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Patents Censorship Google Your Rights Online

Google Patents Country-Specific Content Blocking 106

Posted by Soulskill
from the two-steps-forward-one-step-back dept.
theodp writes "Today Google was awarded US Patent No. 7,664,751 for its invention of Variable User Interface Based on Document Access Privileges, which the search giant explains can be used to restrict what Internet content people can see 'based on geographical location information of the user and based on access rights possessed for the document.' From the patent: 'For example, readers from the United States may be given "partial" access to the document while readers in Canada may be given "full" access to the document. This may be because the content provider has been granted full rights in the document from the publisher for Canadian readers but has not been granted rights in the United States, so the content provider may choose to only enable fair use display for readers in the United States.' Oh well, at least Google is 'no longer willing to continue censoring [their] results on Google.cn.'"
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Google Patents Country-Specific Content Blocking

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  • Patenting ACTA? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @09:54AM (#31154532) Journal
    Step 1: Read leaked ACTA documents.
    Step 2: Patent technologies and software logic that must follow to enforce ACTA.
    Decision Gate A: Do you want to be stinking rich or fight for internet liberties? For stinking rich, proceed to step 3a. For valient political statement proceed to step 3b.
    Step 3a: License patents under reasonable royalties and hire a legion of lawyers in countries around the world.
    Step 3b: List licensing fees of one trillion dollars per patent and hire a legion of lawyers around the world to enforce it. Sit back and watch ACTA defeat itself (assuming it covers software intellectual property worldwide).
    • Step 3b(I): Get forced to "grant" compulsory licenses in most countries which have that option in their patent system (for the common good, ofc).
      • Not in ACTA (Score:4, Informative)

        by DrYak (748999) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @10:26AM (#31154812) Homepage

        Step 3b(I): Get forced to "grant" compulsory licenses in most countries which have that option in their patent system (for the common good, ofc).

        The purpose of the parent's funny strategy (3b) is to let ACTA self-destroy on its own playground.
        Of course some countries have way to circumvent too broad and/or stupid patents, but patents are not a problem in these countries to begin with because they can be circumvented.
        But in country where all patent even the stupid one are followed, will have to follow that stupid patent too.
        Until they start adding exception to their patent system, at which point the goal *is* achieved - If *Google* can be forced to give out a patent on a core technology of the web, any patent troll should be forced the same whenever they try to stifle fundamental and important innovation.

    • by Seto89 (986727)
      Either way the lawyers win!
    • Getting patents out of ACTA is probably a very achievable goal. When we were working on an EU directive to criminalise violations of "IP", we raised a stink about the idea of becoming a criminal for violating any one of the 50,000 software patents which nobody could be expected to read.

      That directive, like ACTA, was being pushed by the copyright industry. The second we make them nervous about the whole thing crumbling over patents, patents will disappear over night.

      That's what's achievable, but

    • by shentino (1139071)

      Eminent domain applies to IP.

      anyone pulling that crap would probably have his patent confiscated in the interests of national security.

  • Not Censorship (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Compulawyer (318018) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @09:59AM (#31154566)
    Strictly speaking, this is access control, not censorship. Censorship is prohibiting access based upon some moral or other judgment about the content itself. Access control is restricting the ability to obtain content based upon permissions.
    • Re:Not Censorship (Score:5, Insightful)

      by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @10:06AM (#31154640)
      That's a pretty meaningless technical distinction. Differentiating between the country that demands the censorship and the company that actually implements it is like the classic case of the mass murderer who defends himself with "I was only following orders." Google, Yahoo, etc. have used the "We have to follow the laws of the country we're in" defense for a lot of stuff recently. But that's false on many levels. First of all they don't HAVE to do business in that country, they CHOOSE to. Secondly, even if you did, that still doesn't excuse the immorality of the actions. Even an Iranian business that must turn over dissidents for execution is still morally culpable for their role in that system.
      • First of all they don't HAVE to do business in that country, they CHOOSE to.

