Last month, a Harvard Law School study brought to light that fact Google does not include certain web sites in the French and German versions of its search engines, in particular neo-Nazi or white supremacy sites that have content that might be deemed illegal to publish in France and Germany.
It should be noted that similar filtering may be happening at other search engines, but the study only encompassed a look at Google.
Google's response is that it has had to remove certain sites to comply with local laws, not out of any desire to censor results according to its own viewpoints.
"Google has removed a small number of websites from its Google.de and Google.fr indices. It is common for search engines to remove websites from their indices to abide by local laws. It also has no effect on the results presented on other Google sites," Google said, in a statement about the issue.
The filtering raises a number of questions, none of which Google said it could answer, when I asked. Those were:
+ Why are sites filtered out of Google.de and Google.fr not filtered out of Google.com? If these requests came from the governments of France and Germany, they are almost certainly aware that many people in those countries can also reach Google.com, where the sites have not been filtered.
+ Who in France and Germany asked for these sites to be removed? The national governments? Local governments? Private citizens in these countries?
+ Has information been removed from other Google country-specific web sites due to requests similar to those made in France and Germany?
+ Has information been pulled from Google.com, other than via the Digital Millennium Copyright Act requests that Google makes public and through Google's own spam filtering, with is not made public. In particular, has any information been pulled upon the request of US state, federal or local governments?
Such answers to these questions may come in the future. The uproar from when Google pulled pages from an anti-Scientology web site earlier this year in response to a DMCA complaint caused the company to begin publishing these type of requests. Similarly, Google says it is now reviewing how to handle the situation when pulling sites in response to local laws.
It could turn out that Google might publish a list of sites that have been pulled from the index for legal reason. Should this happen, the same "openness" won't apply to listing sites that Google has decided to internally ban for spamming reasons, the company says. The company feels that providing this information might ultimately spammers and make Google's job of protecting its relevancy harder.
Localized Google search result exclusions
The study from Harvard Law's Berkman Center for Internet & Society.
Google Filters Sites in France and Germany
SiliconValley.internet.com, Oct. 24, 2002
Coverage of the filtering discovery.
Google excluding controversial sites
News.com, Oct. 24, 2002
More coverage of the filtering situation.
Free speech feels Net copyright chill
News.com, Oct. 24, 2002
Recent article about DCMA requests that recaps how Google established a new policy to handle them. I've never seen one of the notices mentioned appearing at the bottom of a search results page informing me that a page has been removed, but I may also never have searched for something that brought up one of these pages.