A Bad Sign for Google

Reading through Brad Stone's epic story on "Google 3.0," I came away really worried about Google's search offerings. But it's not Stone's analysis of the move to install Larry Page as CEO that caused me to wonder about the Internet giant.

This is what did: Late last year, The New York Times ran an almost unbelievable story about an evil online merchant who did hateful things to get people to write about his website, thereby increasing his search ranking. Google responded swiftly to the problem and it went away, supposedly. Stone summarizes:

When The New York Times exposed a fraudulent eyeglass merchant in December that was featured high in Google search results, Sing­hal assembled a team that in three days came up with a batch of "signals," or indications that could better discriminate between dishonest merchants and legitimate ones. He says such sellers are now heavily penalized and nearly invisible in Google's results.

So, this seems like a happy ending. But think about it this way: Thousands of engineers work on the product and it took a Times article for them to notice. Isn't it almost a rule that the Times is the first or last to know everything? And in this case, they can't have been the first.

No offense to the Times, which did a great job reporting the story, but it shouldn't take a front page anecdote for Google to figure out that there were dishonest merchants gaming the system in that way. Google should be steps ahead of the merchants, let alone of the people writing about the merchants.

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