Look up “St. Louis Cardinals” or :”Cardinals” on Google right now and this is what you’ll see:
The description of the “gay butt sex”* Cardinals is an indirect hack of Google display space, made possible by reliance on Wikipedia. Change the Wikipedia entry and you can change the way something is perceived on Google and other sites piping in Wikipedia info.
The vandalized Wikipedia entry is back to “professional baseball team” now but the Google box on the Cardinals, playing the Boston Red Sox in Game 5 of the World Series tonight, has yet to catch/cache up.
* Yes, it is pathetic that this is still used as an insult.
Updated: The vandalized version was still showing on Google 90 minutes after this posted. Now it’s missing — literally. The box on the right has been removed, leaving this view at 6 pm CDT:
For comparison, here’s the Red Sox search result:
10/30/13 Update: Google told Gary Price at Search Engine Land that the problem in the Google Knowledge Graph box was “a technical issue on our end that let outdated information through.” Price is intrigued by how Google’s crawler managed to catch the vandalized Wikipedia entry, which was up only briefly. I’m still interested in why it was wrong for hours on Google and why it had to go the band aid route by removing the box temporarily.
It’s a real trust-but-verify Thursday. During a mobile Google search for HealthCare.gov this afternoon, the lead ad caught my attention. Hmmm, HealthCare.gov is buying click-to-call ads? Interesting outreach idea to drive phone applications while the website is having highly visible problems. An 888 number? Let’s click.
No identifying info when the automated woman’s voice answers with 4 options: 1 to reach customer service, 2 to get quotes, 3 for medical questions, 4 for other questions. The medical option is a big clue that it’s not the real call center. I try 3, doesn’t connect. I call back in, same truncated recorded answer sans ID. I try 1. Doesn’t connect. I look down at the phone and realize the number I’m calling doesn’t match the number on the ad. Instead of 1-888-981-7912, which is what shows as the click-to-call number in the ad, it’s actually dialing 1-855-709-8045.
By now, I’m pretty sure this has nothing to do with the federal government but I try backing it out. Sure enough, I find similar ads on Google desktop — one without any number and that shows the 855 number with HealthCare.gov address — along with the HealthCare.gov Google+ followers. (Automated linking at work.)
HealthCare.gov is encouraging people to apply by phone, highlighted here on the mobile site. The real call-in number: 1-800-318-2596.
So who’s behind the faux ad? I call the 855 number again and press 2 for sales. Not shocked to get an actual person this time. When I ask, the very polite sales rep tells me I’ve reached American Health Agency, an insurance agency based in Scottsdale. I tell him I found him via an ad that says I’m calling HealthCare.gov. That’s ok, he tells me, because the call is about health insurance exchange options. No matter what I say, he doesn’t see a problem. I let him off the hook. He’s not any more responsible for this than the call center reps at HealthCare.gov are for that site’s woes.
I’m not feeling so kind about Google Ads, which allowed a click-to-call set up that doesn’t having matching numbers. Or about the person or persons at American Health Agency deliberately misrepresenting the company to consumers.