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Gaming Google a Gateway To Crime?

CmdrTaco posted more than 6 years ago | from the they-sure-piss-me-off-more dept.

Google 162

netbuzz writes "Merely hiring a blackhat practitioner of search-engine optimization may be indicative of a willingness to 'cut corners' — the kind that land business executives behind bars — says Matt Cutts, Google's top cop regarding such matters. It's an interesting theory, as generalizations go, but there would seem to be quite a leap between risking the death penalty from Google and risking a stint in prison."

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it's not even cutting corners (5, Insightful)

yagu (721525) | more than 6 years ago | (#21955300)

It's not even cutting corners, the Google guy is euphemistically describing "illegal" activity by Google's rules. And while SEO activities that break Google's rules aren't technically illegal other than sanctions brought by Google for getting caught I think Cutts makes an interesting and probably valid point.

Just because something isn't codified into law doesn't make it ethical or right. Law can and will never model completely human behavior, nor should it. But outside of the law there are behaviors that demonstrate or point to probability someone would also break codified law. SEO like any other discipline has approaches that work and are within ethical boundaries. But it also, like any other, has approaches that are not okay.

IMO it's about boundaries, and the ramifications when activity infringes on another's ability to freely engage in their own activity. Competition is one thing. Subverting a mechanism is quite another, especially when subversion comes at others' expense.

As for the quasi-argument from the summary:

there would seem to be quite a leap between risking the death penalty from Google and risking a stint in prison

The whole MO of people like this is they don't think they're risking a stint in prison. They completely rationalize their behaviors beyond any reasonable state of self-denial. Watch some of the videos of the Enron depositions... these guys (IMO) truly believe their actions were within the bounds of legal activity. (Actually some probably were, the shame of the whole Enron scam is a lot of goats took the fall for the more powerful, though it was nice to see at least a couple of high level execs finally taken out.)

Re:it's not even cutting corners (5, Interesting)

canUbeleiveIT (787307) | more than 6 years ago | (#21955470)

Part of the problem is that, for some reason, it is seen as somehow more acceptable, perhaps even noble to cheat for the sake of one's company.

I worked in a Fortune 100 retail environment for many years and was amazed at the moral lapses that seemingly otherwise upstanding managers would commit on behalf of the company. One manager in particular, who was particularly hard on shoplifters (always prosecuted no matter the amount) and employee pilfering, would routinely shave hours off of employees' timesheets. His "thefts" added up to thousands of dollars per month and he felt perfectly justified in doing it.

Re:it's not even cutting corners (3, Interesting)

inviolet (797804) | more than 6 years ago | (#21957666)

Part of the problem is that, for some reason, it is seen as somehow more acceptable, perhaps even noble to cheat for the sake of one's company.

I'll bet you we see a lot more of this in the future, because internationalization has introduced an element of nationalism into the competitions between companies. Nationalism enables our tribalist ability to slaughter (i.e. rip off) any human who is from a different tribe. Wow will it be nice when genetic engineering allows us to remove the tribalism gene.

Also, the middle-class is heavily involved in the stock market now, and companies are responding by becoming increasingly short-sighted. Short-sightedness means cutting corners and selling out the long run, as we know.

Re:it's not even cutting corners (2, Insightful)

BakaHoushi (786009) | more than 6 years ago | (#21959710)

This is why I hate the stock market with a passion.
It's no longer about making money. Making money is the point of business and hey, that's just fine.
But no, it's now about making MORE money.
You can't be happy that you spent a million dollars and made a billion. Because you made 2 billion last year, so you should have made at least THREE billion.
The stock market and its investors tend to, I've noticed, ignore the concept of averages. Sometimes, a store will do better than average. Sometimes, it will do worse. That's kinda the definition of average. But we want our stock prices to go up indefinitely. You can only raise stock prices by legal means so high. After that, well, that's when the less savory aspects of business kicks in, just to make sure we look "better" this quarter than we did last year. Nevermind the moral, legal, and long term financial ramifications.

Re:it's not even cutting corners (1)

doom (14564) | more than 6 years ago | (#21959854)

I'll bet you we see a lot more of this in the future, because internationalization has introduced an element of nationalism into the competitions between companies. Nationalism enables our tribalist ability to slaughter (i.e. rip off) any human who is from a different tribe.

I think that calling this "nationalism" is to give it too much credit... it's more like a retreat to a medieval attitude, a worship of the divine right of your local warlord. There's this general sense that whatever Big Corporation wants to do must be okay, it's not as if they were criminals or terrorists or something.

I would guess that "tribalism" is closer to the mark, but I wouldn't be suprised if actual tribes are often saner and more sensible than nations about these things (if you were an Igbo living in Nigeria, why would you care more about country than tribe? The country wasn't even there a hundred years ago, and it demonstrably cares more about international oil companies than local citizens [amnestyusa.org] ).

Re:it's not even cutting corners (2, Insightful)

Blymie (231220) | more than 6 years ago | (#21955584)


You certainly touched on it and I'll add my bit here, focusing entirely and only on that last sentence fragment.

The entire logic and reasoning behind that fragment is quite questionable. Frankly, I have to wonder about the character of the person that wrote it. To them, it would appear, the only reason people do not do wrong things, is because they are afraid of the ramifications of their actions. Put another way, the logic of that sentence fragment states that the only reason people do not slit your throat, steal your car, and rape your wife, is because they fear the backlash of their actions.

A person that employs such logic would therefore clearly steal from you, if they knew there would be absolutely no backlash. That is, if they were positive there was no way to be caught, and quite confident of it. This is called "an asshole". A person without any moral fiber.

A person with true moral fiber does not act based upon the laws, but acts based upon his code of ethics at all times. For example, it is clear that beating the living tar out of someone that just viciously beat and stole a purse from an old woman, is a very moral act. It is also quite illegal, unless that person is physically threatening you at the time. One is moral, one is legal.

Also, I am sure that a good number of people on slashdot feel it is quite valid to kick the living tar out of someone that has acted in an extremely inappropriate fashion. Of course, this is also illegal. Morals and legality are often the same, but equating laws to morals is not valid, ever.

So, I take a strong stand against someone discussing going to jail, as if someone looks at the possible jail sentence they might receive, decides if the act is worth that price, and the commits the crime. This is what that sentence fragment states. A better sentence fragment would be:

"there would seem to be quite a leap between risking blacklisting from Google, and killing someone in cold blood"

 

Re:it's not even cutting corners (5, Insightful)

kevin_conaway (585204) | more than 6 years ago | (#21955886)

A person with true moral fiber does not act based upon the laws, but acts based upon his code of ethics at all times. For example, it is clear that beating the living tar out of someone that just viciously beat and stole a purse from an old woman, is a very moral act

Thats actually not clear at all.

