Google bans ads that criticize cruise ships

Posted: Friday, February 13, 2004

SAN FRANCISCO - Online search engine leader Google has banned the ads of an environmental group protesting a major cruise line's sewage treatment methods, casting a spotlight on the editorial policies that control the popular Web site's lucrative marketing program.

Jim Ayers, Pacific Region director for Oceana, said from his Juneau home that he was shocked that Google would censor his group's ads based on corporate bias.

Washington D.C.-based Oceana said Google dropped the text-based ads displayed in shaded boxes along the right side of its Web page because they were critical of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.

Oceana believes Royal Caribbean pollutes the oceans by improperly treating the sewage on its ships and hoped to publicize its complaints by paying to have its ads appear when terms like "cruise vacation" and "cruise ship" were entered into Google's search engine.

The ad, which said "Help us protect the world's oceans," appeared briefly last week before Google pulled it from its page.

When Oceana challenged the ban, Mountain View, Calif.-based Google responded with an e-mail advising the group that it doesn't accept ads with "language that advocates against Royal Caribbean."

Oceana's ad didn't mention Royal Caribbean directly, but the link directed Google visitors to a Web page critical of the Miami-based cruise line.

"I am shocked that they will post information about pornography and yet they will censor information about cruise ship pollution," Ayers said.

Pollution from cruise ships is an ongoing concern in Southeast Alaska. Last year the state considered a ballot initiative that would have taxed cruise passengers, with revenues going to help ships deal with pollution.

The decision reeks of censorship and favoritism, said Andrew Sharpless, Oceana's chief executive officer.

"The answer they gave certainly raises the question whether they got a phone call from Royal Caribbean," Sharpless said Thursday. "We can't prove that, but it certainly smells that way."

Both Google and Royal Caribbean denied there was any pressure applied to remove the Oceana ad.

• Empire reporter Tony Carroll contributed to this report.

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