Finding Your Rightful Place in Google Image Search

An international network of webmasters and web developers exists to get around every rule that Google Images puts in place, trying to separate adult from family-friendly images.

Freedom of speech in credible websites and important cultural/business voices is suffering in this effort to ‘clean up’ the Internet. In particular, family-friendly moderates like myself — or any of the strong voices in fashion, marketing, branding — can no longer speak freely on the Internet, without running the risk paying a heavy penalty.

If you even risk talking about today’s fashion imagery — and use an image as an example — you can lose your Google Images Internet presence over night, finding yourself kicked out of moderate search and into unfiltered-only.

This ‘birthday celebration’ photo on Tavi’s ‘Style Rookie’ blog brought down her website. Having Her Highness, 14-year-old Tavi’s blog ‘Style Rookie’ go down over an ‘innocently’ posted photo of Maggie Rizer from a 1998 ad campaign for Yohji Yamamoto, one of her favorite designers, is an example of what we’re dealing with as articulate, non-adult, non-pornographic websites trying to make our way in a Google-dominated world.

Speechless when reading about Tavi’s website going down, a shudder went up our spines. Luckily for Tavi, her many fans rallied on Facebook and Twitter, and the problem was solved in a day. (See Wall Street Journal article: Teen Fashion Blogger’s Site Blocked”)

Tavi is a lucky Google survivor.

To be clear,  I write these words with respect and a huge personal relationship with Google, who has changed my life for the better until now.

Sensible Google Image Precautions

Taking editorial precautions — knowing that real por-n ographers are looking over our shoulders, seeking every opening to not only hotlink images but also to ride the wave of fashion’s inclusion of small amounts of nudity in many fashion editorials — how does a trend-reporting writer or website report the news with confidence, in an increasingly visual world? 

We don’t get involved in many discussions of por-n ography at Anne of Carversville.

We’re on record supporting American women getting a more positive body image and changing their attitudes about aging. Patriarchal attitudes are committed to controlling female sexuality — except for their own sensual appetites.

For those of us suffering in the appropriate-content confusion of the Internet world, it adds insult to injury that Conservatives consume the most adult material, but demand the greatest controls of moderates who might accidentally corrupt children by revealing an occasional breast nipple.

The hypocrisy of the reality of life overwhelms us at moments.

Our irritation over the double standard is irrelevant, because Google is in charge. It’s their business decision how they will filter content. In executing their vision of proper filtering, Google intentionally or not imposes their values on America and the rest of the world.

When asked to explain their thinking process by media as prestigious as the NYTimes, Google doesn’t answer. This is private information.

Google Adsense Cougar Double Standard

The recent move of Google Adsense to ban all references to the word ‘cougar’ as “adult”, while leaving in place the Adsense ‘sugardaddy’ websites or ‘how to marry a millionaire’ is an example of the social and cultural attitudes Anne of Carversville takes on.

To be really honest, this strategy has blown up in our face. In our effort to talk about the topic, and highlight the cultural collision of respected brands like Louis Vuitton with the global morality police, has gotten us in big trouble with Google Images.

Precaution vs Censorship

Fifty photos out of 6000 has been our undoing. We’re working earnestly with Google Images to correct our problems. This is a “no win” for us, and we are eager to comply with their standards.

Millions of readers worldwide have their access to high-quality information severely restricted, when websites are moved to unfiltered images only. The best minds — ours for one — can easily become caught in the Google Image eggbeater — and with no recourse.

While we have no problems in regular Google search, we know of at least one high-quality website recently delisted completely by Google. I’ve visited the website, talking in-depth with the owner and if his problem isn’t political, then I don’t know what it is.

Google and Rights

This established photographer’s voice is gone overnight and with no ability to talk to anyone at Google about restoring it. Note, there are procedures around reinstatement, but no human contact or explanations for the reasons one is delisted.

Google is very clear in both Google Images and Google website reinstatement, that you will hear from them. There is no forum for discussion, and no obligation to respond to your questions. Having lost your Internet identity overnight, in search terms, you have no rights to interact with a Google decision-maker to right your situation.

Perhaps it’s functionally impossible to respond to all the people affected. We have no real sense of numbers of people impacted by the Google rules.

The rather chilling lesson that we’ve learned in the last two months is that as a website or individual, you have no actual rights to a Google-supported Internet presence.  Google is so synonomous with the Internet, it’s easy to assume that you have some kind of First Amendment, free-speech rights. While the premise hasn’t been debated at the highest levels of the American courts, my understanding is that you have no rights with Google as a publisher of Internet speech or images.

Google Image Moderate Search

Most workplaces operate on Google moderate search and for good reason. The rules of inclusion in Moderate search are unclear.

For reasons that I don’t understand, websites move in and out of Google Image search criteria unpredictably.

Miranda Kerr, June i-D magazineMiranda Kerr in June 2010 i-D magazineMiranda Kerr in June 2010 i-D magazineThe photos here came from, a highly-trafficked fashion photo website that shared an “unfiltered only” status when our problems began on Easter weekend.

