Google Outlines New Revenge Porn Policy

By John DiGiacomo

Last Friday, Google published a blog post outlining a new policy to directly combat one of the web’s darkest corners: revenge porn. Revenge porn—and its even more sinister counterpart, “sexploitation”—have affected a large swath of people, mainly women. Revenge porn is the term used to describe the act of posting scandalous, sexually explicit pictures or videos of someone to the web without their consent. Generally, the perpetrator is an ex-partner, with the explicit content saved somewhere on their hard drive or cell phone, seeking “revenge.” Sexploitation is the term used to describe blackmailing the victim to remove the content. Both acts are highly abusive and can cause severe emotion distress and reputational damage.

Google’s new policy, while unable to actually remove revenge porn from the web, will make it significantly harder for it to be found. While it has yet to give a date, Google will soon release a form that a victim of revenge porn can submit to the site to remove the explicit content from Google image searches. Google wrote: “We know this won’t solve the problem of revenge porn—we aren’t able, of course, to remove these images from the websites themselves—but we hope that honoring people’s requests to remove such imagery from our search results can help.”

Revenge porn and sexploitation touch on a lot of problems pervasive online. Privacy, in the Internet Age, is much harder to come by, and defamation is even more easily accomplished. The Internet is the new battleground for the struggle between First Amendment rights and the right to privacy. In Florida, for example, many websites have popped up that publish mug shots and charge individuals to remove them, while the legislature has tried and failed to put an end to the practice. On the other end of the spectrum, the European Union recently ruled that there is a “right to be forgotten,” which forced Google, among others, to drastically alter their takedown policies.

Some states have passed laws criminalizing revenge porn, and civil lawsuits based on invasion of privacy and/or intentional infliction of emotions distress claims have been litigated. But such lawsuits are watered down by the federal Communications Decency Act, specifically section 230, which shields Online Service Providers (OSPs) and third-parties from most liability. Therefore, it is up to OSPs to act on their own initiative to combat cybercrimes like revenge porn.
While Google’s new domestic policy is a step in the right direction, as they admit, it will not accomplish completely purging the web of revenge porn. But just as the DMCA and ACPA push for restrictions in other online areas, every little bit helps to protect individual privacy in an interconnected world.

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