Google responds to DOJ subpoena

Last Friday, Google responded to the DOJ subpoena (the subpoena originally requested all URLs in Google’s index, and all queries to Google over a two-month period). The PDF of the response is here.

I did a declaration for Google on this case, so that’s all I’m going to say about about the subpoena at this time.

Update: Gary Price has posted the response from Google, including my declaration (PDF). Gary has also posted the government’s response.

21 Responses to Google responds to DOJ subpoena (Leave a comment)

  1. Matt,

    I really like your declarations as well as the attorney’s arguments. Good job.!

  2. Asked this question of the “audience” on other blogs, but I’ve never got much response on it. I guess I’ll go straight to the horse’s mouth. I’m curious to know whether you can/will comment on it or not. This isn’t about the DOJ request, specifically, but about the “sister” controversy of China censorship.

    Let’s start off by saying that I accept for the moment the argument that it is better for Google to be in China than for Google not to be in China. Let’s also say that I accept that censorship will happen. Compliance with local laws and all that. Fine, fine. Let’s start with that as our common ground.

    Now, given all that, what I cannot quite understand is why you guys chose to do the censorship in the manner in which you do. When a page is controversial, you’ll remove that page from the display with no indication as to (1) where that page would have shown up, or (2) how many pages actually were removed. You just say “pages have been removed”, and nothing more.

    Thus, on a search for “tiananmen square”, there is a big difference between what you actually do:

    1) History of Tiananmen Square
    2) Dancers to perform on Tiananmen Square

    Notice: Pages have been removed

    …and what you could possibly do:

    5) History of Tiananmen Square
    9) Dancers to perform on Tiananmen Square

    Notice: Pages have been removed

    In both cases, the “offending” content has been removed. In both cases, Google has complied with Chinese law, and not shown those pages. However, case #1 feels a lot more “evil” to me than case #2. In case #2, you can see not only how much content was removed, but also how “pageranky” or popular or relevant (or whatever) that removed content is, in the rest of the world. There is a big difference between a page at rank #436 that has been removed, and a page at rank #2 that has been removed.

    In case #1, on the other hand, not only does Google censor the links (which I’ve already said I’m on your side about, for the moment), but they also remove the “meta” information about how much was removed. Google has whitewashed the whitewash.

    And yet, both cases appear (to me) to comply with Chinese law.

    And this is what I don’t understand. This is what really gives me a bad feeling about some of the decisions y’all are making. The impression I’ve always gotten from Google is that, when you must editorialize, you try to do so with the utmost lightest hand possible. And that is not what is happening here. You are going well above and beyond the censorship requirements, and censoring the hand of the censors.

    The effect that has is profound. It’s dangerous, even. Because worse than not knowing something.. is not knowing that you don’t know something. By removing the censored links from the ranked list, rather than leaving them “in”, but completely XXXXXXX blacked out, the Chinese people now don’t even know how much they don’t know. That changes the whole balance of truth on particular topics. It is worse than not just providing the information. And it isn’t clear to me that you necessarily were required to do it this way.

    So I accept that Google needed to be in China. I accept that you will censor. I accept that Larry and Sergei spent many sleepless nights agonizing over such a weighty decision. But once this decision was reached, the way you guys have gone about implementing it leaves a really bad taste in my mouth.

    So can you speak to this point at all? Is there something that I am missing or not understanding about this? I’ve already accepted that you will censor information. Why do you need to go out of your way to also censor the “meta” information? Why did you take such a heavy hand? Is this an indication of all things Google to come.. favoring the heavy over the light hand?

    Apologies for the length of this post πŸ™‚ But it is a real concern, and one I’ve heard no one from Google talk about, at all.

  3. “Google should not bear the burden of guessing what the law requires in regard to disclosure of search queries to the Government, or the risk of guessing wrong”.

    I couldn’t help to notice a ting though of: “how much is it worth!” πŸ™‚

    Good job nonetheless.

  4. Dang Matt … you are quoted like a bazillion times in that PDF … you aren’t just Google Guy, you are Google God! πŸ˜‰

    I know this is all serious stuff, but I did get a chuckle out of the section that basically calls into question if Stark is truly a “reliable expert” in search engine technology.

  5. That was really interesting Matt, thanks for posting.

    I found the fact that many searchers repeat their searches to be very interesting. Also interesting was the fact that many users send search results over email and to cell phones. This is a great reason to start developing portions of a site for mobile devices.

    I’m glad that google is taking a hard stance on this, I do think that google would have a lot to loose if the DOJ were successful in getting their hands on search string data as well as “anonymous” emails.

  6. It’s great to see Google standing up to this.It’s also very ‘telling’ how easily Google can throw the governments reasons out.

    May be the US Government would benefit from reasearching a little more before presenting such an easily refutable argument


  7. Matt,
    My sincere condolences and sympathies to your wife for the loss of her Grandmother.
    At this time you should be left well enough alone without me bugging about expired domains used for porn again.
    But I think its pertinent in this thread to point out that Google’s statemnet to the DOJ where it says “Google is, of course, concerned about the availability of materials harmful to minors on the Internet, ..” leaves it open tto complaint when it shows so many obviously expired mainstream domains in its adult searches.Such as this one

    Why isn’t google sophisticated enough to ignore showing pages for adult searches when the page have no adult links to them.I know Google can tell when a mainstream site has a porn link to it.Why can’t G tell if a page they want to show in adult search has actually any links from already indexed porn sites and not just an expired mainstream site.

