Why Google Should be a Utility

The fact that they don’t care enough to fall prey to these transparent censorship actions indicates that there should be a sh%$ load more regulation of their activities:

A Google search, at one time, could locate a news article on a man accused of attempted child rape, another on someone charged with fraud and still others on Ukrainian politicians facing corruption allegations. Googling certain keywords in March would find an article detailing the movements of two coronavirus-infected British tourists in Vietnam and warning others who visited the same places to take precautions.

Then the stories vanished.

Google stopped listing them in searches after it received formal requests that it scrub links to the pieces, a Wall Street Journal investigation found.

The Journal identified hundreds of instances in which individuals or companies, often using apparently fake identities, caused the Alphabet Inc. unit to remove links to unfavorable articles and blog posts that alleged wrongdoing by convicted criminals, foreign officials and businesspeople in the U.S. and abroad.

Google took them down in response to copyright complaints, many of which appear to be bogus, the Journal found in an analysis of information from the more than four billion links sent to Google for removal since 2011.

Google’s system was set up to comply with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA. The 1998 law gives tech firms immunity from claims in copyright cases as long they quickly take down copyrighted material once alerted.

Takedown requests to Google are often from media companies legitimately requesting that pirated copies of a movie or album be removed from search results. Publishers and news outlets, including the Journal, have also asked Google to scrub allegedly infringing material from Google Search.

Yet some requests, the Journal found, appear to be from people manipulating the system in ways it didn’t intend, resulting in Google’s taking down lawful content.

When a Colorado man, Dak Steiert, faced state-court charges of running a fake law firm in 2018, he sent Google a series of copyright claims against blogs and a law-firm website that discussed his case, claiming they had copied the posts from Mr. Steiert’s own website. That wasn’t true, the Journal determined, but Google erased the pages from its search engine anyway.

Last year, Mr. Steiert, who didn’t respond to requests for comment, pleaded guilty in Colorado state court to one count of false advertising in his business. The Colorado Supreme Court closed his practice. The articles remained invisible in Google searches until the Journal flagged the cases to Google, which then reinstated the links.


“If people can manipulate the gatekeepers to make important and lawful information disappear,” said Daphne Keller, a former Google lawyer and now a program director at Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center, “that’s a big deal.”


After the Journal shared its findings with Google, the company conducted a review and restored more than 52,000 links it determined it had improperly removed, she said. Google said its review identified more than 100 new abusive submitters, declining to discuss individual cases.


A Google search for reputation managers turns up firms claiming to be able to remove negative content from popular search engines including Google—even though typically Google only removes links for alleged copyright violations or to comply with other relevant laws.

The Journal dug into the world of takedown requests by reviewing electronic records of copyright-removal notices that Google shares with Harvard University researchers. The Journal cross-referenced those requests with separate data Google releases regularly in a “transparency report,” which discloses whether it granted each request.


Financial-news site Benzinga fell victim to a common tactic to trick Google: backdating. Someone wanting Google to hide a webpage will find a little-trafficked blog and post a copy of the content from the legitimate webpage. After backdating the plagiarized post, the complainant will file an electronic notice with Google claiming the real article is a copyright violation.

A simple change to the DMCA, requiring fines against those who file false claims, and fines against entities who fail to use diligence with regards to a take-down notice,  (the latter would cover Google) would shut this crap down.

Meaningful regulation, and the right for private recourse would go a long way to shutting down this.

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