        Once enough developed countries adopt moralist access control laws (such as censorship laws in China or Australia) or protectionist access control laws (such as the copyright laws that leaked ACTA drafts appear to require), this becomes "First of all they don't HAVE to do business, they CHOOSE to." Then the Amish win :p

        Even an Iranian business that must turn over dissidents for execution is still morally culpable for their role in that system.

        What do you expect to do? Sponsor everyone's emigration from Iran?

        • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @10:31AM (#31154856)

          What do you expect to do? Sponsor everyone's emigration from Iran?

          No, I would only remind the companies doing business there that the day may come when they have to answer for their actions. Personally, if I was in a position where I had to do stuff like turn in dissidents, I would quickly seek another line of work. Even if you're not worried about the moral implications, the day could easily come when the existing government is overthrown and you could find your neck on the bad end of a noose.

          • Personally, if I was in a position where I had to do stuff like turn in dissidents, I would quickly seek another line of work.

            Unless every line of work remotely related to what you're trained in carries an obligation to report certain acts to the police. For instance, teachers and medical professionals in the United States are obligated to report to the police their suspicions of "questionable disciplinary measures" applied by a child's parent. So it's either turn in one set of dissidents or emigrate to a country that requires turning in a different set of dissidents.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bickerdyke (670000)

        technical maybe. But meaningless? I don't think so.

        I don't think you could call it censorship if e.g. your company denies the janitors access to payroll documents.

        • Can you give a similar example where access is denied 1) on the Internet, and 2) based on the country from which the request comes, which does not involve censorship?

          • In my last company, our chinese sales guy had definitly more blocked documents when he logged in.

            Perhaps it becomes censorship when published works are affected?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Eskarel (565631)

        It kind of looks like from the article that it's designed to be used to restrict access to content based on the wishes of the publisher, not of third parties like governments.

        Of course it could be used to censor content, but google(and for that matter the governments themselves) can do that anyway. It's not like China can't(and doesn't) block access to certain web locations it doesn't want its citizens to see. It doesn't stop back channel distribution of course, but neither does this.

      • by Nazlfrag (1035012)

        I think this patent isn't about censorship but about copyright differences around the world and youtube/google books. If you look at different countries Project Gutenburg (I'm only familiar with the US, Canadian and Australian ones) you'll see a wide variety in what can be legally obtained in each country.

    • by Tolkien (664315)

      What governing body do you think claims it has to think of the children for us because we might think of them in the wrong light? The governing body in question most probably influences law, and without people to speak out against their idiocy, they dictate our permissions.

    • by lonecrow (931585)
      Prior art.

      If countryFromIP(IP) = 'CA' then
      response.write "My content"
      else
      response.redirect("sorry for canucks only")
      end if


      I have web applications that make extensive use of country specific branching. For example the name of the region I live has a name that is similar to one in Australia. So if the user's IP is from Australia I place a link at the top of the page to a partnering site in AU. If someone is posting a classified ad I reject it if they are not from Canada (its a local site).

      So i
    • by ajs (35943)

      Strictly speaking, this is access control, not censorship. Censorship is prohibiting access based upon some moral or other judgment about the content itself. Access control is restricting the ability to obtain content based upon permissions.

      No, access control IS censorship. So is not allowing US citizens to read a book because the publisher doesn't want to grant the rights. However, if Google can make a book available to someone in Canada they want to.

      On the patent front, remember:

      Google is proud to take part in the following technical and advocacy organizations ... Open Invention Network is an intellectual property company that was formed to promote Linux by using patents to create a collaborative environment. It is refining the intellectual property model so that important patents are openly shared in a collaborative environment.

  • Thomas Bowdler
  • Yay ! (Score:5, Funny)

    by daveime (1253762) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @10:02AM (#31154604)

    I just filed a patent today too ... if it pans out, I'm gonna be rich.

    "A method by which the mechanisms described in US Patent No. 7,664,751 can be circumvented by any fool who has access to a proxy server, thus making the payment of any licensing fees to Google an exercise in futility".

