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Google Censors Abu Ghraib Images [updated] 731

Mihg writes "Try searching Google Images for abu ghraib, lynndie england, or Lynndie's boyfriend charles graner and note how you don't get any pictures of US soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners of war. Now try it with some of their competitors, like AltaVista, Lycos, or Yahoo!. Google used to be able to find them, as is discussed in this AnandTech forum thread." I'm guessing that this is another case of our administration confusing "National Security" with "Politically Undesirable". Update: 11/07 20:18 GMT by P : Google has a reasonable explanation.
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Google Censors Abu Ghraib Images [updated]

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 07, 2004 @12:23PM (#10746623) []

    A small coloring book of images from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

    What do you know about Abu Ghraib? What do you know about coloring books? What do you know about teaching conformity? About desensitization? About media and artist exploitation of suffering for financial gain. This swell coloring book wraps all that and more into nine pages that you can color yourself!
  • Re:You're guessing? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SiliconJesus ( 1407 ) * <> on Sunday November 07, 2004 @12:27PM (#10746654) Homepage Journal
    They generally rely on google rankings (their proprietary code) in order to do this effectively.

    If someone googlebombed them (google search for "Litigious Bastards" []), I would assume it is possible to unrank images just as it is possible to unrank webpages.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 07, 2004 @12:28PM (#10746665)
    They either follow the take down notice (which they do, and often point you to it where there are links to the material taken down) or fight a huge lawsuit. Yes, we might want them to fight a large court battle, but I doubt their investors/stock holders would want them to.
  • Re:You're guessing? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SiliconJesus ( 1407 ) * <> on Sunday November 07, 2004 @12:29PM (#10746672) Homepage Journal
    Google is playing the game safer than most of the internet (/. included), which is probably a smarter move that just claiming "I have no control over the content" when in reality they do (as proven by /.'s removal of posts in the past due to litigation from Microsoft).
  • Re:Freedom (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vrimj ( 750402 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @12:34PM (#10746713)
    Of course Google can censor what they like, but it is approprate to find such instances and call them on it. Censorship calls in to question Googles reliablity as an information provider and thus need to be reported on and highlighted.

    I do not think anyone is saying they can't do this, they are only pointing out that as customers of Googles service they find it disturbing
  • International law (Score:2, Interesting)

    by panxerox ( 575545 ) * on Sunday November 07, 2004 @12:36PM (#10746724)
    I beleive that there are international laws against displaying photos of prisoners of war (laws against what was done to them as well of course) so it might have been legal pressure from various non US sources.
  • Google News (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FiReaNGeL ( 312636 ) <fireang3l@hGAUSS ... m minus math_god> on Sunday November 07, 2004 @12:37PM (#10746738) Homepage
    If this is true, it makes me think about using Google News as my #1 information source. I realize that other news network DO filter information, too, but it my mind, Google wasn't in this kind of stuff (at least, outside China).

    Their news service already report a link to this thread under the title "Google Censors Abu Ghraib Images" []. Now let's see if it'll remain there...
  • It is about time! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mat catastrophe ( 105256 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @12:40PM (#10746762) Homepage

    I tried to submit this as an AskSlashdot feature on where to turn when Google's policies censor searches you want weeks ago. Thanks for finally running something on this.

    I think it is high time that people woke up to what google is doing out there. We can talk a big game about google "being a privately held company" and "freedom to do what they want" and whatnot, but it is seriously frightening to me exactly what it is that they want to do to the internet, especially when they are not too terribly forthcoming about what they want.

    Do any of you all use an alternate search engine? If so, post it and let us all get away from google. We claim that decentralized data is what we love the internet for, yet we all clamor to a single search engine for that data. It's incongruous and seemingly dissonant to do this.

  • Re:You're guessing? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 07, 2004 @12:41PM (#10746763)
    Google tries to remove some sites that make use of certain spamming techniques. In theory, it might be possible to make it look like you're spamming for someone else's site and thus get them removed.
  • Re:Devil's Advocate (Score:3, Interesting)

    by vjzuylen ( 91983 ) <vjzuylen&hotmail,com> on Sunday November 07, 2004 @12:43PM (#10746789) Homepage
    However those who show continue to show a gruesome interest in the photos 10 months on from the 2 days in which the horrible events took place are more than likely intending to use them for propagnda purposes to present a highly skewed image of American activities overseas.
    Nonsense. The images have become important historical documents and should be preserved for future generations. Just like pictures of the atrocities of World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, etc.
  • Good call (Score:2, Interesting)

    by murderlegendre ( 776042 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @12:47PM (#10746822)

    Personally, I would not feel right about indexing and displaying images of these people being victimized, without their consent. But there is an even bigger issue at hand here..

