About a month ago, Google made a significant change to its search algorithm. With this change, Google will downgrade websites that are accused of violating copyright laws.
Google, in an http://insidesearch.blogspot.com post, said that the new algorithm will take into account the number of valid copyright takedown notices that Google receives. Sites referenced in a higher number of removal notices will receive a lower ranking in Google search results.
The algorithm change should benefit websites that respect copyright laws and protect rights holders. Google believes that this new algorithm will “…help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily.”
Many groups have supported the change, including the MPAA. The senior executive vice president for global policy of MPAA was blunt: “[we]…look forward to Google taking further steps to ensure that its services favor legitimate businesses and creators, not thieves.”
However, other groups are concerned about the new algorithm. Many worry that the change will be abused and that many websites will be demoted unfairly. So far, Google has not specified a process to address the concerns of site owners who believe their sites have been demoted unfairly.
Digital rights advocates want more details on how the new algorithm works and how Google will determine which sites will be demoted. They’ve expressed concern that Google’s actions could result in lower search rankings for sites that contain relevant and lawful material. But for the time being, Google has not disclosed further details of their algorithm.
In the blog post announcing the change, Google said that they are receiving more takedown notices than ever—4.3 million URLs in a recent 30-day period.
Google has admitted that it is not in the business of evaluating the legality of web pages. Amit Singhal, one of the Google senior vice presidents of engineering, stated that Google will not remove pages from search results unless Google “receives a valid copyright removal notice from the rights owner.” Yet the number of valid notices received will affect the ranking of the entire site within Google’s search results.
This change in Google’s ranking algorithm also presents an opportunity for those who are short on ethics. A business could send a flurry of takedown notices to Google in order to lower a competitor’s search engine rank. That would be illegal, but for some, that may not matter.