Google Switches Up Its Search Engine To Shun Sites Suspected Of Peddling Pirated Content

Google is making some tweaks in how its search engine runs in order to crack down on any sites that could possibly be promoting or hosting pirated entertainment content. As for why, well, there are a few prevailing thoughts. Perhaps it’s because the entertainment industry wouldn’t get off Google’s back for letting users find free movies and music on the Internet or maybe Google just wants to impress the cool kids of Hollywood so it doesn’t get sued.

On its company site Google said the search algorithm will be changed up and that it’s not trying to play Internet cop, it just wants to help you out:

“Starting next week, we will begin taking into account a new signal in our rankings: the number of valid copyright removal notices we receive for any given site,” wrote Amit Singhal, Google’s senior vice president of engineering. “Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results. This ranking change should help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily — whether it’s a song previewed on NPR’s music website, a TV show on Hulu or new music streamed from Spotify.”

The Los Angeles Times says there are plenty of people in the tech world who are definitely on board with the theory that Google is trying to appease, mollify and otherwise reassure those in the entertainment industry that it is trying to combat online piracy before anyone gets the chance to sue it.

As one tech site editor said, Google wants to show everyone that “it’s not a big giant pirate monster” because as it stands right now, it’s pretty darn easy to find pirated content on the Web.

Entertainment honchos seem to be more than ready with the applause, with statements from both the Recording Industry Assn. of America and the Motion Picture Assn. of America giving a high five to Google for making the change and hinting that it could probably do more in the future.

“We are optimistic that Google’s actions will help steer consumers to the myriad legitimate ways for them to access movies and TV shows online, and away from the rogue cyberlockers, peer-to-peer sites and other outlaw enterprises,” said Michael O’Leary, MPAA’s senior executive vice president for global policy. “We will be watching this development closely — the devil is always in the details — and look forward to Google taking further steps to ensure that its services favor legitimate businesses and creators, not thieves.”

So how is Google accomplishing this? It’s unclear, which could provide cover for it to work on its plans without any looking over its shoulder to make sure its methods are on the up and up, points out a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“What’s troubling about this is the process is completely opaque,” she said.”We don’t know how Google is doing this, which makes it very difficult to monitor.”

After all, if Google can change up its search to keep us away from certain content, couldn’t it also have the power to push other content that we may or may not normally seek out? And who decides what is pirated and what is not? Things could get awfully muddled here.

Google changes its search formula to address piracy [Los Angeles Times]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Stickdude says:

    I wonder if they’re going to apply this algorithm change to YouTube, since that site does get a high number of valid copyright removal notices…

  2. HFC says:

    Can I reverse those rankings so I get the results I actually want first?

    • frank64 says:

      You can just go to Bing or Yahoo

      • HFC says:

        I was trying to remember what I used before Google started. Lycos, maybe? Certainly not AskJeeves. Which one had the dog, maybe it was that one.

        • Mr. Fix-It is trapped in a collection of half-working appliances says:


          • axolotl says:

            For me it was Yahoo for a long time and occasionally askjeeves until I realized that Mr. Jeeves sucked at answering my questions

        • Applekid says:

          I used Altavista and Metacrawler, both of which are still around. Metacrawler uses Google in it’s results, so maybe it’ll just be Altavista when I want to break free of big step-brother (not quite the government, but might as well be)

        • longfeltwant says:

          Excite. HotBot. Yahoo.

        • TasteyCat says:

          I used Yahoo (powered by Google). Altavista before that. Used Google for years, but too many algorithm changes drove me to Bing. Stop breaking what used to be not broken.

        • Sorta Kinda Lucky Soul says:

          Try duckduckgo. Seems to be a fast uncluttered engine.

  3. Velifer says:

    This ain’t Google’s job. I’ll choose if I want to visit clownpenis.fart or

    I wish someone would come up with a search engine that had a clean, uncluttered screen and a powerful index of 10^100 sites.

    • axolotl says:

      No ads, relatively uncluttered, and very customizable.

    • TastyBeverage says:

      clownpenis.fart is the best site i have ever visited.

    • Draw2much says:

      I suspect Google thinks it isn’t there job either. I wonder if this is a case of self-policing or having the government (which understands the internet only a little better than a 2 yr old) do it for them. Kind of like what happened in comics, movies, and other forms of entertainment…… make it look like you’re actively protecting which ever group has the biggest influence in government.

