State Attorneys General to Google: Censor or Be Censored

Gayle Laakmann/Technologywoman.comGayle Laakmann/Technologywoman.comIf you have to ask Google how to rob a house or become a drug dealer, you probably aren't going to make a terribly superb robber or drug dealer. In other words: Search engine inquiries into how to start a life of crime are probably harmless. But that's not really the point—were eHow and Ask.com the premier way of learning the drug trade, it still wouldn't make it right for the government to intervene. The government is intervening, however, with state attorney generals (AGs) pressuring Google to obscure sites that promote illegal activities or sell "dangerous" or illegal materials. 

In a December 2013 letter, published by The Washington Post this week, attorneys general from 23 states and Puerto Rico "expressed concerns" about "Google's monetization of dangerous and illegal content," "the promotion of illegal and prescription free drugs," and general intellectual property violations on the Internet. The gang proposed a meeting in Denver in January, to which Google agreed.

A subsequent letter from the AGs, sent in February, calls the meeting a "valuable first step" but stresses that "much work remains to be done." Summarizing requests made at the meeting, the AGs ask Google to enhance content screening systems and place increased "human scrutiny" on content uploaded to YouTube and Google Drive; to delist sites that sell illegal drugs or any other illegal materials, and prevent these sites from using paid search or ads; and to provide "swift responses" to law enforcement officials about this content. 

"What can Google do to encourage a culture worthy of its 'Don't be evil' motto?" they ask. Oh, I don't know, perhaps not censor the Internet based on the whims of a group of paternalistic prosecutors or use its massive reach to be a spy for the state?

Google, to its credit, wanted no part of the AGs' evil schemes. The company explained that it already has initiatives in place to identify and address copyright violations or prohibited content, and it has (since 2010) barred illegal pharmacies from placing paid ads via Google.

It also, at the request of the AGs, recently removed more than 1,200 phrases from its auto-complete predictions, such as "how to become a drug dealer," "how to get away with robbing a house," and "how to buy slaves" (note that these search terms are still perfectly possible, you'll just have to type the whole phrase yourself). Additionally, it added hundreds of search terms (such as "buy foreign women") to a list of things that will not return ads on YouTube and AdWord.

However, Google patiently explained to the AGs, it does not own or run everything on the Internet nor have a desire to be censor in chief (emphasis mine): 

In contrast to our hosted platforms, our search index reflects existing content on the web, and the sites linked in Google search results are created and controlled by those sites' webmasters, not Google. Given the First Amendment and free-expression issues at play, search is the least restrictive of our services ... It is our firm belief that Google should not be the arbiter of what is and is not legal on the web.

Hell yeah. And Google also rejected (as it has many times before) the idea that it should remove entire sites from search results for copyright violations. Whole-site removal "sends the wrong message internationally, by favoring over-inclusive private censorship over the rule of law," it said. "This would jeopardize free speech principles and the free flow of information online globally and in contexts far removed from copyright." 

The state AGs aren't satisfied, of course. If Google won't fall in line, they've threatened to pursue legal action, according to The Washington Post. Jim Hood, Mississippi AG and the one leading this crusade, explained to the Post that they were merely "trying to make (Google) do right." 

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  • Dweebston||

    The only reason someone would want to research drug trafficking or sex slavery is because they intend to dip their toes in. No righteous person would want to know anything about these unsavory topics.

  • Rich||

    Word.

    That's why no righteous persons visit Hit & Run.

  • exchef100||

    Perhaps research on better ways to address and prevent these issues?

  • Invisible Finger||

    Lol.

    I'd bet the largest users of these search terms are government offices like the prosecutor, DEA, FBI...

  • pan fried wylie||

    Google could be the one entity that could afford to outlast a legal battle against the feds. Before having their assets seized to prevent them from mounting a defense, I mean.

  • Dweebston||

    They are making advertising dollars while delivering links to thoughtcrime sites. Those are illegal proceeds.

  • OldMexican||

    Since Tony is not here, it means he agrees with everything that is being said about the government's actions.

  • Dweebston||

    Progs have no love for police-state tyranny, or at least have an abiding ambivalence toward it, unless it's tyranny in the name of a pet issue. Censoring Google probably isn't one of theirs, but that's the danger of having no binding philosophical substance undergirding their political beliefs. They don't deal in ideas, however much they dress up their activism in the trappings of intellectualism. They traffic exclusively in grievance-group politicking and expedience. So censoring Google is as much a natural outgrowth of campus censorship, because they have no firewall to preclude it.

  • CAB||

    Dweebson,
    A succinctly informative analysis. Kudos.

  • SugarFree||

    I need the backstory on this one. What did the idiot do now?

  • Rich||

    I've been trying to figure that out, too.

    OM is certainly "on" Tony today.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    It all started here, apparently.

    http://reason.com/archives/201.....nt_4451976

  • Rich||

    If I don't show up in a thread it usually means I agree with the argument.

