Google Results Polluted By Cybercrooks
UPDATE: Since this post was first published, Google has said an algorithm change is pending to address the problem. Read more about that here.
My original intent was to relay a heartwarming/heartbreaking story if you hadn’t heard it already. It’s a narrative you hear periodically in different forms with different details: A man found his long lost daughter via Google. However, in trying to find content referenced but not linked in the news articles about the subject I found nothing but malware traps right at the top of the results.
Very quickly the story, because it’s a good one. Twenty seven or so years ago, Dirk Pratt’s two-year-old daughter was taken off to Ecuador by her mother and he never saw her again. His ex-wife told him Francesca had died after being bitten by a mosquito. Dirk heard someone had been reunited with a family member with the help of a Google vanity search for their own name. So Dirk searched his name and found a message on a message board from his daughter. She was also told her father was dead, but was suspicious. Now they’re reunited.
My daughter is six months old and naturally when I read that story I was very touched and saddened and all that; I couldn’t imagine what that must feel like. So I went off in search of the message board. I wanted to see what the father saw. Eventually, I found a result for a Zabasearch message search result, but I can’t be sure this is same place he found it. The Zabasearch result was the sixth listing on Google. The top, where sponsored results often are, was a Google News result. The first through fifth results: all malware links.
I only clicked on the first few links, which led to scareware. Upon closer look at the others it was obvious. They had strange URLs, irrelevant texts. One appeared to be a BBC link but the URL didn’t resolve to bbc.com. All of them, were indexed fairly recently.
Earlier I wrote about link velocity and Google’s apparent new favoritism of freshness is allowing cybercrooks and SEO blackhatters to manipulate and dominate Google’s search results. Google needs to fix this or users will lose trust quickly. If every time you tried to do research on popular subjects and all you were met with were attack sites, wouldn’t you?
I’ve contacted Google several times over the past couple of months since instances like this became more and more frequent. I have yet to hear back from them about what they intend to do about it.