    People, torture is very real, very horrid, and it happens to folks just like you & I every damn day. I have personally known victims of political torture, one of whom was still totally unable to sleep even 25 years after his experiences. Can you say goddamn heartbreaking? When I see torture depicted in movies and television, it makes me ill. Sorry if this is shrill, but listen up: TORTURE IS NOT FUCKING ENTERTAINMENT. To use it as such demeans the experiences of victims everywhere. These people need your support, compassion and understanding a whole hell of a lot more than the film industry needs your $9 to watch this crap.

    Next time you think about seeing a film that depicts torture for your viewing pleasure, why not just send the $9 to Amnesty International, or some other human rights group that fits your own political leanings.

  • by John Seminal ( 698722 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @12:48PM (#10746827) Journal
    Last time I checked, Google was a private company. It's very easy to fling accusations of censorship in a free society, but don't you think you need something more than "a private company wouldn't provide me the information"?

    You are missing something. The patriot act gives government all sorts of powers, some of which are illegal for us to know. Think about it, the ACLU sued government to see the whole patriot act, and they were denied. Government can now search your house, without a search warrent, and never tell you. Government can see all your records, bank accounts, library info and never tell you they did it. Before, government needed a warrent and the person knew what government recieved access too. Now there is no informing people they were the subject of an investigation. For all we know, one phone call from Tom Ridge to Google and the information is gone.

  • Re:Google just sucks (Score:2, Interesting)

    by the_demiurge ( 26115 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @12:51PM (#10746849) Homepage
    I think it sucks for news-type images too. Look at "Bush Cincinnati":
    Google image search []
    Yahoo image search []

    The Yahoo one returns the images that I was expecting.
  • Re:You're guessing? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by eatmadust ( 740035 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @12:52PM (#10746858)
    this [] this might explain a lot.
    Especially the Floyd/Mark Kvamme and Bush relationship could explain why those images were removed.
  • Re:It is about time! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mat catastrophe ( 105256 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @01:02PM (#10746913) Homepage
    "I would like to use a branded search engine that makes intelligent decisions for me on what I want to see or not."
    I bet you watch Fox News, too, don't you? Sorry, cheap shot. Sorry all around.
    "Since I have no desire to see these images, I'm perfectly happy to have them filtered. I have no desre for a mathematically precise web search -- I'm not grepping the whole web. Geesh! I want some neural net fuzzy logic processing going on. Some brains in the picture."
    You are kidding me, right? Right? I'm being expertly and subtly trolled into the open to be made fun of? Right? If you don't want to see those search results, you would have simply not searched for them. No one willingly goes out of their way to search for "Tub Girl" and hope that picture is filtered out. No, they simply don't look for it. This is not a valid argument for this story.
    "If I don't like the result set, I'll use another service. Very simple to do. It's called the free market, folks. As long as I have the ability to choose vendors freely the vendors must compete for the most useful and complete search (which are contradictory goals, by the way)"

    Do you have the freedom to choose? Yes. But we all know that the free market is a myth. It's a wonderful concept that we simply don't have in place. Not even here on the wild wonderful interweb. We have a more bizarre corporate oligarchy of information in place, one that is probably more insidious and subtle than the open one out there in the Real World.

    Come to think of it, what the hell are you trying to say?

  • Re:Anti-Americanism? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sjwaste ( 780063 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @01:02PM (#10746919)
    It's not the criticism itself, its the jump to a completely inane conclusion that would suggest simply being anti-American. I mean, it's a complete stretch to implicate the administration in a google censorship example.
  • by Cryofan ( 194126 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @01:19PM (#10747029) Journal
    And that we have a right to boycott Google?

    Why are there so many apologists for those at the top of the hierarchy? That is what I want to know. Are you masochists? Authority lovers? Idolizers of success?
  • Understanding Google (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Cokelee ( 585232 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @01:24PM (#10747066)

    Why Politics Don't Belong on Slashdot, And other useful info . . . :-P

    First off, Google is _very_ different from other search engines. They want to separate out blog content from other websites. They also put national news articles (that usually decay in a month or so) in, and they allow users to rate websites and add their input in a magical way to PageRank. Given all of this I do not believe this could be called political as implied by the editor or censorship (since it is impossible for a private company to actually be involved in censorship). Such statements imply that Google News would also not have stories on the events that occurred in the prison, since they don't want you to know about it. I think you might be seeing the results of people looking at the sites (that have the GoogleToolbar) and rating them poorly. Moreoever, the results shown on yahoo are from news services--these things may be searched from Somehow a plethora of results come up there [].

    This brings me to my subtitle: Politics don't belong on Slashdot. No one is going to get rid of the section, and even if they did, it doesn't matter now. The entire site is now an acceptable place to insert your political opinions without actually analyzing a situation. This doesn't lead to more coherent discussion, or in this case even restraint on the part of the editor to develop a conspiracy theory in one line (without having to even develop it because so many people are already have the same mindset that they're ready to jump on anything they can). From now on, politics will be acceptable discussion on Slashdot in any topic, and for that reason I think the site's technical discussion over time may be greatly diluted.

