In yesterday’s post, I referred to the Android-based service called Google Now, which is about as close as your mobile device comes (so far) to reading your mind and anticipating your wants and needs. By gathering data from contacts, emails, destinations visited, searches made, etc. the algorithms applied by the Now service essentially learn a user’s interests and then prompts him with what Google calls Cards, containing information or recommendations that may be either general or timely. As Andy at TorrentFreak reports, “Google Now and its ‘Card’ notifications often pop up at the most opportune times, offering advice about things that haven’t yet happened in a users [sic] life – but are about to.”
As stated yesterday, I cannot personally imagine the benefits of this type of service outweighing the utterly invasive ickiness of it, and Andy also acknowledges that Google Now may be getting too close for comfort for many users. But the headline reason TF was citing the service is that one of their regular readers noted that Google Now had recognized his interest in the character Deadpool and so delivered a Card recommending that he can view the recently-released feature film on a major torrent site. Andy writes, “Obviously there isn’t a team at Google hand-crafting Google Cards designed to promote unauthorized torrents. However, this does appear to show that Google’s algorithms are smart enough to put together interesting advice based on multiple and diverse information sources.”
Right. Google surely is not “hand-crafting” Cards to promote piracy; but as usual, it isn’t making any effort to mitigate it either. I know. I get it. If the user shows an interest in Deadpool and also regularly visits torrent sites, Google’s algorithm is going to cross-reference these data and somewhat blindly produce the result described. But that doesn’t mean the search giant doesn’t have the capability to limit or even stop themselves from pushing infringing sites like mints at the drug store register. We know they have this capability. In fact, I bet a user could read dozens of articles about human trafficking all day long without ever once receiving a Google Card suggesting where he can buy a slave. (Please let me be right about this.)
Google is apparently addicted to pushing mass copyright infringement at every opportunity. The difference between a search yielding legal and informative results about Deadpool and a search yielding a list of infringing sites offering the film hinges on whether or not you put the word “watch” in front of the title. And even if nobody cared about the fact that this multi-billion dollar company is effectively pushing content theft, it also happens to be offering really crappy search service. I mean heaven forbid a user who isn’t attuned to the darker aspects of the Web simply wants information about a movie, and Google has decided that if he uses the word “watch” in his query, he gets to be vulnerable to links that are increasingly loaded with malware. That’s cracker-jack service from the biggest search engine in the world. But Google Now takes the problem a step further. Rather than the user explicitly searching for information, and then navigating around useless and predatory results, Google Now can actually push a recommendation that is not only illegal, but potentially hazardous to the user.
More broadly, what does this story say about the larger promise of these platforms to create new opportunities for commerce and entrepreneurism? Because an interest in a hot new film like Deadpool is an opportunity to drive a consumer to comics, merchandise, fan sites, or (call me crazy) any number of legal platforms to watch the movie! So, any prompt that would send the consumer to a torrent site is pure opportunity cost for the legitimate market. Considering how leading-edge applications like Google Now really are, it seems like a one hell of a precedent for the company to set given all their pretensions to be great innovators. Then again, this is SOP for Google, isn’t it?