State AG Wants Google to Act
Attorney General Jim Hood is asking internet giant Google to substantially address issues on its internet site that are allowing consumers to obtain illegal and counterfeit goods, including the online sale of dangerous drugs without a prescription.
Attorney General Hood leads a group of national attorneys general who are concerned that Google’s search algorithm often leads to sites known to sell counterfeit goods being at the top of the Google search results. Additionally, attorneys general are concerned that some of the sites selling counterfeit goods are advertising with Google.
“On every check we have made, Google’s search engine gave us easy access to illegal goods including websites which offer dangerous drugs without a prescription, counterfeit goods of every description, and infringing copies of movies, music, software and games,” said Attorney General Hood. “This behavior means that Google is putting consumers at risk and facilitating wrongdoing, all while profiting handsomely from illegal behavior.”
As co-chair of the National Association of Attorneys General Intellectual Property Committee, Attorney General Hood, has made concerns known to Google but without any substantive response to date. Therefore, Attorney General Hood sent a letter to Google’s Chief Executive Officer Larry Page inviting him to a national meeting of the attorneys general on June 18 in Boston to address concerns which include:
Content Removal – Google claims to only remove content from its search results in a narrow set of circumstances. The phrase “narrow set of circumstances” seems misleading. Google’s own policies on child exploitation state, “we block search results that lead to child pornography. This is a legal requirement and the right thing to do.” However, Google also removes other types of content. For instance, Google removes content from its German portal that glorifies the Nazi party on google.de or insults religion on google.co.in in India. Why will Google not remove websites or de-index known websites that purport to sell prescription drugs without a prescription or provide pirated content? Content removal can be done, but it appears Google is unwilling to remove content related to the purchase of prescription drugs without a prescription or the downloading of pirated movies and songs.
Auto Complete – Google claims in its April 19th letter that “the predictions that appear in auto complete are an algorithmic reflection of query terms that are popular with our users and on the internet. Google does not manually select these terms or determine what queries are considered related to each other.” This statement is misleading. For example, a user cannot type in “free child” and receive an auto complete of the words “porn” or “pornography.” Google blocks an auto complete of the phrase “free child porn.” However, the phrase “buy oxycodone online” is autocompleted with the words “no prescription cod.” Google states in its April 19th letter that removing generic terms such as “prescription” or “online” is vastly overbroad. The issue is not about these words as stand-alone search terms, but phrases that facilitate known illegal behavior. For example, if you type in “buy oxycod,” the auto complete will provide “buy oxycodone online no prescription cod” as one of the choices. Another example is typing in “watch movies free so” and auto complete supplies “watch movies free solar.” Solarmovie is a known rogue website. The suggested search term by Google, “solar,” results in extensive sites containing infringing content on the first page of results. Can Google not remove phrases from auto complete such as “buy oxycodone online no prescription cod” or “watch movies free solar” without removing stand-alone terms?
Digital Millennium Copyright Act Notices – Google has repeatedly stated that “sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results.” However, websites that continue to appear very prominently in Google search results are the same websites highly listed on Google’s Transparency Report. For example, single searches for a popular new DVD released film results in the website torrentz.eu on the first hit of the search. Torrentz.eu has received over 2,103,239 URL removal requests according to Google’s Transparency Report.
Role of search engines in curbing sale of counterfeit pharmaceuticals – Google does not mention the role of “search” at all in response to this question implying that search is not an issue of concern despite what is mentioned above. Moreover, Google does not mention its platform YouTube and the role of search and advertising on YouTube in promoting illegal activities. For example, users can search for and view videos purporting to sell prescription drugs without a prescription and other illegal activities all while viewing paid advertisements. What steps is Google taking to address advertising in conjunction with illicit videos on YouTube?
Google is being asked to adequately address the attorneys general concerns or prepare to be slapped with subpoenas forcing the company to produce documents and answer questions.
“We attorneys general are duty-bound to enforce our consumer protection laws and other civil and criminal statutes,” said Attorney General Hood. “Google is aiding and abetting criminal activity and putting consumers at risk. This is of grave concern to the chief law enforcement officers of this nation.”