Alex Salkever’s latest column on BusinessWeek online gives the Oceana/Google case a good once over (my posts are here and here). But even as he makes the point that Google serves as a public information space, and therefore should at least disclose the editorial choices it is making, he does not bring in a discussion of the CBS/MoveOn tempest. To my mind, that’s a prime example of similar (and far more inexcusable) behavior.
Legally, it seems that Google and other search engines have no clear obligation to accept such ads — or any other type, for that matter — so its actions didn’t violate Oceana’s right to free speech. Even so, the Oceana brouhaha highlights key issues for Google and other search engines that will only become more inflamed as such sites grow and prosper. Namely, commerce and conflict sit poorly on the same Web page. Likewise, control and transparency often exist as opposing forces. How Google, the world’s No. 1 search engine, balances these tensions could change the shape of the Internet….
… With spending on political advertising looking to set a record this election year, Google’s editorial policy will have a big effect on what information voters do and don’t receive via Web advertising. According to McCaffrey, Google’s policy allows side-by-side policy comparison, but it bans attack ads — something major TV networks and large newspapers have been unwilling to do. That laissez faire attitude toward the political free-for-all may or may not be correct, but I find it a little disturbing that Google can be the arbiter over a key information source for voters.