Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, John D. Rockefeller, dispatched letters to the major search engine companies late Tuesday, Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO), asking them to examine how some moving services are using “bait-and-switch” tactics on customers who find them through search results. The senator informed the companies, due to their search engines affected consumers lose personal possessions and pay thousands of dollars to the dodgy moving companies, which promote one service, but deliver another.
The letters addressed to Matthew Cutts at Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG); Shashi Seth, SVP at Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO); and Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT)’s president of online services Qi Lu, inform that the moving companies are “gaming the system”, using SEO (search engine optimization) techniques like paid links from thousands of bogus sites, to come up higher in search results for unwitting consumers.
The letter from the senate said, “ In our review of hundreds of consumer complaints…they very consistently reported that they had found these Internet moving brokers after entering general search terms (e.g., ‘Miami Movers,’ or ‘long distance moving Las Vegas’) into an Internet search engine such as yours. In their attempt to shop for the services of a reputable moving company online, these consumers, instead hired companies that misrepresented their services and caused them serious financial harm…
My staff has conducted a number of test searches using your company’s search engine. Frequently, Internet moving brokers identified in the investigation, which received high numbers of consumer complaints, ranked highly in the search results…It appears that some of these companies may be “gaming the system” in order to boost their search rankings. These companies appear to be using paid links to inflate their popularity. For example, one company had tens of thousands of external links to its website and, upon closer review, these links proved to be largely irrelevant. They included abandoned blogs, link directors for unrelated topics, and college student groups and organizations, such as the Cornell Gymnastics Club.”
The alert letter comes in response to a year-long review to address consumer complaints related to misleading moving companies. The Committee has also alerted the Department of Transportation as a result of the investigation, and since the origin of the problem starts with search engines it was only logical to alert the related companies. The investigations by this committee focus in particular on two carriers and two brokers: Able Moving (carrier), Best Price Moving & Storage (carrier), Nationwide Relocation Services (broker), and Budget Van Lines (broker)
A Google spokesperson replied to the questions by TechCrunch, saying, “We make more than 500 improvements to our search algorithms every year to make them more useful, including a significant update this past April to combat practices like link schemes. We’re always looking for ways to make it harder for scammers to trick consumers, so we appreciate the specifics the Committee provided. Senator Rockefeller’s concerns point out how important it is that search engines continue to have the ability to constantly and quickly improve our results for our users.”
The top three search engine companies, Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT)’s Bing, and Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO), have been known for juggling with search engine algorithms in the past. In fact one, of the fine examples is the changes made to Google Panda, which demoted “content farms” and “link farms” in its search results.