Ethical malpractices by reputation agencies (censoring) and SEO agencies (upranking)



Hacker News brought 2 new practices (or rather malpractices) to light that are being used on the internet by reputation management agencies and Search Engine Optimizing (SEO) agencies to either censor or uprank content (so it appears higher in search results).

How companies use fake sites, backdated articles to censor Google results (2017)

Discussion on Hacker News:

Censoring malpractice

This happens when a reputation agency - on behalf of a client wants some sensitive, or controversial content removed from Google search results - creates fake websites and an article with (nearly) the same content, and then back-dates it, so it appears to have been published before the legitimate article they want to censor.

They they file a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice to Google to have the original article removed from their search results.

From the investigation in the article it appears that about 30% of these attempts are successful, which is quite a high success rate. In this way their client gets a clean slate again, and their reputation appears untarnished again.

This looks to be an outright illegal practice to me (but maybe it is legit within the law). It is certainly unethical.

SEO upranking malpractice

This was not mentioned in the article, but in the comments on Hacker News. Some SEO agencies do everything to get the content of their clients ranked as high as possible within (Google) search results.

This nefarious malpractice involves buying a domain name, as soon as it is released, and then immediately (ideally before Google notices) put back the original content from the site in its last state (which is usually still available in The Internet Archive). When this is done, they insert links to the content they want to have upranked. This will mislead the Google Crawler and ranking mechanism… the more links there are to a piece of content, the higher it ranked.

The original comment on HN:

“I lost a domain a while ago. It was quickly snapped up by a squatter, who promptly repopulated it with the exact content it previously contained (harvested from the waybackmachine). They made a single change to the content, adding a link on the home page to some supplement blog.”

“So it’s my content, on a domain I no longer own or control.”

“How could I prove to Google that the content is mine?” (by markdown)

This is probably not illegal, but we should doubt that this is highly unethical too.