Google is Now The Morality Police on the Internet

30 comments

Google recently updated their webmaster guidelines to address the issues of linking on the web. The language chosen seems to imply that someone has appointed Google the judge and jury of morality and law on the internet.Webmaster Guidelines

Following these guidelines will help Google find, index, and rank your site. Even if you choose not to implement any of these suggestions, we strongly encourage you to pay very close attention to the "Quality Guidelines," which outline some of the illicit practices that may lead to a site being removed entirely from the Google index or otherwise penalized. If a site has been penalized, it may no longer show up in results on Google.com or on any of Google's partner sites.

According to Google here are the definition of the word illicit

# contrary to accepted morality (especially sexual morality) or convention; "an illicit association with his secretary"
# illegitimate: contrary to or forbidden by law; "an illegitimate seizure of power"; "illicit trade"; "an outlaw strike"; "unlawful measures"

While I'm sure Google would like everyone to do things the way they want I think you would have a hard time convincing any rational intelligent person that trading/buying/selling links is "illegal" or "contrary to accepted morality".

Secondly who gave Google the right to determine what was "legal" or "morally acceptable", last time I checked they were a publically traded business, not a governmental body or religious institution. Hey Google let's knock it off with the self-righteos brainwashing FUD and rhetoric, you're making yourself look foolish.

Comments

unlawful measures

unlawful measures --- That is defined very differently in China than the West.

Does this mean that anything with the words 'free Tibet' could get axed in Google China, while in the US it's #1 ... Or if someone states that 'Taiwan should be the legitimate government of China'

What happens if I thought the Patriot Act was not working and should be removed.. does that mean that the post should be de-indexed....

I can't believe I am reading this...

What's unlawful?

There are things in America that are unlawful - yet in every other western country they're quite lawful.

Does that mean that Google is going to adjust its search results for each country or is the rest of the world going to have to put up with what the religious right in the US considers to be acceptable?

Power corrupts - absolute power corrupts absolutely.

It's possibly a clumsy use

It's possibly a clumsy use of words - but Google do mention illegal practices in the guidelines, such as sites attempting to install malware on a user's computer.

We gave them the authority

All of us Webmasters, by our own actions, made Google the default web-cops that they are.

Funny, though. If by some act of God all webspammers stopped what they were doing and all SEOs stopped or only SEO'ed quality content, Google would be just another company.

They are significantly better at filtering out spam and identifying useful results in the majority of searches and that's a big reason that they are number one by a huge margin.

The world is the way it is. If Google didn't make any moral judgements, the top link in all the serps would be naked pictures. While that might be fun for a couple of weeks, Google would stand to lose a major segment of their market share.

So far, they do a pretty good job of standing on solid ground with their morality decisions, but since they are a public company now the bottom line means more than anything and that means they will be pandering to large segments of their customer base on an as-needed basis.

I don't know much about the

I don't know much about the laws of "anti-competitive" practices but whether they're cogniscant of it or not, they are incrementally cutting the barrels of their own lock. If we want "in", we better cut our keys accordingly.

If the lock is significantly different to that of the competition, then that surely is anti-competitive.

ThePost

Thast what you get

When you hire only technical grads with 4.0 GPA (whateaver that is)

Maybe they need to hire some one with better english skills - which is ironic for me to say considering I am Dyslexic

Maybe they should change their name

e.g. to GODgle. At only 1,730 results last time I checked, it should be fairly easy to rank for. :-)

Makes more sense, too: Once links are not evaluated by their very existence but by their purported intent (ever heard of Yahoo! the Directory, and its annual $290 per link rate, anyone?), it's all about Sin and and Penance and Absolution and Eternal Damnation, like the f**** cargo cult they are...

As for being dyslexic, mjwalshe, not to despair: The very name "Google" itself was a misspelling of "googol". (Reminds one of James Joyce's amusement concerning the fact that the Catholic church itself was founded on a pun.)

Which goes to show that all those billions of bucks out there are still yours for the asking.