Re:it's not even cutting corners (4, Insightful)

Tim C (15259) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956266)

That's exactly what I was going to say - that's not clearly moral at all, that's simply revenge. It's the attractiveness of that sort of response that is part of the reason why we have laws, to stop people simply dishing out whatever punishment seems fit at the time.

Re:it's not even cutting corners (2, Insightful)

billcopc (196330) | more than 6 years ago | (#21957022)

How is revenge any worse than the arbitrary punishment decided in a courtroom or municipal office ? The same wackos, who would beat the "living tar" out of someone over petty theft, are also in offices writing the policies. Just because someone works for the city doesn't magically make them less prone to emotion and irrational behavior.

Re:it's not even cutting corners (4, Insightful)

mcpkaaos (449561) | more than 6 years ago | (#21957748)

How is revenge any worse than the arbitrary punishment decided in a courtroom or municipal office ?

It isn't about revenge. The hope is that the system will try to rehabilitate. Revenge only teaches a criminal to be more careful and/or armed.

Re:it's not even cutting corners (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 6 years ago | (#21958830)

How is revenge any worse than the arbitrary punishment decided in a courtroom or municipal office ?
Three things:

1.) Everybody has differing ideas about what a punishment for revenge should be. I'll give you an extreme example. I know somebody who was pissed off at somebody else for logging into his MySpace page and wiping out a bunch of pictures. He thought a fair revenge was to call the cops and try to have the guy busted for drug use. If that had worked (and thankfully it didn't) the 'punishment' for this guy's wrong-doing could have been jail-time. Bit excessive, don'tcha think? Well, when people get 'wronged', they often act at the height of their emotional response. That's a terrible time for anybody to decide what's 'fair'.

2.) The difference between 'revenge' and 'arbitrary punishment decided in a courtroom' is that the accused has an opportunity to defend him/her-self. In the case above, the MySpace attack was actually a response to what the guy did. In theory, anyway, a judge would have considered this. Innocent until proven guilty.

3.) Revenge causes revenge. In my example above, I'm pretty sure if the dude had been nailed on the drug-use, he would have done something to get the other guy back. Maybe he knows something about the other guy he could use against him. I imagine he'd at least try. If he took a shot, the other guy would probably respond again. And so on. That's not to say the court system is immune to this, but one could argue that by-and-large it ends with what the court decides. To quote the immortal Augustus Hill: "There's one mother f'er that's right 100% of the time. He's called the Judge. Whatever he says comes true."

Re:it's not even cutting corners (1)

version5 (540999) | more than 6 years ago | (#21960050)

How is revenge any worse than the arbitrary punishment decided in a courtroom or municipal office?

When people are given the opportunity to take revenge, their response is often way out of proportion to the crime. Because there is something about being victimized that makes the victim no longer see the victimizer as fully human, someone who hasn't been victimized is more likely to be fair. I know it sounds magical, but its true. Judges don't decide punishments in the same way that someone taking revenge, because for most crimes, the law defines a maximum sentence that the judge is bound by. (That is where "an eye for an eye" comes from -- if an eye has been taken, no more than one eye may be destroyed as punishment. Before that, the response to losing an eye might be to kill the victimizer and his or her entire family.) Punishments are voted on by elected officials who are further removed from the possibility of bias, and verdicts are decided by impartial juries, or the best approximation.

Is it a perfect system? No, but it's the best we have so far. You must be quite busy working on an alternative system, and I'm sure that one problem you have already solved is that if you let individuals decide justice for their own cases, you might get some people who are more just, but you'd get a lot more people who are less just. And the latter would have the advantage. That's part of the reason why violence is the result of a government collapsing -- without a justice system, revenge is the only way to protect yourself, so justice gets dragged down to the minimum level because that's the only way to survive.

Re:it's not even cutting corners (1)

kaizokuace (1082079) | more than 6 years ago | (#21957998)

of course it's not clear. When people speak of "morals" there is nary a definition of said morality. Even though morality does refer to the code of ethics based on the societal norm in this modern internet age the lines blur of what society is as many cultures with their own morals are meeting all over the internets. So at this point I think morals should be defined by the individual to an extent. Beyond murder, theft and deceit it could possibly be open game. Going back to the quote in the post, where he says "but acts based upon his code of ethics" assumes that morality is defined by the individual and that the individual is correct in deciding what is right or wrong. In this case the individual is in the right. If he perhaps believed he was right and just in stealing (maybe that stealing is a normal function of life) then he would be right and just in his own code of ethics but amoral based on the rest of society. anyway enuff speaks!

Re:it's not even cutting corners (2, Insightful)

argiedot (1035754) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956470)

In fact, on Kohlberg's Moral Ladder [wikipedia.org] , that would be the way a small child would think. A simple attempt to minimise punishment and maximise reward which does not involve any thought of right or wrong outside the thought of the consequences to the person doing the act. Level I - Preconventional, that is.

Re:it's not even cutting corners (2, Insightful)

J0nne (924579) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956928)

For example, it is clear that beating the living tar out of someone that just viciously beat and stole a purse from an old woman, is a very moral act.
I have my doubts on this one...

Re:it's not even cutting corners (1)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | more than 6 years ago | (#21955620)

> Law can and will never model completely human behavior, nor should it.

That's because laws can never precisely describe "intent", only "action."
i.e. You can follow the laws to the letter, and still act unethically.

That's why laws are open to interpretation to determine the "spirit of the law." For every law, you can almost always think of an exception in a special circumstance.

Maybe it's breaking the rules (2, Insightful)

jessiej (1019654) | more than 6 years ago | (#21955846)

I think it makes some sense, try thinking of it as "breaking rules". Google has a set of rules about proper search engine optimization. Some of these rules might not be well documented but people generally know when they're trying to get around them or cheat them.

Any success in breaking Google's rules could result in increased profits from a higher pagerank giving the rule breaker a sense that it pays to cheat. So why not cheat somewhere else with another set of breakable rules? Taxes? Mortgages?

Re:Maybe it's breaking the rules (1)

Nullav (1053766) | more than 6 years ago | (#21958098)

Ah, but there's still the 'risk versus benefit' part; if you cheat Google for a spike in ad revenue and get caught, you'll get bitchslapped a few pages down and make less money, but it isn't the end of the world. On the other hand, if you screw up when trying to minimize taxes, you're could be in deep shit.
Not to say that success as an SEO couldn't encourage branching out into other, more ilicit fields, but spending $10/year on a domain and $40/year on a cheap host, then plastering a page with ads and gaming a search engine is a very low-risk investment. A lot of the other stuff requires a spine and more effort.

