Google accused over scam sites in search results | The Times

Google has been accused of putting internet shoppers at risk by refusing to remove links to counterfeit sellers and scam websites.

Up to 60 percent of the first-page results from searches carried out during a study led researchers to websites selling fake and possibly dangerous goods. In more than a quarter of cases counterfeit goods featured in the top three results.

The researchers conducted millions of searches for children’s products, pharmaceuticals, car parts, white goods, and safety equipment, and uncovered a series of “worrying insights”.

In pharmaceuticals, they found that six in ten of Google’s first-page results following searches for Bactrim, the cystitis drug, were for websites “very likely” to be operating unlawfully. In the children’s products category a third of results for a brand of baby teething toy featured potentially harmful products.

Simon Baggs, of Incopro, the British technology company that conducted the study, said:

“At best, these products will be poor quality; at worst, they put consumers at risk of harm.”

In a report published today Incopro, which detects fake goods online, says that Google routinely turns down requests to remove links on the basis of trademark infringement.

The report states: “When our lawyers asked Google to clarify its position on de-indexing websites where trademarks are infringed, it confirmed that it did not ‘at this time de-index URLs or websites from its web search index on trademark grounds upon request.’”

Google dominates searches in Britain with 87.5 percent market share. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says that the counterfeit trade is worth £454 billion a year globally. An estimated 85 percent of fake products are from China.

The report says that many websites selling fakes are scams trying to elicit shoppers’ card details to steal money.

When The Times searched “Buy Bactrim online” on Google, eight of the ten websites that appeared in non-paid-for results on the first page linked to suspicious websites. Only one was definitely legitimate and another was inactive.

Six of the ten results redirected to the same website based in the Czech Republic, although in each case the web address that appeared was taken from random other websites, suggesting that these may have been hacked. The Czech website claims it has been operating for more than seven years but its web address has been registered for less than 300 days. The Times got no reply when it contacted the company.

Mr Baggs said: “Often these websites are scams . . . this makes it all the more extraordinary that Google refuses to remove links to them.”

Google says that the study’s results have been shaped by the sorts of searches run. It insists that its systems prioritize authoritative pages for customers making broad queries.

It said: “Search is an index of the web, and the sites in our results are controlled by those sites’ webmasters, not by Google. When people come to search, we aim to help them find relevant and reliable information. We are continuously improving our algorithms to protect people from deceitful sites. We comply with court orders to remove pages from our index, and we will also act on guidance from administrative agencies to remove pages seeking to unlawfully distribute goods that can cause physical harm.”

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Read the article in The Times here

 

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