  4. dolemite says:

    As someone that doesn’t pirate, I like this. I don’t search for pirated stuff, but many times while searching for information on something, warez sites, Pirate Bay, and similar are in the top results. It’s getting to be that many legit search results are pushed off to page 2 or 3, or at the very least the bottom of the page.

    • Mark says:

      Let me try not to laugh…what sort of “non-pirated,” stuff do you search for? How to change a light bulb? Mixing a pint of white paint with a quarter blue gives me what shade of blue?

      Laughable; if you so much as read a blog, look at a picture of Mickey, stumbled onto youtube, guess what, you’re a pirate, How much porn are you downloading as we speak?

  5. crispyduck13 says:

    So I guess SOPA and PIPA weren’t needed after all. Those entertainment industry types were bribing the wrong spineless jackasses, they should have just gone directly to the source and saved a bunch of money!

  6. Blueskylaw says:

    Google – judge, jury, and executioner.

  7. Coffee says:

    I’m a little ambivalent about this. On the one hand, what right does Google have to unilaterally filter and block internet content just because it feels like it? On the other, why is it up to Google to decide how it searches content? It’s not removing things from the internet, only changing its own algorithm to sift through results differently.

    • crispyduck13 says:

      It’s not removing things from the internet, only changing its own algorithm to sift through results differently.

      Seems like a slippery slope, then again they are their own company and can do what they want. However, isn’t that what people were so pissed about 5 years ago, something about tiered internet or something? Where big companies with loads of cash could pay to keep their websites more visable or easier to access or something like that. I can’t remember the specifics, someone here with more knowledge please chime in.

      • Coffee says:

        I know what you mean, and it’s the reason I’m ambivalent. Personally, I much prefer Google to the other search providers that are out there, so I will be affected by any change to their algorithm that they make, whether it’s helpful or harmful. Will I be happy about it? No, but I’m not sure that gives me the right to tell the company how to filter its search content.

      • longfeltwant says:

        Yeah, that’s a little different. A non-“neutral” internet, or tiered internet, would come from the ISPs. For instance, if you go to YouTube, your videos would be fast because YouTube greased the palms of your ISP. But if you went to Vimeo, your videos would be slow, because Vimeo didn’t grease palms. A small number of greedy assholes call that a “feature”, but the vast majority of people see that as Bad. An ISP is paid to shuttle bits from one place to another, and it shouldn’t matter to them what the bits represent. Just shuttle the bits, okay?

        This is different. Google’s search results are the output of over 200 competing “signals”, which they weight and rank in different ways, such that the results are relevant in their opinion. A primary “signal” is how many other pages point to the result page (that was Google’s innovation fifteen years ago). There are many other signals, and this copyright-complaint thing is just one more signal.

        My critique is that I’m not sure it improves the results. A LOT of people are looking for content which might get complaints. For those people, Google has now made their search results LESS useful. Again, some people would call this a feature, but I wouldn’t.

        • RvLeshrac says:

          The problem is that they’re basing it off a completely subjective measurement. “Valid notice” simply means that it wasn’t contested. That often just means that the site operator doesn’t know how to contest it, or isn’t actually seeing the notice.

          A *MASSIVE* percentage of these notices are issued for material that the studio *doesn’t even own*.

    • Stella says:

      ” On the one hand, what right does Google have to unilaterally filter and block internet content just because it feels like it?”

      Well, it’s their search engine. They can run it any way they like. (And you’re free to use Bing or whatever other search engines are still out there…)

      ” On the other, why is it up to Google to decide how it searches content?”

      See above…

      ” It’s not removing things from the internet, only changing its own algorithm to sift through results differently.”

      Actually, it does help remove things from the internet. If you find content that violates your or someone else’s copyright and they’re using a Google product to monetize (AdSense, etc.), you can submit a DMCA notice to Google and they’ll get the site owner to take it down. This is also how they’re tweaking their algorithm–if you’re a scraper site that has DMCA notices filed against it, you’ll now rank lower. As someone who was constantly submitting these notices to Google because lazy scrapers were stealing our content, I’m thrilled with this change.

