As the discussion over the EU's decision to force Google to uphold a "right to be forgotten" continues, various industry heads have begun to weigh in on the subject, pointing to this as evidence that Google could do more to combat piracy.
This, of course, is exactly the expected reaction. With every obliging move, search engines such as Google move themselves further and further away from providing "agnostic" search results. But what these entities are seeking goes much further than web forms. They still think Google should be able to de-list entire sites at the behest of any number of self-interested parties.
A recent article at the Guardian contains a number of recording industry leaders pointing in the direction of Google's "right to forget" compliance as an admission by the search engine giant that it has the power to (almost singlehandedly) kill off "pirate" sites. There's some confusion as to what Google actually does expressed here, although the worst of it seems to be relegated to the headline itself: "If Google can get rid of personal data, why can't it purge the pirates?"
The lede handles the subject much more accurately before the head of Britain's recording industry attempts to turn this into another reason why Google isn't doing enough to protect his interests.
Google's decision to allow users to easily de-list certain personal information from search results has infuriated a film and music industry that argues the internet giant should act as decisively to help squash digital piracy.
After laying down the facts, the rest is filled with badly drawn conclusions.
Critics say that Google drags its feet over carrying out measures such as stripping pirate websites from its search results, yet the move to allow users the "right to be forgotten" proves it can take serious action if it is forced.
"It's 'Don't be Evil' 101," says Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the music industry's trade body, the BPI. "The principle at stake here is when you know someone is acting illegally, you shouldn't continue helping them by sending them business."
There are several things wrong with Taylor's assertions. To begin with, Google "sends" no one
any business. Google returns search results. Critics often claim that search results for content return tons of illicit results within the first few pages, but in order to make this happen, you have to include
the sort of terms that someone looking to pirate might use. With enough intent, you can wring anything out of a search engine. This is not
a problem that needs to be "solved" by the search engine.
The industry's own preferred referral services are, if anything, worse than the industry's skewed perception of Google's search results. As we pointed out a few weeks ago, the combined force of the UK's movie and television industry has resulted in a website that can't even locate
legitimate purchase options for highly sought after content, while a simple search at Amazon will provide plenty of DVD and streaming options.
While critics may be right that Google can do certain things if "forced" to by government bodies, is this really the sort of goal they should be encouraged to pursue? Using the government to force one industry to cater to another industry's whims? The recording and motion picture industries seem to feel they should be able to de-list entire sites, something Google isn't allowing with its "right to forget" web form, just as it isn't allowing it with its DMCA takedown request form. Taylor feels this is wrong and that his industry should be allowed to de-list entire sites, including content that doesn't belong to anyone under its purview, simply by pushing a couple of buttons.
Geoff Taylor has more to add to this:
Dealing with Google is often a fraught process, Taylor adds, and the illegal websites reappear in the same, or a slightly different, guise almost immediately after they are taken down.
Presumably, Taylor means URL addresses. Once again, Google doesn't have the power (nor should it) to "take down" websites. Again, the URL is de-listed and won't appear in search results. In order for the content
to be removed, a takedown request must be submitted to the site hosting the content. People like Taylor want to lay the problem at Google's feet simply because Google has given them one of the easiest and most user-friendly ways to submit takedown requests. Rather than make an effort, the industry wants Google -- a search engine -- to do the legwork for it. And now it wants entire sites de-listed.
"We have been calling for a long time for Google in particular to be more proactive in dealing with the issue of illegal content in its search results," says Taylor.
Google is not in the business of policing the internet for infringing content. That job belongs to the rights holders. How Taylor arrives at this misconception is beyond me, but he's far from the only industry head calling for Google
to save them from problems they ignored for far too long.
How Taylor decides a new web form ("right to forget") signals greater capabilities than a pre-existing web form (the DMCA takedown) is also beyond me. Taylor is correct in his statement that Google's search algorithm is far from neutral, but he fails to acknowledge that it's been governments acting at the behest of industries that have made the most noise about the company's failure to rewrite the code to the specifications of the RIAA, MPAA et al.
And for all that noise, there's seemingly very little realization that pirates don't really use search engines for piracy.
Just 13% of illegal downloaders use search engines, including Google, to access music sites, and 8% for film sites, according to snapshot research by Ofcom.
So, even if the industry gets its way, there will be little noticeable effect.
But the bottom line is this: the new "right to be forgotten" form is roughly interchangeable with the DMCA takedown form. Neither remove content. Both only de-list URLs. The content still exists, but anyone using Google won't be able to find it... and that number represents only a small sliver of web users.
Somehow, these similar forms with similar results signal something much bigger to industry leaders like Geoff Taylor when, in fact, it should signal the exact opposite. Nothing has changed. Google will de-list specific
URLs if given a legal reason to, whether it's a EU directive or its own compliance with the DMCA in order to retain its safe harbors. The belief that this means Google can (and should
) de-list entire sites and further screw around with its algorithm in order to make the recording (and motion picture) industry happy is simply delusional.