SEOs Lie to Robots to get them to Lie to People (1)

billstewart (78916) | more than 6 years ago | (#21958664)

Search engines are supposed to tell people what pages are interesting and relevant on specific topics. Since we don't yet have AIs that can actually tell what's interesting, they use robots to search for pages that have patterns that generally correlate with interestingness and relevance, and show the people the more interesting pages first.
  • About 1% of the SEO job is to make sure that the robots can find your web pages and access the relevant patterns, which is called "RTFM", and is useful for customers who don't have the skills to apply that advice themselves, which is mostly a limited set of web-newbies.
  • A somewhat larger part of the SEO job is telling customers how to take not-very-interesting pages and make them more interesting, which is called "editing", and there are customers who are clueless enough to hire an SEO to do it instead of an editor or marketing consultant or other directly skilled person.
  • But the bulk of the SEO job is finding current and creative ways to lie to the robots, so the robots will tell the humans that the customer's uninteresting web page is interesting, so the humans will trigger the customer's banner ads or buy their products or fall for their scams or whatever. Some classic techniques include piling lots of popular search keywords onto the page or building link farms that emulate patterns of actual humans linking to pages they find interesting, etc., but they're all variants on lying about the interestingness of the customer's web site.
So is it any surprise that businesses who hire professional liars are often ethically challenged themselves?


It's not really an issue of breaking rules - it's arms race in which search engines to find dishonestly constructed uninteresting web pages without accidentally blocking legitimate pages, and SEOs try to find new ways to be dishonest without getting caught. The basic rule is "Don't lie to us about how interesting your page is or we'll rank you really low", and the rest is just implementation details by both sides. The search engines publish some of the details so that people with legitimate content can avoid being mistaken for lying SEO customers and ranked as "boring scum".

Re:it's not even cutting corners (1)

kalirion (728907) | more than 6 years ago | (#21955916)

Wouldn't this be similar to a casino claiming that card counters are more likely to commit crimes?

Re:it's not even cutting corners (1)

dedalus2000 (704571) | more than 6 years ago | (#21958096)

yeah I knew those mathematicians were nothing but trouble it's counting cards one day and breaking kneecaps for protection money the next.

Re:it's not even cutting corners (1)

clam666 (1178429) | more than 6 years ago | (#21957062)

In Soviet Google, corners cut you!

Re:it's not even cutting corners (1)

brunes69 (86786) | more than 6 years ago | (#21957790)

Just because something isn't codified into law doesn't make it ethical or right.

How true. Also true is the opposite, just because something IS codified into law doesn't make it unethical or wrong. Bring forth the DMCA.

Suprise (4, Insightful)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 6 years ago | (#21955328)

People who are anti-social, who attempt to game the system for their own gain at our expense, are known to engage in other anti-social acts to bring about their own gain at others expense.

What a surprise.

How about, "People who don't think about what larger effect their actions will have are amoral, while people who recognize that their actions will have larger, detrimental effects on others and still engage in those actions are evil."

People behave according to their character.

Re:Suprise (1)

Eudial (590661) | more than 6 years ago | (#21955590)

How about, "People who don't think about what larger effect their actions will have are amoral, while people who recognize that their actions will have larger, detrimental effects on others and still engage in those actions are evil."


How about "People who don't think abou the larger effects their actions will have are reckless, while people who recognize that their actions will have larger, detrimental effects on others and still engage in those actions are moral, immoral or amoral, depending on whether they think it is right, wrong or neither, respectively."

Re:Suprise (1)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 6 years ago | (#21957050)

How about "People who don't think about the larger effects their actions will have are reckless, while people who recognize that their actions will have larger, detrimental effects on others and still engage in those actions are moral, immoral or amoral, depending on whether they think it is right, wrong or neither, respectively."

Right. They "accidentally" went to a black hat SEO to push up their site rank.

More abstractly, there is a difference between being reckless, which involves jeopardizing your own safety and security, and being careless, which involves jeopardizing other peoples safety and security. The fact that some people are both reckless and careless doesn't make them the same thing. Some actions are criminally careless, in which case it's reckless to engage in them. Some actions are not criminal, but the careless, indiscriminate wielding of power, which isn't really reckless at all.

Gaming these systems amounts to spreading misinformation on a global scale. That's not a harmless act, nor is it a passive act, or an act of passion. It's a scheme, and it's a scheme that's not really defensible on any basis, which is why all the defenses people put forward are intended to minimalise the act rather than redeem it.

Re:Suprise (1)

Geoff (968) | more than 6 years ago | (#21957814)

People who are anti-social, who attempt to game the system for their own gain at our expense, are known to engage in other anti-social acts to bring about their own gain at others expense.

I was going to say something like that. But you said it much better than I was going to, so I'll just say "Bravo" and "Ditto."

Re:Suprise (1)

kaizokuace (1082079) | more than 6 years ago | (#21958080)

I am enjoying your definition of what is evil. In this way corporations such as Microsoft truly are evil as they know full well what they are doing and have an amoral intent.

This should have been dumped in the Firehose! (4, Informative)

garcia (6573) | more than 6 years ago | (#21955344)

From the article's quotation of Cutts:

Can I definitively claim that there's a connection between a willingness to embrace blackhat SEO and a willingness to cut corners in other areas of business? No, of course not.

So in other words, he's drawing a conclusion based on one (or a handful, who knows) of cases and then this particular author made a story out of it and Slashdot picked it up?

Yeah, non-issue; move along.

It *is* an issue (3, Interesting)

Infonaut (96956) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956800)

Yeah, non-issue; move along

The mere fact that Cutts can't prove definitively that there is a correlation between use of blackhat SEO techniques and cutting corners in other areas doesn't mean that his statement is without merit. Anecdotal evidence has shown me that in the business world if you cut corners in one place, you're likely to do the same in others. Hire undocumented workers. Pay people under the table. Don't divulge some earnings. Mix your personal and business accounts. Tarnish other businesses with innuendo. Hire a blackhat SEO specialist.

I think it is important to recognize that SEO is in the mainstream of most big business operations these days, and it is no longer appropriate to think of blackhat SEO as just a "geek topic." It's a front and center business ethics issue.

Re:This should have been dumped in the Firehose! (1)

Thornburg (264444) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956976)

Just because no correlation has been proven doesn't mean the subject isn't worth discussing.

I find the idea interesting and feel it warrants further attention. If it hadn't made it to Slashdot, I might never have seen it.

Makes sense to me (5, Insightful)

Per Abrahamsen (1397) | more than 6 years ago | (#21955416)

Not as much as an indication of willingness to commit crime as general untrustworthiness.

If you are willing to pretend you are something you are not to the search engines (which is basically what black hat SEO consists of) in order to lure customers to your site, there is a good chance you are willing to do something similar to the customers in order to ensure a sale.

Uh-Oh (1)

dippitydoo (1134915) | more than 6 years ago | (#21955512)

In Soviet Google, The Corner's Cut YOU!

Gaming google? (1)

beckerist (985855) | more than 6 years ago | (#21955524)

Who doesn't want free advertising? Any good webmaster knows how to work Google at least a LITTLE...are we all crooks now?

Easily done (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21955976)

It's very easy to "game google" [google.com] in other ways.