  • Better yet donate it to some freedom loving international society with the rule it never be implemented, so some future shareholder won't be temped to make money with it. Then all the other companies can say "Sorry government, can't limit access because that is patented." Ok that's silly, the guys with the guns can do what they want, but maybe this patent can keep us free another 17 years.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by drachenstern (160456)

      I do not think that means what you think it means ... if the boys with the big toys decide they want us to be free for less than 17 years, then there's nothing a Google pwned patent can do. Capisce?

  • Makes sense they are doing this with Youtube and online video rentals. Also could work for Google hosting book content online and only having the rights secured in select countries.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    This may seem like a far stretch, but what if Google's intentions with this patent were in fact to disallow anyone from doing that? It seems rather surprising to me that the giant would suddenly switch sides like this, so I'll hope for the best.

    • It's not really switching sides, even if they do use it. This is more the people who give Google certain content not allowing it in one place or another. Or laws being more complicated or whatever b.s. is involved in the political realm of it. But this seems to be more about following copyright law more thoroughly as opposed to following any censorship laws.

    • by Idbar (1034346)
      I don't know why you were modded funny. If Apple patented ad-based OS and ad-based phones, why Google cannot patent mechanisms to block people from accessing data. If some believed that Apple patented that, to discourage its use, why Google wouldn't do the same.

      So, with the current growth of people trying to make money out of advertisement, then Apple came with its patents. With the explosion of people making money with locked devices, why not profit out of it?
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      First, IAAPL (I Am A Patent Lawyer).

      In order to prevent someone from patenting and abusing a technology, there is no need to get the patent yourself. Simply publishing a document about the technology in sufficient detail (i.e. what you would disclose in the patent) creates prior art, preventing anyone from patenting that technology. To ensure the USPTO (or any other patent office) sees the article, make it as public as possible. This creates the prior art, invalidating the patent application on novelty and/

  • Can anyone suggest a decent provider for email that doesn't have the privacy concerns? Should I just suck it up and move to my ISP's mail? Calendar and all that I can do without and find alternatives for easily enough, but setting up my own mail server is a fair bit beyond my experience...

    • by Ash-Fox (726320)

      Can anyone suggest a decent provider for email that doesn't have the privacy concerns?

      I run my own servers, I don't trust 'free' providers and after seeing the quality of service done by 'paid' providers, I don't trust them either.

      • by icebrain (944107)

        Is it that big a pain to set up with decent security? I've looked at running one on the Ubuntu box I have at home (supposed to be a fancy server, but it's just a network drive at the moment), but from what I've read, the process scares me--it took me two full weekends just to get the samba shares working right and with what I hope are the proper permissions and group settings, and I spent a full day last weekend trying to get apcupsd to talk to my UPS (I get "on battery" and "power restored" messages, but

        • by tftp (111690)

          Is it that big a pain to set up with decent security?

          It is not easy. A professional can do it without much pain, because he already knows what goes where. But if you have no such experience you may make mistakes that will cost you.

          Generally mail servers aren't that bad to configure (unless you want sendmail.) Some are easier than other; I like Postfix. You probably want an IMAP server too. But one problem you need to solve is spam control. Google, however evil it may have become, has a good spam filter

        • by Ash-Fox (726320)

          I'm not very good with linux, so I'm afraid setting up a mail server would take me a solid month or more...

          I have found that Zimbra's opensource version is quite easy to install and maintain.

    • Quick, tell me, you being creeped out, has that stopped you from using Windows? No?

      Rather selective in your creeping out aren't you?

      Notice that MS has NO problems censoring with Bing. Neither does MS link to chillingeffects when it is forced to censor something.

      • by icebrain (944107)

        First, I'm trying to move from windows as much as possible. This process is made difficult by the excruciating difficulty of relearning an entirely new OS and the consequent hours spent on every step of the process (see my other post regarding my home server). Don't think I'll ever move away from it completely, though, as I have a few programs for which there is no linux version available at all or within my price range, and no equivalent product exists. But for most tasks (ie, everything outside of CAD,

    • You may want to have a look at Safe-mail [safe-mail.net]. It has a nice clean interface like Gmail does.

