Pre-internet, finding out how to be a drug dealer was usually just social osmosis – you took them, you wanted to take them for free and/or you knew someone a couple of years older than you and you took things from there. It took a little bit of time and patience. Now, it's all to easy to find out how to do it. In the spring of 2013, Silk Road, the online street corner, had around 10,000 products for sale – 70% of which were drugs. Now Google has come under pressure from US state attorney generals to make it harder for illicit activity to take place on the internet.
In a letter to Google, the state attorneys outline their concerns about Google's "monetization of dangerous and illegal content" and "the promotion of illegal drugs."
The company failed to convince a judge to dismiss the suits, so now they've reluctantly entered discussions with the authorities to comply with demands. Mike Hood, the state attorney heading up the inquiry, says that Google "are making billions a year from illegal activity, and will continue to make billions until someone stops them".
So far, Google have hired an extra 120 members of staff to look out for the advertising of illegal drugs and unlicensed pharmacies. They're also eliminating predicted search phrases such as "how do I become a drug dealer?"
Bummer for anyone looking to get into some extracurricular rogue trading – let's face it though, any dealer asking Google how to get going is obviously not cut out for the job. Google is also disposing of "how to rob a house?" and "how do you buy slaves?"
Of course, Google isn't the only search engine having to evaluate their practices, but as the one that facilitated around two-thirds of America's searches last year, it's inevitable that the powers-that–be have narrowed their focus on the giant. Back in 2011, Google paid a $500 million fine to avoid prosecution, after an inquiry revealed that some of their employees were actually helping these companies place ads.
Since then, the illegal trade of recreational drugs has escalated and once more, Google are being called on to act. What do you think? Should search engines be moderated by governments to make online marketplaces a little less like the Wild West?