Anti-Abortion Group Sues Google

As I’ve pointed out, Google’s ad policies are completely arbitrary and in fact violated by Google itself. I wrote,

If Google flagrantly violates its own stated policy for ads, then clearly that particular policy is meaningless. However, if, as one of the comments on an earlier post alleges, Google has pulled its ads from another web page because of that page’s arguments, is Google opening itself up to potential legal action?

However, I’m not sure that a recent law suit has much merit. Fox reports:

A Christian group in Britain is suing Google over the search engine’s alleged refusal to place an ad related to abortion.

According to the Christian Institute, the text ad would have popped up on the right side of a user’s screen whenever the word “abortion” was searched for or prominently appeared.

It would have read: “UK abortion law: Key views and news on abortion law from The Christian Institute.”. …

Google rejected the ad with the statement, “Google policy does not permit the advertisement of websites that contain ‘abortion and religion-related content,'” according to the Christian Institute’s press release.

The Christian Institute counters that “Google is happy to allow adverts for non-religious sites with views on abortion,” and is taking the Internet giant to court on grounds of religious discrimination. …

Searches for “abortion” on both the American and British Google Web sites bring up ads for abortion providers, but none to political, advocacy or religious groups on either side of the issue.

Both Google sites, however, include an ad for, a Web site aimed at talking teenage girls out of having abortions.

I’ll try to briefly untangle the issue. A suit based on “religious discrimination” is illegitimate. Google has property rights, and thus it has the right to set whatever ad policies it deems fit. To take a local example, some Colorado publications refuse to run ads for firearms.

The potential problem involves contract. Is Google effectively making a contradictory offer to would-be ad purchasers? If Google is simultaneously saying, through its actions, that ads about abortion are fine, but then indicating that certain ads about abortion are forbidden, that could be a problem. Then the issue would be that people spend their resources to set up ads with Google that Google may then arbitrarily deny. Unfortunately, I was not able to locate Google’s policies regarding ads pertaining to abortion.

What this is not is a free-speech issue. If Google refuses to do business with certain advertisers, Google is not thereby violating free speech. Freedom of speech protects people from government censorship; it does not impose a duty on some to publicize the speech of others. Indeed, forcing one party to promote the views of others violates that party’s freedom of speech.

However, it might be a fairness issue. Google ought not arbitrarily deny some ads but not others or impose contradictory standards.

Moreover, it seems to me that in the rough-and-tumble world of the internet, it’s a bit silly for a large company to refuse to do business with Christians with an anti-abortion agenda. I go back to the Ann Coulter test: if Google will let Coulter display Google ads, can Google reasonably exclude others with less contentious views?