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Google Makes the Case for Unadulterated Search Results in Canada

March 31, 2010
Google Search

Will Search in Canada be Regulated?

Google is pulling out of one of its biggest potential markets to avoid being party to censorship and retain its competitive edge. Will Canada be the next national search engine regulator?

Watson Meng, editor of China’s biggest citizen-journalism site Boxun, was interviewed by Search Engine. Meng said that China wants Google to cancel its algorithm in searches of certain sensitive subjects. The new demands would allow only pre-approved results to come up in searches.

The company has, up until now, only had to filter certain results pertaining to sensitive government topics. If Google allowed pre-approved content to be inserted at the top of their organic results they would not only be participating in a form of censorship, it would also be removing the secret sauce that gives them their competitive edge. China’s domestic search engine, Baidu will benefit from the pullout, as Google has 30 per cent of the national market share.

China has a reputation for state control of the media, especially around sensitive political topics, and so it is a good thing that a question that Canada is now wrestling with, whether to regulate content within our national data cloud, is being openly discussed.

A House of Commons Heritage Committee recently met with Google’s Jacob Glick to discuss online content rules. Google’s message is that trying to enforce Canadian Content rules on the web is not an effective way to market domestic content. Glick argued that Canadian content is being consumed on channels such as YouTube, and the artists are profiting from web advertisements. Of course, Google’s business model depends upon an open web, so though they make an intelligent argument, it is one that helps Google sustain its supremacy. Many members of the Commons admit to their want of knowledge regarding media on the Internet, so it is commendable that the Heritage Committee invited Google to present their input while they navigate this issue.

The way we view the motivations for Chinese censorship and Canadian Content regulation may look like apples to oranges. We take for granted that in China’s case, regulation is used to bolster the media control of an oppressive state. Canadian policy makers present their motivation to regulate media as one that is intended to protect homegrown culture. It is not the purpose of this post to scrutinize the validity of either of these perceptions. The point is passing laws permitting heavy-handed regulation of organic search in any country should raise alarms.

If Canadian Content regulations were applied to the Internet, what would that look like for search engines? Would Google be required to filter non-Canadian results or would they be required to drop their algorithm? No one is suggesting the government is planning to censor content, but if one category of content were mandated to get artificially preferential treatment, it would have to happen somehow.

If this is about domestic content, then there is a way to promote without artificially stacking search results. By subsidizing CanCon and then preventing bandwidth throttling, Canadian product can reach the masses unrestricted through multiple channels including torrents, podcasts, iPod applications and YouTube. A strong example of a Canadian success story is the National Film Board’s viewing room site and iPod application, which enjoyed soaring success since its inception, at home and abroad. To avoid creating a reality where there are individuated islands of nationally regulated web search, the stacking of results in any form is a practice that Canada should avoid.

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