It looks like the newest cause célèbre of the sex blogging community has to do with Google's "safe search" function. This isn't all the new since even if you tell the handy-dandy tube elves they don't need to exert themselves omitting anything from the hunt, the results will still show rather odd holes in the data presented. As it happens, it appears to be most notably those sites that someone somewhere apparently considers "sexual."
The likes of Susie Bright
and Tony Comstock
can dig into parsing which words constitute the untouchable data caste and the connotations for why such a condition exists. I think they are welcome to it. They have the time and the inclination to flip rocks in search of the pallid, gelid grubs lurking below the surface as well as the skill to present their findings in a supremely cogent manner.What baffles me is that anyone seems surprised and outraged that this filtering is occurring.
The internet is such an astoundingly vast and dynamic reservoir of data that it is quite literally impossible to navigate without assistance. As time goes by, the power and complexity required by a given search engine to prove even marginally viable as a resource for a user must increase by powers of magnitude.
Therefore, a company who can present an easy to use and robust search engine will have invested many thousands of man hours and stunning sums of money to get it to that point. They will also be required by circumstance to continually refine and upgrade their system to keep up with both the expansion of information hitting the pool and the user. This tends to bar the casual programmer from being able to "home brew" their own solution. They simply don't have the resources to keep up. In turn, this means that companies like Google, enjoy an almost godlike monopoly amongst internet users.
This brings up three vital concepts. First, there is a metric butt-ton of money flowing to and fro across the net. There is more commerce online globally than in any geographical location and it's all theoretically accessible to any vendor anywhere in the world.
Second, despite the amount of times people will brainlessly parrot the statement, knowledge is power. It has been demonstrated a hundredfold that whoever controls the flow of information to a group controls that group. The internet is damn near the repository of human knowledge anymore and it’s global. Ponder for a moment what that might imply.
Third, people are fundamentally lazy. Most will take the simplest route without thinking about it. It's a rare individual who will devote themselves to doing more than the minimum necessary to provide their desired results. It's the reason people automatically turn to search engines such as Google in the first place.
With me so far? Good. Because it's impossible for any entity like Google to escape bias regardless of motive and there are no compelling reasons for them to resist temptation.
Because a search engine must have a means of selecting relevant information, there must be a mechanism to filter the results. There is no way to functionally implement such heuristics without unintentionally excluding some potential data sets. The more one refines the search string, the narrower the parameters of what will be included. This means the program has to make guesses as to what is desired, what is irrelevant, and what is undesired. By definition, there is an unavoidable margin of error.
Now let's blend in the financial aspect. No company that markets a wide-spread search engine is doing this out of the goodness of their collective heart. They are in it to make money. To be more specific, they are out to divert a significant portion of the money gadding about the internet into their own coffers. Other companies looking to maintain a firm footing in the virtual marketplace will be willing to pay dearly to make sure their products are prominently near the top of any search that might possibly overlap what a user is looking for. Implicitly, venders who don't direct part of their budgets into the search engine company's pockets are not going to enjoy much emphasis on their pages. Why talk an affiliate into paying for a priority search importance if their rival is going to show up just underneath for free? Thus, another layer of programming has been added to skew results in a desired direction.
Finally, if a company has the ability to pick and choose what information a given person has access to without having to face any consequence, why wouldn't they exert that power simply because they can? With a few lines of code, searches about the US
history can skew the results to underscore whatever agenda they may desire. Sounds like I'm sinking into some paranoid Orwellian conspiracy theory here, but the mechanics are sound. Groups other than corporations are willing to spend money to support their aims and since everyone assumes the internet is too vast to manipulate, how often do people really question the objectivity of the search results?
Even when, such as now, people notice discrepancies in the data returned there isn't much that can be done in recourse. Short of a significant portion of the user base moving to another service, they won't feel a loss of revenue. Indeed, with this current furor, they may even show a spike in revenue due to increased web traffic from curious members of the public.
So tell me again, why is anyone shocked to discover their web browsing is being directed both overtly and covertly?