Earlier this summer, we applauded Google for releasing detailed stats about content removal requests from copyright holders. Now that we know how they are going to use that data, we are less enthusiastic. Today, Google announced that it would use copyright takedown notices made under the DMCA1 as what it calls a “signal” on search results. Specifically, those “signals” will demote certain websites in search results.
We wish we had some more details to illustrate just what that means, but unfortunately the process is pretty opaque. What we know: sites that have a “high number of removal notices” of takedown notices that result in actual takedowns will show up lower in some search results, though they will not be removed. What we don’t know: what is a “high number”? How does Google plan to make these determinations? Oh, and one other thing we do know, one that is particularly troubling: there will be no process or recourse for sites who have been demoted.
In particular, we worry about the false positives problem. For example, we’ve seen the government wrongly target sites that actually have a right to post the allegedly infringing material in question or otherwise legally display content. In short, without details on how Google’s process works, we have no reason to believe they won’t make similar, over-inclusive mistakes, dropping lawful, relevant speech lower in its search results without recourse for the speakers.
Of course, Google is not seizing domain names, as the government does. And it’s not removing sites from its search results altogether at copyright owners’ request, as SOPA would have required. To its credit, Google says that it will respect counter-notices, and won’t demote results based on takedowns that are rightfully disputed. But this is little comfort. Google’s opaque policies not only threaten lawful sites, but they undermine our confidence in its search results.
Google’s new algorithm will hurt search results for sites hit with copyright removal notices
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, August 10, 2012 18:00 EDT
Google on Friday said it is tweaking its search formula to give higher priority to legal content and sink rankings for websites hit with piracy complaints.
“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,” Google senior vice president of engineering Amit Singhal said in a blog post.
“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 on Spotify.”
More than 200 “signals” are factored into Google’s secret search algorithm for determining what gets priority on results pages.
Since Google revamped its copyright removal process two years ago it has been able to gather much more data about pirated content popping up online, according to Singhal.
Google said that it receives more copyright removal notices daily – some 4.3 million in the past 30 days – than it did in all of 2009.
“Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results,” Singhal said.
Google provides “counter-notice” tools for website operators to challenge piracy accusations.
Motion Picture Association of America senior executive vice president Michael O’Leary said the film industry group was optimistic that change would help steer people away from “rogue cyberlockers, peer-to-peer sites, and other enterprises that steal the hard work of creators across the globe.”
“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,” O’Leary said.
Filed Under: SCIENCE & TECH
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