Re:Gaming google? (1)

Trerro (711448) | more than 6 years ago | (#21957456)

There's nothing wrong with wanting a better search engine rank, and doing reasonable things to obtain it - proper use of keywords, making sure keywords are in page titles and not just the name of your site, asking sites in the same area of interest to trade links, having a good site map that a search bot can easily crawl, etc, etc. There's a big difference, however, between tweaking your site to look better to a search engine, and employing underhanded tactics like white on white blocks of keywords that only a bot will see, running linkfarm sites with no content that exist only to link back to you, flat out stealing content from other sites, etc. So yes, most people running a site that they intend to make popular pay at least some attention to their search rankings, and have made at least a couple of edits purely with search engines in mind. Most however, don't cross the line between "search engine optimization" and cheating the engine with garbage. The article is about the people who DO cross that line, not the rest of us who simply make sure our site is searchbot-friendly.

Re:Gaming google? (1)

Bryansix (761547) | more than 6 years ago | (#21957842)

Google is interesting because they pay more attention to the content instead of the Meta tags or other information. If you purposefuly try to trick visitors into coming to your website by putting up words that have nothing to do with the actual content of your website then you are a crook a liar and a cheat. The correct way to do SEO is to make the content of your website more obvious to search engines. In other words, pages should be descriptive and contain the phrases that relate to the content of that page or your site in general.

Cutting corners (1)

daybot (911557) | more than 6 years ago | (#21955544)

Clearly netbuzz and Taco know all about cutting corners, especially in writing and checking summaries...

What about Google's corner-cutting? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21955550)

It is an interesting theory. What about Google's cutting of corners in, say, user privacy, the rights of Chinese dissidents, or their own motto, 'Don't be evil'?

If the theory is, anyone who does something questionable is prone to crime, it's naive and ignorant of human nature. If the standard is perfection, we all fail, so he is saying the whole human race is prone to crime. Not very interesting.

But what he really means is that doing things questionable vis-a-vis Google is a special case. Someone who thinks that they are a special case, uniquely justified in their opinions and actions? The rules don't apply to them? Also not very interesting.

Yawn!

Re:What about Google's corner-cutting? (1)

Lonewolf666 (259450) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956342)

Of course Cutts' theory can be applied to Google itself.

Note it is not a reliable indicator of criminal activity, as there is quite a leap from cheating a search engine to mugging old ladies on the street. But it shows a certain tendency to break the rules and promoting one'Äs own goal at the expense of others.

So I would not be overly surprised to read about Google executives being caught with some outright illegal actions.

Re:What about Google's corner-cutting? (1)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 6 years ago | (#21957166)

What about Google's cutting of corners in, say, user privacy, the rights of Chinese dissidents

Neither of those is actually, actively, intentionally dishonest. Black-hat SEO is.

Re:What about Google's corner-cutting? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21958184)

Neither of those is actually, actively, intentionally dishonest


Ha ha ha. You keed!

Really? They wrote the code, implemented it, collected the data, handed it over to Chinese authorities, etc. by accident? In a non-active (passive?) manner? And not intentional -- either they are completely ignorant, and can't see the obvious consequences that any Slashdotter can, or it it was intentional. Your choice: Ignorant or Intentional.

Sounds a lot like Microsoft noises ... (3, Insightful)

Syncerus (213609) | more than 6 years ago | (#21955686)

It's funny how Google sounds more and more like Microsoft as time goes by ...

Google's own ethics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21955714)

For crying out loud...and does the illustrious Mr. Cutts have an equally facile take on how ethical Google's collaboration with the Chinese enforcers and censors is?

Paid Google Advertisers Ranking Vs Black Hats (1)

deweycheetham (1124655) | more than 6 years ago | (#21955806)

I think there is a question of morality here. Google is as big a target as the Black Hats. Don't both work at the same goal (rankings) with a profit motive?

So if we start making laws in this direction one way or the other, do we just follow the corporate money to find truth? Google's top cop needs to remove his foot from mouth be for he makes anymore of us gag.

Paid Google Advertisers Ranking == Black Hats

Gateway to crime? (3, Funny)

the_skywise (189793) | more than 6 years ago | (#21955820)

Father: "Why are you gaming Google to get your myspace page to the top of the list? Where did you learn to do that, huh?!"
Kid: "YOU, alright! I learned it from watching you!"

Cause and effect (1)

DylanW (189282) | more than 6 years ago | (#21955844)

I wouldn't think gaming SEO is a definite indicator of other unethical behavior, because I imagine a lot of people who hire black-hat SEOs just don't understand search engines enough to know what's ethical in that realm. (It might be an indicator of bad or uninformed management in that case, but that's another issue entirely.)

Whether they care what's ethical, that's also another story. However, given the nature of search engines and most people's understanding of how they work, I imagine this sort of activity would be easier to justify than most other unethical acts.

Re:Cause and effect (1)

dedalus2000 (704571) | more than 6 years ago | (#21958386)

this argument points in some interesting directions. Gaming Google/perception/electoral politics in order to increase brand awareness/search rankings/get elected is unethical and may be an indicator of further unethical behaviors. I'd go so far as to say this not only points to unethical behavior in the business of advertising but in fact it is the business of advertising.

in the late 80s (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 6 years ago | (#21955874)

new york city was a cesspool of crime. the era of bernie goetz and vigilante justice, the guardian angels, etc.: traditional law enforcement was failing

now, new york city just recorded its lowest yearly count of murders since they started counting. real estate values are soaring in previously bombed out blighted neighborhoods

and people have thought alot about the philosophies during the 90s that helped clean up the city, and two stand out:

1. compstat. computerized, statistical analysis of crime trends, up to the minute, down to the apartment building and block. this allowed the police brass to stay ahead of trends tactically

2. the broken window theory. which is the point of this entire comment:

pay attention to low importance quality of life crimes (turnstile jumping, broken windows, rafitti, etc.) and you wind up cutting down on rapes, murders, and much worse crimes. how's that work?

this works #1: through perception. a community that cares about its image will put up with less crap. a community that tolerates asocial behavior and a menacing environment plants the seeds for more major crimes. give some a little leeway, and they take a mile of bad behavior

it also works #2: a lot of guys who are murderers and rapists also apparently aren't very good at keeping a low profile. when cops for example began cracking down on turnstile jumpers, they made sure to do a background check on all the guys they caught via this very low level offense, and wound up catching a lot of really major crooks

so i think that this theory about SEO seeking types indicative of worse behavior is actually quite true. lots of little corner cutting is an indicator of criminal proclivities. new york city's current pristine crime statistics is proof of that way of thinking

Re:in the late 80s (1)

hal9000(jr) (316943) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956066)

so i think that this theory about SEO seeking types indicative of worse behavior is actually quite true.

Well, I wouldn't equate the two quite so strongly. Gaming a system is one thing, violent crimes are another.

