Last week Google announced that it would be rolling out changes to its search algorithm to significantly demote sites that receive a large number of valid copyright takedown requests. Now TorrentFreak reports that top sites have taken tremendous hits in traffic coming from Google.
TorrentFreak spoke to several torrent site operators who say that beginning this week their sites saw significant drops in traffic. According to the Isohunt.to team, "earlier this week all search traffic dropped in half."
That's significant, but the second half of the report is indicative of why these censorship policies don't actually do anything to make piracy any better. TF monitored several search terms to see what effect the changes would have, and while the search results are changing, the overall result isn't:
A search for "Breaking Bad torrent" previously featured Kickass.to, Torrentz.eu and Isohunt.com on top, but these have all disappeared. Interestingly, in some cases their place has been taken by other less popular torrent sites.
So while the sites that are getting loads and loads of DMCA requests end up getting pushed down, other sources spring up to take their place. And for the largest sites, it doesn't even make a difference. The Pirate Bay tells TorrentFreak that they don't rely on Google traffic: When people want torrents, they know where to go for them.
This is perfectly in line with two points about search traffic that Google has made time and again. First of all, you cannot get torrents out of search results without censoring certain search terms entirely — Google flatly, and correctly, refuses to do this. Perhaps more revealingly, Google search is not an important driver of piracy.
Another change TorrentFreak doesn't report is that Google is promoting legal ways to obtain materials when you search for torrents. Consider these search results for "Walking Dead torrent."
This search change is still fresh, so we'll have to wait and see how the results pan out over time.
Google has always played tough with copyright owners who complain that Google isn't doing enough to protect their intellectual property, even though Google removed 222 million links in 2013. The changes in its search algorithm were something of a capitulation on Google's part. Google knows demoting large pirate sites doesn't do anything to fight piracy but it demoted those sites anyway. Which is surprisingly irrational for a company that prides itself in just the data and science. [TorrentFreak]