Amex thinks you might like piracy and child pornography

Last week, google announced its non-plan to combat piracy by dropping nefarious websites lower in their search rankings. I know, right? Take that, pirates!

Why not ban the sites outright? Money. Google's DoubleClick can make some serious cash serving their ads on these sites. We've written about it before.

But slowly the tide is changing. And it's changing because some advertisers have realized it's not good business to place an ad on an illegal website encouraging piracy and child pornography searches.

BMW recently did the right thing by pledging to drop its advertising from these illegal sites.

Eventually google will have to start to taking this issue more seriously as it loses revenue from companies like BMW. Money talks as always.

And if David Lowery, frontman for Cracker, and Camper Van Beethoven not to mention The Trichordist has anything to do with it, American Express might be next. They seem to be advertising on, which is a great resource for getting the latest pirated copies of your music and movies, as well as porn to appeal to the more prurient and depraved on the internet.

Lowery has sent us a letter written to Google's people, which you can read in its near entirety below. Screen captures are also courtesy of Lowery. (note: While Lowery has more screen captures, we have omitted some, but only for the sake of brevity.)

I am writing you again regarding the site There are several reasons.

First I never heard back from your company regarding the previous screenshots I sent. To refresh your memory these screenshots seemed to show Google’s DoubleClick serving ads on this illegal site which appears to link to illegal pornography. I was hoping to get an explanation or comment.

Secondly Google just announced it has begun to rank sites, specifically lower in search results specifically because they have received many DMCA complaints. (BTW my data seems to indicate that this change took place a while ago, and you are only just now announcing it?) While I applaud this action I’m wondering why not delist the site completely? And more importantly if Google knows that this site is full of infringing links why is DoubleClick (3 days later) still serving ads onto this site? Doesn’t this go against your stated advertising policies?

Finally after conferring with my colleagues I think I didn’t make it sufficiently clear that is automatically suggesting search terms and links to what appears to be illegal (read child) pornography. A user does not even have to type in a search phrase it’s right on the front page. Further you might be searching for something completely innocuous like “free photo editing software” and you are still served these links and suggestions. Here are some screenshots. Again I apologize that these shots are full of offensive language, but unfortunately it can’t be helped.

These two screenshots were taken a couple days apart. But this is the home page of with a completely sterile browser before any searches at all.

There are other places on this site that will suggest search terms and links. For instance after I search for a song by my band Camper Van Beethoven “Eye of Fatima” I get this page and am served these links and suggested search terms.

First at the bottom of the first search page I get these mysterious and untitled search suggestions.

...when I click on one of the other links to “Eye of Fatima” DoubleClick serves me an American Express advertisement.

David Lowery

Update: A google spokesperson has reached out to Lowery concerning this manner.

According to Lowery:

"A google spokesperson said that the publisher ie filestube was using doubleclick self-serve ad serving and it's since been disabled. they are looking into matters."

Lowery feels this brings up more questions than it answers. For instance, he wonders how it's possible that google can distance itself by saying it isn't it isn't 'serving' the ads on the site while making revenue at the same time.

"Then this brings up the question of what are google's controls on doubleclick. Any copyright infringing website can sign up for google's doubleclick self-serve?  Do the brands realize this is how doubleclick works?   What kind of value are the brands getting out of this? Doesn't this imply double clicks ad network is totally screwed up ?"

To put it in an other terms, what we are learning is that brands who use DoubleClick have no control over the media placement. Their ads can appear wherever. It's the equivalent to a beer ad inadvertently ending up running during Saturday morning cartoons. Except judging by some of the search results below, it's a hundred times worse.

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Anonymous Adgrunt's picture
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Dabitch's picture

"couples bang the babysitter"? Stay classy, American Express, that's probably not the sort of site you want to be seen on. Beerads during Saturday morning cartoon indeed.

AnonymousCoward's picture

Whatever. Many men fantasy about it.

kidsleepy's picture

Ah, Anonymous Coward! You must have found us accidentally through your "couples bang the babysitter" search. Congratulations! So glad we could make "every men fantasy" come true.

Dabitch's picture

@AnonymousCoward , I'm sure they do, but I thought when they get there, they don't take American Express, only Visa is where you want to be. These banner ads have me thinking that I have been misinformed.

Kylemac's picture

Does this dude understand that 18 year old and 19 year olds are "Teens"? Hardly child porn. "14 virgin sex" is suspicious, but it doesn't actually say "14-year-old". It is suspicious as hell - yes. But it is not paint red-circling "proof".

