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My open letter to Google

Dear Larry Page, Sergey Brin & Co.,

I am a huge Google/Gmail/GoogleMaps/GoogleSMS fan and a web developer. If rumors are true about your developing a merchant system to compete with PayPal Pro services, I will be excited to use it.

However, after seeing an open letter from pornographer Sam Sugar to Google. I must express my concerns with a Google payment system supporting the adult industry. Contrary to Mr. Sugar’s rhetoric, support the adult/porn industry is the wrong thing to do. It goes against Google’s mantra of doing no evil. Pornography is a filthy tar in our society; common maybe, but definitely the stuff of back alleys and less-reputable companies. Don’t let pornography tarnish the Google name. I personally would avoid and discredit a Google payment system if it were to support the porn industry. PayPal, who has chosen to avoid the financially and morally risky adult industry, is the baseline. If Google does at least this much, I have no doubts that the Google payment system will be the best in the world.

Richard K Miller


13 replies on “My open letter to Google”

Well done Richard. I saw this post in June but just now see the many comments it has received. And I think everything that has been said by one side could be expected by the other. There aren’t any big surprises here. We each know what the other has to say.

Of course pornography is huge and getting bigger, and certainly is a large part of many of the big industries. But does prevalence make it okay? Does popularity? Do 800 million wrongs a year make a right? I doubt we are buying in to all those wrongs with a clear understanding of what it’s really costing us.

It seems unfair to consider the anti-pornographers as just another “vocal minority,” comparing them to other minorities that often drown out the collective voice of the people (an idea alluded to in Sam Sugar’s open letter). Though many, many individuals (pornography does not tend to be a group activity) take part in pornography, when we come together as a society we overwhelmingly decide that pornography is bad for us. That’s why so few pornographers prefer to make their porn habits known to others. Because we (the collective group) frown on it. Because it’s bad. And there are many involved in it that frown on it as well, knowing how terrible it is. But the addiction is powerful. I don’t look forward to the day that we collectively stop frowning on the things that will weaken and destroy us as a people.

But even if every person on the planet embraces pornography as a blessing to mankind, it won’t make it right. Or decent. Or praiseworthy.

Richard, I praise your stand on the matter. I’ve always looked to you as an example of actively standing up for what you believe in. Your example shows through on all levels. Thank you for never letting me down.

DNDJM, thanks for your comment.

I don’t doubt that pornography is popular. Neither do I doubt that pornography is a driver of some technologies for some people (though I am disappointed.)

I still believe the costs outweigh the benefits.

Apologies for my delay in responding to everyone who left comments. I switched blog software in the middle of our discussion.

Bill, thanks again for your comments. You mentioned the difficulty in “legislating morality” — a phrase I have heard before. I think the phrase presses buttons for free speech and separation-of-church-and-state advocates because it uses a word you’d expect to hear in government and another you’d expect to hear in church.

I’d argue, however, that the entire legal system has always been about legislating morality. We punish convicted murderers by prison or death because we collectively agree that murder is wrong. We don’t (yet) hear people arguing that they have the right to murder. “Thou shalt not kill” has been our morality for thousands of years, and fortunately we still believe it.

We punish people that steal. We don’t (yet) hear people arguing that they have a right to steal. “Thou shalt not kill” has also been law for thousands of years, and we still believe it.

Contrast this with sexuality. Christians, Jews, and Muslims have held for thousands of years that sex is reserved for man and wife (“thou shalt not commit adultery” or something similar depending on the religion.) Adultery was punished by death. Since then, adultery gone from being punished by the law, to ignored by the law, to frowned upon by society, to not cared about at all. A lot of this desensitization has happened in the last 50 years.

The same desensitization has occurred with “don’t bear false witness” and “honor your father and mother”.

It has also occurred with how much skin is acceptable on TV.

For thousands of years the law, in a very general and oversimplified sense, has been the Ten Commandments. Of those 10, we now as a society respect about 5 of them, and enforce by law only 2-3 of them.

Legislating morality is only difficult when we have different moralities, and I agree that our society has several.

You brought up what for me is the crux of the problem with today’s new breed of moralists: the linking, without comment or apparent critical thought, of morality and sexual behavior. You quote the founding fathers in another of your posts as stating the importance of moral behavior to the effective governance of the people. However while you somehow regard as self-evident that they were referring to sexual conduct and/or promiscuity, they make no such claim. In fact, Thomas Jefferson is known to have fathered at least one ‘illegitimate’ child with a slave and Benjamin Franklin is widely regarded to have been a ‘worldly’ and well-traveled man, versed in what he referred to as “the corporal pleasures” of life. My take is that the immoral behavior of many of the corporations that currently drive our national agenda is more what they had in mind. Of course, I don’t know this for a fact, but then, either do you.
While it is true that many of those who make their bones selling adult materials are slimy individuals, many are not. Your claim that porn is “definitely the stuff of back-alleys and less reputable companies” Is ludicrous and ill-informed hyperbole. I know for a fact that many are honest, compassionate, hard-working people who happen to not share your view that sexuality should be repressed. In fact, my belief is that our repression of sexuality – unique to the US among developed nations – is what leads ultimately to the very underground market for the more vile examples of pornography that you wish to stamp out. It leads ultimately to the scandal of pedophilia among the clergy. It is simply not healthy to surround sexual expression with such shock, outrage and shame.
This very week an incident in the news brought this all into focus for me – although it seems everyone is missing the obvious angle; Rock Star games was forced to pull copies of its hit video game Grand Theft Auto – San Andres off of store shelves because hacks found hidden sex scenes. The outrage to me is that this is a game where you can kill innocents with realistic blood, steal cars, run down people on the street, vandalize buildings, etc. But it is only when sex is included that we find it unsuitable for children. And only then that it makes the national news. Unbelievable.
I appreciate your views, and I appreciate the freedom that allows you to voice them and me the freedom to disagree – all out in the open. An analogy: Those who oppose gun control tend to operate on principal, ignoring statistics and facts which might lead one to support controls because – after all – most gun owners are good, responsible people who shouldn’t have a basic right taken away because some abuse that right. As such, purveyors of erotic material should not be squelched by the truly arbitrary opposition of a narrow-minded subset of society, just because some of those purveyors are ‘less reputable’. As someone else suggested, if you choose to boycott Google, fine. That is certainly your right. But don’t try to pass judgments that limit my right to choose otherwise. After all, as with countless other things opposed on moral grounds in the past, history will likely prove you to be wrong.

