When Google erases you, do you exist any more?

Recently, the file-sharing company Kazaa discovered that some hackers had made a copy of their software, and were circulated it online as “Kazaa Lite”. The normal Kazaa program includes adware and spyware; the program serves up ads and spies on your online activity, the better for Kazaa to sell you to advertisers. With Kazaa Lite, the hackers stripped out all spyware and adware, so that users could now download Xtina MP3s without any commercializing extras.

As you might imagine, Kazaa is trying to quash Kazaa Lite, because it’s eating into their revenues, and constitutes an illegal hack of their program. But how precisely do you stop people from downloading a program that’s already posted a few dozen of web sites, for free?

By making it invisible on Google, that’s how. A few weeks ago, Kazaa fired off a nastygram letter to Google, demanding it remove links to any sites hosting the Kazaa Lite program. So if you search for Kazaa Lite, you’ll find several results removed, and a message from Google:

In response to a complaint we received under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we have removed 10 result(s) from this page. If you wish, you may read the DMCA complaint for these removed results.

I have to give Google props. They’re hardly ethically perfect, but they consistently resist outsiders mucking with their search engine, and when they’re forced to comply, they usually protest. And they do, after all, have enormous power and thus enormous responsibility to keep their results clean. That search engine is the ontological basis of online reality: If you can’t find something on Google — son, it probably don’t exist.

Here’s something weird, though. I originally heard about this via a story on Cnet — but when I went back to try and find the story, it was gone. You can read the story on — touchéa cached copy of the story I found on Google. But Cnet never removes any old stories from its archive, to my knowledge, so this is kind of odd.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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