However, there are reasons why people game the system. In a search engine like google, new web sites are at a distinct disadvantage to older, more established web sites. Olde web sites have longer histories, have more links back to them, are more "poplar", etc than newer sites. The barrier to entry on a search engine is not money but links. Lots of them.

Add in the fact that the search engines generally don't give much indication about how the systems work other than vaguely worded descriptions, that determining what is relevant what what is detrimental is impossible. For example, search out the value of using meta-tags and keywords headings in the HTML HEAD, and you will see plenty of results saying you should or should not use them. Well, what I want to know in the keyword instance is if I use what I think are relevant keywords and meta-tags, 1) how does the search engine view them and 2) how does the search engine detect keyword spam?

For every problem, there is a reason. Figure out the reason and you can do something about it.

Re:in the late 80s (1)

Beyond_GoodandEvil (769135) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956134)

and people have thought alot about the philosophies during the 90s that helped clean up the city, and two stand out:

1. compstat. computerized, statistical analysis of crime trends, up to the minute, down to the apartment building and block. this allowed the police brass to stay ahead of trends tactically

2. the broken window theory. which is the point of this entire comment:

Funny, I recently read a book, which stated that the explosion of the prison population and the large number of abortions 20 years earlier were the root causes of the massive decrease in crime during the '90s. Since cities other than NY enjoyed a decrease in violent crime. Anyways, it all about scale, and I have yet to see proof that somebody who takes a mulligan in golf, is more likely to rob a liquor store.

Re:in the late 80s (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21956766)

"Now, it turns out, according to two economists at the Boston Fed who have checked Levitt's calculations in detail, that the abortion-cut-crime theory rested upon two mistakes Levitt made. So far, Levitt admits to making one error, saying it "is personally quite embarrassing."

http://www.isteve.com/Freakonomics_Fiasco.htm [isteve.com]

Speaking of cutting corners (1)

russ1337 (938915) | more than 6 years ago | (#21955904)

"Merely hiring a blackhat practitioner of search-engine optimization may be indicative of a willingness "cut corners"
Should read: "Merely hiring a blackhat practitioner of search-engine optimization may be indicative of a willingness to'cut corners' ... "

I guess the summary decided to join in on the corner cutting...

Blown alliteration (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21955930)

Title of TFA should have read "Gaming Google a Gateway to Gangsterism?"

This reminds me of a commercial I saw... (2, Insightful)

RandoX (828285) | more than 6 years ago | (#21955932)

You wouldn't steal a car...

Re:This reminds me of a commercial I saw... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21955956)

You wouldn't steal a car...
I would if I could fucking download one.

Re: Fscking downloading cars... (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 6 years ago | (#21960738)

Holy Mack, Star Trek was right.

"I have a 3-d industrial form pattern-molder and 7,000 pounds of steel. Now all I have to do is download the pattern..."

leads to

"Materials Economics don't work that way anymore - that's what Replicators are for."

Re:This reminds me of a commercial I saw... (1)

Bryansix (761547) | more than 6 years ago | (#21958148)

No, but what if I could make a copy of that car for free? Now I have a car and you have a car and everybody is happy. Except maybe the car company who sells less cars (or so they think).

Merely working for Google may be.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21955938)

Working for Google may be an indiative of willingness to partake in evil activities that could be considered evil. Any company's logo is "do no evil" and that is involved in the advertising game is inherently an evil company.

This guy's just mad because he can't stop 100% of the people using holes in his algorithm to make money from making money... In other words, he's jealous and mad... two things I'd definitely not call "do no evil"

A bit off-topic, but the tagging here is odd (1)

Jugalator (259273) | more than 6 years ago | (#21955960)

How do the tagging system work and pick tags to use anyway? In this article, the tag chewbeccadefense [sic] isn't even spelled right!
Did hundreds or dozens of Slashdotters not know how to spell Chewbacca? Sounds pretty much impossible, given the kind of crowd.

Surely there must be some other explanation? *shrug*

Anonymous taggers (1)

AlpineR (32307) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956400)

Woohoo, I've had a gripe about tagging for a while but I didn't want to post off topic. Since you already started the thread and since the article is about shady Web practices, here goes.

1) Slashdot's tags are obviously manipulated. I don't bother to tag anymore because I know that the only ones that show up are from people with bots or some other scheme with the ability to promote any bizarre tag they think up.

2) Tags that pass judgement on the article, rather than merely classifying it, are the lowest form of Anonymous Cowardism. We can't see who wrote the tag, we can't respond in place, we can't moderate, and we can't even reference the tag since they appear and disappear over time without a trace.

Re:Anonymous taggers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21958288)

Theoretically you can just tag it !whatever and the original wrong tag is ostensibly cancelled, but I do wonder about whatever magical secrat algorithms /. uses.

its simple. we're not spelling nazis (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21956430)

we just dont fucking care about spelling the way you do. it wont bother us. the meaning gets across. and we wont lose one second of sleep over a mispelled word on a major website on a story that will scroll off the main page in one day.

in short. get over it and shut the fuck up already. it doesnt matter to anyone but you and the other hall monitors.

fucking neurotic spelling nazis. damm i hate you. diaf.

Would that our society admired ethics (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21955962)

We're currently in a swing of the social pendulum in which people worship money and power, and actually admire clever bullying, clever cheating, and clever lying, provided it is successful.

Ethical behavior is seen as weak or naive... or worse. Failure to extract the maximum possible advantage of any situation is seen as a failure of rational economic behavior, and therefore a betrayal of Adam Smith and Milton Friedman.

The pendulum will swing back, it alway does, but it may take a couple of stock market crashes to do it. One Enron wasn't enough.

He's going down! (1)

telchine (719345) | more than 6 years ago | (#21955978)

A common unscrupulous SEO trick is to post something outrageously controversial on your web site. By doing so, you will enrage people and incite them to blog about your statement, thus giving your site more link-juice, catapulting it up the search engine results pages.

I wonder if people who do that sort of thing are equally liable to be criminals? If so... someone call 911 and tell them abourt Matt Cutts!

Re:He's going down! (1)

Trerro (711448) | more than 6 years ago | (#21957700)

You aren't really cheating the search engine if you do that. You are posting real content... content that's posted purely for shock value sure, but content nonetheless. People are blogging about it because they feel your article is worthy of a blog post - maybe not for the usual reasons, sure, but legitimately. You aren't paying them, you aren't using fake sites, etc. So you're posting content that people feel is worth discussing, and your search rank is increasing accordingly.

Whether this is unethical is certainly open to debate, but if it is, it's not for SEO reasons.

Well, at least... (1)

museumpeace (735109) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956004)

... that answers my question [slashdot.org] .

