Guns and accessories, ammunition, knives, and other weapons are no longer allowed in Google Shopping listings, though consumers will still find these items in organic search results.
The weapons ban is part of Google’s transition to paid PLAs (Product Listing Ads) and has some Americans protesting the move as a violation of their Second Amendment rights.
Google recently sent an email to AdWords customers explaining the change. It read, in part:
3) Google Shopping should comply with local laws and regulations. Many products and services are regulated by law, which can vary from country to country. All advertising, as well as the products and services being advertised, must clearly comply with all applicable laws and regulations. For the most part, our policies aren’t designed to describe every law in every country. All advertisers bear their own responsibility for understanding the laws applicable to their business. Our policies are often more restrictive than the law, because we need to be sure we can offer services that are legal and safe for all users.
4) Google Shopping should be compatible with Google’s brand decisions. Google Shopping must be compatible with company brand decisions. Our company has a strong culture and values, and we’ve chosen not to allow ads that promote products and services that are incompatible with these values. In addition, like all companies, Google sometimes makes decisions based on technical limitations, resource constraints, or requirements from our business partners. Our policies reflect these realities.
Google last made changes to their AdWords policy for weapons in January 2012, when they banned those weapons classified as restricted, citing legal reasons for the policy update.
In 2007, Google had already taken a stance against gun-related content, booting blogs about guns from the AdSense program. Google’s policies have long prevented site owners from displaying AdSense ads on websites with “content related to certain weapons and weapon accessories, such as firearms, balisongs, butterfly knives, and brass knuckles.”
Weapons Ban Sparks Protest, Petition Based on Second Amendment Rights
A human rights petition launched by an Arizona resident, protesting Google’s Adwords weapons ban, has collected just over 600 signatures in the few days since the policy change was announced. The petition reads, in part:
Google has been a free hub for our society to prosper and live free despite the government’s meddling. Now, due to a “policy change” they have banned all weapons and weapon related sales from Google Shopping. This has started to severely affect many people’s ability to find good prices on things ranging from knives to swords to hunting rifles and ammo, to axes. Why does Google feel the need to tell people they cannot shop online for legal items?
The problem with this logic is that Google’s transition of Google Shopping to a commercial model separates its results from the organic index. Consumers can still search for guns, ammunition, knives and other items banned from PLAs by using regular Google Search.
Google does indeed have the right to ban product categories from paid search listings at their discretion. Other banned categories include cars, tobacco, and essays or practice tests that promote cheating. In some countries, services such as abortions are banned from paid search.
In short, Google has the legal right to choose whether to sell specific types of advertising. Users can still search for these items in regular search.
See the full list of banned/allowed weapons for the new Google Shopping, according to AdWords policy: