Have Chinese hackers stolen Google’s search engine secrets? Have they infiltrated the super-secret Google algorithm, allowing them to manipulate Google’s search results? According to a new book by Bill Gertz titled War and Peace in the Information Age, “Chinese cyber-intelligence services had developed technology and network penetration skills allowing them to control the results of Internet searches conducted on Google’s world-famous search engine.
In this recently published book, Mr. Gertz explains that Chinese operatives have figured out a way to control and manipulate what millions of internet users in China see when they search Google. For example, a recent article by Bill Gertz, explains this incredible, surreptitious feat by Chinese hackers:
Thus a search for the name Tiananmen—the main square in Beijing, where Chinese troops murdered unarmed prodemocracy protesters in June 1989—can be spoofed by Chinese information warriors into returning results in which the first several pages make no reference to the massacre.
Yes, apparently the Chinese have figured out a way to manipulate Google’s search engine results so that the results for a certain keyword query reveals more positive results. As an SEO consultant who is typically hired for, amongst other things, online reputation management, it looks to me like that’s what the Chinese hackers have done: they’ve performed ORM for their own benefit, on Google. I find this rather peculiar, since they already have taken care of that mainly by blocking websites accessible from China. But anyway, I dug a little deeper into Bill Gertz’s claims about Chinese hackers’ stealing of Google’s organic search algorithm.
In this article, Bill Gertz mentions the following, suggesting that it’s more than search engine optimization that the Chinese hackers or operatives have accomplished:
The intelligence suggests that Chinese cyberwarfare researchers had made a quantum leap in capability by actually gaining access to Google secrets and machines and adjusting the algorithms to make sure searches are produced according to Chinese information warfare goals.
While Mr. Gertz mentions the fact that “what China did was a major breakthrough in search engine optimization—the art and science of making sites appear higher or lower in search listings.”. He goes on to say that “The feat requires a high degree of technical skill to pull off and would require learning the secret algorithms—self-contained, step- by-step computer search operations—used by Google.”
I have news for you, Mr. Gertz. Yes, online reputation management (what the Chinese “hackers” appeared to do), and SEO, is highly technical and is an art and science. And it does require learning what Google likes and doesn’t like–we call those search engine ranking factors. Those aren’t exactly secret algorithms that are part of the step-by-step computer search operations of Google. Many who are involved in the search engine optimization industry (SEOs) even share many of these search engine ranking factors. In fact, you can get a list of them here and here, and search engine optimization best practices are even published directly by Google.
While Google does protect their search engine ranking algorithm, I don’t see any evidence anywhere that you provide that even remotely suggests that Chinese hackers have stolen Google’s organic search engine algorithm. In fact, the manipulation and analysis of search engine results actually takes place every day by qualified and dedicated SEOs.
Oh, and those search results for “Tiananmen“: the Chinese hackers haven’t actually done a very good job at hiding those results about the Tiananmen Square Massacre:
So, have Chinese hackers stolen and infiltrated the super-secret Google organic search algorithm, allowing them to manipulate Google’s search results? In my opinion, no.