Is Google patronizing?

A difficult question. Of course we have the proverb "Power corrupts" and nobody can deny that Google is among the most powerful ICT companies worldwide. So they must be strong not to corrupt themselves.
Google's mission statement is as follows (see http://www.google.com/corporate/):

Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.

A noble task; but how noble is the execution of this task?

Of course we all know about the kneefall Google has made for totalitarian regimes (China, Iran) such that people may enter every possible seacrh phrase, but only those search results are shown that are acceptable to the totalitarian regime... So far the "and make it universally accessible" part.

What made me write this topic was the fact that one of my (best visited) webpages suddenly stopped popping up in Google searches. It still scores high on Yahoo, Altavista and the other search engines, but it is completely eradicated from Google. Apparently I crossed a thin blue line and Google is punishing me by the opposite of "make it universally accessible".


Google: some history

If you want to read the success stories of Page and Brin, visit the Google site and there will be enough pages dedicated to this subject. The chance of you being able to repeat this is fairly minimal. Page and Brin were not particularly poor chaps with a good idea. They were typical examples of upper class youth in and from upper class environments who had it all lined up in the right time.
I'm not jealous. I'm just pointing out that they were in the right spot in the right time, surrounded by the right people (with plenty of money around) and that's what made their success.

Until 1998, the primary search engine was Altavista. You needed to wade through pages and pages of commercials. The search phrases were difficult. Responses were uncertain and the amount of content on the web was minimal, and (at the same time) growing like crazy.
Then Google appeared. They had the sleek search page they still offer. Plus the "I'm feeling lucky" buttton which was a commercial of its own. People just HAD to see this goofy websearch page with the funny button.
The search results pages were sober. No commercials. No adwords. No extra contents that did not have any seeming relation with the searchphrase (like naked girls as a result of the search phrase "TTL 74HC14"). That made a big difference with Altavista. So the Google search engine was available when it counted: at the start of the internet boom.

Later it became clear that the goals of Google were far simpler than "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible". Google was simply about making money. As we have come to expect from US companies (in particular). The search results are not for sale, as far as we know, but the concept of the adwords and such was a golden move. For investors. Not for the users of Google. Suddenly there were sponsored links, specially coloured bars in the top, that had no real significance to my search phrase.

At the moment, companies can buy words which will bring the companies' webpages upfront above the search results. Google is back, where Altavista left off: commercials clobbering the search results.
The difference: at present there is but one big search engine: Google. All the others are forgotten or pushed to the background. Browser makers install a Google bar. And the "Search" button is not user definable. It's Google or it's a hand-typed URL. This may be good for Google Incorporated, but it's not good for We, The People!

And then there is, of course the case where Google gave in to the demands of the chinese government: China wins . You can ask what you want, but if the chinese don't like it, you won't see what you need. Perhaps the chinese citizens need to buy all the adwords available and then force the government into something very weird...


My case: the anti-call-center-case

In my country (The Netherlands) people are terrorizd by call centers who call in around dinner time and try to sell all kind of silly (and partly fraud) products. It's the spam of the telephone system. There's no law against it. That's because the liberal party (VVD and the lot, owned by the spokesmen of commerce) is against everything which is related to controlling the 'making of money'.

In the past I have been terrorized by some of these call center related businesses. So I decided to publish a webpage about this and the ways I walked in order to fight back. For those of us that have some command of my language, here is the webpage: http://www.verhoeven272.nl/etc/telefoon.html.

This page, which is about fighting back to call centers, was the most requested page from my website. More than a 1000 hits per month. When I looked the subject up in Google, my page was on the first page of search results. Which was the same for the other search engines (Yahoo, Altavista). Apparently, people want to stand a chance against the telephone invaders. And this page supplied them with some ideas.

In my statistics, the telephone webpage almost disappeared overnight at the end of February or early March 2007. I did not pay much attention to it. These things happen and mostly the attention returns in a few weeks.
Not in this case. The attention was gone and it was not coming back.

This made me curious and I decided to do some Google searching. I picked a search phrase and went to the three most important search engines. The telephone page appeared in the search results as it did before, for Yahoo and Altavista. But the webpage was completely gone in Google searches.