Today — thankfully — is back in moderate search.  I’m on record in the Google Image Safe Search forum as asking if my linking to websites like and — unfiltered only at the time — could negatively impact getting Anne of Carversville restored to moderate search status.

I was told ‘no’ by Susan Moskwa — that linking to these two fashion websites should be OK, even though at the time, they were also in filtered only. Yet Google makes it very plain that people linking into you can — and often do — affect your own search rating. has complied with Internet search policy, labeling the urls for the Miranda Kerr June 2010 i-D fashion photos this way.

Ironically Google Images doesn’t monitor photos, which was a big aha moment for me. The Google Image bots read the text around photos.

The tipoff that there’s a nipple showing in the Miranda Kerr i-D photos is the heading in the url, in which advises the Internet of this fact. The “not safe for work” tipoff is also in the title of the page.

Labeling images as unsafe for work with Google ImagesThe Undesirables Live in “Unfiltered” Search

Unfiltered search isn’t a pretty sight.

We totally support Google Image’s Safe Search Committe’s intention to keep those explicit images out of the workplace. We also support their determination to give parents control over images at home.

The downside is that access to information is severely impeded. Technically-speaking, you can’t look at perhaps 30% of today’s fashion ad campaigns from work, at a time when Google Images is hitting new highs as a percentage of total searches.

This statement assumes that Google Images is “fair” and consistent in their standards. They are not. One website is in the pigpen, while another almost identical to it thrives in “moderate” search, as we were.

Smart people use Google Image search, not only those looking for the nasties and naughties.

We’re not alone. Listening to the Google Images industry presentations on their webmaster tools videos, I get the idea that Google Images doesn’t understand this element in reasons why people use Google Image search. It’s a faster way of finding quality information. This search strategy may change with the new text search, which has already benefitted us in terms of traffic.

Before the new Google algorithm was put into place, Image search was inching toward 40% of all Google searches. The what is Safe Search material is not a small issue in terms of total Google searchs. It’s a massively-important issue for image-rich websites like Anne of Carversville.

Fourth Category for Google Images

For these reasons I argue strongly that either Google Images needs a fourth image-search category, or it must make clear its policies for moderate search, in view of the changing face of fashion and popular culture.

If moderate has no body-focused photos from Glamour or Allure — which are all over moderate search today, then we need a new search category for business and adults, professionals and grownups who don’t mind seeing the LOVE magazine photos for real.

Many folks don’t want their access to Internet information governed by children, and they don’t want the  alternative to be unfiltered por-n ography. Many professionals and adults want to understand the implications of Louis Vuitton’s decisions in Elle Magazine Turkey — of all places.

The only way you will now use Google Image search to find Anne of Carversville’s writing about women in burqas or flowers at the White House is to subject yourself to all the vulgarity that comes with unfiltered searches.

Do note that Google has policies that theoretically allow website to maintain a column or journal page, one section of the website, that carries material like the i-D photos or the LOVE photos below. Theoretically, a website can stay in moderate search for the majority of photos and the segregated section of the website only appears in unfiltered search.

We assume this is true, but the anecdotal evidence that it works are scanty.

What we can say is that in the Google Safe Search forum we were  by Google representive Susan Moskwa told that the Allure photos are probably offensive to the Google Image Safe Search Team and would prevent our reinstatement in moderate search. Specifically, we removed or cropped these photos from our Google Image offering.

This moment, all over a Google Image Strict Search offering, you will find this photo. Yes, I said strict, not moderate. There are hundreds of copies of this photo, not a couple.

I readily admit that we stupidly published the photos not in a confined journal and without the bandaids. We will never do so again on Anne of Carversville, assuming that we are reinstated in moderate search.

At the end of the day, we’ve suffered a total loss of our Google traffic, even though we corrected the above mistake immediately. Unlike Tavi (god bless her) we didn’t have a Facebook or Twitter campaign behind us.

We corrected our problems six weeks ago and have asked to be reinstated in moderate search. We’re told by webmasters that this will happen eventually of its own accord. It could be three months, six months, a year, maybe two.

We will never know if and when our status will be changed back to moderate. For a business person like myself, who is very solution-oriented, the lack of ability to do anything to impact our Google Image status is unnerving in entrepreneurial America. A simple mistake has brought catastropic consequences.

We are expand our Facebook presence, developing new feeder blogs and a host of other initiatives to increase traffic in our websites. But in the Google Image situation, our hands are tied until Google decides to let us out of the penalty box.

Somehow these policies don’t jibe with my vision of entrepreneurial freedoms and business excellence in America. And I’m left with the strong feeling that the bad guys win with Google. They are the ones who count, not the wreckage in their path. We have no recourse but to wait.

The future of these policies and the loss of any rights on the Internet should be a great concern to people. But I feel that most of us are so obsessed with reality TV and celebrity culture that we frankly could care less. And as I said loud and clear, Google is amazing to me and have helped my life and learning invaluably.

I do believe, especially after the Google Adsense story about kicking out cougar ads and keeping sugar daddy ones, that Google is indeed America’s defacto morality police. Anne