Cutts makes no sense (2, Insightful)

Venik (915777) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956042)

Matt Marlon of Traffic Power was arrested for running a mortgage scam, not for breaking Google rules for SEO. Cutts is just using this to push his agenda. God help us all if some other SEO boss gets arrested for shoplifting or grand theft auto.

Cutts makes a lot of sense (1)

renbear (49318) | more than 6 years ago | (#21957796)

Matt Marlon of Traffic Power was arrested for running a mortgage scam, not for [...]
Yes. Exactly. But that just furthers his POINT, Venik. Black hat SEO is just another scam, albeit one that is not illegal. Unethical, but not illegal.

It does not surprise me in the least that someone involved in black hat SEO was also involved in outright criminal activity. Loose ethics are loose ethics, no matter the business.

A side note to other posters... please keep in mind, guys: standard, ethical SEO and black hat SEO are NOT the same. Neither he nor I are talking about all-- or even most-- SEO methods.

My 5 cents... (1)

imperator_mundi (527413) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956110)

If it were such a thing as a perfect search engine given some words/description it would retrieve the sites on the topic (quite subjective concept) ordered by "relevancy" (highly subjective concept). Such a perfect engine would simply ignore changes made by SEOs for these are hardly making the content of a page more "relevant".

In this optic people exploiting google's deficiencies are just giving google the chance to make their algorithms better... and being better is how the become #1 after all.

I'm pretty sure (or at least I hope) that there is no place on earth were being smarter than Pagerank http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pagerank [wikipedia.org] is considered a criminal offence and hence those jailed people should have gone a little beyond being smart.

bad summary! bad, naughty summary. (1)

kisrael (134664) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956120)

quite a leap between risking the death penalty from Google and risking a stint in prison.

Might I suggest you put "death penalty" in quotes?

I don't think Google wields quite that much power, at least not yet, and it's a very confusing sentence with an opposite meaning until the metaphor part kicks in.

Re:bad summary! bad, naughty summary. (1)

billstewart (78916) | more than 6 years ago | (#21960660)

It's kinda obvious that it's humor, but it still was annoying when I Googled for my name and the only result I got back was "He's Dead, Jim!".

Google (5, Insightful)

jorghis (1000092) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956136)

Oh come on now, how much of a fanboy do you have to be to think that modifying your own web pages in a way you see fit is equivalent to committing a crime because Google doesnt like it? Google has no right to tell people what they can and cant do on the internet, they are not the law. Doing something they dont like is not equivalent to breaking the law. If their algorithm doesnt handle other people's websites doing certain things very well they should fix their algorithm, not demand that everyone play by their rules and design their websites in a way which doesnt mess up their algorithm.

I know that a lot of the things they push may be in the best interests of the tech industry but at the same time it doesnt seem right that they have anointed themselves as the police and lawmakers of the internet. (how many lobbyists do they have again trying to get laws written which are friendly to them?)

Re:Google (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21957542)

It's not fanboyism or saying gaming Google is equivalent to committing a crime. He's stating (and I think he's right) that a person that does something greasy like set up a web page specifically so searches for "funny comics" goes to their "Vi4gr4" page is more likely to do other greasy stuff, some of which may in fact be illegal. And, in fact, I think this is true. Conversely, someone who says "I wouldn't do that, it's dishonest" is less likely to push the legal envelope in other ways.

Re:Google (1)

Deanalator (806515) | more than 6 years ago | (#21957864)

I think I missed the latest wave of slang. When did the word "game" become equivalent to the word "scam" (used in this way on two different articles on the front page right now), and when did "greasy" replace "sketchy"?

I'm too young to be a dirty old man :-(

Re:Google (1)

jorghis (1000092) | more than 6 years ago | (#21958084)

He absolutely claimed that it was the moral equivalent of committing a crime. He hypothesized that if someone is willing to cut corners ethically on SEO then they would be willing to cut corners ethically in other areas of their business.

If a fast food company wants to set up websites that link back to their main website with keywords like "fries" and "shakes" then that is their right. It isnt unethical just because it makes life more difficult for google's algorithm writers. (and I would argue that it does not constitute cutting corners ethically either)

Re:Google (1)

Bryansix (761547) | more than 6 years ago | (#21958628)

That is not what he is talking about. He isn't talking about a fast food company wanting to come up in searches for fries and shakes. That's not black-hat SEO. Instead he is talking about people who make a search for Ebay come up with their website which has nothing to do with ebay but is maybe a slimy pseudo competitor or even just a phishing scam.

Re:Google (1)

jorghis (1000092) | more than 6 years ago | (#21959428)

Actually that is exactly what he is talking about. SEOs (white hat and black hat) market their ability to increase a site's pagerank for certain keywords. A fast food company would be willing to pay for increasing their pagerank for things like "fries" and "shakes". Do your really believe that the SEOs that google has labeled as being "black hat" are getting paid to optimize for totally unrelated keywords? Thats just nuts. :)

Some of the more extreme stuff black hat SEOs do may be unethical. (ie setting up spam bots to make their clients think they are getting a lot more traffic than they really are) But a lot of it is just Google getting upset that they arent making things easy for their pagerank algorithm. (ie setting up dummy websites that link to websites you are trying to optimize)

It just seems a little presumptuous to me that Google has set up this "moral code" (which they reserve the right to change whenever they want) about how people should design their website and a lot of that "moral code" is basically "make things easy for our algorithm". If they want to remove websites that arent designed according to how they want that is certainly their right, but all this blustering about how not making things easy for them leads to criminal behaviour just seems like nonsense to me.

Trolling for fun and/or Profit! (1)

billstewart (78916) | more than 6 years ago | (#21960552)

Google's algorithms have a pretty straightforward objective - use a herd of dumb robots to feed algorithms to identify pages that humans will find interesting and displaying the most relevant ones first. If you want to make it easy for the robots to find your web pages, they've got a set of rules for how to mark them.


SEOs have a pretty straightforward objective as well - take customers' websites that aren't actually interesting or relevant to humans and lie to the robots so the robots will give the page a high ranking and humans will go look at the customers' pages, triggering their banner ads or deciding that maybe they do want to order some Nigerian Herbal Fake V14grA before going back to the topic they were actually interested in or whatever. It's not like breaking the law, it's just being dishonest.

The rest of it's all implementation details in the Google-Vs-Spammers Arms Race. If Google's algorithms don't handle your pages well, usually you'll get an accidentally low pagerank (and maybe you'll try to fix that), and occasionally you'll get an accidentally high pagerank, and Cutts isn't saying there's anything wrong with either of those. But if you're in the business of exploiting knowledge about Google's algorithms to artificially give your customers much better pageranks than make their pages seem to be much more interesting than they are, you know that that's what you're doing. And if you're ethically challenged about some things, you're probably ethically challenged about other things as well.


