We all got peeved when CBS said no to MoveOn, but this kind of policy is quite widespread. Google also does not allow advocacy ads, in particular ads that criticize other people or companies (their terms are here). Latest news on this front: An environmental organization that had purchased AdWords like “cruise ship” has been bounced from Google. Why? It ran ads next to the results which pointed out that cruise ships pollute the ocean (which they do, often spewing out raw sewage near coastlines. Not that the couple at left seem to mind…).
Google (and Overture) have to tread a thin line here between free speech, the law, and protecting its more lucrative clients (travel sites are huge paid search customers). Clearly this action is well within Google’s rights as per its contract. But shouldn’t Google be a bit more like the New York Times, which accepts these kind of issue ads, and a bit less like CBS? I certainly hope so.
Update: I’ve been pointed, by the author, to this site, which defends Google’s approach and slams Oceana. Every story has more than one side…and it seems to me that Google may well have been in the right here, at least arguably so. I do believe, however, that in the longer term, search engines will have to figure out how to deal with an advocay group’s need (but not right?) to use that medium as a public forum.