  • by unixfan (571579) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @10:30AM (#31154844) Homepage

    A month after the much discussed attack on Google, google.cn continues to censor search results, though it appears to be less than prior to this incident. Ref. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/02/10/google_china/ [theregister.co.uk]

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Idiomatick (976696)
      Think that many have to do with their algorithms rather than censoring? When you search for sensitive terms atm it gives proper results, so maybe the register is being a bit jumpy?

      tank man [google.cn]
      falun gong [google.cn]

      Seems to be right.... The reason that LESS images of tank man show up in the .cn version compared to the .com version is likely that the tank man image is not featured as commonly in Chinese media. This makes perfectly good sense, and really should be obvious. The falun gong results are nearly EXACTLY the s
      • by TheSpoom (715771)

        Have you tried searching those queries from within China? Google does know how to do IP geolocation, you know.

        • Through a proxy gives interesting results. The initial web search shows the images in the preview but when you switch to the Google image search you get the following message: "" - "According to the local legislation laws and regulations and the policy, the search results will not show."

          So it is sort of part way between their old position and their big change of heart. (From what I've heard, I never tried to proxy before.). Wish I checked by proxy over the last weeks.
    • Hey, but at least they're now the only ones allowed to do it!

      (Yes, I know everything that was wrong with that statement.)

  • by feenberg (201582) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @10:30AM (#31154848)

    The patent makes no sense, because it includes no description of a mechanism for achieving the stated objective. You should be able to get a patent on a particular method of doing something, but since when can you patent all possible methods of doing something? Especially when there aren't any. We have been doing this at work for over a decade, using IP address information from whois servers. It isn't very accurate, but it works well enough for us.

    Daniel Feenberg

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Theaetetus (590071)

      The patent makes no sense, because it includes no description of a mechanism for achieving the stated objective. You should be able to get a patent on a particular method of doing something, but since when can you patent all possible methods of doing something? Especially when there aren't any. We have been doing this at work for over a decade, using IP address information from whois servers. It isn't very accurate, but it works well enough for us.

      No, it's got a pretty decent description, sufficient that one of ordinary skill in the art of computer programming could implement it, without undue experimentation. What, you want code?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    To protect the free flow of information which is at the core of a free society and an efficient and stable economy, location information must be eliminated from the network protocol.

    • by cpghost (719344)
      You can't totally eliminate location information in a network. After all, routing tables are necessary to point to your host, which has to be physically located somewhere. And IP is a lot better than, say, plain old telephone numbers or other location-prefix based addressing schemes, because nothing prevents you from spreading an IP netblock all around the globe. But yes, evil stuff like GeoIP needs to go.
  • I hope Google enforces the hell out of this patent. No, really - enforce it rigorously and we may have an internet that actually is a world wide web. Perhaps then I'll be able to view content on Hulu, for example. I may think patents are borked beyond saving but I'll be more than fine with this one being enforced.
  • Do no less evil.
    • By the way, "Do No Evil", as touted by Google fans for a decade now, has never been the company's "motto". The phrase appears in item #6 on their list of 10 principles. It relates to the way they place and present ads. Nothing else.

      Mod this up if you're sick and tired of the "Do No Evil" hype. Google didn't start that so they shouldn't be blamed of hypocrisy on account of that.

      (Then it's a completely separate issue what kind of company they are or purport to be. No comment on that in this post.)
  • This is very very good for pain in the ass to get free speech. Why? Because if Google has everything up in Laos that Americans can't see and everything in America that Laotians can't see then all you need is a proxy to see anything. So Google Books for example could become what it really should be. A library with all books (proxy required). Youtube could keep up pretty much all videos, needing to get a cease and desist from every country.

    Oh and it needn't be used to do extra censoring to hurt freedom of sp
    • Re:AWESOME IDEA (Score:4, Insightful)

      by spikenerd (642677) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @11:13AM (#31155306)

      ...all you need is a proxy to see anything...

      Great. All we have to do is maintain proxies in nations all over the world, and we can be treated fairly. Now if we could just teach everyone on the planet how to use international proxies, no one would be victimized by censorship. Surely governments will never try to close *this* hole. I feel like the world is a better place already due to poor implementations of evilness.

