Is Google Censoring the Search Function?

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Google has apparently succumbed to pressure from the entertainment industry and blocked many piracy-related terms from the "autocomplete" and "instant" function on its search bar. The blockage, which mainly involves torrent-related websites, will not affect that outcomes of the actual search, and the results at the moment, seem somewhat arbitrary. Type in 'bittorent,' and you're on your own, 'pirate music' and the results for the Pirate Bay will come up instantly.

Google already has restricted these two functions from pornographic and potentially illegal searches, and their selective choices for what 'autocomplete' will help you search for (you type: "How to kill a person", Google suggests: and "get away with it") and won't (you type: "Sex positions" and Google gives you a blank screen) reveal some curious cultural biases. Is that us or them? Is it censorship in the first place? Do we really want Google assisting us with our searches at all? (And why don't pirates have peg legs any more? Googling now...). Here's some of the debate around this pseudo-censorship:

  • Commercial Censorship  "It's taken a while, but Google has finally caved in to pressure from the entertainment industries ... The entertainment industries' quest to root out piracy on the Internet has yet again resulted in commercial censorship," says TorrentFreak.
  • Why Us and Not Them?  "There's no reason for Google to throttle search results for our trademarks ... Indeed, they do still enable autocomplete for many third-party clients that use the BitTorrent protocol, including BitComet, BitLord, and even sites like The Pirate Bay and Isohunt," BitTorrent's Simon Morris told TorrentFreak, as reported on Tech Eye.
  • In Bed With Business?  "This is a subtle form of censorship, and at first glance it seems trivial," says Charlie White at Mashable. "However, even though the censorship is slight, it still indicates Google’s willingness to change its search protocols to satisfy the needs of a certain business group, in this case members of the entertainment industry."

Recommended Reading

  • Not All Torrents Are Illegal, notes Mark Brown at UK's Wired. "Not every file hosted on Megaupload [one of the blocked sites] is a ripped DVD and not every torrent is a pirated album."

  • Putting Out a 'Forest Fire With A Wet Noodle'  That's what stopping online piracy is like, says Devin Coldewey at TechCrunch, so best of luck. "It's a new high for antipiracy theater, because you can of course still search for the terms by hitting enter, and get the same results as before." Thus, he says:
The move will accomplish two things, though: first, it will damage consumer trust of a company whose services are ostensibly objective, and second, it confirms for the hundredth time how quixotic and misguided the efforts of the MPAA et al. are in every action they take. The actual censorship (I use the word lightly) is a joke. A leakier sieve than this was never wrought. While “Bittorrent” is blocked, “torrent” is not, and while some popular cyber lockers are on the blacklist (Rapidshare, Megaupload), others aren’t (, Hotfile). As far as preventing piracy, the policy is worthless — incompetent. I have no doubt that this list was put together by the media companies, because Google would have done a far better job of doing it.
  • This Will Become a Larger Issue  "The ultimate question at hand is what happens when pressure is put onto Google by other industries? Chances are, this is far from the last of the terms and far from the last of the industries that will want a piece of your search preferences," writes Brad McCarty at The Next Web.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.