This said, it seems that getting just about everything only almost (but never ever quite) right in terms of wording and social engineering has grown into a veritable, firmly established tradition at the Plex.

Then again - who really cares? Or: How many divisions do they have in Mountainview, CA?

Very Good Point

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Then again - who really cares?

Very Good Point.

slight over-interpretation?

Oh, come on - Google's "define:" dictionary utility only pulls in content from sources which allow the spidering, so I rarely see the more authoritative dictionaries' definitions in those results. (I'm not actually criticizing Google's dictionary here, since I use it for convenience all the time - I'm just pointing out it's current limits on comprehensiveness and authoritativeness for all shadings of meaning.)

When I go to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, I see that the definition for "illicit" includes the meaning "not permitted".

It seems pretty clear that Google wasn't trying to declare themselves the final arbiters of morality or legality -- they're just outlining what they'll accept in their terms of use - that which is or isn't "permitted" by them.

[And no, I'm not a complete stooge about their application of rules - in some cases I think they've applied a rather heavily Californian viewpoint on "acceptability" that doesn't necessarily match the perceptions of the majority of people in the US or world. For instance, in advertisements, they limit people's ability to promote some firearms, though firearms are completely legal for sale in most areas of the US -- betraying a fairly elitist and California-centric mindset IMHO -- and I'm not even a big fan of guns or anything -- I don't own a gun. I just think it very odd, if someone's searching for info about guns, why shouldn't they be able to see those ads?]

intent and extent

illicit is also defined as "unlawful" and licit is defined as lawful. I think they spent quite a bit of time reviewing those documents so if that's not what they meant they could have chosen a better word.

I agree with you though it really does show Google's intent more than anything else, they do feel that they are in a position to dictate policy and procedure when clearly they aren't a regulatory or advisory board. Coke, Federal Express, General Motors, General Electric or any other Fortune 500 company doesn't feel they have the right to police their industry, not sure why Google feels they do and are better than everyone else.

Regardless of the semantics

Regardless of the semantics of the word "illicit", the Webmaster Guidelines are meant to be the rules in Googleland specifically; they have every right to police their own world and define what is "moral" in it and what is not. If they were claiming that these guidelines must also apply to other search engines, then there would be cause to raise a ruckus. But as it stands, webmasters are free to ignore Google's moral standards and focus on other search engines and other methods of bringing in traffic.

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All of us Webmasters, by our own actions, made Google the default web-cops that they are.

I would say that this is not the case, we have no preference as to which search engine people use - in fact I'd guess most of us would prefer it if more people used search engines other than Google.

The users themselves have given Google the power to dictate how things are done on the web - by their repeated use of Google's facilities. Very much in the same way that the people gave power to the Catholic church to create morality within society in its early years, however the Catholic Church then went on to abuse this power and when it did some of the people turned their back on it and went to other churches.

And I don't know how many divisions Google has but they certainly have enough bandwidth and servers to launch a denial of service attack to end all denial of service attacks.

Dirty Harry Said It Well...

Hey, I've said it before, Google can not be faulted for establishing ethical guidelines in its industry. Every company must. Every company does. Google is no more or less a monster for making a guideline or a standard than any other company would be. Without some limitations, chaos rules. We all know that. Dirty Harry said it well, "A man's got to know his limitations." No, making an ethical decision is a must for Google or your own company. What makes this a problem, is that this particular company, Google, clearly has more power and influence than we now feel comfortable with them having. Once again, a legitimate contender is sorely needed to give the market some balance. This would give Google's ethical decisions, which it must make, less sway and ominousity (is that a word?). And again, I think Microsoft money, ingenuity and experience is our best shot at future equality and market balance.

illicit seo

Are they talking about illicit seo practices?

Let's review, with emphasis

Following these guidelines will help Google find, index, and rank your site. Even if you choose not to implement any of these suggestions, we strongly encourage you to pay very close attention to the "Quality Guidelines," which outline some of the illicit practices that may lead to a site being removed entirely from the Google index or otherwise penalized. If a site has been penalized, it may no longer show up in results on Google.com or on any of Google's partner sites.

