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Google United States Your Rights Online

First Amendment Protection For Search Results? 76

Posted by Soulskill
from the don't-search-for-fire-in-a-crowded-theater dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A legal paper (PDF), commissioned by Google and written by Eugene Volokh and Donald Falk, makes the case that search results should be protected under the First Amendment, thereby making regulation of search results illegal. The authors say a search engine 'uses sophisticated computerized algorithms, but those algorithms themselves inherently incorporate the search engine company engineers' judgments about what material users are likely to find responsive to these queries.' Cory Doctorow's reaction: 'I think that the editorial right to exercise judgment is much more widely understood than the sacred infallibility of robotic sorting. I certainly support it more. But I wonder if Google appreciates that it will now have to confront people who are angry about their search rankings by saying, "I'm sorry, we just don't like you very much" instead of "I'm sorry, our equations put you where you belong." And oy, the libel headaches they're going to face.'"
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First Amendment Protection For Search Results?

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  • Once a search engine becomes any more advanced than the grep tool, there are algorithms involved to quantify relevance that make the results subjective.

    It's also worth considering that the primary cause of censored search results in the world is DMCA takedown notices.

  • Googled (Score:3, Funny)

    by rockbottoms (1393173) on Friday May 11, 2012 @02:43PM (#39970695)
    I just searched "Fire!" in a crowded theater. Am I ok?
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Probably not, the light from your iPhone is going to piss someone off. You might go home bloodied.

  • by russotto (537200) on Friday May 11, 2012 @02:48PM (#39970779) Journal

    He seems to think that pretty much all expression should have First Amendment protection. It's almost as if he takes that "inalienable rights" and "Congress shall make no law" stuff seriously.

    • by readin (838620)

      It's almost as if he takes that "inalienable rights" and "Congress shall make no law" stuff seriously.

      You should ignore him then. He's probably one of those Tea Party whackos.


      (almost forgot to mention, that was sarcasm)

    • Surely you realize that "Congress shall make no law" is open to interpretation -- "no" obviously means "no, except when doing so will protect those who are in power."
    • "Congress shall make no law"

      "Shall not be infringed"

      "The accused shall enjoy the right"

      Mere suggestions, to be ignored at the convencience of the state.

    • The problem with this, as I see it, is that it cuts both ways. If search results imply that Glen Beck did something unsavory to a young girl in 1990, Google could find that they have to clean up those results as soon as someone complains about it. Even more so for autocomplete suggestions. This is an awkward and dangerous path for Google to try and walk. I really think they're better off by washing their hands of any editiorial culpability and hiding behind the shield of "proceedurally generated content

    • by alexo (9335)

      He seems to think that pretty much all expression should have First Amendment protection. It's almost as if he takes that "inalienable rights" and "Congress shall make no law" stuff seriously.

      Please correct me if I am wrong but my understanding is that it was never the case where "pretty much all expression" had First Amendment protection.

      Several of examples off the top of my head are:
      - Soliciting a crime
      - Death threats and other forms of coercion
      - Perjury
      - Slander and libel

  • by swm (171547) * <swmcd@world.std.com> on Friday May 11, 2012 @02:48PM (#39970795) Homepage

    I wonder if Google appreciates that it will now have to confront people who are angry about their search rankings by saying, "I'm sorry, we just don't like you very much" instead of "I'm sorry, our equations put you where you belong." And oy, the libel headaches they're going to face.

    Actually, they get it both ways.

    If it is protected speech, then the gov't can't shut them down.

    But when someone sues them for libel (or the like), they can equally claim that their search results are their opinion, which they are entitled to express, and not facts, which could be subject to dispute. As it happens, there has already been a case just like that. In their response, Google said something along the lines of

    If plaintiff believes that there is some objective attribute of a web page called "page rank", then he is free to build his own search engine and report that attribute as he sees fit.

    In that case, Google prevailed.

    • by flonker (526111)

      From the perspective of the article, the only facts that Google is reporting are that the web page exists, and some content of the page. The "opinion" is the page rank, the choice in which content from the page is displayed, and the association of the page to certain keywords.

      Libel is a written defamatory statement, expressly stated or implied to be factual. Truth and opinions are not actionable. One possible catch for Google is a court finding that Google implies that the pages in the results are factu

  • by killbill! (154539) on Friday May 11, 2012 @02:54PM (#39970891) Homepage

    This piece may be a reaction to the "Google Suggest" lawsuits in France.

    Google has been sued several times in France because of Google Suggest.
    1. Google your name. If you're actually a crook, Google Suggest results will expose you as such.
    2. Sue Google for defamation.
    3. Profit!

    French courts have repeatedly sided against Google and with the crooks, err victims.
    Which shows how much such a provision is needed.

    • by killbill! (154539)

      Latest case: Google sued (successfully) for having the gall to report a few celebrities of Jewish origin to be actually Jewish!

      http://arstechnica.com/business/2012/05/french-group-sues-because-google-suggest-thinks-jon-hamm-is-jewish/

  • I don't see how it's any different than Consumer Reports, JD Power, etc. that do reviews of products. Sure, there are companies that might object to the final results and rankings especially when they have crappy products, but the bottom line is that these product review are protected by their authors' First Amendment rights. The only time libel might be involved is if they produced reviews without any factual basis. Google does have a factual basis for their search results - their ranking algorithms, wh
    • Please do not associate Consumer Reports/Consumers Union with JD Powers. The former is a non-profit organization which doesn't even take freebies for the products they review. They go buy it themselves anonymously.

      And the latter, JD Powers & Associates, is a for-profit company and a paid shill, that will design survey questions/results in a such a way that the company paying them will always be coming out on top. And of course, their revenues comes mostly from the actual companies of the products they'v

      • by s.petry (762400)

        OT: Sadly in the tech world there are very few honest reviewers any more. Tom's hardware used to be, but fell prey to loads of cash from Intel and MS. Now you can pay them and gift them to tell you turds are the next great quantum computer.

  • by symbolset (646467) *
    This was my idea. I'm glad it bore fruit.

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