This is strange. I did not ask Google to remove the page from their databases, and even if you do so, in most cases, Google ignores the request. Remember: they have a Holy Quest: "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful".

The graph in this chapter shows what happened since early March (when the blacklisting began). Webtraffic is decreased by 25% each month. Don't fuck with Google, is what the graph says. No matter what their mission statement is, Google tells you what's right and rong.


Test: 1, 2, 3

We're going to do some tests in order to prove the hypothesis. On the webpage in question, http://www.verhoeven272.nl/etc/telefoon.html, I select some texts which are not likely to be found elsewhere on the internet. These pieces of text are as shown below:

Phrase Google Yahoo Altavista
Telefonische inbraak 04-2007 : Page 25
07-2007 : Page 1, nr 1
Page 3 Page 1, nr 1
KPN en de hermandad 04-2007 ; Not found
07-2007 : Page 1. nr 1
Page 1, center Page 1, nr 3
telefoon terreur telepathic 04-2007 : Not found
07-2007 : Page 1, nr 2
Page 1, nr 1 Page 1, nr 2
naar meneer Uilemans Not found
Page 1, nr 1
Page 1, number 1 Page 1, number 1

Let me be very clear: Google is a very powerful search engine. The Google spider is a returning guest om my webpages. So I know I am being indexed. Still, when just looking in the table above, Google is just a third rate search engine.... They didn't come up with one good result, with search phrases that were directly taken off the webpage in question (with cut and paste!).
Apparently something else is going on. The clue might be case 2: "KPN en de hermandad".

Just run this phrase through Google once more. We end up here: http://www.telepathic.nl/cgi/referenties.html. And there's something funny with this....

The Telepathic was my first weapon against call centers. It is a caller ID box that can suppress (ranges of) numbers from making your phone ring. It's a nice concept, but from a certain moment, the box started to behave unreliably and I could not anymore wave away all anonymous callers.

The maker of the Telepathic was kind of happy with the attention I paid to his product and asked me if he could borrow part of the text for his website. I had no objection against that. So now some of the search phrases ended up on his website... This is the proof that Google can still find these texts, but that they are suppressed by Google, so that We, the people, cannot access it anymore.


What could have happened

I just switched my mind in Paranoia mode. Below I give my opinions about what could have happened:

  1. Some one got sick and tired of my webpage since it was costing his call center money. So he rang a friend at Google and they decided to block my webpage.
  2. A call center got sick and tired of my webpage and decided to buy Google AdWords until my webpage was suppressed completely.
  3. Google again fell for a government agency and deciced to remove my webpage from all listings, without any warning or comment in my direction.
  4. Google has a serious problem in their search engine where certain factors can cause certain webpages to be compeletely wiped out, Google-wide.
  5. Google has a built-in censor algorithm. If a page contains (a combination of) a series of unwanted words, the complete webpage is removed from their search database. The file we are talking about, contains 32 occurrences of thew word 'terr o rist' (without the spaces). It looks like this was the reason for taking the site off line. Apparently, Google is patronizing the people: we know what's good for you.
Which of these scenarios is the right one, I cannot oversee. I can only see that I am being ignored into oblivion. I already sent a mail to Google. Which was very hard since they do not publish valid E-mail addresses on any part of the web.

I contacted the NSA and they replied that there are no directives from their side. "Perhaps the FBI knows more". But the FBI is not my cup of tea. I live in Europe and that's it.
Since Altavista and Yahoo both list alle the related pages, and Google lists none, the most likely scenario is option 'e': Google is censoring and patronizing We, the people.

I put a testpage online. The page is identical to the censored page, only the T-word is replaced by another word (Zoutzak, for those of us that now dutch). Now see if the content is being found or not. Might take some time, though...

