A new potentially unpleasant tactic has come to light recently, which could affect all and sundry.
Google has now implemented Google Suggest as the default on all its searches. What this does is show a drop down box with suggested search terms when you enter a search. The suggestions listed are based on previous searches, not just your own, but those of others too, and this ‘predictive search’ – guessing at what you might be seeking – is likely to become the de facto norm as Google et al seek to provide the user with more relevant results and search ideas.
As has been highlighted by Paul Staines and Tim Ireland, this system of predictive search is open to abuse. With some effort, malicious keyword associations for a name or product can be introduced into the predictive search box for other users to see.
Whilst unlikely to affect the larger brands for whom a very large number of searches are made each day, nor A list celebrities, as Tim points out, this could be used as a smear tactic for smaller companies, councillors, politicans, and lesser know brands quite easily.
A difficult problem to solve without Google’s intervention in weeding out spam type searches which could result in this type of predictive search listing, and if you are one of the little guys, it is likely to be difficult to get anyone within Google to listen to your complaint.
It will be interesting to see how long before Google, Matt Cutts, or similar respond to the potential problem this predictive search may raise.