Once Again: Just Because You Can Search For Infringing Content Via Search Engines Doesn't Mean Many People Do
from the weird-obsessions dept
The folks over at CCIA (disclosure: we've done some work with them and continue to do work with them and may possibly do work with them in the future) have taken our and some others' analyses and put out a document showing that this weird obsession with piling on search engines is, at best, counterproductive and, at worst, destructive. It is, in large part, a response to the RIAA's silly attack that Google isn't "demoting" certain searches fast enough. But, as the CCIA paper notes, much of the RIAA's analysis is based on the results of searches that include specific keywords like "free download." However, as CCIA's Matt Schruer's notes, those kinds of searches are very, very, very rare:
Consider an example used in the RIAA memo: “free bruno mars mp3.” While this result may return results that point to infringing content, data from Google Trends indicates that strikingly few people are actually running that search. A worldwide tally of search results through last week, comparing “bruno mars” (for reference) to “free bruno mars mp3” is available here. Bruno Mars is orders of magnitude more common, and at periods of time, no one seems to have searched for “free bruno mars mp3” anywhere on the planet. This is not entirely surprising: extensive research by BAE Detica indicates that the majority of infringement “business models” don’t depend on search engines at all. Sites like Isohunt and the Pirate Bay shrugged off   the threat of search demotion, announcing that they receive little traffic from search engines.You can see the search he discusses here:
Schruers explains why he thinks the RIAA and others like to focus so much on the searches that no one does. Because it gives them something concrete they can point to, even if it's got nothing to do with the actual world they're dealing with.
I'm curious if all of those who seem to support the claims against search engines can point to even a single shred of evidence that search engines actually lead to greater infringement. We've yet to see anything that supports it at all. Yet the risk of putting increasing pressure of search engines to modify their results to please one particular industry or (much worse) to increase liability on them for not making their results appease certain industries, can be quite dangerous to a free and open internet. Search engines aren't responsible for what people find online. They're simply reflecting what people are looking for. If lots of people really are looking for certain kinds of content, it seems like the better response, rather than blaming search engines, is to look for better ways to deliver that content.
Sometimes called the “lamp post effect”, this bias is usually attributed to researchers, and refers to biases resulting from data-gathering where the data is most easily gathered. The principle is best illustrated with a joke related by David Freedman in Discover Magazine:
Late at night, a police officer finds a drunk man crawling around on his hands and knees under a streetlight. The drunk man tells the officer he’s looking for his wallet. When the officer asks if he’s sure this is where he dropped the wallet, the man replies that he thinks he more likely dropped it across the street. Then why are you looking over here? the befuddled officer asks. Because the light’s better here, explains the drunk man.
We look where it is easiest to look. By definition, one of the easiest places to look for something online is a search engine. If one uses terms like “torrent” and “free download”, it is possible to find search results that linking to infringing content. Because search results are easily observed, the streetlight effect tells us, this is where the observation occurs. As a result, some will fixate – like this RIAA memo – on infringing search results, notwithstanding the fact that pirates tend not to use general-purpose search engines for finding infringing content.