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Google's Blogger to put sexually explicit content behind privacy wall

The search company says any blog with sexually explicit content or graphic nudity will be made private as of March 23. Blogs created after that may be removed, depending on the severity of the content.

Google's Blogger platform will make its adult content much harder to access in the coming weeks, the search company has announced.

Starting on March 23, blogs with sexually explicit content or graphic nudity will be made private, the company said Monday. Google made assurances that no content will be deleted, but only the blog's owner, administrators on the blog, and those who have had the blog shared with them, will be able to see the explicit content.

Blogger, launched in 1999, was one of the earliest popular blog-publishing services. After attracting a loyal following with blogs centered on just about any topic, Blogger parent company Pyra Labs was acquired by Google in 2003 for an undisclosed sum. While the majority of content on Blogger has remained relatively safe for the average Web user, there is still a rather large contingent of bloggers who share graphic nudity and sexually explicit content on the service.

Google's move marks an important shift for the company, which has argued that the user-generated content on Blogger, including images and video depicting sexual activity, represents "freedom of expression." Rather than remove content, Google has slapped blogs with an "adult" tag if there is sexually explicit content in posts.

In its updated Blogger Content Policy, Google didn't shy away from its belief that users should be able to freely express what they want on its service, but the company cautioned that "in order to uphold these values, we need to curb abuses that threaten our ability to provide this service and the freedom of expression it encourages. As a result, there are some boundaries on the type of content that can be hosted with Blogger."

Google's desire for freedom of expression across Blogger has been cause for concern among many over the years. In 2011, for instance, then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) wrote a letter to Google CEO Larry Page asking that Blogger add a feature that would flag blogs for "terrorist content." Lieberman cited the arrest that year of an alleged pipe bomber who used Blogger to spread hate-filled posts and bomb-making instructions. The blog in question was subsequently taken down by Google.

Google's decision to turn current blogs that contain sexual content private could have a potentially major impact on those bloggers. Freelance blogger Violet Blue wrote on CNET sister site ZDNet on Monday that she was among those affected by the Blogger change, and argued that the modification to the content policy could cause many links to be scrubbed from the Internet.

"When Google forces its 'unacceptable' Blogger blogs to go dark, it will break more of the Internet than you think," Blue wrote. "Countless links that have been accessible on Blogger since its inception in 1999 will be broken across the Internet. For instance, with this new Blogger policy change, my personal blog (since 2001) will see over 500 blogspot.com links go dead."

Google has been clear that links will not necessarily "go dead," but rather turned to private. Indeed, the company wrote in a post on Monday that it will not remove content. The company also noted that posts that show nudity and offer "a substantial public benefit, for example in artistic, educational, documentary, or scientific contexts" will remain on the site.

Google faced similar outcry from some members in the Blogger community in 2013 when it announced that it would no longer allow bloggers to monetize their adult-oriented content. Adult bloggers at that time argued that the move was a violation of Blogger's pledge for free speech. Google stuck to its guns.

That wasn't the case in 2013 when Yahoo-owned Tumblr attempted to remove adult blogs from its search. After public outcry, Tumblr decided to restore the adult blogs in its search.

Google's decision to reverse its policy on sexual content has been roundly praised by such organizations as the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. Dawn Hawkins, executive director for the center, said in a statement Tuesday that Google's decision should be viewed as a victory.

"In today's world where child sexual abuse, sex slavery, and sexual violence have become rampant, Google recognizes that the promotion of pornography contributes to the growing public health crisis of exploitation," Hawkins said. "I applaud Google for stepping up as a global leader and for working to implement further cut backs to pornography and sexual exploitation."

Affected bloggers will either need to make their blogs private or remove all sexually explicit or graphic nude images from their posts between now and March 23. If everything is properly removed, Google will not make the blogs private.

New bloggers who want to create adult-oriented content on Google's service after March 23 could face outright removal of their blogs, depending on the severity of content.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.