Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Google Instant and BitTorrents

Posting to NGC4LIB

"Google Starts Censoring BitTorrent, RapidShare and More"
"A few weeks ago Google announced that it would start filtering “piracy related” terms from its ‘Autocomplete‘ and ‘Instant‘ services and today they quietly rolled out this questionable feature."
"Among the list of forbidden keywords are “uTorrent”, a hugely popular piece of entirely legal software and “BitTorrent”, a file transfer protocol and the name of San Fransisco based company BitTorrent Inc. As of today, these keywords will no longer be suggested by Google when you type in the first letter, nor will they show up in Google Instant. All combinations of the word “torrent” are also completely banned."
The article also mentions that autocomplete works for Xunlei, which is the major torrent engine in China and a company that Google invested money into a few years ago.

Although this does not seem to rank on a par with the "abortion" example in Popline from a few years back (http://www.librarian.net/stax/2276/librarians-notice-abortion-stop-word-take-action/ where they made "abortion" a stopword), Google's action is nevertheless a type of censorship. Torrents are not illegal in and of themselves, the torrent protocol is simply a type of peer-to-peer technology that uses the real power of the internet to transfer information from one computer to another.

An excellent article in SearchEngineLand discusses it in far more detail, e.g.: http://searchengineland.com/how-google-instant-autocomplete-suggestions-work-62592, and they mention that the following types of searches are blocked:
  • Hate or violence related suggestions
  • Personally identifiable information in suggestions
  • Porn & adult-content related suggestions
  • Legally mandated removals
  • Piracy-related suggestions
The guidelines describing what is and is not blocked are very detailed, e.g. what is a "protected group"? And apparently, it can be spammed (of course).

I think these articles discuss some excellent points to keep in mind when considering the differences between library-type tools and the popular web search engines.


  1. I beg to differ - this does not constitute censorship. The search terms can still be used. I, for one, don't wish my 11 year old to be prompted with porn terms when using Google.

    If Google were eliminating the ability to search using these terms, that might resemble censorship by one company, though unless government-required or industry-wide, it is not truly censorship.

    Still, this does help illuminate the enormous power of Google search in our daily lives.

    If our selectors start acquiring porn (other than romance for women) or how-to books for using torrent sites, I'll let you know. Until then, so far as I know, they are limiting access to those types of works in our collection. Is this censorship?

  2. Thanks so much for the comment.

    I wasn't concentrating on the pornography but on the other areas: the hate speech and the "piracy". These are topics that deal much more closely with a traditional issue of librarianship: selection.

    Would we/should we not add materials to our collections just because they may be considered by some to be "hate" speech or deal with unpopular subjects?

    Of course, when this happens, our ethics are supposed to come into effect. Otherwise, the effect is that small sections of our communities determine what other sections can read.

    These are difficult decisions that librarians have to deal with every day. When a profit-making company makes these same decisions, it is necessarily a different matter and they will make different choices from our librarian-ethical decisions.