      • Point is that Google is already ignoring certain countries laws on what they can show, by showing politically sensitive things, supporting freedom of speech. So foreign countries are already benefiting from Google, I don't expect that to vanish. At the moment though people in first world countries are not benefiting. If Google uses this patent as a way to remove censorship from things (Such as Google Books) then it could be a good thing for us.

        Also, not everyone needs access to the proxies, proxies are hol
        • by spikenerd (642677)
          So you're saying Google might be intentionally implementing circumventable censorship to appease China while simultaneously helping the oppressed, because a more direct refusal to cooperate with censorship would be doomed to be crushed the Chinese government? I hope you're right. What might be the purpose of patenting this process? ...hmm, Perhaps they believe it is inevitable that the Chinese people will eventually realize that they are being oppressed, and when that happens, Google wants a monopoly on del
          • "Google might be intentionally implementing circumventable censorship"
            Honestly I think Google wants to follow local laws rather than the laws of everyone at the same time, or perhaps just American laws. Google books is disheartening for me in Canada because books that are out of copyright are blocked ... since US copyright extends back to when people wrote on scrolls. Following local rules would make it much more friendly.

            "I hope you're right." - me too haha....

            And I don't think the patent means anything
  • by T Murphy (1054674) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @11:08AM (#31155256) Journal
    Recently, working on a paper, I came across some papers on the National Bureau of Economic Research website that said they were $5 to access for me, but they are free for anyone in a developing or undeveloped country. I didn't try to find a proxy in Azerbaijan so I don't know how the site looks if you are from a country that gets free access, but I am curious how that works and how it differs from this patent.
    • by oaksey (585738)
      American patent might not cover it but don't BBC also already do this for people inside/outside the UK?
    • by skremon (1746830)
      Agree with you, actually this seems too general to be a patent to me, and I believe a lot of other popular web-sites are already doing it in some form (Hulu for example).
  • Content filtering at the nation-state level. Yawn.

    How about content filtering at the individual consciousness level? Show me what I wish to see, and nothing else.

  • Patenting censorship. How can this be bad?

    So, Mister Ballmer, if you want to filter Chinese search engine results, you must license our patent. The license will only cost you ten schmazillion dollars.

    What? The price is too high? Then I'm afraid you won't be able to legally filter your results, now will you?

    What? You don't think this is a valid patent? Maybe all business process patents are invalid. Let's litigate it.

    . . . and so on . . . or maybe something far less hopeful.

  • by gmuslera (3436) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @11:51AM (#31155714) Homepage Journal
    Youtube has been doing it for years... oh, wait
  • Google Patents Country-Specific Content Blocking

    Cool. I'm glad someone's taking a stand for decent music everywhere.

  • Taken from Googe's own patent [uspto.gov]

    For example, if the content of the advertisement includes "Buy honda cars at the lowest prices of the year!", the terms "honda" or "honda cars" may be extracted from that content. The targeting information may also include other demographic information, such as geographic location, affluence, etc. Thus, the targeting information is simply some information from which a topic may be derived.

    . . .

    Among the other things that could be provided by an advertiser through ad entry and management component 210 are the following: one or more advertising creatives (simply referred to as "ads" or "advertisements"), one or more set of keywords or topics associated with those creatives (which may be used as targeting information for the ads), geographic targeting information, a value indication for the advertisement, start date, end date, etc.

  • A variable user interface based on where the request is coming from. When you do that to Google, don't they call that cloaking?
  • Prior art (Score:1, Troll)

    by jklovanc (1603149)

    This has been going on for years namely any time anyone tries to download content that the the US government considers military in nature including encryption software.

  • happened to internet ?
  • Hah!

    This reminded me of something I saw on TV the other day. Some sporter got interviewed live by a reporter/TV anchor over a satellite link after winning a medal and asked if he had already seen the recording of his race on the [TV station]'s website. He replied that he tried but failed, because they blocked access from Canada to the media on the [TV station]'s website. That was obviously not in the script as the reporter was lost for words for a few moments.

    Same thing happens with Britons trying to view t

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