Is gaming Google a gateway to crime?

Are businesses that hire "black hat" search-engine manipulators more likely to engage in outright criminal activity than those who play the traffic-generation game by Google's rules?

In other words, are businesses that hire "black hat" search-engine manipulators more likely to engage in outright criminal activity than those who play the traffic-generation game by Google's rules?

That's the suggestion made by Google Web-spam enforcer/blogger Matt Cutts in a provocative post that's unlikely to win him friends among SEO types.

The assertion by Cutts was prompted by news of the arrest of a black hat SEO operator, banished by Google in 2006, who stands accused of running a mortgage scam in Nevada.

Cutts writes: "For a while now, I've had a slight hunch that clients that embrace blackhat SEO on their site are willing to cut corners in other areas of business as well. Earlier today I was reviewing an email from 2001 where Google removed a very large company's website from our index for hidden GIF links, machine-generated doorway pages, and cloaking. … Later on, the company had 10+ employees convicted for inflating revenue; the CEO was sentenced to 10+ years in jail; (and) another executive was sentenced to 2+ years in jail.

"Can I definitively claim that there's a connection between a willingness to embrace blackhat SEO and a willingness to cut corners in other areas of business? No, of course not. But I have seen several examples like the one I mention above."

As wild generalizations go, I'm personally willing to buy the argument that search engine cheaters might be more likely to cook the books than are those who consider terms of use sacred. But it's still quite a leap. After all, incurring the wrath of Google may result in a euphemistic fate worse than death — banishment from search rankings — but it's not going to land you in the slammer.

Whose bandwidth is being given away?

Security guru Bruce Schneier last week kicked up a lively discussion with an essay in Wired extolling the virtues of wide-open home wireless networks. In short, he argues that the risks are so minimal — both legally and to your network — that they are easily outweighed by the benefits of an open network.

Reasonable people can disagree — and did.

My own beef was with Schneier's quick dismissal of his ISP's terms of service. First, he expresses no concern whatsoever about others "stealing" his bandwidth from his open network — "pay it forward," he suggests. But then he notes:

"Certainly this does concern ISPs. Running an open wireless network will often violate your terms of service. But despite the occasional cease-and-desist letter and providers getting [upset] at people who exceed some secret bandwidth limit, this isn't a big risk either. The worst that will happen to you is that you'll have to find a new ISP."

But bandwidth isn't the only issue here, at least not from the ISP's standpoint; it's lost revenue. The reason ISP terms of service forbid customers from sharing bandwidth with neighbors is as much or more about the provider's need to turn a buck as it is the finite nature of the product.

And we need not stray too far to find the appropriate analogy: cable TV.

I've got Verizon FiOS, which means bandwidth to beat the band. Plenty to go around the neighborhood, should I choose to follow Schneier's altruistic path. But if providing my neighbors with free wireless Internet access is OK, why not cable TV service?

Does anyone want to argue that two or three families paying a single cable bill is OK? (And I mean argue other than on the grounds that cable providers are greed-heads.)


Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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