Google's algorithm presents an ethical dilemma as users can find pirated content online.
Google rose to the top with its famous search engine algorithm, predicting answers to user questions with just a few keywords words as hints. However, what users want to find sometimes collide with the interests of other companies and artists.
Google’s algorithm brings the company into murky territory as torrent sites that often host pirated content like movies and TV shows. Noticed by both The Verge and Torrent Freak, these kind of results create an ethical dilemma for Google.
The company is supposedly trying to crack down on piracy websites and has signed a voluntary agreement saying it would try to prevent users from visiting certain disreputable content proves. It’s the first such agreement of its kind in the U.K. aimed to tackle piracy involving search engine, according to The Guardian.
But Google’s search results can still help its users find pirated content.
Torrenting, in and of itself, is a perfectly legal a way to distribute files more effectively, as is streaming. Many companies use torrenting as a way to distribute content and speed up downloads for users. For example, Blizzard Entertainment uses a custom BitTorent client to distribute updates for games like World of Warcraft, according to Wired.
The problem is when the content of those kinds of services feature is pirated, breaking copyright laws and preventing the owner of that content from making money. Due to the Safe Harbor provision in the Digital Millennium Copy Right Act, websites and other intermediaries like Google are generally protected from liability as long as they take down the copyrighted content after being notified of it, according to Craig Delsack, a media and technology lawyer in Manhattan. However, those individuals intending to watch, own or share copyrighted material for free are knowingly violating copyright laws.
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Currently, a Google search for “torrent sites” brings up results including Rarbg, 1337X, isoHunt, and The Pirate Bay—torrenting sites that host a large amount of pirated content.
Hollywood has a great distaste for the sharing of their copyrighted material. In 2011, Nu Image filed a lawsuit against 23,000 people who allegedly used torrent sites to illegally access The Expendables, according to Wired. Just weeks later, Voltage Pictures, the studio responsible for The Hurt Locker, sued nearly 25,000 BitTorrent users who allegedly downloaded the film illegally, according to CNN Money.
As for Google, its search results for queries like “stream site” or “streaming sites” include links to sites including Putlocker, a streaming site with an online index of movies and TV shows next to Netflix and Hulu. By listing Putlocker next to Hulu and Netflix, Google seems to imply that all the content on it is legal, according to Torrent Freak.
This isn’t the first time Google’s search engine collided with an intellectual property debate. In late June, Canada’s Supreme Court upheld a court ruling ordering Google to de-list entire domains and websites from its global search index, according to The Verge.
The Verge contacted Google for comment about the latest dust up, and was told that the search results weren’t exactly what the company intended to highlight in this particular manner. “These results are generated algorithmically, but in this particular case, do not reflect what we had in mind for this feature, and we are looking into it.”