There are 7 billion people in the world. A little more than a quarter of them are connected to the internet. Of those, most could slap together a simple website if they really wanted to. Many have.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the comely congresswoman from Florida's 20th, thinks Google should closely monitor the activities of these ambitious souls and avoid driving traffic to websites that do nasty, illegal things -- which in this case means offering free streaming copyrighted video and audio or selling bootlegs and knockoff products.
Wasserman Schultz is hardly the only politico concerned about internet pirates. According to David G. Savage of Tribune's Washington bureau, for several months, Democrats and Republicans have quietly set aside their differences to wage war against e-piracy. Savage's Monday column -- readable here at the Bellingham Herald -- quoted Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Howard Berman (D-California), and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) as well as Wasserman Schultz, and all expressed noble antipiracy sentiments. Indeed, piracy is wrong. But Wasserman Schultz, in an ill-advised bit of posturing, decided to lay blame for piracy's ubiquity at the feet of Google, whose lawyers she told:
You're Google. You helped overthrow the head of a country in a weekend. It's more a lack of will.
Wasserman Schultz ought to know that Google, while awesome, isn't magic.
Google helps facilitate rebellion in oppressed lands by easing the flow of important information with the help of its brilliant web-crawling, page-ranking algorithms. In other words, it helps by doing what it's designed to do. What Google is not designed to do, and perhaps cannot do in the near future, is act as an e-nanny.
Consider: Unless websites that proffer copyrighted audio and visual content adorn their websites with large tags reading "Piracy practiced here!", Google's algorithms have no way of discriminating between good pages and bad ones. To an algorithm, all pages look more or less alike. Unless all legitimate multimedia sites and venders are forced to apply for and display tough-to-forge e-licenses of some kind, all censoring of Google's links would have to be conducted by Google employees.
In 2008, Google passed a significant benchmark when it documented the existence of 1 trillion simultaneous pages on the World Wide Web. As of 2011, Google itself employs a little less than 25,000 workers. If neither number has changed and if the web were to remain static from this moment forth, then each Google employee would have to screen 40 million pages for illegal activity to live up to Wasserman Schultz's expectations. If each employee were to screen 1,000 pages a day, which seems optimistic, and if they were to take no vacation days, weekends, or sick leaves, they would finish screening the World Wide Web in just shy of 110 years.
Which isn't to say that one day a supersmart algorithm won't emerge from the Googleplex to do the work Wasserman Schultz yearns to see done. It's just to say that accusing Google of a "lack of will" is a little silly. Google is powerful, but not so powerful that it doesn't wish to stay on the good side of the United States government.
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