There are some (I'm not among them) who'd argue that Google has become so omnipresent in the world of internet search that it ought to be regulated, like a public utility or some trust from the 1890s. I use Google for my search needs because I find it, well, good enough, and better so far than the competition. With a little effort I can find anything I like on Google, from kids' sites to reference to the vilest pornographic filth imaginable.
Consider Scott Greenfield, of Simple Justice. Scott seems to believe that Google, because it holds the power to block my access to information through its search portal, ought to be regulated in some fashion, either through litigation or bureaucracy (knowing Scott, I'll choose litigation), to prevent it from silencing those whose political views may cause offense to Google or its more sensitive customers:
While we pretend that the internet is huge, open, level playing field, the reality is that essentially none of us can access it, whether to add to it or take from it, without going through a private entity. When those entities start messing with content, the only question is when will they take a hard look at yours.
The context in which Greenfield writes is the flagging as "inappropriate" of the Blogspot-hosted weblog known as "Just A Girl In Short Shorts Talking About Whatever." Blogspot, or Blogger, is a subsidiary of Google which allows beginning bloggers to get their feet wet, for free, before eventually moving on to the deeper end of the blogging pool: self-hosted WordPress or Moveable Type blogs, which require a little more technical work on the part of the writer than a Blogspot blog, and in return allow the author more freedom to "talk about whatever." It is an unfortunate truth that one cannot "talk about whatever" on Blogger because readers are allowed to "flag" blogs as "inappropriate," for any reason or no reason. I've done this myself, to spam blogs that try to flood our comments, but at Blogger I could do it just because I disagreed with the author's opinions, and if I do it enough, something bad might happen to that blog.
So far as I can tell, Just A Girl In Short Shorts was flagged, and now sits behind a "warning: you are attempting to read a site which has been identified by some users as objectionable" screen, not because it featured images of girls in short shorts or other revealing attire (it did), but because some ninnies out there disagreed with the author's words. Her words and political opinions were saucier than the images, and that's just too much for some idiots to bear. And that's a damned shame, because Google, through its subsidiary Blogger, now rests the site behind a wall that makes it appear to the reader that he is about to click on Japanese vomit-rape porn, rather than cheesecake and political commentary.
What's more of a shame is that Google allowed this to happen in the first place. Despite its hippie-granola image and "Don't Be Evil" motto, Google is as evil, and profit-motivated, as any bank, insurance company, or coal-mining company. I agree with Greenfield on that.
Where I disagree is with Greenfield's apparent notion that something must be done about the search-engine trust, apart from getting the word out that Google is not your friend, and that its Blogger service is a particularly shitty platform from which to host one's blog. If we ran Popehat from Blogger, yes, any moron could flag our content as "inappropriate," whatever that means, and if enough of them did Blogger would shut the site down or place it behind a wall.
But we've chosen not to do that. We're in control of the Popehat domain, and pay a company that hosts, among other things, genuine porn sites, for the comfort of knowing that if someone tries to "report" us for what we write, we can laugh at him. (Try it. There's a button below which will allow you to report this post. If you do so, I'll know about it and laugh at you, because you're reporting it to me.) There are hundreds or thousands of companies only too happy to take our money for the privilege of letting us write anything we want.
Google is of course perfectly free, but more importantly it should be free, to offer a blogging service which allows idiots and hammerheads to "takedown" sites whose content they find objectionable. And as long as there are competitors, and there always will be as long as there's a buck to be made, I'm free not to use it.
So it falls to the author of a blog like Just A Girl In Short Shorts Talking About Whatever, if she truly wants to talk about whatever, to move on to another platform. It falls to Google to remain a hypocritical money-making giant. And it falls to Scott, to me, and to other bloggers out there to warn potential consumers of blogging platforms that if they choose to host with Blogger, they can be silenced at any time by idiots, with no recourse whatsoever. And that there are alternatives to Google, as a blog host or as a search engine.
Update: Through other channels, Scott Greenfield advises that I should be careful about attributing a desire for regulation to him. In fairness to Scott, he did not say that. In fairness to me, Scott's post, veering off-topic to call out libertarians and the like, does not make that point at all clear. His comments, particularly toward the end of the thread (and if you don't read the comments at a blog like Simple Justice, you're missing half the content and more than half of the fun) do make that point more clearly.