News

Drug, Casino Spam In Google News

I’m used to seeing spam in my regular Google Web searches. In Google News? Not so much. But it’s there!

I got a heads-up from eagle eye Jonathan B, who said he was going through the Health section of Google News and found a couple of spammy pages from a news site that looked like it’d been hacked. The headline for the spammy page was

Penis after taking levitra professional – Levitra professional mail order telephone number – Levitra professional safe

Curious to see if this was a one-off or if a Google News source got seriously hacked, I did a Google News search for Levitra.

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Oh dear. How about another term that ends up on spam pages a lot, Cialis?

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Viagra got the same kind of results, but this time I was curious to see if the spammy results could be blocked by using SafeSearch. Apparently not. (To be fair, I’m not sure Google considers drug mentions “explicit content.”)

screenshot 2017 06 12 at 6 14 43 am

Based on skimming these listings (I didn’t click on anything), I saw there were two main sites that looked like they’d been hacked: Boyne City Gazette and Palate Pres. When I did a search for Boyne City Gazette on the regular Google Web search I saw that there might have been a bit of method to the Google News spam madness:

screenshot 2017 06 12 at 6 18 38 am

Not only did the spam from Boyne City Gazette end up on Google’s first page of results, it got a “Top Stories” billing along with images, etc.

A search like Boyne City Gazette doesn’t seem that insidious but unfortunately this also works if you do a search for something like payday loans:

Palate Press (or Pres, as it shows up in Google News)? Same thing, only slightly different topics:

screenshot 2017 06 12 at 6 19 59 am

Google News is an amazing collection of news sources, and while I give it more trust than the regular Web search I’ve always been a careful of it as it can make occasional mistakes. Now, though, I think I need to be more cautious than ever. These spam results are egregious and obvious. But what if they weren’t? What if someone wanted to slip in a story with some propaganda in it, not obvious enough to set off any alarm bells but enough to slant a perspective one way or the other?

… I think I’m going to be doing a lot more cross-checking…

PS: Going through my RSS feeds I see that Bing News is having a similar problem. Here’s a payday loans search:

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