‘Google treats us like porn’: Lelo joins chorus of complaints against Big Tech’s treatment of sextech

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lelo google complaint

Lelo is the latest sextech brand to slam Google and social media platforms, such as TikTok, for blocking sex-related content and limiting promotion of their business.

Valentina Holjevac, Lelo’s head of content, accused Google of treating the sextech company like a “porn star” when it came to categorizing the brand’s content. Holjevac also called for social media platforms like TikTok to establish partnership programs with sextech companies to more accurately flag which content is safe for users.

If Google’s explicit results filter is turned on, which is the default setting for many users, it blocks much sextech product-related content from search results. TikTok has limits on open discussion of sex and does not allow the use of words such as “orgasm” and “clitoris” on the video platform.

Facebook and Instagram have stringent policies about sex-related content, and do not usually allow adverts for sexual pleasure-related products or services.

Measures like these severely limit brands’ opportunities to market and advertise online, especially to members of Gen Z, a key target market. Lelo has, however, had success marketing on TikTok by producing videos that don’t explicitly talk about the ins and outs of their products, as shown above.

“In the eyes of Google, we’re no different from a porn star,” Holjevac told Adweek. “We can’t use the traditional ad channels like Google ads, Instagram or Facebook. It’s ironic because we all grow up with this idea that sex sells, but I guess it sells everything apart from sex toys,” she added.

Lelo has accused TikTok of shadowbanning the brand’s content: making it less viewable to users without outright banning it. TikTok has denied shadowbanning any users.

Holjevac called for closer communication between TikTok bosses and industries such as hers. She said it would be positive “if they could develop some kind of partnerships program where they could flag which channels or tags were safe, or have a person checking the content who could flag it as safe.”

lelo ida wave 3
Lelo’s Ida Wave 3

Lelo’s advertising and marketing problems are common in the wider industry. Many sextech companies brand themselves as making ‘wellness’ and ‘sexual health’ products rather than pure sexual pleasure products. Despite this, they still find themselves categorized by search engines, social media platforms and retail sites among more titillating sexual content. Indeed, we (SEXTECHGUIDE) suffer the same treatment, along with our sister-site at SEXTECH.CO.UK.

Recently sextech retailer Lovehoney criticized Google for blocking direct links to its site in some search results.

The company says that changes to Google’s SafeSearch function, designed to prevent minors from viewing explicit content in search results, had prevented hundreds of thousands of potential customers from finding its site.

Read next: ‘I can’t say clitoris or orgasm without being flagged’: Meet Anna Lee, Lioness co-founder, sextech engineer and TikTok queen

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Jamie F

Jamie F

Jamie is a freelance writer, contributing to outlets such as The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph, CNN and Vice.

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