It's the 24th of april now. Google has found the new telephone page. This one contains only a few times the T-word. For the rest, both pages are identical. Apparently this is the culprit: Google censors webcontent on a (secret) vocabulary, of which the T-word is one. Proof?
  1. Visit http://www.google.com
  2. Enter the searchphrase 'zoutzak telefonische inbraak' (without the quotes)
  3. The new page is in the list.
  4. Enter a new searchphrase: 'telefonische inbraak'
  5. The old page is NOT in the list, the new page is
I rest my case. Now it's time to start informing the media. The cucumber time is coming up, so a real topic is a give a way to them.

I informed the media. US papers. NL papers and a 'liberal radio station' in NL. Most of them never cared to reply. The liberal radio station replied, said thet would check matters and that was it. Nobody fucks with Google. And nobody takes Google on. They're all scared shitless.
There was one reporter for a free NL newspaper (handed out on railwaystations and in public buildings) but that also was not impressive enough to draw Google's attention.


Contacting Google

This is as easy as trying to contact the local wino via E-mail... I tried several addresses and all bounced. Only the very last one from the list worked, so far. I think this is ridiculous. If you are so powerful and have so much influence in the webworld, you need to have at least some Email adresses that are available to the public.

I tried the following E-mail addresses:

Only the postmaster address did not bounce. But as things look now, I might be ending up with having to call a telephone number in Amsterdam. So far the 21st century company that "is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful".
After two weeks Google did not take the trouble to contact me. They probably never will. I must be a terrorist.

Stress the "universally accessible" here!


Recommendations

What happened to me can happen to you any moment as well. Therefore I can only stress people to go against data mining monopolist Google: re-instate the old search engines. They have improved and they do not censor the web. Not for money and not for Higher Ethics. Or out of stupidity.

  1. http://search.yahoo.com/
  2. http://www.altavista.com/
  3. http://ilse.nl/


Further reading and proof of concept

On the internet I found some webpages that covert this subject. GFoogle seems to have a list of words or phrases to block unwanted content.


We're back online!

Replacing the T-word with the Z-word was enough to bring the modified page online. It's now 5 May 2007 and less than a week ago I modified the page that caused all this. I replaced the T-word by the word 't e r r o r i s t'. Same word, only spaces added to fool Google.
Today, the page in question was in the search results listing again! On page 1, as it used to be.

So the conclusion is easy: Google has a hidden censoring dictionary. It protects us against ourselves. Cute, isn't it?


After four months...

It's early July now and Google seems to have released the grip on my pages. The banned pages are being found again, yet the traffic is still a lot less than it used to be. See if that picks up again after the holidays.

It's end of july now and the traffic data for July (75% done) have picked up to the old levels again! Apparently my ban has been lifted by Google. I didn't know I was ON a blacklist and all of a sudden I am OFF it again. It's all automatic. No people at Google have been involved, as far as I know. Unless they are mutes.
Now you're online with a well visited website and after having used ONE single blacklisted word, you're out of business. Without a single warning or reminder. Google's computers are allmighty. They decide over your fate. So better stay inline with the Master Race or you will be sorry.


Let's be honest: this is scary. It reminds me of a quote by a US official: "Power corrupts, but absolute power is kind of neat". Google is very close to this kind of neatness. Google have us by the balls. Time to spend more time on Yahoo and Altavista. The absolute power has made Google go berzerk. Google acts as if they are the God of Internet. I wonder how long it will take them to send their version of Jezus down to earth.

On the left, you see the daily statistics for July 2007. On or around 7-7-7 (the Google guys are VERY religious) there seems to have been a general pardon for all of those who got out of favour with Google. Or Page and Brin got a message from the Lord of the Skies that they need to re-instate my website.
Whatever happened, we will probably never find out. Google (the word starts with the same letter as the name of the Supreme Being; I don't think this is a coincidence) just lifted all sanctions on my site and possibly some other 'rogue' sites that misbehaved, despite the freedom of speech act to which Google are bound.

The weekend dips in my daily use graphs are normal. But the 777 event does surely trigger my mind. What has happened then and there? Who else has been affected? How special is this?


A message for terrorists

Dear t e r r o r i s t ,

If you want to hide your pages from being indexed by Google, just put 40 times the T-word in the top or bottom of your pages and your webpages will be ignored by Google.


Page created on 8 april 2007 and