    Awesome.

  • SugarFree||

    Oh, shit. That's hilarious.

    I also like that he admitted he's nothing but a troll.

  • ||

    I can't believe I actually got him to admit that mass murder was his end goal.

  • Restoring the Dream||

    Google, "how to blow Jim Hood to smithereens."

  • ImanAzol||

    Yup. "How do I assassinate an attorney general?" A few million hits will create an autocomplete. Mother nature will do the rest.

  • ||

    The government loves nothing more than pushing its CONTROL costs onto private entities. The only reason they're able to be as oppressive as they are is that they've successfully forced, through "law", private entities to do a substantial amount of their policing for them. Banks are a perfect example of this, and, of course, they're now trying to get some of the richest internet companies to do the same. It's essentially an additional stealth tax where the private entities have to spend money to do what the government wants, it's just that the government never officially took the money directly from them. But it's still spent on government purposes.

    The government will never, ever have stolen enough. It will just keep finding ways to make our money work for it.

  • Rhywun||

    It's just a matter of time before FedGov is reduced to begging for toilet paper and Google or some other entity can tell them to fuck off with impunity.

  • ||

    Not as long as they have their monopoly on force, and as long as people still believe that's legitimate. Because they can force those entities to do what they want. They already do in myriad ways. Go try and withdraw $10,001 some time and see what happens.

  • Dweebston||

    Do it over the course of several hours, and not only is the bank required to file a CTR on you, you're now subject to a Suspicious Activity Report about which you'll know nothing unless the feds follow up on it. Because your wholly legal activity is profoundly suspicious in the eyes of certain people.

  • Rich||

    Because your wholly legal activity is profoundly suspicious in the eyes of certain people.

    *** pounds table ***

    Damn it, if you have nothing to hide why do you care if certain people find your wholly legal activity profoundly suspicious?!

    /Certain people

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Into how many parts must the withdrawal be broken until it isn't "structuring"?

    2 x $5000?
    4 x $2500?

    Are those both suspicious?

  • Rich||

    Yep.

    That's why you should withdraw it like this: $5000, $2500, $1250, $625, ....

  • pan fried wylie||

    but I want my 10k, not 9999.999999999999999....

  • Rich||

    reduced to begging for toilet paper

    Never. That's why they're not "begging for" ammo.

  • Rich||

    It is our firm belief that Google should not be the arbiter of what is and is not legal on the web.

    Indeed, what does "legal on the web" even mean?

  • AlmightyJB||

    Yeah, exactly. I don't see how any attempts at censorship passes constitutional muster. Although it did take them a while to overturn unconstitutional campain laws with citizens united. I actually thought this would all start with "hate" group sites. Media usually takes the side of the 1st so this isn't a walk in the park for the facists.

  • ||

    Media usually takes the side of the 1st

    O Rly? Only when it's their speech on the line. The media is almost uniformly statist. They can't be counted on for shit.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Not always but usually. They know what a sliplery slope is. They just pretend not to when talking about any other rights. They're probably the only reason white supremists are still allowed (for now) to hold rallies.

  • AlmightyJB||

    And I agree they cannot be counted on for anything.

  • Rich||

    One of my, um, concerns is that this shit will produce censorship in general, via "reasoning" like: "Well, everyone agrees that we have to stop the spread of evil information on the web, and the web is just a technological enabler, so we are entirely justified in jailing people for discussing unsavory topics in their homes."

  • sarcasmic||

    Indeed, what does "legal on the web" even mean?

    Freedom means asking permission and obeying orders.

    So "legal on the web" obviously means information that has been permitted or mandated. And nothing else.

  • Rich||

    OK, that makes sense.

    *** starts googling for list of permitted or mandated information ***

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Well written Elizabeth. You are a great addition to the Reason staff.

  • AlmightyJB||

    I concur.

  • KPres||

    Me too, but it's going to take 2 or 3 more like her to make up for Freeney.

  • Elizabeth Nolan Brown||

    Thank you!

  • Devil's Advocate||

    Agreed. Although every time I read articles indicating that certain states did something, I would like to see those states listed. It doesn't have to be in the main body of the article, and could even be a post-script. Otherwise I have to click through one or more additional articles to find out if my state's idiot AG signed on.

    It is not that I am too busy to read additional articles; I am just lazy.

  • Elizabeth Nolan Brown||

    Noted. I actually feel the same way when I read things, but there were 29 states here so it seemed too many too list in the body. Post-script is a good idea...

  • AlmightyJB||

    Just checked out who signed this abomination. Was confident I would find and did find Mike "piece of shit nazi asshole sheepfucker " DeWine's (Ohio AG) name on it. I hate that scum sucking fascist pig.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    You do? I wouldn't know it from your measured description of him :)

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Aw c'mon, he's here to help.

