Google's Efforts To Push Down 'Piracy' Sites May Lead More People To Malware

from the consequences dept

For years and years, the legacy entertainment industry players insisted that if only Google would censor results so they showed what the legacy entertainment companies wanted — instead of what users actually wanted — unauthorized downloading would magically decrease. There was little evidence to support this, but with increasing pressure and threats of either litigation or legislation, Google caved back in 2012, promising to “downrank” sites that get a lot of DMCA notices. We had warned that, contrary to popular opinion from the legacy entertainment industry, it’s not nearly as easy as they think to do this. And, of course, months later, the RIAA was complaining that Google’s new rankings weren’t good enough, and the MPAA joined in soon after.

Last month, Google announced even more significant changes in its effort to appease the legacy entertainment industry and to “fight piracy.” This included a big adjustment to how it downranks sites based on DMCA filings. Apparently, the change pretty quickly resulted in popular torrent sites nearly disappearing from Google’s index. Of course, as The Pirate Bay pointed out in response, this change actually meant that it got more direct traffic, since people unable to find what they wanted via Google knew to just go somewhere else instead.

But, of course, there are consequences to all of this and, into the fray, a bunch of “lesser known” torrent sites have suddenly been getting more traffic. And… it’s also allowed sites more likely to push malware to rank much higher in Google results, as noted in new research by TorrentFreak:

While the sites mentioned above are offering torrents and clearly benefiting traffic-wise, we have deliberately left out several sites from our report. Thanks to their lack of DMCA breaches some sites are much closer to the top than they should be when Google is presented with movie + torrent searches. Sadly these sites have something evil in mind ? malware.

Hollywood might publicly warn that some file-sharing sites are havens for viruses and spyware, but Google?s actions have dredged up the real filth from the bottom and that will mean a lot of people paying the price. Having these sites downranked is not on the agenda.

For years, of course, one of the go-to talking points for Hollywood was that engaging in unauthorized downloading would lead to malware — and it’s a talking point that never goes away. The thinking of Hollywood is that (1) this may scare some people away from file sharing and (2) they can claim to the press and politicians that they’re looking out for the safety of the public with their policy recommendations.

Except… in this case, it appears that it’s their own silly demands to rewrite Google’s search results that are actually putting more people at risk and driving more people to potential malware. Even if there was some malware on top sites, it was usually spotted and dealt with quickly, and rarely would get popular enough to be highly ranked. But by taking out the more accurate results, malware-laden efforts are suddenly able to rise up the rankings.

If the RIAA/MPAA were truly concerned about stopping malware, they’d recognize that their own demands to edit Google’s search results have put people more at risk. But they won’t, of course. Just like everything else, they’ll likely blame Google and say that Google should figure out a way to fix this.

But here’s the thing: this is what’s bound to happen when someone wants to edit Google’s results to what they want them to be, rather than what users want. This is the fundamental misunderstanding of the legacy entertainment industry in their hatred of Google. They think it’s a search engine for the sites it finds, rather than a search engine for the users looking for stuff. It’s a fundamental difference that makes all the difference in the world.

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Comments on “Google's Efforts To Push Down 'Piracy' Sites May Lead More People To Malware”

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Machin Shin (profile) says:

“If the RIAA/MPAA were truly concerned about stopping malware, they’d recognize that their own demands to edit Google’s search results have put people more at risk. But they won’t, of course. Just like everything else, they’ll likely blame Google and say that Google should figure out a way to fix this.”

Is it just me that thinks maybe this is what they wanted? They love running around saying Torrents=Malware, but never had much to back that up. Now though…. they have stirred things up and brought the malware up to the top suddenly making themselves look more credible.

CK20XX (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Two things about that.

1.) One of the article’s points is that the internet is many, many times bigger than Google. Everyone who actually knows how to use torrents has been avoiding Google for some time now.

2.) Everyone who doesn’t know how to use torrents is suddenly ripe for being exploited by a bunch of malware sites, and the only way to combat said sites is with a futile game of whack-a-mole. I don’t think you’re going to see Torrent Freak engaging in the same ineffective strategy that the MPAA and RIAA keeping falling back on.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

This. I completely agree. While I personally may support the idea of piracy (within certain limits), all ive seen about this is people talking about how downranking major sites has pushed the sketchy ones to the top. And I cant help thinking ‘Well yeah. Isnt that WHY they want google to downrank things? Now piracy will be much riskier if you dont already know what you’re doing or where to go, and I would think that MPAA considers that a good thing.”

