Why Google Is Not A Search Engine But An Investigative News Agency, And Why That Matters
Google has long been the number one “search engine”. Perhaps that’s the entirely wrong way to think about the service, leading to a number of unintended and bad legal consequences. The term “search engine” was a word made up on the spot in the dotcom era, after all. The job Google does has been considered to have a different job title altogether since way back.
When Google was launched, that was in the middle of the dotcom boom – and everybody was calling themselves something that wasn’t a traditional analog job title, just to underscore how “new”, “digital” and “dotcom” everybody was. And to some extent, what Google did was new – but not in character, just in execution, equipment, and efficiency. To underscore its efficiency in searching the world for facts related to a topic, Google was called a “search engine”.
What Google does is to find tons of material related to a specific subject, judge its relevance, and present a report on the subject. We have had professionals for centuries who do exactly this. We call them investigative reporters.
You don’t call a car something radically different than “car” just because it goes much, much faster and cheaper than the previous generation of cars. A next-generation car may be attractive, full of want, and desirable, but it’s still a car. In the same way, what Google is doing is still investigative journalism: they are searching the world for everything that people say or write that is related to a specific topic, then presenting a report on it. The fact that the journalism in question is blazingly fast – milliseconds instead of weeks – does not factor into the fundamental type of work that is performed.
The reason this is important is that the term “journalism” has a long-established legal standing in law, whereas any job title invented on the spot in the dotcom bubble hasn’t. Constitutional protection for the journalistic activity that Google is performing date as far back as 1766, far predating the dotcom bubble (and electricity, for that matter).
This is relevant as certain obsolete industries have started to demand that Google change their “search results” – more accurately described as journalistic findings – to present a distorted view of reality rather than the journalistic truth. More precisely, the copyright industry is demanding of Google that just because a lot of people are talking about sharing culture and knowledge in violation of their monopolies, that doesn’t mean that Google should be allowed to accurately report on that fact, because doing so shows the copyright industry as incompetent.
This needs to be seen in the light of Google doing investigative journalism.
When the copyright industry is demanding that Google censors “search results” from their investigative reports, they are demanding that an investigative news agency alter their journalistic findings because those findings of fact happen to be starkly embarrassing to the copyright industry. Further, the copyright industry is also demanding that the news agency should lie to the public about what the world actually looks like.
That shows just how obscenely repulsive the copyright industry’s behavior is. Nobody would dare dream of asking an investigative reporter to alter their journalistic findings just because the result of those findings happens to be inconvenient for a particular industry, by means of putting its incompetence out into the sunlight. Well, nobody except the copyright industry, anyway.
This article is also available in other languages: Italian.