Google’s auto-complete feature-which gives suggestions about what you may be typing in the search bar before you spell out the whole word-is surely one of its most useful features. It’s also proving to be one of its most controversial, and the search giant keeps modifying the program by kicking out terms that are too closely related to piracy. The most recent search term that’s too controversial for auto-complete? It’s mediafire, the name of a cyberlocker service.
The change, which was first noticed today by the TorrentFreak blog, means that searchers who type in “mediafire” won’t get any suggestions of what terms to include in their search, although there’s nothing stopping users from typing in any search term they choose, sans suggestion.
Other file-sharing terms, like BitTorrent, torrent, and Rapidshare, only make suggestions after users have typed in the full first word.
As TorrentFreak pointed out, Google’s tweaks to this system have been mighty inconsistent. Most obviously, it’s blocked some cyberlocker sites, like Mediafire and Rapidshare, but is happy to make suggestions about others, like Hotfile (which is actually being sued by the MPAA right now.)
A Google (NSDQ: GOOG) spokeswoman told TorrentFreak: “When evaluating terms for inclusion, we examine several factors, including correlation between the term and results that have been subject to valid DMCA takedown notices.” He added: “While there is no silver bullet for infringement online, this measure is one of several that we have implemented to curb copyright infringement online.”
So why do so many suggested searches involve terms related to piracy? Simply because-as Google General Counsel Kent Walker has even told Congress-there are a lot of people searching for infringing material. Still, even though autocomplete is effectively just a poll of what the masses are searching for, it does seem to keep landing Google in hot water.
At a recent hearing, one Congresswoman, Rep. Wasserman-Schultz, pounded Google over the idea that typing in “knockoff” might lead to a suggestion to search for “knockoff handbags.” The heat continues, even though selling goods that imitate high-fashion items is-and you would think Wasserman-Schultz would know this-perfectly legal.
This is one feature that Google is likely to have to continue to make alterations to. The picture that it provides of what people are truly searching for just isn’t a pretty one, and the political and economic pressure to censor those results is only going to get stronger. One has to hope the company continues to be careful enough not to take the blocking too far. (Thankfully, it looks like Google has, so far, resisted Wasserman-Schultz’s idea of making “knockoff” a banned term.)
Google started excluding certain piracy-related terms from autocomplete in January, but it has long excluded other terms from autocomplete, including words related to violence and hate speech, as well as sexually explicit search terms.