Blown To Bits

Who Put the Viagra In My Google?

Thursday, December 31st, 2009 by Harry Lewis

Google Alerts are emailed notices of new items on the Web relevant to your favorite search terms. I have alerts set on my own name and the names of my books, etc. It;s a way to keep up to date on, well, mostly on the careers of the other Harry Lewises — one is a police chief somewhere, one is a football player in some minor pro league, and one is a race horse.

You should set some up too, especially if you don’t get enough email. By setting up multiple alerts, you can keep your inbox quite full of stuff, some of which may even be relevant to your life.

I have the preferences set so I get alerts of blog entries mentioning me, and my own posts on this blog come back to me as alerts. Here is one I got this morning:

We Always Have The Cheapest Offers In Our Online-Drugstore » Blog 
By Harry Lewis
Wednesday, December 30th, 2009 by Harry Lewis. In the New York Times, buy viagra, travelers and privacy experts present their views on whether the millimeter-wave scanners I discussed yesterday are an unacceptable invasion of privacy. 
Blown to Bits – http://www.bitsbook.com/

You will notice that the subject line, about a drug store, is not in the original post; nor is the phrase “buy viagra” which has been inserted into the text. I’ve checked the HTML code of the web page to make sure there isn’t any hidden text that Google picked up; there isn’t. There is no link to a drug store, either on the web page or in the alert. Click on the link in the emailed alert and you go to the blog, not to any drug store site.

Somehow, someone seems to have edited the alert, somewhere between where it was generated and where I received it. Can’t figure out why or how. If anyone has a bright idea, I’d love to hear it!

7 Responses to “Who Put the Viagra In My Google?”

  1. Josh Says:

    I don’t know anything about the internal workings of Google Alerts, but my first guess would be that a spammer sent that email, pretending to be Google Alerts.

  2. Harry Lewis Says:

    Thanks to Russ Cox, we now know what is going on. Our site has been hacked in a very limited and specific way: it returns different HTML just in case the party requesting it is the Googlebot (the spider Google uses to index and analyze the web). The purpose of the hack is to make Google think that our site contains lots of references to the drugstore site, and thereby fool Google’s ranking and relevance algorithms into thinking the drugstore site is more legitimate than it is. No harm to you who visit the site, and the effect on the Google alerts is just collateral damage. We’ll have to get in touch with our web site host to see if they can fix this.

    Thanks, Russ, for taking some of your holiday time to figure this out for us! Below is the way our site looks to the Googlebot.
    Hacked B2B Site

  3. Harry Lewis Says:

    A further comment after an independent diagnosis by Tyler Moore. If you do an ordinary Google search for certain of these pharmaceutical terms, links that appear to point to our site will be returned. But when you click on them, they don’t take you where you expect, they take you to an online drug store. So fooling the Googlebot is not just a matter of increasing visibility, but about riding the coattails of the high Google ranking of this site to get searches for, ahem, performance enhancing drugs directed to this particular drugstore. If you do a search for “Viagra drugstore”, you will find that this hack has been visited on many sites; on the second page of returned results are links apparently to the Berklee School of Music and to Greenpeace Canada, except that when you click on them they go to a drugstore instead.

  4. Luciano Fuentes Says:

    When I search for “Blown To Bits” in Google I see “We always have the cheapest offers in our online..” aswell as “Zoloft sale” above the correct address (in green) to the bitsbook.com url. The real page title, (and presumably any sub-title text) is not being presented in the search results.

    You’re also ranked third for this quite narrow search. Third?? I’m amazed that you aren’t ranked first given the popularity of the book, the status of it’s authors, the active blog, and the online Bits course.

    Do Evans or Wurster deal in online prescriptions??

  5. Harry Lewis Says:

    Yup, same problem. We are working on it. Ugh. They aren’t even paying us a commission.

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