Don’t discredit porn’s contribution.

Do you think the video industry could have blossomed as it did without porn on VHS? Porn on video is what actually killed off those dicey “back alley” porn theatres–something which a thousand moral crusades had failed to do.

If there is a popular demand for porn– and there is– the product will not be denied. Did you know that even in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, men by the hundreds were risking prison (or worse) by surfing for porn in little out-of-the-way internet cafes?

Did you also know that many of the earliest commercially successful silent movies were hardcore pornography? Shocking but true. A lot of projectors and film cameras were bought for that sole reason. Ditto for still photography. We’ve all seen those “French Post Cards”. You can even go as far back as the printing press and printed books. As soon as people got their own Bibles, what was the very next thing they started demanding? You got it. Porn was the secret reason a heck of a lot of people got their first AOL accounts, DVD players, eBay accounts and pay TV subscriptions. It has paved the way for almost every major visual medium, without whose dollars many would have floundered, denying us much of the wholesome, family-safe content that everyone can enjoy.

The bottom line is, porn has been with us for many decades if not centuries, and has existed just fine in its niche, making its own contribution. If you don’t want to watch porn, or use Google to buy porn, then don’t. And please feel free to teach your kids the same. Just don’t treat the rest of us like we’re YOUR kids.

That’s a good example but now you are aware of the money cable companies and search engines make from porn. Do you have cable service (TV or high speed internet) and are you going to shut it off? Are you going to stop using, well, all of the large search engines? You mention using this criteria when you have a choice but aren’t your values more important than convenience?

Spending a few moments looking through your site I see that combating pornography’s dangerous effects is important to you, which makes my question seem fair. However, independent of whether I agree or disagree with your position, I do believe that legislating morality is difficult–even the Supreme Court hasn’t been able to arrive at a reasonable definition. It can all too easily become dangerous as well–what happens when politicians, imperfect human beings as we all are, decide that there are other topics too damaging to our psyches to be allowed in the media?

Thanks for your comment, Bill.

I obviously don’t know all the intricacies of corporate America as it pertains to who is involved in pornography and who isn’t, to what degree, etc. But when a choice is available, I try to choose the non-porn/anti-porn route — i.e., companies and people that stand for morality and decency. I don’t feel any regret or hypocrisy that I can’t do it perfectly.

As an example, I had used for several years to register domain names, but I have stopped using them since their racy Super Bowl ad came out this January. Besides being tasteless, the ad was pointless. It didn’t explain what GoDaddy does nor did it portray GoDaddy as a serious, respectable company. Makes you wonder why they ran the ad, until you read the blog of Bob Parsons (founder of GoDaddy), wherein he derides his customers that express dissatisfaction with the ad, saying thinks like “loosen up” or “get over it” or “it’s no big deal.” That’s the language you’d expect to hear from a school bully for not smoking his cigarette, not from the president of company.

I’ve since registered half a dozen domain names, avoiding GoDaddy every time. I have registered a couple of them with a local hosting company that doesn’t host porn sites. Their interface isn’t quite as powerful as GoDaddy’s, but I’d prefer not to patronize Bob Parsons since he is so blatantly and arrogantly derides what’s important to millions of families and homes.

Given Jason’s assertion, which I agree with, do you do business with any cable or large media companies and do you use search engines since (as Sam Sugar’s open letter points out) they make plenty of revenue already from having porn sites in their indexes? I guess I’m wondering where you draw the line between acceptable and not. This is a very interesting topic to me–the way individuals draw lines between good and bad, not using porn ;)–and so I really do want to see a good, explicit answer if you’re willing.

I agree with Jakub that size and prominence do not equate with good. An excellent example I saw yesterday is Rebecca MacKinnon’s posting on Cisco’s dealings with Chinese police ( –Cisco execs have clearly decided that the revenue involved in supplying the Chinese censors is more important than supporting people there who want the same (or similar) freedoms we have in the West.

Thanks for the open letter. There’s not much I would add to it, I totally agree. “Mainstream” does not automatically mean “good”, and “Fortune 500” does not awe me.

If there’s a place where I could add my voice to support the “no-porn” Google payment system, and encourage all my friends to do so as well, please let me know…

Fair comment, Jason.

I think you’d agree, though, that being a large company doesn’t make you reputable in a moral sense (and not necessarily in a financial sense either.) I am referring to being morally reputable.

There’s a “back alley” stigma around porn (rightly so) or “mainstream companies” wouldn’t have a problem talking about it. They can’t put up two fronts, so they hide the less respectable one.

Your comments show how uninformed you are.

“the stuff of back alleys and less-reputable companies”…

The largest distributors of porn are fortune 500 companies like satellite and cable operators Direct TV and Comcast or hotel chains like Mariotts. Porn is very mainstream, it is just something no mainstream company talks about.

Well done Richard. One may be anti-porn, but unless he is active in protesting then it avails to nothing.

Good job on being active. Perhaps you can post an email address for others to write to?

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