Google's New Revenge Porn Policy: 5 Key Things to Know

Jean Dion • June 22, 2015

Late last week, officials at Google announced a new policy on revenge porn sites. Rather than treating all of the data on these sites as permanent, viable assets, Google would change tactics, and in some cases, Google would keep the data on these sites from attaching to a real person's name.

There's a lot to celebrate here, for sure, as people who have been touched by revenge porn have a great deal of damage to overcome. But, there's still a great deal of work to be done if you've been the target of a revenge porn site.

Here are the 5 key things you need to know about the Google ruling.

1. Google won't remove information automatically.

The official public policy statement makes one thing clear: Google officials aren't planning to de-index all revenge porn sites. Little Google spiders will still walk through the sites on a regular basis, attaching names to photographs and popping up those nasty images on searches for those matching names. None of that is changing.

What will happen, at some point in the near future, will come in the form of paperwork. People who see revenge porn search results can fill out that paperwork and send it to Google. Then, Google officials will evaluate that paperwork and make a decision about whether or not to delete the images.

It's important to note that Google says the policy will be "narrow and limited," meaning that officials are leaving the door open to rejected requests. It's quite possible that some people targeted by revenge porn will remain targets, as Google officials may opt to leave some content in the index, despite a request to remove it.

But it's clear that Google isn't taking direct action. It will be a victim-generated action. If victims don't act, nothing will change.

2. Data that's been de-indexed can simply be replaced.

Google hasn't yet released the revenge porn takedown form, so it's not clear what sort of information a victim would need to provide in order to get the issue handled. But, if previous Google correction forms are any guide, the data required will be very specific.

Consider this form, used in Europe by people who want data removed from Google search results. Here, requesters have to provide specific links to specific pages that contain the information they'd like to see removed. Links that aren't included on this form aren't (presumably) subject to a Google takedown order.

There's nothing on this form, or in Google rules, that prohibits a site administrator from replacing de-indexed pages with new pages that contain offensive content. A revenge porn site administrator could use slightly different images (cropping them differently might work, for example) and tweaked headlines and have a new page up and running in minutes.

And that new page would require a new Google form and a new request to remove the content. All of that work takes time to complete, and during that time, the photos might very well be live on the internet.

3. Revenge porn sites aren't going out of business (yet).

Pulling down specific pages via user requests will, undoubtedly, harm traffic to revenge porn sites. When it's hard to find those nasty photos with a search of a person's name, fewer people will click on those sites. They'll be just a little less powerful.

But make no mistake: They're not banned in this country at this point.

Talk show host John Oliver came out this week in support of legislation that would make revenge porn a federal crime, says the National Journal, and if that passes, it might be difficult for many sites to stay in operation using the rules they're using now.

But, as a separate analysis in the Huffington Post points out, many of these laws require a so-called "intent to harm" clause, meaning that the sites must demonstrate that they're sharing the data because they want to make someone upset. They have to prove that humiliation is the entire point of the site. And that might be a hard sell for revenge porn sites. The administrators might claim that the data is for entertainment purposes or just for fun, not for harm. And if they do that, they might keep on trucking for years, with no interference at all, despite what the laws say.

So while these Google changes and impending laws have the capability to harm a revenge porn site, I'm not convinced we're hearing the death knell just yet. I'm not convinced at all.

4. Working with Google is a better option than relying on activism.

So if the Google de-indexing forms and the changing legislation won't kill the sites, is activism a better bet? Not from a reputation management perspective.

People who go on public campaigns about the harms they're enduring due to revenge porn generate a great deal of publicity. Newspaper columnists write up reports. Bloggers outline the issue. And all of that work makes the original revenge porn attack harder to bury. It becomes news, and it moves up in prominence as a result.

And, attacking a revenge porn purveyor often means dealing with online harassment. That's what happened to an activist who took to Facebook to outline why revenge porn sites were offensive to women. Within a 48-hour period, this woman received more than 1,000 disgusting personal messages, says The Guardian. That's disturbing, and it could lead to yet more reputation difficulties.

5. Monitoring is more important now than it's ever been before.

Google's shift on these sites is certainly promising. But, at the moment, victims are responsible for both spotting and flagging revenge porn entries. Google isn't doing the searches, and legislators aren't close to making these sites illegal.

We can help.

We can process your request for you and help insure the page gets removed and de-indexed from the search engines. Contact us today for a free quote. 

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