Until of course piracy sites become more word of mouth or private communities become more of a thing. Then we’ll probably see the next stage of the hopeless war on piracy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Back in the day, the RIAA was responsible for a good bit of trojan loading by hiring a 3ᴿᴰ party to do it for them. The company was called Loudeye. Since Microsoft at the beginning did not include any security for WMA files that were supposed to go to a legal site for licensing provided that licensing wasn’t there. Loudeye high jacked the process to load a trojan.

Microsoft had to re-engineer the process to prevent such highjacking as every one was refusing WMA files of any nature.

It’s not like their hands are exactly clean when it comes to putting out malware to the public.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re:

[Citation needed]

Especially since this makes no sense. They can manipulate their algorithms, but they can’t manipulate the results. The results are based completely on their algorithm (in their control) searching based on user input (out of their control).

Considering the vast amount of possible user input compared to the scale of the indexed web it’s effectively impossible for Google to directly manipulate search results. You may think it must be easy because you’re seeing a list pop up but you have no idea the complexity of what’s going on in the background.

The internet is somewhat like space or geology in that everyone thinks they understand the size and complexity of the system but no one, not the best scientists or most powerful supercomputer, really understand the scope. Granted, the internet is smaller in scale than those sciences but the mentality is similar…you see a small piece of the whole, understand that piece, and assume the rest follows that pattern.

For this, I shall give you a tangentially related xkcd…

jameshogg says:

Artificial Scarcity = Prohibition

I hear drug dealers mix hard drugs with soft drugs without the user’s knowledge in an attempt to get them addicted, and that harm comes from lack of regulation due to prohibition.

That’s what you get with copyright, too. With the malware and viruses going on.

Dealers also don’t have to check for I.D., just like pirate websites with 18-rated movies.

Dealers also get filthy rich due to not paying tax, just like Google.

Dealers are prone to gang fights, and Kim Dotcom was found armed with a shotgun.

And as with Al Capone, the state sure seem to have a hard time netting Kim Dotcom, considering how both pay money for everyone to turn a blind eye. Perhaps they ought to get him on tax mistakes.

You see how prohibiting a majority black market makes things worse?

Imagine if, hypothetically, the United States were to abolish its currency and replace everybody’s money with money made out of JPEG image files, in some deluded attempt to “ease the flow of transactions”. Run with this thought experiment – it will be worth it.

The state would effectively have the “copyright” to this JPEG currency in order to control interest rates and inflation and so on – as well as making the thing fucking work. According to the theory of artificial scarcity put forward by most economists, this should work. After all, when you add artificial scarcity to anything its value should go up… right?

Well imagine this actually being put into practice (assuming it makes it past the first day without crashing the country). Imagine all the cheating that would inevitably take place. The ordinary layman would hit CTRL-C and CTRL-V on his keyboard and send many of these pirated JPEGs to anyone he can meet on Skype, Facebook, Twitter. Pirated JPEGs would flood the internet, just, well, in general. Huge corporations would be able to get away with more and manipulate the total value of the currency. Pirated JPEGs would be stored and traded overseas under the hands of crooked traders. International states would pull all the strings of the US. The working class would be investing their labour for worthless gain.

Now imagine that, in the face of total fury from the citizens, the state were to deny that the system itself is the problem – rather, lack of enforcement of the system is the problem.

They would then proceed to demand national malware packages to watch over computers to make sure unauthorised copies were not created (Digital Rights Management). They would, in the face of such nonsense failing to stop a single thing, insist that it was still necessary to protect the property rights of all the state’s citizens, regardless of the contradictory evidence. They would insist “websites have just got to be blocked…” “channels just need to be monitored…” “other countries just need to sign treaties with us THEN they’ll give a damn and stop!” “all we got to do is negotiate with China better!” They would send police officers to take down domains hosting counterfeit JPEGs regardless of how many times they will pop back up (which, give them credit, is still much better than having lawyers running around the planet).

They would cite evidence of such reproducibility being unheard of in the 1700s to support their claim that it should likewise be the case in this day and age. They would cite studies saying how “at least our GDP went up”. They would rant “how ELSE are you gonna protect the property rights of workers?” “What about defamation and libel – surely that’s relevant somehow?” “Don’t you realise that terrorists support some of these cartels?” As they also likewise show how the Taliban profit from the prohibited black market heroin crop.

