Googlers: Some Ads Evil, Some OK

A wide-ranging Playboy magazine interview with Google’s founders, published on the eve of the company’s initial public offering, provides insight into the thinking behind Google’s sometimes perplexing advertising policies.

Asked for an example of how the firm’s famous “Don’t Be Evil” policy plays out, Sergey Brin told Playboy, “For example, we don’t accept ads for hard liquor, but we accept ads for wine. It’s just a personal preference. We don’t allow gun ads, and the gun lobby got upset about that. We don’t try to put our sense of ethics into the search results, but we do when it comes to advertising.” Brin and co-founder Larry Page gave the interview back in April, before the company first filed IPO paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Google’s advertising policies have repeatedly come under fire with advertisers, who have called them arbitrary and unevenly enforced. A Southern California t-shirt maker raised issues of free speech after his ads were rejected by the search giant. The same issue arose when Google yanked environmental group Oceana’s ads. 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.”

Google cited the Playboy interview as a “risk factor” in its latest regulatory filing related to its IPO. The company published the interview in its entirety in the filing.

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