    This is neither a death wish, nor a threat to stop reading Slashdot. Slashdot may stay a good news site, but it's community is being threatened.

    -Adam Colclough

  • Re:You're guessing? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @01:24PM (#10747072) Journal
    It seems to only be the US version of google that censored. Performing the same search on (for example) reveals no censorship.
  • Re:mod nuts? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <richardprice@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:11PM (#10747341)
    Right, so it takes adequate training for you TO TREAT YOUR FELLOW MAN CORRECTLY? Its called morals, ethics and standards, and are fairly basic things.
  • Re:-1, Idiotic. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cicho ( 45472 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:12PM (#10747350) Homepage
    The information they're blocking is not even controversial. These are well-documented facts, the images are evidence, they're raw data. Google is blanking out portions of _history_.

    I've read about the many perceived problems with Google before and ignored them because Google is free to do whatever they want yadda yadda. But this is giving me a major pause.
  • by DankNinja ( 241851 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:42PM (#10747556) Homepage

    Not everyone here is decked out in tinfoil.

    It's people trying to find *any* justification for their belief system. They disregard all the possibilities they don't agree with. This is why Bush/Clinton/Kerry are apparently responsible for everything wrong in the world.

  • by mcbevin ( 450303 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:51PM (#10747613) Homepage
    Firstly, if you search google's standard search for 'abu ghraib photos', you'll find plenty of sites with the photos. No censorship there.

    The issue however regards google's image search.

    Firstly, this search has always by default filtered out offensive images, such as porn. Personally I think the Abu Ghraib images are much more offensive than a nude, so its perfectly understandable that these might be filtered out.

    It does however appear that even with the filter set to off, the pictures are still not found by the picture search.

    It is also worth mentioning that this has _nothing_ to do with google being 'slow' or 'old' - i.e. the pictures not showing up to it not being up-to-date. Google's normal search finds numerous sites which contain the torture images, and you can find - for example - recent images from the 2004 election already using the image search. While there is some variance in how long various images/sites take to appear on google, I find it completely implausible that this is the cause for the pictures not appearing. The original post also actually mentions that google _used_ to find these images.

    Thus it would indeed appear to be a case of censorship, if only on google's images search.

  • Re:Arab world (Score:4, Interesting)

    by NoOneInParticular ( 221808 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @03:59PM (#10748014)
    Oh no, you don't seem to understand. The first thing to do is to tell our friendly governments in the Arab world (this only excludes Syria and Lybia and possibly Tunisia at this point) that this whole idea of transforming actual education to a fundamentalist religious training was a tremendously bad idea of us.
    We know, we've told them for thirty years that this was the only way to counter the socialist menace that was threatening peace, but we can change our minds, can't we?

    Currently, the level of education in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, etc. is appalling. Students are required to spend more than half of their time studying the Koran, this includes technical education. This indeed to quell any thought of a fairer form of government (read: socialism). Unfortunately, this backfired, and now the Arab world is stuck with a generation of people that have no education whatsoever and are striving for the reformation of government based upon the principles of the Koran. Well, they did follow our suggestions.

    Trouble is, even if we do start to educate, with a well educated population, they might want to try socialism again, because face it, USA style capitalism is not something most people want. At least, I do not know of any stable democracy that implements it even close to the American way.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 07, 2004 @04:49PM (#10748394)
    Your image index is not updated as frequently as it should be, eh? Then why do searches for events such as "halloween 2004" -- which happened much more recently than the prison abuse -- show up just fine?
    halloween 2004 []
    We take this kind of stuff very seriously too, you know.
  • READ! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 07, 2004 @05:14PM (#10748600)
    As numerous people have pointed, the Google Image Search FAQ says they use NEWS photos. Guess what? Halloween is STILL in their news idex.
  • by metlin ( 258108 ) * on Sunday November 07, 2004 @06:30PM (#10749195) Journal
    I can kinda vouch for this -- my website ( has some images which were uploaded in 2001, and these still show up in Google Images, although they're long gone.

    While Google hasn't updated these pics, some of the newer pics from my school website gets updated pretty darn quickly.

    Although I cannot fathom why, I'd say it's probably true especially since I've experienced it first-hand.
  • by ESqVIP ( 782999 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @07:35PM (#10749713)
    Well, I'm buying it.

    My main reason is that when I do a Google Images search, the number of 404s I get when trying to see the actual pictures is fairly high; depending on the search, I think I already got over 50% broken links.

    So, the indication that Google Images' index is outdated does make sense to me. Just like the guy that reported his Morgan Webb picture is still indexed "7 months after it was removed".

    Now moving on, I'll happily wait for this update, so the image search gets useful again and returns more than a bunch of outdated links.

Think of it! With VLSI we can pack 100 ENIACs in 1 sq. cm.!