April 30, 1999 1:15 PM PDT

GeoCities' porn ads spark controversy

GeoCities' plan to cash in on the lucrative online adult advertising industry has earned it a steaming controversy.

The home page community, long known for shunning sexually explicit content on its pages, late last month started serving banner ads for pornography sites. The ads appear only on results pages after users search on sexual terms.

Objections to the new policy have GeoCities fending off complaints about the introduction of pornography to the site, along with accusations of imposing a double standard.

"Why is GeoCities supporting porn?" asked one poster to a GeoCities message board. "I thought GeoCities was supposed to be a pornless site, with no toleration for porn whatsoever?!"

GeoCities says its motivation for launching the ads is purely financial.

"Obviously advertising is a major revenue stream for the company," said GeoCities spokesperson Nick Edgar. "So that's obviously a reason for doing this. There's also a cost associated with keywords."

With keyword advertising, sites charge advertisers to serve ads on results pages for specific search terms. For example, an auto dealer could purchase at a premium the banner ad for search results on "convertible," knowing that the user is more likely to be interested in his or her product.

Edgar also defended the company's decision to maintain its ban on sexually explicit content even while it serves pornography ads.

"We don't see this as a double standard," Edgar said. "We want to keep it a clean site and not have this kind of content on it."

Those who search GeoCities pages for sex-related terms get the following message: "GeoCities does not provide this type of content. If you would like to search the Web for this term or phrase, click here." That second click yields results for non-GeoCities Web pages. Both the first and second pages feature the pornography ads.

GeoCities argues that because the new ads are served only to those who search on related terms, users are protected from stumbling on sexually explicit content they do not want to see.

When asked whether the site could set up a similar intervening warning page for GeoCities pages with sexually explicit content, Edgar said: "We're not in the business of allowing GeoCities members to build porn sites.

"We simply differentiate the search tool from the Web hosting service we provide," he added. "If people want to find that kind of content elsewhere, that's fine. If someone is specifically searching for that content, we direct them through the ads to somewhere else outside of GeoCities."

GeoCities earlier this year agreed to be acquired by portal giant Yahoo, a site with more permissive policies on sexually explicit content. But Edgar said the decision to run the porn ads was made in-house, and that the Yahoo acquisition had nothing to do with it. The dispute was first reported by the New York Times.

 

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