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“Never in history has one corporation and one source had so much power over what we know and don’t know.”

That’s Pando’s Mark Ames writing last week about the massive influence Google holds over the flow and accessibility of information on the Web. “If it’s not Google-able, it’s presumed to have been deleted from the historical record,” Ames adds. The discussion arose out of Google’s compliance with new “right to be forgotten laws” in Europe mandating that the tech giant remove links to pages with “inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant” information. So far, the way Google has carried out these requests has been far from perfect, raising serious concerns about the company’s effective monopoly over information.

But there’s another recent Google rule change that, while seemingly more trivial, raises equally troubling questions about how the company dictates the informational architecture of the Web.

Last week, a new Google policy took effect banning “ads that promote graphic depictions of sexual acts.” A family values group called “Morality in Media” (MIM) claims it played a role in convincing Google to take a stronger stance against adult content after meeting with the company in May.

Now the porn industry is fighting back. In an open letter published today, Todd Glider, CEO of the lifestyle/porn site BaDoink (think the Internet’s answer to Playboy), calls out Google for bowing down to the whims of conservative activists:

“When an organization as visionary, powerful and dominant as Google starts kowtowing to shrewd, faith-based special interest groups with federal lobbyists like Patrick A. Trueman at the helm, it’s a sad day for freedom, and a sad day for IT,” Glider writes.

Google refused to comment when asked if MIM influenced its decision. In the company’s defense, the policy change is consistent with other recent efforts to curb indecent content in its ecosystem, like banning porn on Google Glass.

But Glider raises another salient point that should worry anyone who, for whatever reason, finds itself at odds with the search giant. The last line of Google’s policy on sexually explicit content reads, “We don’t allow this content regardless of whether it meets applicable legal restrictions around this kind of content.” That, to Glider, is an extremely telling and troubling indication of Google’s approach to ads and websites it’s decided it doesn’t like:

“To me, what’s most disconcerting about this policy is summed up by that last sentence, about legal restrictions being largely irrelevant. Google, old friend, you’re better than this. As one of the most powerful and influential companies on the planet, you are on surest footing when laws, not ambiguous moral precepts, shape policy.”

In other words, Google removing search results because European law demands it is a far cry from banning ads that link to sexually explicit, but entirely legal, websites – whether it’s done due to pressure from interest groups or pressure from other paying advertisers. The company has not gone so far to remove or downgrade porn in search results, but that’s the next logical step. And it already may be doing so on a case-by-case basis. Google “BaDoink” and the site is the seventh listing, underneath less relevant links to the company’s video downloader in the app store and news articles related to the company. Search for “BaDoink” on Bing and it’s predictably the first result.

It’s a bit ironic that BaDoink has borne the brunt of Google’s anti-porn ire. The site, which is more of a lifestyle magazine than a full-on porn bonanza, is entirely PG-13 with the exception of its “VIP” section which is behind a paywall. Meanwhile, if you Google “Pornhub,” a site that boldly displays hardcore pornographic scenes right on its homepage, it sits squarely atop the search results.

I don’t mean to turn an industry as exploitative as pornography into victims. But Glider’s point that Google bases its decisions on factors unrelated to legality is an important one. You may despise pornography, but the specter of “family values” has often been used to attack anything that threatens traditional Christian morality, from homosexuality to books about wizards. I doubt Google will ban Out Magazine or Harry Potter anytime soon, but what about links to, say, a provocative work of art like Piss Christ? Or ads for birth control?

As tech companies like Google gain more and more power, they also become more and more involved in politics to ensure they get to keep and aggregate more of that power. Family values institutions are just one of many interest groups in Washington that could pressure Google to police its search results in one way or another. And while Google has a right to conduct its business however it sees fit as long as it doesn’t run afoul of the law, as a monopolist of information it has a responsibility to do better.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]