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Google circumvented the default setting in Apple's Safari browser, meant to prevent advertisers from planting “cookies”, according to Jonathan Mayer, a graduate student at Stanford University. Cookies are short pieces of code that gather information about the websites users visit and report the information back to the companies that planted them. The search company quickly admitted to the unapproved data collection, but described its action as inadvertent and the byproduct of an effort to let Safari users connect to services like its Google+ social network while browsing other pages on the web.

Google's search algorithm will begin demoting websites that are frequently reported for copyright violations, a move that will likely make it more difficult to find file-sharing, Torrent and so-called file locker sites.

It's a move that should please Hollywood, and will be at minimum an inconvenience to Internet users who have for years been able to easily find illegal copies of media for free download.

In a post on Google's Inside Search blog by Amit Singhal, a senior vice president with the company, wrote that every day the search giant gets more copyright infringement notices than it did in all of 2009. Mr. Singhal says Google collected requests to remove "more than 4.3 million URLs in the last 30 days alone."

This leap in reported violators has lead the search engineers to develop a new "signal" in the programs that filter results, one that will give less prominence to sites that garner more of the infringing notices.

A typical user's search on Google for television, movie or music content frequently turns up results for such sites. Google says its re-ranking will not remove them outright, but will give less prominence to targets of copyright-owner complaints.

"This ranking change should help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily," writes Mr. Singhal. "Whether it's a song previewed on NPR's music website, a TV show on Hulu or new music streamed from Spotify."