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August 14, 2012
Google Changes Search To De-Emphasize Claimed Copyright Violations In Results
Google announced a change to its search algorithm a few days ago. A post on Google’s Inside Search Blog puts it this way:
Starting next week, we will begin taking into account a new signal in our rankings: the number of valid copyright removal notices we receive for any given site. Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results. This ranking change should help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily—whether it’s a song previewed on NPR’s music website, a TV show on Hulu or new music streamed from Spotify.
The RIAA and the MPAA, among others, applauded the move. I have mixed feelings about it. Copyright holders have leaned on Google for years to remove links to pirated content from search results. I can only guess that the motivation for Google to finally do something like this is the fact that it needs content from these very same providers to fill out offerings in the Google Play store. It makes sense as a business move to promote legal content partners over pirated material. Google is, after all, a public company responsible to stockholders.
On the other hand, it leaves Google open to what I call the “think of the children” pitch. Groups with enough (or think they have enough) clout may pressure Google to edit its results further based on moral, political or social considerations. It’s obviously too soon for this kind of fallout, but the door is open for others to leverage their causes. Google isn’t eliminating the questionable links under its new search standard, though it is placing them far enough down in search results that they will likely not be seen. How many people go past the first few pages of search results? Dedicated pirates may not care. The net effect is that search is no longer neutral, if it ever was at all. [MG]