on the fates of their loved ones.

    Here's an example of a 1955 military document -- from a collection that has revealed important POW/MIA information -- that is still being kept secret at the National Archives. There are many more.



    Anyway, back to the story of the Nazi test pilot, Hanna Reich (or Reitsch). You can see her below giving a Nazi salute (German Federal Archive via Wikimedia). She's said to be the only woman to get a WWII Iron Cross, as well as a volunteer for a German "kamikaze" unit that never got off the ground (bureaucratically and literally).



    Her story is told in a 1977 interview of a former Air Force human intelligence officer named Col. Robert Work, who provided an oral history of his Cold War adventures. That report was turned into a 1999 Air Force history report, classified Secret. We asked for it to be declassified in August 2012 and it arrived last week -- it took almost two years for the military to process a 15-year-old document based on a 37-year-old interview concerning events dating back 69 years.

    Soon after the end of WWII, Work got a message from his superiors concerning Reich."She's known to have flown out of Berlin in the last days of the war, and carried a male passenger who might have been Hitler," said the message. "It occurred to me that we could be sitting on one of the greatest stories of the war. Had Hitler flown out of Berlin, had Hanna Reich piloted him, and was he somewhere in Austria? The message had indicated though that 'we doubt Hitler is still alive.'" But...

    So what comes immediately after that build up? The Air Force has decided to keep it secret.

    The released part of the document goes on to reveal that a US agent found Reich on a departing train and convinced her to toss down her bags and jump off.

    During her interrogation Reich sounded disappointed the man she had flown out of Berlin was not the Fuehrer, "Oh! If only it had been." She reported he was actually the new Chief of the Luftwaffe. However, her information provided crucial details on the final hours in Hitler's bunker and helped persuade US intelligence that Hitler, whose body had not been found, was really dead (decades later it was revealed the Soviets had disposed of his remains).

    During his 1977 interview, Col. Work went on to describe another of his most important projects, a program called WRINGER to get information from people escaping the Soviet Union during the late-1940s into the 1950s.

    These reports -- there were about a million of them by the end -- were an important part of Air Force intelligence, including nuclear targeting, in the days before satellites could collect information from the Soviet Union.

    "In fact, WRINGER reports were piling up on the floors of the fifth floor corridors in the Pentagon, almost endangering traffic in those corridors."

    But what comes next is also censored as still being classified.

    "(F)ortunately we in the Air Force learned some lessons and began working more effectively," the Colonel later notes. So what were those lessons? They may be in the next part of the document, which as you probably guessed is censored due to classification.

    Finally, Col. Work gets around to discussing one "clandestine operation which ran for years" and provided special contributions. What was it? You're right, it's still classified.

    To be sure, the Air Force gave us 60 days to appeal the withholding of this information. Experience tells us we might even hear back in a couple years. As for the relatives of the Korean War POW/MIAs, many of those in the know assume they will be dead before all the records they seek are declassified.