Cloaking: Survey Says?

In the below video Matt Cutts states that “there is no such thing as white hat cloaking” …

… yet Google is testing a new ad unit where users have to fill out a survey before they can view the content.

How long until the surveys include something like:

  • did you vote in 2008
  • what presidential candidate did you vote for
  • how do you feel about issue x
  • how strongly do you feel about your opinion on x

Then after the survey: “Thanks for your feedback. Candidate y supports your views on issue x.”

Advertisers then get a report like: “in Ohio, 84% of the 289,319 swing voters with an average household income between $32,400 and $67,250 think issue x is vitally important and have a 6:1 bias toward option A. They respond to it more strongly if you phrase it as “a c b” and are twice as likely to share your view if you phrase it that way. The bias is even stronger amongst women & voters under 50, where they prefer option A by a factor of 9:1.”

Couple that ability to flagrantly violate their own editorial guidelines with…

… & Google is in an amazing position politically.

It is thus not surprising to see how politicians have a hard time being anything but pro-Google, as they are the new Western Union.

This isn’t the first time Google experimented with cloaking either. Threadwatch had a post on Google cloaking their help files years ago & YouTube offers users a screw you screen if they are in a country where the content isn’t licensed – yet they still show those cloaked pages ranking in the search results.

“The most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

It is common knowledge that you shouldn’t mix business and politics, however if one looks at history, many of those who gave us those sage words did precisely the opposite – and often illegally so – selling us down the river.

What is so obnoxious about Google’s survey trial is that a big site that was hit by Panda was hit because they used scroll cloaking & didn’t let the users get to the content right away. Googlers suggested users didn’t like it & voted against it, and then roll out the same sort of “wait 1 moment please” stuff themselves as a custom beta ad unit.

And today Google just announced that they might create an algorithm which looks at ad placements on a website as a spam signal outside of Panda:

“If you have ads obscuring your content, you might want to think about it,” asking publishers to consider, “Do they see content or something else that’s distracting or annoying?”

On the one hand they tell you to optimize your ad placements & on the other they tell you that those were not optimal & are so aggressive that they are spam.

For a while there was a period of time where you could use something like “would Google do this” as a rule of thumb for gray area behavior.

In the current market that won’t work.

“No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.” ― Ansel Adams

As ad units get more interactive & Google keeps eating more verticals the line between spam vs not will keep blurring.

Perception is everything.

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” ― Oscar Wilde

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