Seems pretty clear-cut to me. These are rules for Google, not the Internet. If you don't like their rules, don't play in their yard. Personally, I think you're reading WAY too much into the word "illicit".

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These are rules for Google, not the Internet. If you don't like their rules, don't play in their yard.

If you are running a non-profit or hobby site, I guess you have the luxury to decide if you want to 'play' in goo's yard or not...

However, for the 'average' business webmaster google is the 'Internet' (and the WWW).

Goo drives 80%+ of all traffic, so if you want to run a business online, you HAVE no choice but to deal with goo, one way or another.

Contradictions abound

Let me see if I've got this straight.

1. Google IS the Internet.
2. Google has no right to decide what happens on the Internet.

Yeah, that makes sense.

Dirty Harry may be a bad source to cite...

Dirty Harry may be a bad source to cite for making good ethical decisions... and not a good example when you're trying to argue against the criticism about Google making unilateral decisions! {or, perhaps you were being extremely satirical with this ironic contrast?}

lots0 makes a very good point that Google has become a major intermediary between people and the internet, which means they have a greater obligation to both webmasters and endusers.

I think that most of their rules, intended to result in good user experience for searchers, are reasonable, though there's a lot of complexity for webmasters in interpreting whether various approaches are acceptable to Google or not.

For instance, Matt Cutts has pointed out that they consider hiding links by suppressing standard text underlining in stylesheets and hyperlink color (and suppressing the status bar from indicating the link and suppressing the cursor pointer from changing to the hand) is considered a bad practice. However, many site's styles have underlining suppressed for primary navigation links just for graphic display purposes. So, this leaves webmasters to wonder: is any/all suppression of underlining to be avoided, or would it only be frowned upon if the other factors are also affected: color, cursor, status bar...

Illicit

So if I was to come out and say eating a big mac was illegal no one would call me out on it? If I was to say driving a hummer is immoral no one would think I need to up my meds?

Google may not like that I do certain things, just like you may not like that I eat bad foods or drive a gas guzzler, but that doesn't make it illegal or immoral, and to imply such is wrong and an abuse of power.

Quote: Personally, I think

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Personally, I think you're reading WAY too much into the word "illicit".

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So if I was to come out and say eating a big mac was illegal no one would call me out on it? If I was to say driving a hummer is immoral no one would think I need to up my meds?

That's not an accurate parallel to what this is. If you said eating a big mac or driving a hummer was illegal on your property and anyone doing so will be kicked out and maybe banned, then you'd be closer to a comparison.

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Goo drives 80%+ of all traffic, so if you want to run a business online, you HAVE no choice but to deal with goo, one way or another.

This just isn't true. If you want to have a wildly popular website, then yes, you must "deal" with Google. Running a business online does not require Google or any other search engine. lots0 you say "deal with goo" like they're doing you a disservice by sending you traffic when they want.

illegal

Google doesn't own the internet so they can't declare anything illegal. They don't have to allow your pages in their index but declaring your links or code illegal assumes that they are coming from a position of authority you don't have. Sure we're splitting hairs, but there's a real difference between doing something illegal and doing something someone doesn't like.

The scope of the rules matters

The breadcrumbs at top of the Webmaster Guidelines page say "My site and Google". And the content on the page starts off with "Following these guidelines will help Google find, index, and rank your site." These guidelines are not about anything more than getting a site ranked well in Google.

They're not trying to police the Internet...they're just policing their own index. If people equate the Internet with Google.com, that's not Google's fault.

There's also the issue of perception

Namely: What's the impression they are conveying? Long gone are the days when most people mistook them for an essentially benevolent i.e. "innocent" startup full of bright people whose primary concern was offering a great service to the web community while subscribing to the highest ideals and ethical standards conceivable.

While this was an utterly misinformed, mistaken and naive view from its very inception - never mind the way how it came about - look at what's happening now!

