Google fights back against exploitative, defamatory websites

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Google is updating its search algorithms to prevent sites from filling search results with unproven defamatory claims about individuals, The New York Times reports. The changes follow a recent series from reports of the turn, which found a huge web of sites with unverified and potentially life-destroying claims about individuals, alongside an industry of other services that promised to remove the offensive content from search results at a significant cost.

The search giant is making a series of changes to its rankings to combat the sites, which Google’s vice president for global policies and standards and trust and security, David Graff, said should ultimately have a “significant and positive impact”. on those affected. Now when users report that they have been victimized by these sites by using the pre-existing process, Google will register that person as a ‘known victim’ and automatically ‘suppress’ similar results for that person’s name, turn says.

It’s an important shift when you consider how these sites work, where posts are routinely pulled from one site and republished to more than a dozen others. The turn even performed an experiment where it made such a post about its own reporter, only to see an initial crop of five posts, spawning 21 more across a network of 15 sites. Google’s changes can help prevent these numerous posts from clogging up search results. The NOW reported that completely deleting the posts would have cost about $20,000. Individual sites and services have reportedly charged more than $700 to delete each post.

Some of the changes have reportedly already taken effect, with more to follow in the coming months, but the turn reports that its own tests have revealed initial problems with the approach. While it says messages were “mostly” gone for some users, it notes that Google’s changes didn’t seem to have caught a new defamation site, which may not have received the number of complaints to put it on Google’s radar. For others, however, the new process proved to work better, with messages disappearing from the first page of text and image results.

The move represents the latest shift from Google’s original self-proclaimed role as an impartial provider of results. In 2004, the company said the results are “completely objective and independent of the beliefs and preferences of those who work at Google.” But over the years, this stance has relaxed, especially in light of legislation such as the EU’s “right to be forgotten”. It means the company is playing an increasingly important role on the web, even beyond the 90 percent of global searches it currently handles.