    As Attorney General, Mike DeWine’s top priority is protecting Ohio’s families.

  • Rich||

    So *that's* why he always wears a condom stretched over his head!

  • Loki||

    It's for TEH CHILDRENZ!!!! WHY DO YOU LIBERTARIANZ HATES TEH CHILDRENZ!!!!1!!

  • Devil's Advocate||

    I was kind of surprised to find that Idaho's AG Wasden did not sign on. Not exactly a libertarian, that one.

    Hell, he even signed on to an amicus brief in Parker v. D.C. (precursor to Heller), along with MA, MD, NJ, Boston, Chicago and NYC, supporting D.C.'s anti-gun regs. He claimed he did it to protect Idaho's rights to take state action on guns, and tried to look like a champion of federalism. It could come back to haunt him this election cycle. Coming out against the 2nd Amendment in Idaho is not a good career move (outside of about 3 districts).

  • John C. Randolph||

    My respect for Google would increase immeasurably if their response was "First amendment, motherfuckers: did you READ IT?"

  • Brett L||

  • Dweebston||

    I'd setting for an "I'm feeling lucky" redirect when searching the keywords "censor google results."

  • SlV||

    "buy foreign women"

    "How much for the leetle girl?"

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Gotta' link to that.

  • Elizabeth Nolan Brown||

    A weirder now-banned term was "buy that girl."

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Jim Hood, Mississippi AG and the one leading this crusade, explained to the Post that they were merely "trying to make (Google) do right."

    Since the dissemination of verboten information is doing wrong, I supposed Mr. Hood will soon take his mob down to the nearest library for a friendly book-burning.

    Make sure the libraries are doing right.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    Psst...want to set up an illegal criminal enterprise? Just go to toatallynotasting.org

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    Please leave your address and describe the make and model of your door.

  • sarcasmic||

    I remember a while back the government banned a book on how to be a serial killer. Don't remember the exact title, but I remember the publisher was based out of Boulder. So naturally I looked on the web, and whaddaya know I found a PDF version of it. It was kind of interesting. The guy suggested using an AR7 because they're cheap enough to toss after one use, as well as being easy to conceal. He said to run a rat tail file down the barrel after use to make it impossible to match the rifling to the bullet, then toss it off a bridge. What else. Oh yeah, stand at least ten feet from your target to avoid getting splattered with blood. There was some stuff about how much to charge and how to avoid being hired by a cop. Nothing really exciting. Can't find it anymore.

  • sarcasmic||

    Oh yeah. Paladin Press. That was the search key I needed. Here it is.

    http://users.telenet.be/sterf/.....actors.pdf

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    Thanks to H&R, I have plenty on my search history as it is. Now you want me to add *this*?

  • SlV||

    Once I was looking for a public domain military technical manual and the only place I could find it was a torrent through a link on stormfront.Most of it was just a bunch of really useful gov-published and other public domain stuff with a focus on do it yourself or maybe survival/prepping. A smaller amount was shit like that.

  • sarcasmic||

    What happens when someone commits a crime, and it's found that they went and got information from the Internet?

    Are the providers of that information sued?

    Is the search engine sued?

    Is the ISP sued?

    Because that's how you do censorship without declaring censorship. Force companies into CYA mode for fear of being sued, and you've got implicit censorship.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    FREEDOM IS SLAVERY

  • sloopyinca||

    For every idiotic wealth-confiscating program by a Prog state, you have these idiotic Red states doing the same fucking thing with civil liberties.

    This is why most of us won't do what Tulpa and a few others want us to do in Presidential elections when the GOPer is a slightly less repulsive cretin than the Dem candidate. Because this is the kind of idiotic shit their party stands for.

  • catladycommittee||

    Here's a gem on the "how to buy slaves" search results:

    "Picking apart the Bible - Atlanta creationism

    The bible can tell you how to buy slaves, how to discipline them, how to mark them, when to free them, how to free them and convince them to stay a slave."

    So do they want to ban the Bible too?

  • Invisible Finger||

    And people say the progressives are blameless in this censorship initiative.

  • Silver Fang||

    These AGs are the same ones who got ISPs to stop hosting newsgroups a few years ago. Who empowered these people, whose job it is to prosecute crime, to try to intimidate ISPs and sites into censoring material?

  • Griffin3||

    I just googled "Jim Hood Mississippi home address". Will report on any visitations.

  • cw||

    State attorneys general obviously have nothing better to do.

  • croaker||

    SF author Michael Z Williamson put out a call on facebook for 3 million people to Google "How do I assassinate an attorney general?"

    Not actually to do so. Just so the autocomplete exists.

  • thorax232||

    "[Google] does not own or run everything on the Internet..." The fact that this has to be explained shows how retarded government officials are. "MAKE CRIME NOT HAPPEN!"

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