Google Blocks Piracy Related Terms on Instant, AutoComplete

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.—Google Instant launched in September 2010 with some terms blocked, most notably terms having to do with sex and porn. Go figure. A single click brings up full search results, but the Instant and AutoComplete functions remained pure. The actual list of filtered terms was of course a secret—at least to us mere mortals—though extensive testing was always possible in order to see what the geniuses in Mountain View deemed unworthy. Presumably, the list was not static but routinely added to and more rarely subtracted from.

Now, TorrentFreak has alerted us to the fact that Google has started filtering terms associated with Torrents. In TorrentFreak’s opinion, Google “caved” to pressure from entertainment industry trade groups like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which, as AVN reported earlier, have also successfully been targeting payment providers such as MasterCard and others in a comprehensive campaign to drive enablers on digital piracy out of business.

The move to add piracy-related filtering to Instant and AutoComplete should come as no surprise, however. The company announced its intentions in early December as part of a larger strategy to “make copyright work better online." Filtering was one part of a four-pronged strategy.

“While it’s hard to know for sure when search terms are being used to find infringing content, we’ll do our best to prevent AutoComplete from displaying the terms most frequently used for that purpose,” the company said. The three other prongs included improving the response time for copyright takedown requests, improving their AdSense anti-piracy review, and experimenting to make authorized preview content more readily accessible in search results.

The tactic with the Instant and AutoComplete filtering seems to be that, short of returning no results at all for piracy-related searches, decreasing their visibility is better than nothing and is at least a move in the right direction. For copyright holders, that is. The Torrents, according to TorrentFreak, are fit to be tied.

“The reactions from affected companies and services are not mild, with BitTorrent Inc., RapidShare and Vodo all speaking out against this act of commercial censorship,” wrote Ernesto for TorrentFreak, which also queried  Simon Morris, VP of marketing and product at BitTorrent, Inc.

“We respect Google’s right to determine algorithms to deliver appropriate search results to user requests. That being said, our company’s trademarked name is fairly unique, and we’re pretty confident that anyone typing the first six or seven letters deserves the same easy access to results as with any other company search,” Morris said.

“A quick search for ‘BitTorrent’ currently returns a variety of legitimate and useful links, including company information, our software, our open-source protocol, and more,” he added. “What Google may not realize is that our technology is used for many purposes that provide significant value to the technology industry, companies, artists and consumers at large.”

RapidShare also weighed in to TorrentFreak. “We knew about Google’s plans for quite a few weeks now,” the company said. “We embrace that certain search suggestions will not put a wrong complexion on RapidShare anymore, but we are concerned that at the same time the legitimate interests of our users will also be affected. We believe it was the wrong decision to remove the term ‘RapidShare’ from the search suggestions.

“RapidShare is one of the most popular websites worldwide.” the company added. “Every day hundreds of thousands of users rely on our services to pursue their perfectly legitimate interests. That is why Google has obviously gone too far with censoring the results of its suggested algorithm. A search engine’s results should reflect the users’ interests and not Google’s or anybody else’s.”

TorrentFreak also spoke with BitTorrent partner and VODO founder Jamie King, “Google already showed it will censor for the highest bidder—China Inc. springs to mind. Now it’s doing it for MPAA & Co.,” he said, adding, “I guess it’s simple: our favorite search monopoly cares less about helping the thousands of independent creators who use BitTorrent to distribute legal, free-to-share content than they do about protecting the interests of Big Media in its death throes.”

Last year, King gave a short interview to GigaOM in which he extolled the virtues of BitTorrent as a legal distribution platform.

“At VODO and BitTorrent, we think the free-to-share model, powered by peer-to-peer distribution, is developing into a great way for creators to have their works seen, heard and read by millions of people,” he said. “ So one thing I think (of as) very damaging is the way entertainment lobbies are moving, through instruments like Three-Strikes and ACTA, to prop up copy-restriction for the apparent good of their own businesses—but to the detriment of almost everyone else.”

The move by Google may actually be welcomed by many producers of adult content, who have seen their profits pilfered over the past few years due to the illegal uploading and sharing of their copyrighted material. Many studios have in fact begun suing end-users in a last-ditch strategy to impose a potential cost on such activity and also to recoup some revenue. As in any entertainment industry, however, the practice is not without controversy, and not all adult content producers agree with end-user litigation.

A search of news reports and entertainment group websites today resulted in no immediate reaction to Google’s newly restrictive Instant and AutoComplete results.