  8. The Attorneys did a nice job!

    Would love to see your declaration πŸ™‚

    I hope the Judges are not any of the the current Administations cronies and deny the DOJ as they should.

  9. This reminds me of making the transition between bartending and dealing with customers over to running my own business and dealing with customers. There is a period where you realize, “Hey, I’m big enough and more important than this other person, so I can pretty much say what I want to say and get my way. Unlike bartending where the “customer is always right!”.

    Google is in the position to not get pushed around by those clowns that say they run our country…so pull out your dec’s, wave them all around at all the govt officials and tell them all to F off.

  10. HaHa, I’ve asked someone to check out that site and dissect it. We got some initial data from the other site you mentioned, and nicely fits into the same niche we found based on your earlier datapoint. So we’re still doing some exploratory analysis, but I wanted to let you know that the initial results are promising. Feel free to keep mentioning sites or queries that bring up sites like that.

  11. Thanks Matt.
    There is a heap of but I’ve got to be careful about naming them here as yahoo gives them credit for having a backlink from your blog. o-)

  12. Nice job HaHa, I am glad to see that someone gets their post noticed when reporting sites that violate Googles policies. The search engines are full of spam and have had to spend over 50k to have sites created just to get them ban because some web designer or webmasters fills them with stuff that violates Googles guidelines.

    Now that I am savvy enough to detect this stuff, I report it and its ignored, so kudos to you for getting Google to pay attention.

    I havent read the declaration yet but its next after this post.

  13. HaHa you are right, LMAO I was looking for information on allintext on google and I found a top 10 listing for a porn site for the search phrase what is allintext

    this site is funny sapphic–

    I guess I learn more than what I was looking for. πŸ™‚

  14. Can someone please explain exactly why the US Gov wants this data? What is their justification?

  15. Matt, I promise you this will be my last list.Know that I know you are aware of the problem, I will rest my case.
    These next sites are most of the expireds dominating the adult serps today.
    It will be interesting to see what takes their place if these do get cut.
    Is a real tricky one to catch.It seems an authentice bed and breakfast site till one goes deep into its pages and sees things like this
    That one you need to look at the hidden links as cached by Google that they are using to promote their sites for example.
    Check how sites using this address get their links
    Anyway, that is it Matt. I will post any more on a new blog
    Thanks for listenng and I hope Google can sort this out.

  16. I better warn that most of these redirect and a few have trojans so be cautious people about clicking the links

  17. Matt you gave sound statements but this is the federal goverment. I wouldnt want to be in Googles shoes right now. The goverment seems hell bent on getting this information.

    Also the fact that MSN and Yahoo I believed have supplied this and will only strengthen the goverments claims. I also kind of thought your attorneys claim about ask jeeves and Alexa was a little petty and meant to redirect the focus. Lets hope the judge doesnt see it that way. When an attorney trys to use to many mirors to redirect their arguments and just hoping one sticks, the courts give less weight to the whole argument.

    Google holds the key to the goverments research, not Yahoo or MSN but Google. Since Google is the most used and # 1 search engine on the planet and neither Yahoo or MSN have ample search traffic, the goverment could not in my opinion retreive the data it needs to justify its investigation/ research.

    To add to Googles claims, I could see it now the court room filled with competitors and Seo’s from across the country and world just waiting for the right information to be disclosed during cross about Googles search algo. This could damage Google beyond any repair.

    The argument your attorney makes about the cost for Google to pull this data will be weighed, but the legal fees alone will outweigh that cost easy.

    Best of luck to Google, I know when MS tried to fight the goverment, they paid dearly for it. I hope my comments dont offend you but I think you know by now Matt I speak my mind, good or bad. My mother, god rest her soul, always said I couldnt keep my mouth shut, when I had something on my mind πŸ™‚

  18. Matt here is one showing up for a mainstream term
    It was a Ukrainian language and heritage school in Sacramento, California.
    A search for ukrherschool shows it no#1 of 59,000 results.
    Its now peddling xxx.

  19. parents are educator of their child.
    never ever a goverment or an search enginee.

    I’m from Austria and I can’t believe that USA parents are not able to educate their children of using technics and ethic rules.

    It is evidence of incapacity for all parents if they demand on a goverment to defend their children for crime and sex or an search enginee.

    I am suprised at your knowledge of all this adult websites.
    There are wonderful girls — I believe ;);)

    “Act the innocent”
    Sex is the worst case of the whole world for all the “poor” children of America,
    but to electrocute your children is Ok.

    I can’t understand this nation.


  20. Monika,
    I understand adult sites well.Its my industry.And yes, I think the girls are wonderful.I am a consultant in some compacity for 3 of the main adult content providers on the internet I also think children are far more resilient and incorruptible than most people believe.
    But the last thing the adult internet industry needs are sites making themselves out to be mainstream, non-adult, and then impose adult pages and links to unsuspecting visitors.
    We also don’t want people putting adult pages on what were expired non adult sites.
    This only strengthens the pressure on the US government to impose its .xxx domains.The adult industry has nothing to be ashamed of and deceiving people into visiting xxx does noone good in the long term

  21. HAHA

    “We also don’t want people putting adult pages on what were expired non adult sites.”

    They are black sheep, if I have understand your meaning.

    There are also black sheeps in the assurance business or website business…
    I have no information if the usa goverment would restrict this black sheeps…

    I have to- but I wouldn’t- realize that human rights at internet only cants.

    Big brother is watching you, and use a search enginee for his work…