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Exploring Google Search's tenuous relationship with pirated content

Evan Dashevsky | Sept. 12, 2013
Mountain View says it filters copyright-infringing content from its autocomplete function, but not all search filters are created equal.

Meanwhile, search for a phrase like "the pirate bay eminem", "the pirate bay ironman" or "the pirate bay sisterhood of the travelling pants 2" will all return relevant torrent searches within The Pirate Bay. While the returns will not be available in the main search field until you click it, this is a curious loophole in the Mountain View's search filtering algorithm.

Meanwhile, the top-level urls for sites included in BPI's most recent DCMA request, such as for mp3chief.com, will autocomplete on the US Site when you search for the terms "MP3 Chief" or "mp3chief" in autocomplete with associated links in the returns page below the search bar.

In fact, Google autocomplete worked for many (but not all) urls included in BPI's DMCA request including, nakido.com (under search term "nakido"), free-albums.net ("free-albums"), and indowebster.com ("indowebster").

Autocompletely hit-and-miss
According to Google's autocomplete FAQ, the autocomplete terms are the algorithm-driven result of "search activity from all web users and the content of web pages indexed by Google." Google also readily acknowledges that the autocomplete function is does not roam completely unchecked. In addition to filtering out "objectionable" material such as pornography, violence, or hate speech in the autocomplete function, the company filters out terms that "are frequently used to find content that infringes copyrights."

Google's position on its autocomplete function becomes even more curious when you consider how it relates to porn searches. If you were search for the domain name of a well-known pornography site—which Google explicitly says it will filter though its autocomplete—it will not turn up in autocomplete. This is true for a number of sites I tried with seemingly innocuous url names. Unlike The Pirate Bay searches, you will not receive a proper autocomplete even if you conjoin the words together and include the period afterwards. Try it if you're at home on a work computer—assuming you know the name of at least one adult site.

We have contacted Google for clarification on their autocomplete functionality and will update when and if we receive any response.

 

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