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Thursday, 18 February 2010 14:31

Google is the World's Biggest Filter

In arguing against the Government's proposed internet filter, Google Australia has made much of its YouTube video service being a platform for free expression. But the company already filters far more from that platform than Government proposes through its filtering program.

This is not a defence of the Government's internet filtering plans. But let's call it for what it is. And by Google's own standard, YouTube is not a platform for free expression.

Google says in its submission to Government on the filter that it has clear policies for YouTube about what is allowed and what isn't allowed on its YouTube site. Its Community Guidelines outlines its thinking in this area.

Its own guidelines are far broader than the Government's own filtering plans.

Videos showing bad stuff like animal abuse, drug abuse, bomb-making are not ok. Gross-out videos of accidents or dead bodies are not ok. Hate speech is not ok. Threats, harassment, stalking - all not ok.

And these limits would sit well with most right-minded people.

But let's look at the process for their removal. If someone sees something on YoutTube and flags it as "inappropriate," Google will review the video and then make a decision about whether or not it remains on the site.

YouTube videos are not removed automatically. That is, it isn't an automated process that the Bright Young Things have developed to take videos off the site.

Instead, deep within the Googleplex bunker, a decision is made about a 'flagged' video about whether it is appropriate or not after it has been viewed by an actual human.

"When a video gets flagged as inappropriate, we review the video to determine whether it violates our Terms of Use - flagged videos are not automatically taken down by the system. If we remove your video after reviewing it, you can assume that we removed it purposefully, and you should take our warning notification seriously," the company says in its guidelines.

In effect, Google is saying that you should trust them, that the video was removed for the well-being of the millions of other YouTube users.

Now take the Government's proposal. Rather than a faceless Google servant making decisions about what you should or should not have access to, the Government has an arm's length agency - the Classification Board - making its filter decisions. It has a clear set of guidelines, and the legislation promises a transparent process.

So, given the Google already filters a broader set of categories from its YouTube site than the Government intends to do through its filter, where is the point of difference?

From the Google submission, it would seem to be in depiction of euthanasia on YouTube, which would be considered an RC classification under the current classification rules, is some thing they would object to removing. And perhaps graffiti video, as these could conceivably be considered a glorification or a promotion of a crime.

While Google is at pains to paint itself as the defender of free speech and its YouTube site as a platform for freedom of expression, it already captures and removes far more than would be filtered under the Government scheme.

So what is Google on about? The administrative overhead of having a Government making request after request for the removal of content? Seems more likely.

Of course, Google is just one company. And if I don't like the level to which they censor their services, I can use another company's service.

A Government filter is a blanket filter across the internet. I get it.

But let's not get too carried away by the Google claim that they are the last word on freedom of expression.

Any more than we should get carried away by the Anonymous claim that they are a "beacon in the darkness" on this issue.
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