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Google Updates Search Algorithms to Protect People From Online Harassment

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Google has updated its search algorithms to protect people who are dealing with extraordinary cases of repeated harassment online.

Once someone has requested removal from one site with predatory practices, Google will automatically apply ranking protections to help prevent content from similar low-quality sites from appearing in search results for people’s names.

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“We’re also looking to expand these protections further, as part of our ongoing work in this space,” said Pandu Nayak, Google Fellow and Vice President, Search.

The changes in Search algorithms come after The New York Times highlighted one such case of repeated harassment and shed light on some limitations of Google’s approach.

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“The change was inspired by a similar approach we’ve taken with victims of non-consensual explicit content, commonly known as revenge porn. While no solution is perfect, our evaluations show that these changes meaningfully improve the quality of our results,” Nayak said in a statement on Thursday.

Google said it has designed ranking systems to surface high-quality results for as many queries as possible. Still, some types of queries are more susceptible to bad actors and require specialized solutions.

One such example is websites that employ exploitative removals practices.

“These are sites that require payment to remove content, and since 2018 we’ve had a policy that enables people to request removal of pages with information about them from our results,” Nayak informed.

Beyond removing these pages from appearing in Google Search, the company also used these removals as a demotion signal in Search, so that sites that have these exploitative practices rank lower in results.

“Search is never a solved problem, and there are always new challenges we face as the web and the world change,” the company said.

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