Google strikes while SOPA and PIPA are hot

Been to Google today? Or Facebook? Twitter? Wikipedia? The likelihood is if you have spent any time at all online, you are aware of the anti-piracy legislation facing Congress and the accompanying online protest. With such high-profile websites taking a stand, this online protest seems to be covered today on traditional media just as much as the Occupy protests have been over the past few months.

Numerous websites are protesting two bills facing Congress: SOPA in the House and PIPA in the Senate. While some websites went fully dark (Wikipedia, Buddy Roemer’s campaign site, among others) to demonstrate what the Internet could become if these bills pass in Congress, Facebook and Twitter are full of discussions covering this topic.

Google may have been the smartest site of all though with an online petition linked from their homepage along with a black box commonly seen on censored material on TV – an iconic symbol to make clear the company’s view on the anti-piracy legislation.

With an estimated 1 billion unique visitors per month, Google did exactly what any political campaign or group should do: they capitalized on a hot news issue and are capturing information from all petition signors. After the information is gathered, the subsequent interactions with the site are sometimes worth even more than the initial sign-up. For example, as long as an individual is on Google’s website, she likely will click around, possibly search the news on these bills, check Gmail and further build on her direct interaction with the search engine. This helps Google know the users’ habits to retarget ads — and it snowballs from there. Google does include a “how we use your information” blurb on the page so it is (mostly) clear where one’s information will go from the petition.

It’s worth nothing from a tech perspective that Wikipedia has a contact Congress tool on their English site (the foreign language sites appear to be operating normally with an informational blurb across the top of the page). They should have bug tested the tool a bit more though: after entering a Virginia zip code, the site displayed Delegate Eleanor Holmes-Norton (DC’s representative) along with Virginia’s Senators.

No one argues online piracy is a huge issue, particularly in the music and movie industries, and we are all in uncharted territory in regulating the Internet. The protests, petitions and discussion make one thing very clear though: there’s a very vocal online movement dissatisfied with PIPA and SOPA today.

In a critical election year, it will be interesting to watch the political ramifications of this online protest and public reaction. President Obama has stated he will not support the bills and there have been a number of defections already from House and Senate supporters on both sides of the aisle. Others are holding firm to their support. Will we end up seeing modified legislation with more bipartisan support? We don’t know.

Regardless of the politics, it’s an interesting situation to observe from a technological lens. It would be intriguing to know the numbers of how many signed Google’s petition, not to mention how many came from Facebook and Twitter discussions and track the resulting impact. Call it wishful thinking, but the power of the Internet is only growing stronger by the day. In summation: well done, Google.

For more information on SOPA and PIPA, check out Politico’s article.

Full disclosure: We acknowledge that we work with clients on both sides of this issue. We’re not writing today to take a stand on the issue – that’s just not our job – but to examine what’s obviously a hot topic in technological and political worlds today, and to look at the digital responses to it.