More than a year ago, we covered the growing problem of thousands of legitimate businesses implicitly accused of being “scams,” by virtue of the self-reinforcing nature of the autocomplete in Google Suggest. This seemingly created a nasty snowball effect whereby consumers would latch onto that word wherever it might have showed on the list, and click on it, virtually guaranteeing it bubbling up to second or third on the list. (“What? JetBlue scam!? I’d better find out about this!!”). Moreover, opportunists (essentially networks of SEO’s who created websites with ads and affiliate links around such search phrases) both seeded and furthered the problem.
It wasn’t fair to many of the businesses involved. So belatedly, Google has apparently blocked the word scam from appearing in Google Suggest.
Does that mean Google is censoring what you see? Yes, but that doesn’t mean Google is censoring search results. It’s censoring what it “suggests” based on your initial keystrokes, and that is generally accepted to be driven by keyphrase popularity. This doesn’t wildly distort your search experience. You can still search for the phrase “jetblue scam,” or any-other-company scam, if you want to.
As some have pointed out, this doesn’t put an end to the issue, and some online reputations are bound to be besmirched unfairly with words like ripoff, scandal, lawsuit, etc. Some individuals will have to fight off unfair character assassinations as well, and Google will have to deal with its potential role in spreading perceptions of individuals being “judged guilty until proven innocent”.
I think it’s likely that Google will quietly but heavily censor Google Suggest for certain accusatory or inflammatory words.