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If You Do A Search Almost No One Does, Google Might Point You To Unauthorized Version Of House Of Cards

from the reporting? dept

We’ve noted in the past that various copyright maximalists who are hellbent on blaming Google for their own failures to adapt and innovate, like to point to various searches on Google that point to what are likely to be unauthorized sources. They’ll use examples like adding “download” or “free” to a search and then point out that the link appears to go to an unauthorized source. But that’s silly, because (1) the people doing such searches probably aren’t going to pay for the authorized version anyway and (2) very few people do those searches.

Chris Crum over at WebProNews has a story that’s been getting some attention claiming that Google points to an unauthorized site ahead of Netflix if you do a search for “watch house of cards” on Google. Here’s the screenshot he’s showing:

While that may sound damning, it only matters if people are actually doing that search. But they’re not. Most people are just searching for plain old “house of cards” as you can see by looking at the Google Trends searches on both terms:
The red line is people searching for “house of cards.” The blue line that is basically across the bottom is “watch house of cards.” In other words, this search that Crum and others are making out to be some evidence of Google “favoring” unauthorized sites over the official Netflix channel is a search that almost no one uses. The one that everyone does use — “house of cards” — doesn’t appear to show any links to unauthorized sites.

You could argue that perhaps Netflix should do a bit more optimizing on searches for shows with “watch” before them, but given the fact that it appears almost no one does that search, why should they bother?

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Companies: google, netflix

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Comments on “If You Do A Search Almost No One Does, Google Might Point You To Unauthorized Version Of House Of Cards”

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PaulT says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Reason 1: Netflix still have to abide by regional restrictions for their service and many countries aren’t able to access it some trickery. As ever, none of these reports ever look at whether the legal option is available in places where laws are circumvented

Reason 2: some people just won’t pay no matter what. While sad, those people don’t represent lost revenue

Reason 3: people are pirating to watch in a situation where they cannot stream, so are supplementing for a service not legally available for them through netflix – who they might already be paying either way

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“Reason 2: some people just won’t pay no matter what. While sad, those people don’t represent lost revenue”

Let’s hold on in regards to the “won’t” here.

Remember, Netflix, as you’ve stated, has to abide by restrictions in availability against what customers may want.

Consider the fact that they compete with areas which have less income to spend on a monthly fee for “all you can eat” streams.

So people “can’t” pay for the stream at all times, hence other places become popular.

This doesn’t contradict your other reasons and R3 actually picks up on this. Still, in R2, there could be a fact that the pirates tend to spread the news on a show for other people which makes up for their lack of payment through free advertising.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

That was my thought. They seem hell bent on making it easier for people not skilled in piracy to become pirates. It reminds me of what I said back during the big public Napster case that was all over the news. You know what kids that didn’t know about Napster thought when the saw all of the news coverage about that trial? “Oh so if I go download and install this software, I can use it to download music for free. That’s awesome!” Dumbasses never learn.

Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:


WTF? Why should Google care. Their job is to provide search results. If someone searches for something they should provide under their methods what they think is the best result. Legal or otherwise. They are NOT, NOT the arbiter of what is or is not legal. And if they are for some reason required to care then those laws need to be changed.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Why?

If Google provides search results to unauthorized content, then the owners of that content should treat it as a gift. Look, Google just made it easy for you to locate that unauthorized content that you want to get shut down.

Getting the search results off Google won’t make the unauthorized content go away, nor will it make it much harder to find.

Talking about Google is counterproductive. Go after the source of the unauthorized content. Leave everyone else alone.

Oh, and while you’re dealing with that unauthorized content, please be careful about innocent bystanders who might happen to be on the same server, or the same ISP, or same country, or same planet. Please don’t nuke an entire server, ISP, country or planet because one user has unauthorized content located on that planet.

Chris Brand says:

Re: Why?

Actually, the interesting question is which of those links the people who do that search actually click on. If it’s the first (unauthorised) one, then Google’s doing a great job of pointing people to what they’re looking for. If it’s the second (Netflix), then Google has every incentive to swap the two around.

Of course this is always true for every search, regardless of terms. Either the top link is the the one most people doing the search are looking for, in which case there’s nothing to fix. Or it’s not, in which case Google already has every incentive to fix it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

But Google doesn’t really micro-manage that really except for devaluing pages that are obvious attempts to game the system. The algorithm handles it and is based on click-throughs for search terms along with user browser history as well as the content on the indexed page, the page url, and cross-links from other sites. So it’s not surprising to see anomalies sometimes or changing ranks for subsequent searches.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

In my mind, the most relevant result for a Netflix show is Netflix.

Ok, fair enough. But what about the in real world? Take Techdirt as an example, there are plenty of times where Techdirt does commentary on an article and it gets pushed up higher on Google than the original article because that is where people are clicking.

What about an article from Podunk News that gets picked up by AP and published by a major news outlet? The major outlet will get a higher ranking because that is where people are clicking.

