The underside of Google?

David Segal, in a column in the New York Times (12 February 2011), draws attention to the results of some research conducted by Doug Pierce of Blue Fountain Media into some rather odd results which have arisen whilst using the Google search engine: searches for a variety of domestic items, clothing and furniture were consistently yielding one site as the, apparently leading, supplier.  J. C. Penney, a very prestigious company running department stores in the United States, has denied any attempt at manipulating the search engine results. Pierce’s research indicates that the curious effect has been achieved by creating an intensive set of links to the J. C. Penney web site, which has the effect of forcing the Google Page-ranking algorithm to force the site up the rankings.  Once alerted to the problem, Google investigated and confirmed that someone had deliberately tried to promote the web site by this means, and adjusted its algorithm accordingly.  Such “black hat” (by analogy with “bad” cowboys, who wear black stetsons in films with a Western cowboy theme whereas the “heroes” wear white hats) attempts are quite prevalent and the article presents a fascinating account of some recent attempts at “web influencing” on behalf of large corporations.

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