For many people, Google is the go-to starting point when they need to find something on the web. With just a few keystrokes, the search engine can find virtually anything.
The company also has many other tools to browse and organize the web, including the Chrome browser and YouTube.
All these products and services fall under the umbrella of the company Alphabet. While the various departments are largely run separately, there is plenty of overlap too. This week, we stumbled upon information suggesting that DMCA notices, received for the search engine, directly impact people’s privately saved links.
As reported earlier this month, Google’s search index is a prime target for copyright holders. Over the past several years, more than seven billion ‘infringing’ URLs have been flagged, with the majority removed. This makes sense, as Google is legally required to process DMCA takedown requests.
What comes as a surprise, however, is that the search takedown requests also impact other Google services.
Search Takedowns Affect Saved URLs
A few hours ago, Eddie Roosenmaallen shared an email from Google, notifying him that a link had been removed from his Google Saved collection because it violates Google’s policy.
The reason cited for the removal is the “downstream impact”, as the URL in question is “blocked by Google Search”.
“The following saved item in one of your collections was determined to violate Google’s policy. As a result, the item will be moderated..,” Google writes, pointing out a defunct KickassTorrents domain as the problem.
Initially, it was suggested that this removal impacted Google’s synched Chrome bookmarks but further research reveals that’s not the case. Instead, the removals apply to Google’s saved feature.
This Google service allows users to save and organize links, similar to what Pinterest does. These link collections can be private or shared with third parties.
The initial bookmark confusion is likely caused by the fact that, in Google’s app, the saved icon (shown below) appears by default. When clicked, the page in question is added to a “favorite pages” collection, which some people see as a bookmark.
Confusing terminology aside, what stands out here is that Google’s search content policy also applies to these saved links. As a result, URLs for which Google receives a search takedown, disappear from saved collections as well. This applies to both public and private collections.
DMCA’d URLS can’t be Saved
TorrentFreak was able to replicate this issue. Google doesn’t allow us to ‘save’ URLs that are removed from Google search, such as YouTube ripper “Yout.com”, torrent site “1337x.to”, or the earlier mentioned “Katcr.com.”
These blockades apply to single URLs, not entire domains. For example, thepiratebay.org is still visible in Google searches and can be added to a collection. However, Pirate Bay links that are deindexed, such as this one, can’t be saved.
The same applies to other sites. The old homepage of YouTube ripper 2conv.com can’t be saved since it’s been removed from Google search, but the latest homepage URL (2conv.com/neshq) can still be added.
It’s not clear why Google enforces the search policy for saved links or whether preventing copyright infringement is the main goal. The company didn’t immediately respond to our request for comment. If we hear back, this article will be updated accordingly.
For now, the impact is relatively limited as the saved feature isn’t widely used. However, if Google decides to “moderate” users’ Chrome bookmarks, or its DNS resolver, things could get interesting.