Google announced back in May that Google Product Search will be replaced by Google Shopping, meaning a number of changes would be on the horizon for Google’s dedicated corner for online merchants. However, Google recently sent a letter to merchants of firearms and weapons that have listings on Google Shopping telling them that the sale of weapons will not be permitted through Google. “We do not allow the promotion or sale of weapons and any related products such as ammunitions or accessory kits on Google Shopping,” the Google Shopping Team wrote. “In order to comply with our new policies, please remove any weapon-related products from your data feed and then re-submit your feed in the Merchant Center.”
Do you feel that Google is entitled to make these sorts of decisions and prohibit the sale of certain items on Google Shopping? Who should dictate what’s acceptable and unacceptable to sell on the site? Tell us what you think in the comments.
Naturally, proponents of the 2nd Amendment are up in arms (hah) about Google’s decision to limit or prohibit the sale of firearms through its Shopping site. A petition has been posted on change.com that implores Google to “not interfere with our 2nd amendment rights…” and so far has collected over 300 signatures.
In light of Google’s announcement, searching for weapon-related terms on Google Shopping reflects this policy as you will no longer get any results from most of those searches.
For example, a search for “bullets”:
While specific terms related to firearms produce exactly zero results, strangely, a generic search of “guns” gave me millions of results (and these were pretty serious guns, too):
Additionally, I received some more shopping results when I searched for knives, arrows, crossbows, grenades (that do simulated explosions) (which actually included grenade launchers in the results, as well!), and uzi. Even searching for the plainly generic “weapons” gave me a few gun sights and at least one gun. So it doesn’t look like Google has exactly put a wholesale ban on the sale of firearms or firearm-related accessories (or other explosive stuff) – at least for now. Who knows if these results will get cleaned up so as to not offer any sorts of weaponry as the full implementation of Google Shopping takes place this fall, or if merchants’ weapon wares will be forcibly removed by Google should the sellers not comply.
As an aside, Google’s limitation on what kind of weapons you can buy isn’t limited to things you shoot. A search for non-lethal weapons like “stun gun” returned zero results, which makes this all the more confusing. To see the full list of what weapons are prohibited from promotion and which are acceptable, take a look at Google’s Advertising Policies, which are allegedly the guidelines being used for Google Shopping now.
While gun enthusiasts will, and perhaps logically so, take umbrage to Google’s removal of all weaponry listings on Google Shopping, Google isn’t really beholden to any consumer expectations. It’s a corporate business that makes whatever decisions it wants and we the consumers are simply using it by choice. Google is no more required to allow a space for merchants of bullets or shotguns to sell their products on Google Shopping than is a flea market required to allow anybody to set up a table and sell baseball cards if those flea market owners (for whatever reason) don’t agree with the values of baseball. If the private market you’re trying to use to promote your business doesn’t like you, you have little choice but go somewhere else.
More, Google isn’t prohibiting the search listings of weapons; this only (so far as I know) applies to Google Shopping. It’s still just as easy to go to google.com and search for “9mm ammo” and – presto – find many listings of websites that are selling this particular ammunition.
However, I anticipate that not being able to search and purchase weapons on Google Search will affect merchants more than consumers. This will relegate sellers to compete among general Google search rankings instead of being able to minimize the field of competition at Google Shopping. As Google says itself on the Google Shopping (née Product Search) page, “Product Search connects your products to the shoppers searching for them, helping you drive traffic and sales to your store.” If anything, especially if you’re an exclusively online vendor of guns or other weapons, I’d imagine that the diminished site traffic to a business’ page would be more immediately incendiary than Google Search simply no longer allowing the commercial sale of weapons. If anybody wanted to make some kind of legal case about this issue, I tend to think that a more convincing argument could be made that Google Shopping’s new policy harms small businesses than it diminishes citizens’ right to bear arms.
In the end, though, the plausibility of taking this charge to court doesn’t seem favorable because, as mentioned, this is Google’s world and we just live in it. Google was asked for comment regarding the policy change to Google Shopping and the subsequent petition of the decision but it has yet to reply as of this time.
For what it’s worth, Bing Shopping returned beaucoup results for “ammo” (and “9mm ammo”), “bullets,” and “shotgun.” Maybe Bing and Microsoft should start touting their gun-friendly search results among the NRA so as to gain a little more on Google’s lead in search?
Is this more of a free market issue or a 2nd Amendment issue? If you’re an online merchant that will be affected by Google Shopping’s policy change, do you plan to try selling your products elsewhere (like Bing or eBay)? Do you think this is a bad sign for business owners who use Google Shopping? Please share your reactions below.