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Sep 28, 2007

Sabotaging Google

John C. Dvorak - PC Magazine

A reader, Courtney Cox (no relation to the actress), recently pointed out to me that the top results of recent complex Google searches turned out to be inane Chinese sites that were not even parking sites, just an assortment of keywords that somehow got indexed and brought to the top of the results list. After seeing a few of these sites, I have to wonder what's going on. Is it sabotage?

Let's start by showing you a typical site: (there's some annoying Active X here. So visit at your own risk). This site was the top result listed when the search term "reset mp3 player m240d" was entered. And here are the full search results , in which nine of the top ten results are these weird Chinese sites.

Courtney sent me numerous examples of this phenomenon, and it's obvious that the more specific and detailed the search request, the more likely Google is to list these Chinese sites. The issue has apparently been reported to Google, but if the basic algorithms allow this sort of result, even banning the specific sites will not stop this sort of abuse.

Right now the motives behind this phenomenon are obscure, unless it's being done just for testing purposes. You know, like underground nuclear testing.

I'm reminded of some news reports I read in The New York Times as I was doing some Civil War–era research in old copies of the paper circa 1860 to 1870. At that time, the telegraph was the hot technology, and it was being built out all over the country using telegraph poles and wires strung everywhere. During this era it was not uncommon for one of the telegraph companies to chop down the poles and cut the wires of another telegraph company. There were constant news stories about it, and this sort of thing still exists. It's no different than a phone company "accidentally" unhooking a competitor's DSL rig in the central office during the burst of open-access activity in the 1990s.

I remember my first visit to China 20 years ago, listening to the long lectures about how China intends to become a capitalist nation. The Chinese liked to say they were going to emulate American capitalism. Ever since then I wondered what that meant. Would it mean chopping down telegraph poles? The American way? —next: Gaming the System

When I see this sort of site at the very top of a list of Google results, I wonder how hard it would be to scuttle Google by gaming the system. I don't think Yahoo! or even Microsoft has thought of this. But if not, why not? Perhaps one of the two companies is indeed behind the Chinese sites. Who would know?

We do already know that Google is susceptible to Google-bombing and click fraud. Now we have this. We also know that Google's search results include far too many parking sites. So many, in fact, that there are brokers who will turn all your domains into parking sites for a revenue split. You've all seen these parking sites. Many are done as typo sites: Mistype a URL and you wind up at some site that is nothing more than links to various shopping and search sites that generally have nothing to do with anything. In some instances, these sites appear on the first page of Google search results. As far as I'm concerned, they should not appear at all. And while they're an eye-rolling nuisance to readers of PC Magazine, you can be certain that multitudes of rubes using the Internet think that they're real sites.

As Google gets bigger and more dominant, you can be certain that the competition will come up with some way to ruin Google and make it simply unusable. I have to assume that these Chinese sites, which serve no purpose other than to scramble Google, are a step in that direction.

On that note, I should add that entering "reset mp3 player m240d" on Yahoo! yielded worse returns, with all the results being weird Chinese sites—including one that tried to load a Trojan (caution!!) that AVG killed immediately. When the same search terms were used on MSN, there were no results at all.

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