T-Shirt Maker Claims He's "Gagged by Google"

  |  April 28, 2004   |  Comments

An apparent AdWords rejection sparks free speech controversy.

A Southern California t-shirt company, which says its AdWords ads were rejected by Google, has accused the search company of stifling free speech.

The company, Y-Que, is known for politically incorrect and humorous t-shirts. At issue, according to owner Bill Wyatt's posts on the site, are the company's attempts to buy Google AdWords ads that point to its site, where it sells t-shirts criticizing President Bush and Vice President Cheney, and even one taking aim at Democratic challenger John Kerry.

"Google is becoming the modern version of Big Brother, as if we didn't have enough Big Brothers already, and unless the current trends against Free-Speech [sic] are reversed there will be no place left to promote uncensored ideas or products," Wyatt posted on his site at yque.com.

The accusations come as Google is said to be preparing for an initial public offering of stock, a move that would place the company under still more public scrutiny. The dispute with Y-Que highlights Google's difficult position as a gatekeeper between the public and the wide world of information, in which it's compelled to deal with public outrage, such as the recent "Jew Watch" controversy, and expectations by some to police trademark violations. Google did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Wyatt posted a letter he says Google sent him, which says he must remove certain merchandise from his site to continue advertising with AdWords. The search company cited the following merchandise: "Recall Bush - White T-shirt (with radio control on head); Dumb and Dumber White T-shirt - Bush and Blair: The Movie; You're Fired - George W. Bush White T-shirt; Dump Cheney White T-shirt - "Halliburton" tattooed across head; Miserable Failure T-shirt - George W. Bush; Kerry sucks (too) - T-shirt."

Interestingly, the "Miserable Failure" t-shirt refers to a Google-centric incident in which anti-Bush Web activists conspired to create a "Google bomb." By linking the words "miserable failure" to Bush's biography on the White House Web site, they manipulated Google's search results so the biography was returned as a result when someone searched under those keywords.

Wyatt says Google repeatedly rejected his ads, citing "unacceptable content." A letter Wyatt says he received from Google cites an AdWords policy "of not permitting advertisements for language and site content that advocates against an individual, group, or organization."

The same issue arose back in February, when environmental group Oceana's ads were yanked from Google. One of the non-profit's ads read: "Stop Cruise Pollution. Royal Caribbean is dumping inadequately treated sewage!" According to the group, Google removed the ads, citing "language that advocates against Royal Caribbean."

While Y-Que's Wyatt is concerned that the removal of his ads from Google will quiet traffic to his site, he's doing what he does best. He's accepting submissions for an anti-Google t-shirt design contest.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pamela Parker

Pamela Parker is a former managing editor of ClickZ News, Features, and Experts. She's been covering interactive advertising and marketing since the boom days of 1999, chronicling the dot-com crash and the subsequent rise of the medium. Before working at ClickZ, Parker was associate editor at @NY, a pioneering Web site and e-mail newsletter covering New York new media start-ups. Parker received a master's degree in journalism, with a concentration in new media, from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

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