Censoring Search Engines

Whenever people worry about “bad” content on the internet, however you define bad content, a proposed solution is to require search engines to censor their results. This leads to earnest discussion over whether or not forcing search engines to censor results will solve the problem, and at what cost. For example, could movie piracy be reduced by censoring Google? http://blog.searchenginewatch.com/110315-144530.

This discussion avoids the significant amount of self-censoring most search engines already perform. Some of this is obvious, such as the lack of auto complete for some terms, and some of this is less obvious, such as the algorithms used to rank results. For example, if you search “censorship in canada” on Google, this blog does not appear in the first ten pages. Maybe it turns up later, but who goes past ten pages with search results?  Bing/Yahoo brings this blog up on the second page.  My old friend Alta Vista brings this blog up on the first page. So is Google censoring this blog? Perhaps, but as with any private rating/ranking organization, how it works is a mystery.  At any rate, the issue of whether or not search engines should censor is moot. They do.

If you really want to censor the internet (and there are valid reasons to do that), the solution is the carriers: Bell and Rogers carry most of the Internet traffic in this country, and they are in the technical position to control content. Just because they can does not mean they should determine what is allowed – as with the search engines, allowing private business to make censorship decisions is dangerous – but they are in a position to implement restrictions on what is allowed.

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