Cutts wasn't even talking about click-fraud people who try to crack Google's advertising system's algorithms to generate artificial advertising revenues, though I'm sure Google puts a lot of work into trying to prevent that. He's talking about the kinds of people who build link-farms (to emulate links on that real people put on their web pages pointing to sites they think are interesting) and robo-generate content and put lots of random keywords at the bottom of your pages in very small fonts with white text so it's not visible to the reader and use Stupid HTTP Server Tricks to display different results to Google's and Yahoo's robots than to humans who read the pages, so the Google index says the page is about "Keyword1 Keyword2 Keyword3" but when you read it you get 49 banner ads and an opportunity to order Herbal Fake V14grA and help a corrupt Nigerian official's poor widow get her money out of the country.

Are there other reasons to try to reverse-engineer Google's search algorithms? Sure, the original "404 - Weapons Of Mass Destruction Not Found" and "Miserable Failure" pointing to George Bush's webpage were amusing (though it gets old after a couple of me-too variants, and the originals were amusing because they were technically surprising as well as inherently funny.) And there'll probably be more things like that that get discovered. But you know that that wasn't who Cutts was writing about.

Unsuprising (1)

Zerth (26112) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956240)

First your boss asks you to cram in some keywords, then "borrow" some images, and then create "just a few hundred brand awareness" sites.

Eventually it becomes "please remove the copyright info from this jscript", then send an email to this "single opt-in" list of 10 million addresses, and lastly "Can you use an Ess Que El injecion to insert our website address in other people's sites?".

One big slippery slope to crackersville.

Wazzat? (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956338)

I read the summary twice and still have no idea what it's about. It just isn't parsing for me.

What else would you expect him to say? (1)

Trespass (225077) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956396)

'If you manipulate our (overvalued) services, you're a bad person who's probably going to do much worse things.' Sounds like a DARE cop talking to a bunch of schoolkids. True? Maybe. Even if it wasn't he'd be saying the exact same things.

Google Cuts Corners on Taxes With Irish Subsidiary (3, Informative)

theodp (442580) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956424)

From Corporate Profits Take an Offshore Vacation [commondreams.org] : Google similarly set up an Irish subsidiary, Google Ireland Holdings Ltd, which in 2004, its first year, helped the company avoid paying about 131 million dollars in U.S. taxes. Google noted in its annual report that year that it expected its effective tax rate to drop even more significantly. It explained, "This is primarily because proportionately more of earnings in 2005 compared to 2004 are expected to be recognised by our Irish subsidiary, and such earnings are taxed at a lower statutory tax rate (12.5 percent) than in the U.S. (35 percent)."

Re:Google Cuts Corners on Taxes With Irish Subsidi (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21959164)

yes, but are they gaming the Google search results? I think not, so it's ok. It's only a problem if you game the search results and do something illegal.

Re:Google Cuts Corners on Taxes With Irish Subsidi (1)

mrdarreng (1120603) | more than 6 years ago | (#21959342)

Okay, that's a tax scheme we expect of businesses - avoid them (taxes) at all costs. Hell, even Microsoft with it's billion dollars of donations to charity is playing that game (they've been setup in Ireland longer). To see that Google is doing it, come on, 'Do No Evil' is rapidly becoming 'Do No Evil To Teh Profits'. It's a natural step for a large company but can we now stop pretending that Google is the small, innocent and friendly company of lore? Can we just admit that Google is now a fierce competitor willing to do whatever it takes to win?

It's funny - laugh. (3, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956476)

The amusing part is that if Microsoft or Sony said 'breaking our rules indicates a tendency towards criminal behavior'... The replies would be filled with flames and laughter.
 
But it's Google, so they get a pass and people take them almost seriously.

Re:It's funny - laugh. (1)

OverlordsShadow (1034748) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956952)

How true. Fanboys will be fanboys though. I just really wonder why any of these things are news anymore. Whether it's CBC.ca, slashdot.org, or other news sites, none of it reallys seems worthwhile to read. Google is Google and sooner or later most big corps corrupt or grow too big we as a society get jealous and love to hate them.

Re:It's funny - laugh. (1)

glwtta (532858) | more than 6 years ago | (#21960024)

Yeah, it's weird. It's almost as if someone's past behavior influences how people respond to them. It's madness, I know.

Re:It's funny - laugh. (0, Flamebait)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#21960328)

Yeah, it's weird. People post responses to my posts that come out of some left field twilight zone - as they have nothing to do with my post.

Google fanboism, it seemingly rots your brain.

When will they learn? (1)

logicassasin (318009) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956690)

Manipulate Google today, doing drive-bys and selling crack tomorrow...

It's just like caffeine is a gateway drug for meth addiction.

I expect a whole new government agency and "War on " campaign soon.

How to help? (1)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 6 years ago | (#21956708)

A, ah, friend of mine works for a company that's thinking about hiring an SEO company. What's the best way to distinguish the black hat from the white hat ones?

Re:How to help? (1)

onedotzero (926558) | more than 6 years ago | (#21957394)

The more they guarantee, the less you should trust what they say.

Nobody can guarantee anything when it comes to Google rankings. All you can do is follow best practices. The best thing for any site is well-written content (marked up well to highlight key words and phrases) and high-quality inlinks.

I've heard people 'guarantee' first page, top 10 results. Fact is, they can't guarantee anything, and any results from shady techniques are going to be short-lived, and detrimental in the long run.

Re:How to help? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21959114)

Other than writing proper code and code that that SE spiders can use, IMO most SEO techniques should be considered black hat to begin with. Seriously, the more you need to manipulate your pages with SEO and manipulate others to link to you - the less quality, content-wise, your pages probably are. Instead of blowing money on lame SEO companies, half of which make outrageous claims, pump that money back into building a good site with quality content that people will want to come back to. A couple of quick searches online will get you all the SEO info you need, free. When it comes down to it, SEO is nothing but link building schemes.

When my company hired a so called SEO guru, who apparently did SEO for some rather big name companies, he came in, made 1 presentation which contained information that every developer at the table already knew, walked off with 5 figures and went AWOL. He eventually claimed he was there just to "advise" and not actually do any work.

Be wary of purely SEO companies.

Correlation != Causation (4, Insightful)

hellfire (86129) | more than 6 years ago | (#21957064)

The "gateway crime" theory is way overused. It's true dishonest people do dishonest things. The question is, did gaming the search engine come first, did cooking the books come first, or are the people involved simply dishonest to begin with and it doesn't matter which one they did first, they'll just do anything to make a buck. I'm betting the last one rings true in this and most other situations.

The same holds true for marijuana as a gateway drug. People think that taking marijuana almost always leads to harder drugs. That's simply not true. The fact that someone jumps from mary jane to cocaine does happen, but it has nothing to do with the drug, but the person using it. Just like people continue to think "prostitution" is a gateway crime and therefore want laws strictly enforced. If government would simply make it legal and regulate it, crimes tied to prostitution would be drastically reduced, but that would require going against the moral majority and thinking outside the box.

