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Google's Piracy Demotion Under Investigation By UK Government

Posted by: , 14:07 AEDT, Thu November 8, 2012

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After controversially agreeing to demote suspect piracy websites, Google is in trouble again as rights holders say the search engine isn't doing enough
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Google's controversial new policy of demoting websites that have received too many copyright infringement notices is not doing enough, says rights holders, and they have lobbied the UK government to launch an investigation into Google's latest anti-piracy measures.

The Guardian reports that the British government has launched a review into Google's latest anti-piracy scheme, citing pressure from "film, music and publishing industries", and the department for culture, media and sport may come down hard if it finds the changes Google have made are insufficient, and may even lead to new legislation that forces Google to remove links to websites allegedly offering infringing content.

A quick examination of Google's search algorithm did yield some, to pardon the pun, mixed results. Searching for a pirated copy of the recently released to home video title "Prometheus" by using the query "Prometheus download" (trailer) did produce a couple of suspicious looking websites, but not your usual major hitters such as The Pirate Bay, isoHunt or KickassTorrents. Changing the query from "download" to "torrent" did bring back all the usual suspects.

But as TorrenFreak discovered, searching for "The Dictator download" (trailer) however did include all the majors, suggesting that Google's new anti-piracy algorithm is often a hit and miss affair.

The algorithm most likely works by incorporating the number of DMCA notices into the website's "quality signals". Other quality signals could include the number of back-links, the website's traffic levels, and whether users are satisfied with the pages that come up in the search (if users immediately click back to the Google results page after visiting the page, then this counts as a "bad quality" signal, for example). As the piracy "bad quality" signal may be only one of hundreds or even thousands of signals that Google uses, it's often possible for "demoted" websites to get back up to the rankings, if the other quality signals are strong enough. This might explain why "The Dictator download" brought in "bad quality" results, as the movie has been released for longer and perhaps enough "good quality" signals were found for these websites.

The other problem with relying on "DMCA notices" is that smaller websites flying under the radar may in fact get less of these notices, and as a result, rise up in the ranks in place of the majors and thus continue to cause headaches for rights holders.

Whatever the reason for the hit and miss results, Google will insist that any problems with its algorithm can be straightened out over time, as more data becomes available and the Mountain View company continues to tweak its algorithm.


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