The latest news from Google is that searches related to online piracy through torrent downloads are being dropped from the much touted 'autocomplete' and 'instant search' functions. As we have noted in the past, the notion of Google shaping or even suggesting searches is a relatively strange concept on its own. And now terms like 'BitTorrent,' and 'Vodo' will no longer show up automatically in your search bar. Yet the filter seems somewhat arbitrary: An autocomplete search for 'how to pirate music' yields the large torrent site the Pirate Bay, and as plenty of critics have pointed out, a significant number of torrent downloads are legitimately legal. What gives? Did Google buckle to pressure from the MPAA, RIAA, and other entertainment industry interests?
Even if we were to pretend that all torrent downloads were illegal, Google's blocking has raised some interesting questions about its relationship with potentially criminal activities. Last I checked, making an explosive is a pretty serious crime; but when we type 'how to make a bomb' in the search bar, Google suggests 'out of household items' to complete the phrase. Write 'where to buy drugs' and 'where to buy crack in D.C.' is the instant result. Enter 'how to kill a person' and 'and get away with it' is what Google recommends. Gosh, it's really swell of Google to do its part to shut down all of the menacing downloading out there! I'm all for the freedom of potentially scandalous, even illegal information, but shouldn't it be consistent? Autocomplete has even blocked the phrase 'Google and crime.'