When Homeland Security’s ICE unit started seizing domain names last year, a group called “MAFIAA Fire” decided to code a browser add-on to redirect the affected websites to their new domains.
A perfect illustration of John Gilmore’s famous quote: “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”
Releasing the browser add-on was a statement more than a technical breakthrough, but it had a bigger impact than the MAFIAA Fire team could have ever hoped for. ICE asked Mozilla to pull the add-on from their site but Mozilla denied the request, arguing that this type of censorship may threaten the open Internet.
This victory for the MAFIAA Fire team encouraged them to come up with more anti-censorship tools. Today the team lived up to that aim by releasing a new Firefox add-on named “Gee! No evil!” which targets Google’s recent censorship initiative.
Starting a few months ago Google began filtering “piracy-related” terms from its ‘Autocomplete‘ and ‘Instant‘ services. The unpublished blacklist includes “torrent”, “BitTorrent”, “uTorrent” and “RapidShare” and was updated with the term “Mediafire” last week.
According to Google, the blacklist is an effective tool to curb online piracy, even if the terms themselves are not exclusively linked to copyright infringement.
“While there is no silver bullet for infringement online, this measure is one of several that we have implemented to curb copyright infringement online,” Google spokesman Mistique Cano told TorrentFreak.
“This is something we looked at and thought we could make some narrow and relatively easy changes to our Autocomplete algorithm that could make a positive difference,” Cano added.
But not everyone agrees that censorship is the preferred solution here. The MAFIAA Fire team, for example, believe that Google has simply caved into pressure from the entertainment industry.
“Although typing a few extra letters is not a big deal for most, the fact that a non-innovative industry like the music industry has so much clout to pressure one of the icons in one the most innovative industry in the world was too much for us to ignore,” a MAFIAA Fire representative told TorrentFreak.
“We had to do something about it, just out of principle,” he added, and so today they released the “Gee! No evil!” add-on for Firefox. As with the redirector add-on, a Chrome version may be released later when enough donations come in.
The plugin reverses Google’s filter and adds the banned keywords to Autocomplete as soon as the user types in the first letter. It also kicks in if the second keyword is on the blacklist, so if a user types “Linux t” it will suggest “Linux torrent.”
“Gee! No evil! at work”
In addition to restoring censored keywords, MAFIAA Fire are also considering promoting other P2P services and cyberlockers with the add-on in the future, the opposite of what Google is attempting to accomplish. Site owners who want to support the initiative are welcome to apply.
With “Gee! No evil!” the MAFIAA Fire team have once again made a censorship effort defunct. But Google is not their main target, the pro-copyright lobby (MAFIAA) is what they are after. And their message is clear.
“Our message to the MAFIAA is this; the law of unintended consequences is very much alive. You took down Napster and what’s taken its place is far bigger. You are trying to censor little bits and pieces, but you inspired us to release more tools that will make you cringe for a very long time.”
“Censoring common words like “torrent” to help an outdated business model is not the right approach… and where does it stop? Who decides what goes on this slippery slope?” the MAFIAA Fire representative told TorrentFreak.
The above comment rightfully accentuates how subjective and risky censorship often is. While the U.S. Government is supporting tools to provide anonymous Internet to citizens of repressive governments, they also support drastic censorship measures at home. Although some may argue that it’s not fair to compare apples and oranges, censorship is censorship no matter how you frame it.