Google has been accused of stifling free speech after it banned an ad attacking a paper manufacturer over its environmental record. The Wilderness Society paid to have its ad on Google promoting a boycott against a paper manufacturer that uses wood sourced from Australian old growth forests.
When web users typed ''office paper'', ''office stationery'' or the brand names Australian Paper and Reflex into Google, a link to the Wilderness Society's website, Ethical Paper, would appear at the top of the search engine's listings.
But after a complaint by the company at the centre of the boycott, Australian Paper, Google removed the ads saying that because the society didn't own the trademark for the popular paper brand, Reflex, it couldn't use the name in its ads.
The society's Google ads have since been replaced by one for an Australian Paper website defending its environmental policies. Turning the table on the society, the paper manufacturer has bought the search terms ''ethical paper'' in order to generate traffic to its site rather than the society's. However by yesterday afternoon the ads had disappeared from Google.
Freedom of speech campaigners said Google was using its muscle - more than 90% of online searches in Australia are on Google - to prevent a balanced debate.
Google said it encouraged disputing parties to settle the differences between themselves. ''Google isn't an arbiter of these disputes,'' a spokeswoman said.
[tags]google ads,australia,paper ads[/tags]