Did Google Just Outfox Murdoch With Google News Opt-Out Code?


Google’s introduction Wednesday of automated “opt-out” procedures for publishers followed increasingly strident criticism of the Google News aggregator’s role in online media distribution by some of the publishing industry’s heaviest hitters, including the Associated Press and News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch.

Google, headquartered in Mountain View, Calif., now has a user agent for the robots.txt search engine standard that can automatically tell Google’s Web-crawling “robot” if it is denied permission to index a particular Web page on either the main Google search engine or Google News, or both, wrote Jonathan Simon, a Google webmaster trends analyst, in an official Google blog post Wednesday.

Publishers previously had to inform Google by way of a form if they did not want their Web pages indexed by the search giant.

In recent weeks, some large online media publishers have called into question whether Google -- and other online news aggregators -- should even have the right to package via automated process the copyrighted content produced by third parties for the Web. The rising backlash against news aggregators culminated in Murdoch’s testimony Tuesday to U.S. Federal Trade Commission regulators that such businesses are “feeding off the hard-earned efforts and investments of others.”

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“To be impolite, it’s theft,” said Murdoch. The media mogul, whose company is the second-largest media conglomerate in the world behind Disney, has repeatedly said that News Corp. plans to move its currently free online content properties to a paid model.

Also on Tuesday, Google added some tweaks to its First Click Free system that are designed to placate paid content publishers who “are worried about people abusing the spirit of First Click Free to access almost all of their content,” the company said in another blog post.

First Click Free, which lets publishers of premium online content grant readers limited access to certain gated content through Google News and Web searches, can now also be customized by publishers to limit individual readers to just five free accesses per day.