Drugs are out and sex is in, at least when it comes to advertising on Internet search engines.
Yahoo and, most recently, Google have moved to restrict ads from unlicensed pharmacies in attempts to address concerns about illegal sales of drugs online. But those efforts to police drug advertisers do not carry over to restricting online sex ads. In fact, Yahoo and America Online have changed their policies to earn more money from Internet searches related to pornography.
Over the last few months, a trade group for legitimate pharmacies has lobbied the search engines to stop accepting advertising from pharmacies that do not have licenses, many of which are overseas.
Last month, Overture Services, which sells advertising that appears on Yahoo, Microsoft's MSN and other search engines, stopped taking advertising for Internet pharmacies. Overture, which was recently acquired by Yahoo, plans to resume accepting ads from some online pharmacies early next year, once it can find an outside company to determine which pharmacies are legitimate.
Yesterday, Google said that it would also stop accepting advertising from unlicensed pharmacies. That change was first reported by The Washington Post yesterday.
Google sells the advertising on the search service of America Online, a division of Time Warner. AOL says that its policy has long banned ads from unlicensed pharmacies, but that Google has not always been able to block such ads from the AOL search pages.
Google said that despite its more restrictive drug advertising policy, its main search results would continue to list all sites found for a drug term, whether or not the site was a licensed pharmacy. A Google spokesman said in an e-mail message that he was unavailable yesterday to clarify the statement.
At almost the same time, policies on sex-related ads are being relaxed. In October, America Online started earning money from searches for pornography on its search site.
Now, a search for a sexual term on AOL returns a page noting that the search might produce "adult" content. This page gives the user two options. The first, presented in larger type, offers to hunt for the term using "Adult Search Fantasy Finder," which is described as "an independent adult search service." The second choice is to use AOL's own search service, which is provided mostly by Google.
Both options can quickly lead to pornography, but the search results provided by Google do not have advertising or otherwise produce revenue for America Online. (Google does sell ads related to sexual terms on its own site.) But Andrew Weinstein, an AOL spokesman, said that Adult Search Fantasy Finder paid AOL to receive online traffic from its search site.
Adult Search Fantasy Finder is run by a company called Bullseye9 in Westminster, Colo., which charges money to pornography sites for listing them. Mr. Weinstein declined to discuss the financial arrangement between AOL and Bullseye9, other than to say it represented a small percentage of AOL's search revenue. Bullseye9 executives did not return several calls for comment.
Gary Kremen, chief executive of Sex.com, another search site that specializes in pornography, said that advertisers typically pay about 10 cents for each user who clicks on an ad linked to their sites, and that a pornography search engine might pay a company like America Online two-thirds of its revenue in return for the traffic.
Mr. Weinstein said that America Online had not changed its policy of rejecting sex-related advertising. The arrangement with Bullseye9 is a "content partnership" that provides a service to AOL users, rather than advertising, he said.
Several other search engines have long had similar links to specialized pornography search services. MSN, for example, offers those searching for sexual terms a link to NightSurf, a pornography search service run by Webpower, a company in Lake Worth, Fla.
Kristen Batch, a spokeswoman for Microsoft, said the company declined to discuss any aspect of its advertising for pornography or its relationship with NightSurf.
Yahoo!, which had a lucrative business from sex-related advertising in its early years, decided in 2001 to restrict such advertising and to eliminate the section in its shopping area that was devoted to sex videos and merchandise. But when it acquired Overture last month, Yahoo also took over operations of two other search engines, Alta Vista and AlltheWeb. These sites had long displayed sexually related advertising, and Yahoo did not change that policy.
Posted on aef.com: December 5, 2003
Saul Hansell, The New York Times. December 2, 2003
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