By Sarah GriffisImage

Google announced on Friday that it has updated its algorithm to downgrade websites for alleged copyright infringement. The new filter takes count of valid copyright removal notices, and websites that achieve a “high” number of notices are punished with lower ranking. A downgrade results in the webpage being displayed deeper in the results list, thereby reducing traffic to the site. Google does stress that it will not remove sites from search returns, and there is an internal dispute mechanism referred to as the “counter-notice”.

Despite Google’s attempts to soften the impact of its new algorithm, plenty of citizens see potential for abuse and misapplication of the downgrading procedure. David Angotti at Search Engine Journal points out that this punishment may target sites unfairly if, for example, a third party user is responsible for putting the infringing content on the net. John Bergmayer at Public Knowledge is concerned that Google’s steps may be manipulated to argue for a precedent that other search engine companies cannot maintain. Writers at EFF examine the risk of downgrading websites based on “false positives” among takedown requests.

Google seems to have more than the stakes of the copyright holders in mind with its recent modification of the results algorithm. Wired writer David Kravets explains that as Google expands into a media dissemination giant, it makes less and less sense to give top billing to websites that both leech traffic and tick off its business allies. The balance Google strikes is to push these sites off the first page even though they may be relevant to the search. Anthony Wing Kosner at Forbes has softened the accusation that Google also would give specific preferential treatment to YouTube; nevertheless, the partner site is protected under a category labeled “user generated content”.

Photo used without flickr user scobleizer’s permission via Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

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