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Jewish World Review
Sept. 22, 2008
/ 22 Elul 5768
Google needs to search its conscience
At first it didn't really bother me, but it became increasingly hard to ignore. On certain relatively slow news days, the bulk of the e-mails I would receive from readers of the National Review's Web site would be about Google, the popular Internet search engine. Specifically, these letters would complain about Google's failure to recognize certain holidays.
Google if you don't live on the Internet as I do, and thus haven't noticed tends to change its logo to celebrate special occasions. Google was very into the Olympics in Beijing (and has bent to China's will there, but that's another story). Google was ecstatic when the first day of summer arrived this year. It honored Leap Day on Feb. 29 with a slaphappy portrait of a jumping frog, and duly marked the 50th anniversary of the LEGO brick on Jan. 28. It even celebrated artist Diego Velazquez's birthday in June, and regularly marks geeky anniversaries like the invention of the laser on May 16. So, some ask, why not fly a flag on Memorial Day?
What Google does with its pixels, of course, is not the biggest concern in the world by any stretch, even during a sluggish news cycle. But I increasingly started noting some of the days on which the corporate behemoth opted not to change its logo. Couldn't we at least get a bunny on Easter Sunday? If the likes of Macy's can recognize that holiday without seeming sectarian, why can't Google? I wasn't looking for a resurrected Jesus or even a cross.
This bothered me again this year on Sept. 11. On that particular Thursday, Google's logo went unaltered. If a ton of terrorist attacks had murdered thousands of people on American soil in recent history, I could understand why Google wouldn't change things up for each occasion. But, since there haven't been and since, on Sept. 10, Google had changed its logo to mark the first test of Europe's Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest particle accelerator, I didn't think that Sept. 11 was too obscure a day to note.
Google, as a private company, certainly has the right to do whatever it wants. I can choose to use another search engine if I'm that annoyed with how it monkeys with its image. But like it or not, it occupies an enormous chunk of American and world culture. To "Google" is a verb that has entered the common lexicon. And with great power comes great responsibility.
Which is why I was delighted to hear Google's new policy on abortion. Shockingly, for a company with such titanic sway, Google has heretofore claimed to be neutral on life-based issues, while actually hewing very stiffly to one side - favoring abortion advocacy and providers. Sued in the United Kingdom by a British group called the Christian Institute, it recently settled out of court and agreed to run abortion-oriented ads from pro-life as well as pro-choice clients.
In April of this year, Google had refused a paid ad from the Christian Institute that said:
"UK Abortion law
Key views and news on abortion law
from The Christian Institute
Google had said that its policy was to refuse ads that mixed "abortion and religion-related content." Previously, if you typed the word "abortion" into the company's search engine, the only advertisements that would appear alongside search results would be for abortion clinics and support groups, with nothing from religious groups that oppose abortion and offer alternatives to it.
A spokesman from the company announced, "Over the last few months, we have been reviewing our abortion-ads policy in order to make sure it was fair, up-to-date and consistent with local customs and practices. Following the review we have decided to amend our policy, creating a level playing field and enabling religious associations to place ads on abortion in a factual way."
Whatever Google's executives believed they were doing, their company was choosing sides. And it's too powerful an influence to pretend its choices don't have an impact. If you were in a bind and susceptible to influence, and the only ads you saw were for abortionists, you just might have made a poor choice because of Google's previous policy.
Do I think you'll forget we were attacked on Sept. 11 if a ubiquitous resource doesn't remind you? Of course not. Because of my Google holiday-logo awareness tic, I've been quoted in articles about Google bearing titles like "Does Google Hate America?" I'm sure Google loves this country because America may not run on Dunkin' but Google. But it could afford to give a little in return.
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