If you are willing to do one dishonest and illegal thing (and do it with no remorse), you are likely to do others (i.e. correlation). It all has to do with the morals of the person committing the act. The article doesn't say much but it makes sense in all other areas. But stop calling it "Gateway crime," I'm sick of that label because it implies causation and leads to stupid crime prevention policies.

Re:Correlation != Causation (1)

Trerro (711448) | more than 6 years ago | (#21957934)

Yeah, calling something a 'gateway' anything tends to be at best, misleading. Replace 'gateway' with 'indicator' in almost every place it's used though, and you'll usually get a valid argument.

Using the drugs one, is pot a gateway to crack? Probably not. It is an indicator though, sure. If you smoke pot, you're not opposed to illegal drug use. Sure, your logic may be that pot does little to no longterm damage, while crack obviously does, and if that's your logic, you're probably never going to use crack. However, ONE of the things stopping people from using crack is that it's illegal, so if that has no effect on you, then simple logic says you're more likely to use crack. By no means does that mean we should assume everyone we see holding a joint is a crackhead, but the simple argument that a pot user is MORE LIKELY than a normal person to use stronger drugs is a simple fact. The significance of this fact, if any, is obviously debatable.

By the same token, if you are knowingly using underhanded, unethical SEO, you've demonstrated that ethics are not a major concern to you. Regard for ethics is indeed one of the things that stops companies from committing outright fraud, false accounting, etc, so if you have demonstrated a willingness to violate ethics with the search engines, the odds are significantly higher that you do it in other - and very likely more damaging - places. This doesn't mean everyone who cheats a search engine is going to pull an Enron.

So, no correlation != causation, but that doesn't mean it correlation != significant, especially when there's an obvious logical link. By no means would I be in favor of ordering police investigations on everyone who cheated a search engine. At the same time, if I ran into a website that I knew what using unethical SEO, I wouldn't exactly be in a hurry to trust them with personal information. It's not a reason to call the cops, but it's most definitely a reason to question the overall integrity of the business, and as long as people know where to draw the line, I don't see the problem with being aware of a correlation, and using caution where it's present.

business executives behind bars (1)

Jim in Buffalo (939861) | more than 6 years ago | (#21957236)

What is it about the phrases "business executives" and "behind bars" that, when used in the same sentence, tend to make my nipples tingle?

seriously... (1)

drkoemans (666135) | more than 6 years ago | (#21957460)

that summary couldn't have made less sense to me.

Kind of a stretch for me (2, Insightful)

Roman Geyzer (1215500) | more than 6 years ago | (#21957984)

Although I don't disagree at a high-level with Matt, this is also a bit of a stretch. The way I see it, Google's algorithm is far from perfect. All too often, I search for something and get results back from web sites that don't deserve to be at the top of the list but are not necessarily doing any kind of black-hat SEO. For whatever reason, Google incorrectly bestows traffic (and therefore revenue) to these sites that appear at the top. So would you blame someone who has a better web site from "pushing the envelope a bit"? To say that this behavior automatically constitutes some degree of moral decrepitude is a bit of a stretch. There are behaviors that are clearly wrong and I wholeheartedly disagree with them. But to expect perfection from the masses when Google's search results themselves are not perfect is a bit hypocritical in my view. Another way of putting it: It's easy for Google to sit back and say you do this and that to web site owners while Google's making Billions and so many sites are barely able to survive despite good quality content and top-notch intentions. Worse still is that Google has a "diversity problem" in my opinion. Top 10 search results will be from only 4 or 5 sites instead of from 10 different sites so you have more options to choose from. But what do I know.

People do what they are paid to do (1)

Tikkun (992269) | more than 6 years ago | (#21959162)

If you pay a person to increase short term profits, they will do so. If you pay a person to ensure the growth of the company for years (or decades) to come, they will do that instead.

How is this news?

Bottom-feeders, crooks, and all that. (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 6 years ago | (#21960518)

Since we run a system for filtering bottom-feeders out of search results [sitetruth.com] , I've had to look at this issue.

One of the basic requirements of SiteTruth is that a web site that's selling or promoting something must have an identifiable name and address on the web site. A "contact us" form isn't good enough. Legitimate sites selling something usually have a valid name and address on the site. Commercial sites without business names and addresses are generally "bottom-feeders". They may or may not be fraudulent, but there's no way to tell, so we down-rate them and move them down in our search results. It's illegal in many jurisdictions to run a business without disclosing an address (California and EU law are quite explicit on this), and so that's a good first filter.

This filters out the bottom-feeders who aren't willing to go all the way to using a phony address. That's a felony (wire fraud or identity theft), so most sites with even a pretense of legitimacy don't go there. Those guys are crooks; no question about that. We have some blacklists to check for that sort of thing; it's usually phishing-related.

So there are three general categories - legitimate, bottom-feeder, and felony crook. The bottom-feeders are the ones Cutts is talking about. If they hadn't done some "search engine optimization", they wouldn't rank high enough in a search engine that anyone would see them. Some of the bottom-feeders are annoying, but not illegal; those are the ones that are page farms, but at least on-topic page farms. Then there are those who just have pages of irrelevant links and ads. Their natural habitat is celebrity name searches. Since they're probably violating false advertising laws, they are misdemeanor-level crooks.

When bottom-feeders go bad, it's usually via downloading hostile software as an "affiliate". See, for example, Zango [wikipedia.org] . That's an ongoing problem, and McAfee's SiteAdvisor filters out those sites. Even Google is finally checking for most of the usual suspects there.

Amusingly, the bottom-feeders can't go legitimate and give a name and address without losing search engine positioning. If the same name and address shows up on a huge number of sites, Google picks that up and down-rates the sites for duplicate content. One large bottom-feeder actually has a link to a common "about" page on each of their several hundred thousand sites, but uses the "robots.txt" file to keep Google from finding it. Our SiteTruth system won't read the page in violation of the "robots.txt" file, so we downrate them for lacking a business address. They just can't win.

This is starting to look like the history of spam. In the early days of spam, as some may remember, it was viewed as a bottom-feeder marketing medium, and reasonably legitimate companies used it. The CAN-SPAM act was enacted in a form that pleased the Direct Marketing Association, but had an effect unexpected by both the DMA and anti-spam workers. The CAN-SPAM act allows spam, but only if the sender and subject are identified properly. So any "legitimate" spam is easily filtered out by spam filters. As a result, today, spam is entirely a criminal activity. We never hear about the DMA in spam discussions any more. Now it's about putting people in jail.

The same thing is happening on the web. As the filters get better, the marginal bottom-feeders don't get through, and only the out and out crooks are left. As with spam, in time we'll get rid of most of the bottom-feeders, leaving only the crooks. As the ambiguity goes away, the job of law enforcement becomes easier. That's happened with spam. There's a high-profile arrest every month or two now. Alan Ralsky just went down. [usdoj.gov]

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