How is this different and why would it be Google’s responsibility, if that is where people are clicking?

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

In my mind, the most relevant result for a Netflix show is Netflix. Otherwise, it’s basically like favoring a scraper site over the original content being scraped.

On my ride home from work I had an epiphany and figured out why this whole article is bugging me. It comes down to basic logic and reasoning. There’s actually a really good reason why searches for a Netflix show would put Netflix itself at a lower rank.

Most people with Netflix account would not go to Google at all, they would find it the same way they find any Netflix show – through the Netflix interface.

People without a Netflix account who want to watch it legally most likely do a simple search for “Netflix” because the first thing anyone is going to do is get an account, then they would probably use the Netflix interface to find the show.

That leaves those who either want to watch it illegally or those who are blocked because of regional restrictions. So it makes complete sense that the people who actually do searches that were described in the article click on the illegal choices, doesn’t it?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I sort of had the same problem, but for a different reason. That line seems to imply that any search that contains “house of cards” should list Netflix first, just because. If I search for “house of cards cast” however, Netflix isn’t anywhere on the first page. IMDB tops the list, followed by wikipedia, then a couple other media sites. News sites round out the top 10. And yet, it’s hard to call that wrong; does it really make sense to send someone to Netflix just because some portion of the search had something to do with their show?

Chris Crum (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Actually, the whole thing says: “?House of Cards? explores the ruthless underside of British politics at the end of the Thatcher era. Reset against the backdrop of modern-day U.S. electoral politics, this new one-hour drama follows Kevin Spacey as an ambitious politician with his eye on the top job.”

It also has a picture of Netflix’s Kevin Spacey version.


kenichi tanaka (profile) says:

I have to admit that I do those type of searches. But only because those kind of sites are very prevalent on the web. Doing a search for ‘watch free ‘ are so common that it’s hard not to find them.

The problem is that you need to be very specific in what you’re searching for. While I don’t feel this is Google’s fault, nor that they could be held liable, why isn’t the entertainment industry doing THEIR job and contacting the host providers of these websites or if the host provider info is hidden, sue those services that hide that info.

I think if the entertainment industry actually did its job instead of demanding that search engines remove links (what does that except create more instances where even more links pop up), it just creates a situation where websites simply change their domain name.

Kick Ass Torrents, Pirate Bay, Demonoid and many others have changed their domain name suffix so many timis that it would literally make your head dizzy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Dumbass, the search algorithm is dynamic and always changing the orders based on how many people do the search and what they click on afterwards. Google likely didn’t alter a thing. More likely is that people did the search and clicked on the later result pushing it higher in the rankings or Netflix altered the content of their page which changed it’s SEO ranking and it appeared higher once it got re-indexed.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:


Hummph. Read that article the other day when I was in a mood to wade into the stupid. (just like I sometimes get a hankering to wade into the crazy on those conspiracy theory sites.)

That article is nothing but ad homs and run-of-the-mill schoolyard bullying. Come back when you can link to something with a real argument, please.

Chris Crum (profile) says:

I wrote it


Glad you pointed this out. I should have checked the trends for frequency of search, and included it to begin with. I’ve updated the article to note the lack of search volume.

Since I wasn’t really going for quite the damning piece that everyone has made it out to be, it really didn’t occur to me at the time to even look at search volume. That is to say I wasn’t trying to suggest that this is how the majority of people search for these shows. The post was about an observation, and nothing more. I wasn’t seeking out the story to begin with. I just happened upon the HoC search, found it odd, and decided to see what happened with similar queries for other Netflix shows, and it became what it became.

Contrary to what people are saying, I wasn’t going for “misleading”. Again, just observation (“Hey, that’s odd that Google is showing these sites ahead of Netflix for this.”). This isn’t any kind of crusade on my part. I just think it makes sense to point people to the source of the content as a search engine. THE search engine as far as most of the world is concerned.

I came at this from a background of covering Google and its search results in general (which I’ve done for years). I often write about erroneous information Google shows in the Knowledge Graph, for example. This was an extension of this type of coverage more than anything, not to suggest Google is out to give people pirated material over the source on purpose or for the majority of searches.

You make a good point about Netflix doing some more optimization on their part.

Just Sayin' says:

Trying too hard

I know you want to slam rights holders at every turn, but “watch name of program” isn’t a dead search term, it’s not much different in a sense than “download name of program” or name of program torrent”. It all depends how people approach things.

Since both of those searches I mentioned also turn up significant pirated results, well…

If you are going to rant (while on vacation, or is it that new owner Karl is letting you still post), at least try to hit a valid target.

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

So I recently found a reference that got me interested in a particular film, and noted that when I searched Google for it that film, I got a number of DMCA notices in place of download links.

Using my mouse (and my astonishing Internet P0w0rz) I selected the next search engine in the browser-provided pull-down list and clicked Search. In three mouse clicks and as many seconds I had more download links than I could possibly use.

Forcing Google to filter search results is SO effective because, you know, Google Is The Internet.

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