This is my new example of why I am a copyright abolitionist, because I cannot imagine how it could be refuted (along with the pro-assurance-contract theory to protect artists). Though I am of course, open to rebuttals that I cannot anticipate. Everything the pro-copyright side complain about with regards to piracy can pretty much resemble the above scenario: all the corruption, all the futility, all the lost labour, all the international black markets. If there is piracy corruption with Google, they’ve only got themselves to blame, because it is exactly what you would expect if you were to take seriously a commodity with the same de facto protection as JPEG dollars. Corporations would screw it up for everybody else, and pull law enforcement into corruption. Maybe that explains why Google gets let off the hook so often…

“Artificial scarcity” requires law. When it requires law, it better work. Otherwise it is merely a “deterrent” (a conservative concept that is not something to be proud of even if you could prove it to work – a society that says “because the law says so” doesn’t make that society more moral and only buries something more sinister in the sand) and/or a ridiculous prohibition system that is laughably stupid in the eyes of any sensible criminal.

Everybody knows what the implications would have been had 2D printers been able to print genuine-looking money. All currencies across the planet would have crashed. But, thankfully, the technology did not get that far and currency organisations stayed ahead of the game.

One of the uncomfortable truths about laws is that they are only as good as you can realistically enforce them.

Anonymous Coward says:


“Now piracy will be much riskier if you dont already know what you’re doing or where to go, and I would think that MPAA considers that a good thing.”

But most of the downranked sites are themselves legal.

Do you think it’s justified to make a legal business invisible because some of its users
abuse its service to infringe copyright law?

Remember that the copyright holders could just go after the sites themselves, bring action for injunctive relief in a US court or sue the overseas owner like they did in the Isohunt case.

The MPAA has no legitimate ground telling Google which legal services should figure highest in the search results.

If they have a problem with some links, Google is quick to delist specific search results.

But according to the law, they must file an url specific notice.

There is no equivalence between a service deliberately pushing malware which is always illegal and a file sharing site which is not in principle illegal.

Maximo Super Bunny says:

When your customer is an enemy you have lost...

In addition to being frustrated for too long by all the technology lock-ins, spyware, region code hurdles, advertising, limited accessibility and outright price gauging etc etc etc… I found the constant verbal attack on consumers by heavy handed arrogant media companies to be extremely off putting… so much so that I now have difficulties bringing myself to pay such grotesque rodents for their goods. It’s like I am paying a fascist group that tortured my parents… I’d rather just see them starve. I don’t like them and I am not alone in this view…

I have read the rants by Village’ CEO who sounds like he wants to track all internet users because he has the supreme right to do so and he will use brute force to crush children and ban them from their playground for not paying up. Sieg Heil! You would have thought media companies would have known something about PR…

So now when I think of Village, News Corp, Disney or any product handled by such vile companies I see it as a moral obligation to go after them with a Molotov… and as many others – we believe it is every citizens duty to distribute their wares among the community.Without any trace of guilt!

Do you think the executive board of these corporations now realise that declaring war on customers and waging it for decades will probably lead to such views in the new generations? After all our parents fought them and we grew up knowing nothing but the war…

Anonymous Coward says:

The obvious point I’m surprised this article didn’t jump on was that one of the content industries arguments was downranking “pirate sites” would lead to improved ranking of legitimate content. Only problem with that is now it’s become obvious that in most cases the content simply isn’t available online through legitimate channels. Oops…

Anonymous Coward says:

i would have thought that the ‘may’ would definitely become the ‘definitely’ infected.
the entertainment industries started to put out messages about the malware that people would pick up if they went to certain sites, sites that everyone except the entertainment industries are happy to go to. if these particular sites used malware of any kind to infect a person’s machine in any way, the truth would be around the internet quicker than it would take Dodd to have a crap!! the only sites that infect machines are those run by, operated by or on behalf of the various governments and the entertainment industries themselves! no internet site, regardless of whether it is deemed legal or illegal, would drive it’s customers away! one of the main things that ALL WEBSITES TRY TO ACHIEVE IS MAXIMUM MEMBER AND CUSTOMER USAGE! doing something forced the site down the ladder would be out of the question!!

Maverick (user link) says:

Great article

Apparently, the change pretty quickly resulted in popular torrent sites nearly disappearing from Google’s index. Direct traffic, since people unable to find what they wanted via Google knew to just go somewhere else instead. If the RIAA/MPAA were truly concerned about stopping malware, they’d recognize that their own demands to edit Google’s search results have put people more at risk.

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