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]