Google Search Data May Determine What’s Obscene

What’s Obscene? Google Could Have an Answer – NYTimes.com
“In a novel approach, the defense in an obscenity trial in Florida plans to use publicly accessible Google search data to try to persuade jurors that their neighbors have broader interests than they might have thought.”

This is an interesting way to approach what constitutes a community standard. The article states that the movies and magazines available in an area have been used as past precedent to gauge this baseline for a given community. Google’s data, especially more specific data than Google Trends can provide regarding the frequency of requests, and the number of unique IPs initiating those queries would provide a more accurate way by which these kind of trends can be judged. As the defense attorney states, “using the Internet data, “we can show how people really think and feel and act in their own homes, which, parenthetically, is where this material was intended to be viewed.”

I think the defense can set a new precedent with this data, but they’re going to require a very fine level of detail in order to do so, and I’m not sure Google will actually provide the kind of detail the defense needs. Google shouldn’t be collecting this data to begin with, but since it does exist, this would seem to be a justifiable use for it as long as it’s as anonymous as possible.  It’s certainly more justifiable than profiting off of it by selling it to some marketing firm. I’m big on privacy so this whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

… It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out.

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~ by Woeful on June 24, 2008.

5 Responses to “Google Search Data May Determine What’s Obscene”

  1. Cool! So maybe if the bible-thumpin’ born agains realize that their right to pornographic privacy might be at risk, and their hypocrisy exposed, perhaps they’ll back down on that “get the terrorists by any means necessary” approach to information availability! Ha!

  2. It would certainly expose the hypocrites among us.

  3. that would only establish a community standard for computer users who use google to find stuff. regular porn is easy to find, but what if you need monkey porn? so google registers a large percentage of monkey porn searches. does that mean that my community loves monkey porn? no, it just means that a subset of the original subset like monkey porn. it isn’t a random survey. it’s like using Motley Crue fans to count total number of black widow tattoos to declare that 40% of the USA have black widow tattoos…. not scientific, just bullshit. but fun.

  4. But it is certainly consistent with the things they are currently gauging community standards (i.e., Movies, and magazines) by. How many Internet users don’t Google anyway? Many of those who do not have Internet access use the Library and we all know what they’re searching for. With the amount and specific level of detail in the data that Google collects, they could determine what percentage of the population is searching for the nasty in any given neighborhood not just by metro area if they wanted, and probably within a small margin of error.

    This reminds me of a recent study that was recently disclosed where they tracked people via the GPS in their phones to determine where people travel to build better roads (I’m not so keen on this for privacy reasons either). They discovered some interesting stuff about how people behave and even though it can’t be said for certain, I’d bet serious coin that it would true for the general population as well and NOT just cell phone users.

  5. This is a very interesting situation. On the one hand, this approach could help protect one’s rights to free expression and even privacy. On the other hand, it feels like an invasion of privacy. Quite a paradox.

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