Saturday December 3rd 2016

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Should Google publish info about illegal drugs?

The problem: search terms for illegal drugs

Websites exist that explicitly and thoroughly publish information about how to use, make and take illicit drugs.  In fact, some websites are OPTIMIZED for being ranked by search engines for such terms.  Every day, users Google questions such as:

* how to pass a drug test
* how to make crystal meth at home
* how to smoke heroin
* how to convert morphine pills to heroin
* how to cook cocaine

…and get their answers.  Literally, tens of thousands of people are searching for drug manufacturing and use advice every day.  And finding it.

The problem, of course, is that search engines link people to this information.  Not only is the information unconfirmed, its sources untrustworthy and advice unregulated…the content itself refers to illegal activity, can endanger a life or lead to the serious consequences of drug addiction.  So what’s being done at the moment?

Is Google currently censoring?

Google currently censors and blocks search results to comply with Digital Millennium Copyright Act-related legal complaints.  In other words, when the company faces legal action, Google usually blocks websites rather than undergo heightened penalties for copyright infringement.

Google also provides “transparency reports” to governments when required by law.  In this way, Google responds to government requests for removing content OR by providing information about Google users, especially when backed by a court order.

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Privacy issues

Google seems to have two public faces about privacy. On one hand, they advocate for protecting privacy and data about how, when, and who searches for what.  For example, in 2005, Google fought the United States Department of Justice in federal court and resfused to provide, “the text of each search string entered onto Google’s search engine over a two-month period (absent any information identifying the person who entered such query).” due to concerns about users’ privacy.

But on the other hand, Google must respond to legal action and comply with government requests.  And in this respect, I think that we should all conside the words of Google’s CEO from 2009:

“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines – including Google – do retain this information for some time and …it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities.”

People seem to want to maintain absolute privacy in the public arena of the internet.  They want to search for, consume and create content without consequence.  And this is the line between personal responsibility and tracking that we might want to explore.  Should internet users be culpable for the information they are downloading, sharing or producing?

Discussion

Google is a business.  As such, it is in its best interest to publish all content possible (the company can generate revenue from websites that host Google Ads).  But the people who created Google are also idealists, who believe in free speech and freer access to information.  For example, Google links to porn even in countries where such content is illegal.  Nonetheless, internet use is essentially a PRIVATE practice.  And as such, it seems that the actions we take while using services such as Google can be tracked back to us.  But should they be?

Where should we, as a society, draw the line to access to information that has been deemed illegal by our courts?  Libraries do not host this information.  Schools do not teach it.  Now, Google is the largest, most accessed tool in the public domain.  Are there limits to the information that we can provide?  And should we make individuals responsible for the information they look for (implying that the information may be used) and create?  What do you think???  Your feedback and comments are welcomed here!!!

Photo credit: stuck in customs

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