Google, VW Become Partners In Crime

    May 3, 2007

Google and Volkswagen have been pals for over a year, but that once-pure relationship appears to have recently devolved into a criminal partnership.  It turns out that the Volkswagen home page – which is powered by a Google Search Appliance, and was also recently featured in the Google Enterprise Blog – contains some hidden text.

Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan made the discovery, and the text is neither a piece of malicious code or some amusing Easter egg; it’s just a typical small-print disclaimer.  “Volkswagen of America presents U.S. vehicle information, pricing, incentives, deals, comparisons . . .”  And so on.  You get the idea.

But, harmless or not, such text is verboten.  “Google has guidelines against using hidden text,” reported Sullivan.  “In fact, such use got a different car maker, BMW, banned briefly from Google last year.”

And, in case you’re thinking that someone at the search engine company should have caught on, Sullivan added, “Even Google has violated its own rules.  Back in 2005, text meant for internal indexing was showing up on public pages, causing one part of Google to file for a reinclusion request with another part of Google.”

That incident was rather embarrassing for Google, however, and this new “oops” may also spur some recriminations within the company; after all, Kevin Gough, a senior product and marketing manager, was enthusiastically praising the carmaker just last month on the Google Enterprise Blog.

One of the first interactions between Google and Volkswagen seemed innocent enough – they attempted to develop a navigation system.  The companies then shared a bit of laughter at the destruction of a Ford Focus, for which I can’t fault them.  But with their latest collaboration – or more specifically, the “invisible” aspect of that collaboration – Google and Volkswagen are starting to raise some eyebrows.