Google – A Pirate’s Best Friend (Guest Post Volker Rieck)

Google – A Pirate’s Best Friend

Google appears to still be blissfully oblivious to its intentional or unintentional (but readily discernible) support for piracy websites. Google supports pirates in a variety of ways, and I will explore a few of them here.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has already been critical of Google’s inaction on piracy for years. The first major problem is the prominent visibility of piracy URLs in Google’s search results. Following the classic logic that the best place to hide a body is surely on the second page of search results, the hope of the filmmakers has been that rank and file consumers, at least, might refrain from using rights-infringing sites when they no longer feature in the first few hits on search.
Pure self-interest could be expected to lead Google to the same conclusion: Google sells movies itself in its Google Play store. With every additional illegal option displayed prominently in search results, Google’s own chances of making a sale to an interested consumer recede. Against this background, let’s now see what happens when we run a search on Google for the movie “Black Panther.”

Illustration: Google search auto-complete for Black Panther
The first suggestion from Google is “Black Panther stream.” The other suggestions seem unproblematic.

 

The very first auto-complete suggestion (Black Panther stream) leads to an additional page of search results. The first three hits lead to illegal sites, and only in the fourth position does the first legitimate option appear in the form of Amazon.de.

Illustration: Black Panther stream – Google search results

As advances in artificial intelligence continue, Google is among those working intensively in this areato improve their services. Why Google has not yet deployed artificial intelligence to intelligently filter the words and phrases used in auto-complete and the links they lead to is a question only Google can answer. While such a step would not entirely resolve the problem of unregulated film distribution, it would shrink it substantially.
And Google already has the perfect data basis for differentiating between pirated and legitimate content. According to informationprovided by Google itself, Google has already received a total of 3.5 billion requests to stop links from appearing in search results. Almost all of these links are removed from the search engine’s index as a result, some even before they have been indexed in the first place.

Google has received about 200 000 takedown requests relating to the first three results in the search above and has complied with most of them.

Perhaps mere human intelligence would suffice to join the dots and resolve the issue if the necessary links were made between existing data sets. Google’s success as an enterprise is attributable to the value and the high quality of its products and services. There can be little doubt about that. But pirates also know how to make these services work for them.

Good tools, dubious users

Google’s support for pirates extends well beyond the issue of search engine rankings.
Let’s look at a few of the other things Google can do for pirates:

1. Google Analyticsis the most unproblematic Google service pirates can avail of. And practically every pirate website does avail of it: the Google account numbers are hiding in plain sight in the source code of many of these websites.
Closing these accounts would be simple for Google.

  1. Google Ads: There is no such thing as altruism on the Internet. The illegal science piracy and book websites LibGen und Sci-Hub illustrate this nicely. They present themselves as altruistic knowledge repositories. But the operators are anything but disinterested parties.
    All three banner locations at LibGen in the details view carry Google advertising. The same applies to the Sci-Hub results, which LibGen visitors can also search for. Consumers are bombarded with advertising, at the latest when they download content.


    Illustration: Lidl, Numan Radios and 1&1 can greet their customers from the LibGen website thanks to Google

    Here, again, we can ask how much more work on artificial intelligence will have to be conducted in order to establish that LibGen is not a legal website? Should the 300 000 takedown requestsreceived by Google over LibGen not already have sufficed to make the problem rather obvious?
    And we haven’t even mentioned the issue of brand safety yet. Pirate websites are not fussy about who they accept advertising from. But what reputable enterprise would want to see its products and services marketed alongside ads for pornography and poker?
    Google and the operators of LibGen clearly have a business relationship. Money changes hands regularly and accounts are settled. Google knows who the operators of LibGen are. Google, in other words, knows what the tax authorities and numerous rights holders would presumably like to discover: who are the operators of LibGen, and whose coffers are being filled as a result of Google’s regular payments to them?

  2. Google reCAPTCHA:Captchas are another excellent service provided by Google. They are used to prevent unwanted visitors or bots from accessing sites – including visitors with an interest in detecting what content is made available on certain websites. Getting around the defenses presented by Google reCAPTCHA is complex and onerous.

Only users with Google Developer accounts can deploy these Google captchas. The account data (with a unique Google ID number) can, again, be found hiding in plain sight in the source code of websites that use the service. But informing Google about seedy sites which abuse this Google service (quoting the developer account number) does not lead to such developers having their accounts withdrawn. Google simply ignores such communication.

Illustration: Accessing Game of Thrones at Serienstream.to (S.to).
A Google captcha presents a barrier to accessing the page.

The following list of pirate sites Google supports through its reCaptcha service makes it clear that the problem extends beyond isolated individual cases:

Filecrypt.cc, Goldesel.to, Ddl-warez.to, Ddl-music.to, Serienjunkies.org, Kinow.to, Serienstream.to, Nox.tv, 3ddl.tv, Iload.to, Bs.to, Streamkiste.tv, Warez-world.org

4. Google Drive:Why rent expensive servers that also have to be managed and maintained? Google offers storage space at highly attractive prices. This space also comes with high-performance connectivity, so that streaming and rapid downloads are not a problem.
Google Drive services have been used in the past by such dubious websites as Tata.toor HDfilme.tv. Only after multiple interventions did Google finally dam the streams of pirated content flowing from these sites. Other, similar websitescontinue to entrust their data to Google.

Conclusion:

“Tech giant” and “corporate responsibility” still seem to be mutually exclusive concepts in 2018. Instead of planning moonshots, Google could choose to help the creative economy by taking some very simple but effective steps.
Google’s willingness to funnel money into illegal websites such as LibGen is difficult to comprehend. Google does not need artificial intelligence to resolve problems like this, but human common sense, intelligent consolidation of data, and employees who review activated AdSense accounts.
Stopping the abuse of Google services such as reCAPTCHA in response to well-founded requests would also prove effective.

About Dr. David C Lowery

Platinum selling singer songwriter for the bands Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven; platinum selling producer; founder of pitch-a-tent records; founder Sound of Music Studios; platinum selling music publisher; angel investor; digital skeptic; college lecturer and founder of the University of Georgia Terry College Artists' Rights Symposium.