Back in the 80s and 90s most people would never have thought it possible that they'd ever see the day when Micro$oft of all unlikely entities would be perceived by very, very many as the one and only Heroic White Knight in a position to Set Matters Right Again - which isn't an entirely new take anymore either. In fact, this switch seems to have commenced around the Jagger (arguably: the Go Daddy) update.

So whatever they may be doing now, they've got a lot more to lose these days than ever before in terms of image, PR efficacy, political and user tolerance, overall goodwill, etc. Whether this will actually translate into a profit slump further down the road is an entirely different question, of course.

Drinking the Google Kool Aid

Man it just keeps on going. In Web Analytics: An Hour a Day by Avinash Kaushik who is the Google Analytics Evangelist on page 206 are the following sentences (emphasis mine)

Don't try black hat tactics. Getting banned is unpleasant (and it lasts a long time).Black-hat tactics are deeply frowned upon by search engines and are illegal ways to game the system to your advantage.

The really seem to have a problem grasping the definition of illegal, and throw it around pretty loosely to create more FUD.

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Goo drives 80%+ of all traffic, so if you want to run a business online, you HAVE no choice but to deal with goo, one way or another.

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This just isn't true. If you want to have a wildly popular website, then yes, you must "deal" with Google. Running a business online does not require Google or any other search engine. lots0 you say "deal with goo" like they're doing you a disservice by sending you traffic when they want.

Cory - Most every Business website on the WWW would give their left nut and their first born to be "Wildly Popular".

The question if goo is doing me a disservice or not, is a subject for it's own entire thread. FYI - I was on the WWW before google was a gleam in Sergey's and Larry's eyes and to be very honest in some ways I liked it better then.

What many people don't seem to get

is how a fundamental(ist) attitude, be it reflected or not, translates into actionable advice which in turn converts into rules and restrictions and obligations and laws whose scope lies way beyond what their original intent may once have covered.

Sprinkle with an appropriate dose of narcissistic delusions of grandeur (aka hubris), a big shot or three of hypocrisy, a persistent failure to understand the basic dynamics of human interaction on a mass scale (maybe that's what getting glued to your traffic stats does to you) and what you get is - just THIS!

Language is always a dead giveaway as every propagandist, spinmeister and ideologue can confirm...

"Illegal"? Time to shoot the sheriff, I'd say.

Lighten up

I think some of you folks are reading too much into this.

What's next, a crusade against Weight Watchers for talking about "legal" and "illegal" foods?

For a technology leader focused on semantics

there's simply no excuse for sloppy language with an attitude - even if that should be all there really is to it...

Google and illicit

Google and illicit behaviour:

Google SEC Violations
Google copyright Violations
Google wiretapping violations
Google assists pedophiles, organized crime rings in Brazil

There's plenty more but 5 minutes is all I'm willing to invest.

Rules are for little people. You obey them, google will make them.

Language Is Always The Key

Whether or not their choice of words was intentional or not, the choices provide insight into their mindset.

Illegal? Illicit? Pretty strong words. Just a hunch, but I would say that the choices were intentional.

The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.
-- Philip K. Dick

Anyone recall, Drilling for oil versus Responsible Energy Exploration?

Nothing can be done to remove the negative connotations associated with illegal and illicit. If they get webmasters to adopt their language, they win.

An algorithm is nothing more than a set of rules. How many times have you heard someone say that Google doesn't like it when you manipulate their algorithm? Unless you're a Google employee with access to that algorithm, it's impossible to manipulate. All of our attempts to increase rankings for a site or sites is nothing more than learning the rules of their algorithm and creating sites that succeed based on those rules they created. The algorithm is the set of rules that count. Their 'guidelines' are the propaganda they create when they get upset with the weaknesses in their own algorithm.

All the sites that rank well do so because they currently work quite well within the rules of the current algorithm. When any Google rep uses the word "spam' remember to replace that with 'algorithm weakness'. SEOs don't 'manipulate the SERPs', they've simply become quite adept at following the rules that count, namely, the algorithm.

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