So just how censored is the Internet?

A while ago, the encryption key used on HDDVD was release into the interwebnets. Since then, there’s been a bit of a fuss, what with sites that have posted the key disappearing mysteriously and posts on sites such as digg being removed and/or moderated. This was all sparked off by a DMCA takedown notice issued by the MPAA. So just how censored is the internet? This quick experiment should give us an idea.

The Plan

With this so called processing key being one of the most famous hex character sequences in the world, how do the popular search tools fare with returning it? Its a simple premise. The one with the most results, is probably the least censored. Lets go.

Results

  • Google – 17,100 results.
  • Yahoo – 123,000 results!
  • Ask – 11 Results.
  • AlltheWeb – 89,600 results.
  • Live.com/MSN – 510 results.
  • Lycos – No results.
  • Technorati – 1 result.
  • Wikipedia – Redirects to the HDDVD page, specifically to the DRM section (classy). The page has been locked from editing.
  • Alta Vista – 123,000 results.
  • Reddit – 3 results, I guess the claims about Reddit not censoring aren’t quite true.
  • Digg – I could find3 results, but there was also some very strange behaviour when searching for the key.  See below.
  • Slashdot – The site that brought the news to the masses still has the story up, and another one containing the key. They even have a tag that is the key.

What does this mean?

As you can see from the results, there is a huge difference between search engines.  This may be down to their search algorithms, or it may not.  It’s hard to say for sure that there is censorship happening here, but suffice to say that given all the attention the HDDVD key has received, I would expect to see more than 510 stories (Live.com) and 1 blog entry (Technorati).

The real story has come out of digg.  In fact, Jay Adelson has just posted an entry on the official digg blog stating that submissions that contain the key will be removed.  digg.com search results page for HDDVD keyWhat his post doesn’t cover is why stories mentioning that stories have been removed, are being removed.  And why users are having their accounts, and in some cases ip addresses, banned just for digging those stories.  I mentioned above that I searched for the key on digg and strangely, I got four pages of results back.  I say strangely because, well look at the image to the right.  So what we’ve got are four pages of search results, with the first page only showing two results.  The second and fourth pages are completely blank, as can be seen in the image to the left.  The third page has a completely unrelated story which just seems to have the key randomly inserted into the story description.  I’ve also seen stories and comments disappear before my very eyes over the last few hours on digg.  Bizarrely, some made it into the front page RSS feed only to be missing when viewed on the site.

With all these stats, it’s clear to see that censorship is alive and well.  Personally, I found the post by Jay Adelson quite disturbing.  I completely agree that digg needs to be very carefull, and I don’t have a problem with them adhering to takedown notices.  What I do have problems with is what’s going on around it, such as entire sites and users being banned for seemingly innocuous actions (like digging a story that subsequently gets banned).

I’ll leave the whole “is the processing key actually intellectual property” debate for another day.  Suffice to say that just because Apple has the rights to OSX, they don’t “OWN” the password I use to access it.