And anyone that suspects child porn needs to be contacting the AUTHORITIES, not Google. Geez.

AnonymousCoward's picture

When advertisers buy ads, do they not know that they are buying space via Doubleclick or Google?

Dabitch's picture

Kylemeac, the point is, a very large brand such as American Express probably doesn't want to be seen next to content that may or may not be child porn? It doesn't matter of it's "pretend child porn" with barely legal posing in teeny school skirts or ACTUAL CHILD PORN, both ideas are not good brand value.

kidsleepy's picture

Of course they do. The question is rather, does google mind the fact they are selling adspace on ILLEGAL websites that are pirating movies, music, and porn. Whether it's "illegal" porn or not is not the point. I don't care what kink people are into. You are missing the point. The point is, it's all illegal because it hasn't been paid for. You get it? This is the same as a corporation's ad going on Megaupload which has been shut down by the feds. So yes if you trace the money back, the advertisers can easily figure out where their ads are going. the question is how much longer will they get away with it? How much longer will they be able to get off scott free before they keep getting called on it? Probably not much longer.

And to, @Kylemac: Traci Lords was also one of the hyperlink searches. As you my know, she happened to do 90% of her movies before she was 18. I.E. underage porn.

Kylemac's picture

Geez all - you need to learn about straw men.

The main point that the AUTHOR makes is that the site is about CHILD porn. The fact remains that this argument is invalid, because there is no evidence of actual child porn (kidsleepy, I'm not as well-acquainted with Traci Lords underage pornography career as YOU seem to be - I do, however, know that her NON-pornography credits are over twice as long as her porn credits. Are these people searching for that? I wouldn't know - but saying that searching for Traci Lords automatically means "child porn" is as false as saying searching for "teen porn" means child porn).

Yeah, piracy's illegal. At what point did I say it wasn't? The author made points A and B - I simply stated that point A was not as credible as they thought it was.

Don't be insulted by facts, peeps.

kidsleepy's picture

Okay Kylemac. You have made the point that such search terms as "anal teen," and "couples bang the baby sitter," are respectable search terms and that there is no evidence of child porn inherent in their words. However, I'm not sure why this really matters in the end. Because Mr. Lowery could have easy circled "fuck big tits," or "sex porn," or "wrestling girls naked" or any of the search terms and it would have been the same thing.

How could it be the same thing? Well, as we've stated ad nauseam, the sites are illegal to begin with (the opening paragraph of Lowery's letter point this out.) But the more important point for adland is that brands like American Express have ads that are being placed on these sites. And while I'm sure that your pointing out that the porn the world downloads on these sites is in all probability (although not necessarily) perfectly legal (I.e. 18 and over) it really does little to assuage Amex's anxiety in this matter. Think about it: If I'm a big ol' company, do I really want my ads running here? If BMW is any indication, the answer is hell no.

Oh, and Mr Lowery also points out the fact that these search terms are appearing automatically. In other words, no one was searching for it. Which is even creepier, when he demonstrates you can search for something completely innocuous and still be served up something x-rated. It makes the point even more relevant that Brands kind of have a duty to enact a vetting process when it comes to where they 're placing their ads.

As for your professed lack of knowledge of Traci Lords. You're right, she has made a lot of movies. Perhaps you're not as old enough as I am to remember when her career got off to its inauspicious start and she made national news for movies other than "Cry-Baby."

Dabitch's picture

Perfectly legal in age of the actors perhaps, but there's been plenty of cases where porn has been infringed and then embedded into other sites where there's ads all around it. Both Google and Facebook filed papers in support of MyVidster, the site that embeds infringing pornography clips. So many legal twists here that it'll give you a headache.

Still, American Express probably doesn't want to be seen next to Hot Anal Mistress, and not when the user was searching for something unrelated and non x-rated such as "photography lenses".

AnonymousCoward's picture

As soon as you see "the straw man" reference surface you know that you have encountered a PAID blogger/commenter from the EFF/PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE/GOOGLE scumoplex. defending illegal porn. nice!!!

Dabitch's picture

I think the most interesting thing about this underage porn straw man / aunt sally, is that the possible underage porn isn't even the point, making the straw man attack here, the actual straw man in the argument. IRONY.

kidsleepy's picture

Anything to detract from the truth that Google is selling adspace to big brands on sites that are illegal, and doing nothing to stop the cash flow except moving them further down the search lists. It's no wonder people are skeptical about it.

AnonymousCoward's picture

How do you know he hasn't reported to the authorities as well?

kidsleepy's picture

Last time I *are* the authorities. ;)

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