If you were uncertain that the digital world has decided to take on piracy this year, it should be pretty clear now. First Nintendo announces the “heyday of piracy” has come and gone, and today Google has turned off its Autocomplete feature when it comes to searching for anything involving illegal downloading, making good on its vow to fight BitTorrenters everywhere.
Searching for BitTorrent, RapidShare, uTorrent, Megaupload, and torrent will now have to be done completely on your own, without any fill-in-the-blank help from the browser. Google warned users this was coming, saying it planned to “prevent terms that are closely associated with piracy from appearing in autocomplete.” But what about websites like Pirate Bay and Vuze? Sure, these P2P sites notoriously and unabashedly enable illegal file sharing, but they also offer legitimate downloading. As BitTorrent VP of marketing and product Simon Morris tells TorrentFreak, “What Google may not realize is that our technology is used for many purposes that provide significant value to the technology industry, companies, artists and consumers at large.” Morris notes that while he “respects Google’s right to determine algorithms” concerning search results, he doesn’t have to like it. “We’re pretty confident that anyone typing the first six or seven letters deserves the same easy access to results as with any other company search.”
Just to fulfill our own curiosity, we tested it out. Sure enough, there were no drop-down suggestions for us after beginning to type in various piracy-related terms. However, after entering the entire word into the search bar, Google still offers suggestions – for instance, after fully typing “BitTorrent,” there were suggestions like “BitTorrent client” and “BitTorrent search.”
Really, this just feels like censorship “lite.” The larger implication is the degree to which the industry (not to mention the government) plans to combat piracy. At last count, piracy sites were getting 53 billion visits a year, and it’s clear things are going to change. But if this means that, for the time being, searching for a torrent client is minimally more difficult, serious digital piraters aren’t losing too much sleep – it’s a pretty tame first step. If the day ever comes that Google censors its search results for the stuff, then it’s time to panic.