  8. Not Given says:

    You can always make your search site specific, ex: “search term”

  9. axolotl says:

    Not sure who thinks this is going to change anything, they could outright block every single site on the internet with pirated content but considering there are literally thousands of search engines on the internet, this wouldn’t stop anyone from accessing that information.

  10. Geekybiker says:

    Sad. However google has never treated all content equally. It just pisses me off how much the RIAA and MPAA are pushing people around.

    • alstein says:

      All you can do is not buy their stuff. I haven’t gone to a movie or bought a new CD in three years.

      Just get used if you have to.

      Let the strongarm thugs go bankrupt- they will eventually.

      • LabGnome says:

        Pretty much this. Funny enough before their campaign against Napster I was probably buying 4-6 albums and 1-2 movies a month (theater or release). Ever since it has been pretty much none, they have made it a moral imperative.

        On the plus side the old genes are activating and I think new music sucks so I am not missing it much.

  11. SpendorTheCheap says:

    My yellow pages stopped listing the address of that guy who stands on the corner and sells car stereos.

  12. Auron says:

    I’m sure the MAFIAA will definitely be pushing Google to eliminate any and all search results that include torrent indexing sites.

  13. kevinroyalty says:

    I’d rather them block malware hosting sites, and be more diligent about refusing malware embedded in advertising than to spend time on this.

  14. Mi Poo says:

    My problem is that nobody knows how the heck Google is making these decisions. It claims that “valid copyright removal notices” are used, but how does it verify what is valid? My husband had his Google accounts pulled because of complaints from someone who didn’t like his 3D animation of the flag of Argentina. I had no idea that a flag of a nation was copyrighted material. No amount of attempted communication could get a response from Google. THEN they decided that it was their community guidelines that had been offended by said flag. Those damned Argentineans and their obscene flag! Google could probably use some oversight, since they apparently have mental patients making the calls on this stuff.

  15. Waltersinister3 says:

    You know, when I am looking to buy a song or a movie online that isn’t in Amazon’s or Apple’s catalog, I haven’t had much of a problem with pirate sites. I guess the MPAA takes them down pretty efficiently. What I have a problem with are the billion sites that are _trying_ to seem like pirate sites and put up a billion movie titles with no actual movies. How about getting rid of fake sites?

  16. Press1forDialTone says:

    Don’t be evil. Ha!
    Unless of course, some other company threatens
    to sue you until you bleed money continuously for
    decades. Remember the Microsoft anti-trust action?

  17. Kuri says:

    So, Google has given an inch, how many miles will the MPAA and the RIAA try to take?

  18. benminer says:

    This is great news. Now they will get less attention and less newbies who don’t know what they are doing. (lol how do i bittorrent lol). The people who already know about them can just go on their merry way. Newies tend to have pretty bad ratios anyway so good riddance.

  19. ancientone567 says:

    Google needs to shut itself down then! They have the largest amount of links to illegal material and they profit from it!!

  20. Mark says:

    Let me try not to laugh…what sort of “non-pirated,” stuff do you search for? How to change a light bulb? Mixing a pint of white paint with a quarter blue gives me what shade of blue?

    Laughable; if you so much as read a blog, look at a picture of Mickey, stumbled onto youtube, guess what, you’re a pirate, How much porn are you downloading as we speak?

  21. Mark says:

    This google trash, soon they will start recommending advertisers search results as the #1 choice when shopping on google starting this year if I remember reading correctly.

    I bet it will be in fine print and most people do not know google will start doing it, so they will get away, with it.
    Long live Lelouche.
    Long live GUuy Fawkes.

    Shame, we need fictional characters to have hope of changing the world because the world has sold out to the corporations. Just check people who will defend google, defend microsoftpenis, Apple, wallstreet, the government, the army, the police….ect…

    Dare I make a rape, black or women joke; I am sure I will get heat from someone who is just listening to corporate speak, and thinking it’s the “right way to react and we have “PROGRESSED,” so far, and it’s the year 2012, we should be beyond this way of thinking.”

    How does google lead to this,,,,GAGGLE SOLD out years ago, and this just furthers my hate for them. Investors 10,976, and the people 2.

  22. HogwartsProfessor says:

    Google changed its algorithm to shun content sites including one of the better ones that I was working for. They since asked me to test for a curator position (editing and improving existing articles), but the pay has dropped enough that it wasn’t worth it.