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Blocked anti-Obama blogs spur Google probe

- The Washington Times - Monday, July 7, 2008

Does Google Inc. violate the same "neutrality" principles that it wants mandated for Internet providers like Comcast Corp.?

That's the argument being made by some who accuse the search behemoth of hypocrisy when it comes to free speech on the Internet.

Here's the deal: Mountain View, Calif.-based Google recently drew the ire of several authors of anti-Obama blogs, hosted on the company's Blogger platform, whose posting rights were temporarily suspended after Google identified as them "potential spam blogs."

"You will not be able to publish posts to your blog until we review your site and confirm that it is not a spam blog ... Sincerely, the Blogger Team," Google said in an e-mail to the owner of Come a Long Way, one of at least seven blogs that were shut down. The affected blogs are all opposed to the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, and have a common association with the anti-Obama Web site JustSayNoDeal.com.

The suspension lasted five days in the case of comealongway.blogspot.com, according a post on the author's new site at comealongway.wordpress.com. Several of the affected bloggers told Simon Owens of Bloggasm.com that they suspect supporters of Mr. Obama used Google's "flag" function to report them as spam.

The company is looking into what happened but thinks the blogs were accidentally identified by spam detection software, Google spokesman Adam Kovacevich said.

"It appears that our anti-spam filters caused some Blogger accounts to be blocked from creating new posts," he said. "While we are still investigating, we believe this may have been caused by mass spam e-mails mentioning the 'Just Say No Deal' network of blogs, which in turn caused our system to classify the blog addresses mentioned in the e-mails as spam. We have restored posting rights to the affective blogs and it is very important to us that Blogger remain a tool for political debate and free expression."

Not everyone is satisfied with that explanation.

"While Google claims to be a neutral gatekeeper, the pattern of evidence increasingly suggests otherwise," said Scott Cleland, president of McLean-based Precursor LLC and chairman of Netcompetition. org, which opposes so-called "net neutrality" regulation that would prohibit Internet service providers from slowing or blocking Web applications that hog bandwidth, among other provisions.

Mr. Cleland suggested the company is censoring content, violating one of the very net neutrality principles - as enumerated by the Federal Communications Commission - they are pushing to be codified in federal legislation.

Google is one of many prominent Internet firms, including Amazon.com, Yahoo and eBay, that warn of the ability of ISPs to potentially block Web traffic and content at their discretion.

I asked Mr. Kovacevich if Google had any response to his comments.

"Mr. Cleland is paid to criticize Google by the phone and cable companies who disagree with us on net neutrality, so one must take his criticism-for-hire with a heavy dose of salt," he said.

(For the record, Netcompetition.org is mostly phone and cable companies, but there are some other members, such as Parents Protecting California, the Manhattan Libertarian Party and the Prince Georges County Black Chamber of Commerce.)

E-mail Kara Rowland.