Is Google profiling website owners?

Matt typing away at his super secret laptop It looks like Google may be “profiling” website owners using the whois data of their registered domains. At Pubcon last week during one of the sessions, Matt Cutts was reviewing an attendee’s website and using his laptop (which was tunneled into Google’s brain I assume), looked up all the domains this person owned and called him out on it, suggesting that a number of other websites he owned looked spammy.

This was a little surprising to people in the audience who were paying attention. Why should it matter what other websites or parked domains a person has? Well, it probably shouldn’t. But I bet there is a pretty good correlation between spammers and all the domains they own, maybe high enough for the Google/Matt camp to use that as a flag and combine it with any other number of flags to determine your “likely-to-be-a-spammer” score.

For a while now, smart people like Graywolf have been speaking out about all the data Google aggregates and all the different ways Google can keep tabs on you. In early 2005 Google became a registrar. By becoming a registrar they gained access to all the whois data available. It looks like they might be using it against you. Just the fact that they could gives me enough pause.

So how do you hide your tracks?

Private registration: another company’s info is registered on your behalf (they basically act as a proxy). On Wednesday’s Shoemoney’s show, somebody mentioned that being a registrar gives you access to private registration info as well – I don’t know if this is true, but I’m not going to rely on it.

Poor man’s private registration: make s**t up – use completely fictitious name, address, phone number, and email. The problem with this one is that it’s technically against ICANN rules, so there’s a hypothetical possibility that you could lose your domain. It’s a small possibility, but it still exists.

Mix it up: you can mix and match your own info, home info, work info, and info of your family, businesses and friends. Ex: William Smith or Bill Smith or Billy Smith, reside at 101 Wintergreen Dr., 101 Winter Green Dr., 101 Wintergreen Drive #25, or mix it up with others. Also remember to use different email addresses (just keep track of them).

Disclaimer: These are just my two cents. If you think I’m wearing too much of a tin-foil hat, you may be right.

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John Gresham September 3, 2008 at 6:12 pm

If your URL wasn’t privately registered then you can be looked up by your name, phone number, etc. It’s public information unless you want it to be private-and pay for the privacy.

This aside, I totally support Google in their efforts to weed-out those AdSense sites that are nothing but link farms with useless content, offering little of anything but links to similar sites. This is costing advertisers a bundle, and is helping to turn the Internet into a click-swamp. Google should pull the accounts of these clowns as quickly as possible.

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