Alas, a Sleazy Decision

by on October 13, 2006 · 10 comments

Julian Sanchez points out a controversy among the readers of lefty blog Alas, A Blog. Apparently, the domain has been sold to a company that will add some additional pages to the domain that will have links to various porn sites, helping those porn sites increase their rank in Google searches. The commenters are outraged that a feminist blog would use his influence to help promote porn.

Brandon Berg points out that search engine optimization is a negative-sum game, so this strategy mostly just changes the relative rankings of different pornography sites without bringing porn sites in general more exposure. Which is probably true.

I personally don’t see anything wrong with pornography, so I can’t get worked up about that angle. But I think this deal is shady for another reason. Google operates by treating links from one site to another as a vote of confidence by the linker in the linkee. Google piggybacks on this web of trust to provide its users with highly relevant search results.

In a sense, a high PageRank is a position of trust. We would all condemn a professor who gave his best reference to the student who gave him the biggest check. I don’t see a principled difference here. Selling Google’s trust to the highest bidder not only harms Google but more importantly, it harms Google’s customers. If everyone behaved that way, it would lead to a world in which Google search rankings were driven more by money and less by the objective judgments of the online community.

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