Can Future Censorship Be Regulated?

December 1, 2010 | By | 11 Replies More

The question at hand is, who decides what you find on the web? I recently read Regulating the Information Gatekeepers about search engines. This article focused mainly on commercial implications of search engines changing their rules, and the ongoing arms race between companies that sell the service of tweaking web pages and links and click farms to optimize search engine ranking positions, and the search engines trying to filter out such bare toadying in favor of actual useful pages.

On my site, I ignore all those search engine games and just provide solid content and current items for sale. In 2002, MrTitanium was usually in the first dozen results when Googling for “titanium jewelry”. In 2003, Google decided that the number of links to a page was the primary sign of its usefulness. Within days, link farms popped up, and my site dropped from view. I waited it out, and in 2004, Google changed the rules again, and MrTitanium reappeared in the top 30. Top five for “titanium earrings”.

But the real question is, should someone be regulating these gatekeepers of information? Who decides whether a search for “antidepressants” should feature vendors, medical texts, or Scientology anti-psychiatry essays?

There are two ways to censor information: Try to block and suppress it, or try to bury it. The forces of disinformation and counterknowledge are prolific and tireless. A search engine could (intentionally or inadvertently) favor certain well represented  but misleading positions (such as Truthers or anti-vaxxers) over proven science, and give all comers the impression of validity and authority to “bad” ideas.

But the question of regulation is a dangerous one. The best access to information is open. But if a well meaning legislature decides that there needs to be an oversight board, this board could evolve into information police and be taken over by populist electors who choose to suppress good information.

On the other hand, the unregulated and essentially monopolistic search industry began with great ideals, and so far has been doing a good job at a hard task. But it, too, could become malignant if there is no oversight.

Another facet is, whose jurisdiction would this fall under? If the U.S. congress passes laws that Google doesn’t like, they simply move offshore. There are designs for, and even prototypes of, data centers that float beyond any countries jurisdiction, powered by waves and sun, and connected via fibers and satellites. If the U.N. starts regulating, then whose rules apply? North Korea? Iran? China? And who could enforce it?

The information revolution is just beginning: We do live in interesting times.


Category: Censorship, Communication, Current Events, Economy, ignorance, Internet, Net neutrality, Orwellian, scientific method

About the Author ()

A convoluted mind behind a curly face. A regular traveler, a science buff, and first generation American. Graying of hair, yet still verdant of mind. Lives in South St. Louis City. See his personal website for (too much) more.

Comments (11)

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  1. Ben says:

    Dan, I need a Christmas gift for my gf. Can you please recommend something(s) from your site? Price range 150 or less

  2. Dan Klarmann says:

    I'd considered dropping that shameless self promotion paragraph, although it is a case study of how changes in search engine algorithms can sink businesses. Google was sued over such, before.

    But the main point was supposed to be about ensuring reliable access to reliable information.

  3. Dan Klarmann says:

    Ben, I don't make third party recommendations. I have no idea whether or which shiny baubles would be appreciated by said gee-eff.

    Use the link and your judgment, if you care and dare.

  4. Ben says:

    I find the website to be confusing as there are no ads or re-directs. I am considering the bulbous pendant and the teardrop earring.

  5. Ben says:

    I've purchased the "elegant" pendant. Go ahead and box it up. And snap to it. 🙂

    Oh, could you please engrave the name "LoLo" on the back. (I'll pay you if necessary.)


  6. Dan Klarmann says:

    Ben: I don't have engraving tools. Hopefully you've gotten my email responses to your orders.

    And we've drifted from the point of this post. My bad?

  7. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Search engine providers and commercial sites have been going through a sort of "Spy vs. Spy" type competition for years.

    The search engines use a "web spider" that traces links through the web and sends data back to an indexing engine that analyzes and ranks the sites.

    In the early days of e-commerce, as sties started to become advertiser supported, a cottage industry sprang up that capitalized on developing page design techniques intended to fool the web spiders and indexing programs into providing a higher than deserved ranking for the site.

    One early technique was to assign a keyword list of thousands of common search words into the keyword meta tag in the header.

    Search engine developers countered by limiting the number of significant keywords.

    The search engines, being advertiser supported, gain the most use by trying to provide the most relevant results as possible. At the same time, advertiser supported sites and many e-commerce sites often employ search engine manipulation schemes to help direct visitors to their sites by inflating their rankings on the major search engines.

    search engine development is a game of measures and counter measures and on occasion, addressing one exploit creates another. After Google changed their ranking algorithms to counteract meta tag abuse (inserting hundreds of common search terms into the keyword meta tag in the page header) the importance of referring pages increased and companies that used multiple virtual websites with self serving cross links suddenly jumped in the rankings.

    Several years ago, Microsoft set up a group of local interest pages as part of MSN, intended to compete with similar services offered by AOL. I think is was call MSN mainstreet. Thes web pages had a search functino that was supposed to give localized results when searching for goods and services, but it became public knowledge that MS gave preferred ranking to to corporate partners for payola.

    Recently Microsoft was among several companies urging an investigation of Google for revising their ranking algorithms, claiming the practice is anti-competitive.

  8. DanDemeter says:

    My first web surf session was in 2002, I think. I created my first email account then and used an IRC client. The person that guided me through also showed me some search engines and told me the basics about searching. I remembered that he presented Google as a new and exotic alternative, as compared to the dominators of the market – Yahoo and Altavista.

    It's been only 8 years since then. The concept of ranking site based on linking was very powerfull. I think it still is, because it tries to replicate a natural mechanism. What doctor do you see when you have a problem? The one that comes highly recommended from numerous and trusted sources.

    I'm trying to rank my own website now and I find it highly discouraging when I see completely uses amalgams of copypasted content loosely held together by banners and adsense add easily surpassing me every day. I have no doubt that this is the result of link automating tools and other neat SEO tricks I have nor the time nor the inclination to use. I also have no doubt that Google is trying to limit the success of this kind of tools.

    One possible solution could come from Facebook. They have the LIKE snippet and a policy aimed towards promoting real people instead of conveniently made anonymous automated profile accounts. If these two concepts will spread enough on the web, their combined power could really make for a more accurate and real search engine.

  9. DanDemeter says:

    Almost forgot…nice meeting you Mr. Klarmann, I'm a great fan of your site about titanium. Love your work there.

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