from the good-intentions,-but-will-there-be-bad-results dept
Our philosophy has always been that Search should reflect the whole web. But revenge porn images are intensely personal and emotionally damaging, and serve only to degrade the victims—predominantly women. So going forward, we’ll honor requests from people to remove nude or sexually explicit images shared without their consent from Google Search results. This is a narrow and limited policy, similar to how we treat removal requests for other highly sensitive personal information, such as bank account numbers and signatures, that may surface in our search results.If I were in Google's shoes, I would be quite tempted to institute the same policy -- and I'm supportive of things that will actually end or limit revenge porn. So I hope that this works great and that it's an effective solution both to help limit the damage to victims and in further decrease the "value" (whatever that might be) to the scum of the earth who run revenge porn sites (or who frequent them).
In the coming weeks we’ll put up a web form people can use to submit these requests to us, and we’ll update this blog post with the link.
We know this won’t solve the problem of revenge porn—we aren’t able, of course, to remove these images from the websites themselves—but we hope that honoring people’s requests to remove such imagery from our search results can help.
But... at the same time... I worry about the unintended consequences of this move. First, as Alex Byers correctly notes, this will only embolden Hollywood to mistakenly claim that this shows that Google can remove unauthorized content just as easily. That's a silly claim, because Google already does exactly this for copyright holders, thanks to the DMCA, and it takes down millions of links per year thanks to such requests. So, in some sense, this shouldn't give any more ammo to Hollywood, because all it's really doing is expanding the DMCA process to revenge porn.
My second concern, though, is that this will then embolden lawmakers into thinking that "Oh, see, we can just expand the DMCA (or something like it) to cover revenge porn." This looks like such an appealing solution if you're a politician, and Google's move will certainly be used to support it. But it's not that easy as we'll explain in the third concern. But giving politicians more reasons to expand these types of legal regimes is fraught with risk, and Google's move will almost certainly be cited as evidence that it's a perfectly reasonable strategy.
And that brings us to the third concern: this process will be abused. This is the big one. We know the DMCA is abused. It's abused widely. Every day. We report on many of those abuses. Expanding the avenues under which takedowns can be abused is going to lead to more abuse. Some will argue that such abuse is a reasonable price to pay to protect the victims of revenge porn. Copyright holders frequently argue that the abuse of the DMCA is similarly no big deal, or a reasonable level of collateral damage for protecting their copyright. It's still troubling, however, that legitimate and perfectly reasonable speech can be taken down.
Finally, the fourth big concern: in some ways, this is an extension of the "right to be forgotten" process that has gotten so much attention in Europe, though in a very specific class of cases. But, again, some will use this as evidence to argue for the expansion of the class of cases that it should cover, and that's going to lead to an awful lot of judgment calls, some of which many people may have trouble with.
In the end, I'm conflicted, but worried. I'd love to see a way to stop revenge porn, but I still worry a lot about how wide a net any "solution" casts around it. Perhaps I'm being too pessimistic, and this will actually be effectively narrowly targeted. And if so, that will be fantastic. I hope I'm wrong. But for too long we've seen too many people looking to find ways to censor all sorts of content they dislike, and to find cracks in the dam to try to push censorship agendas. And thus, while I'm fully supportive of coming up with plans to actually end revenge porn, I'm nervous that wading into this territory will only open up a path to greater censorship and dangerous unintended consequences.