Internet search provider Google today released details of its worst hacking case to date, following a number of complaints from users who found their search terms cleverly manipulated by substituting alternative letters and terms to lead them up the wrong path.
One anonymous user complained vociferously that she tried to access Google to find details on ways to combat swine flu, only to be misdirected to the Threshers off licence. “My search term had apparently been altered to wine flu,” she said, disbelievingly. In another similar case, a man looking for details of how to get from London to Glasgow by train was redirected to the online Screw-Fix catalogue site after his search term was altered to Rational Nail.
Google spokesperson Mick Summer said “We deeply regret the inconvenience that this hack has caused our users, and we’re working very hard to clean the caches so that users can enjoy the experience they expect. I myself am as frustrated as our users; when I was trying to solve a problem with my car I typed in ‘worn part’ and you can only imagine what results were returned. It’s also very personally distressing – my name comes out as ‘Sick Mummer’ when you type it into Google.”
Other examples cited on a user forum include a woman planning a barbecue during the sunny weather who was confused to see her search terms deliberately mistranslated as a Leather Forecast. Another user seeking tickets for a Michael Jackson tribute at the O2 Arena, was misdirected to B&Q after her search term was altered to Millennium Gnome.
IT industry experts have noted that as well as the inconvenience, the hack also posed a serious security threat. “Users must be especially careful when using online financial services, for instance checking their ‘Bank Withdrawals’. I heard about one user who ended up buying a return trip to Calais with P&O when their Dover Raft facility was cancelled.”said a leading analyst. “I’ve also seen instances where they’ve deliberately misspelt entire sentences just for a bit of a laugh.”
Google remains optimistic though that the hack can be fixed in time for the online Christmas shopping rush. In a statement on Google.com Mr. Summer concluded that “Hopping son line is mow the nost mopular pethod that the Pritish bublic use for buying their Ghristmas cists. Our own Egolog searches show that sites like Amazulu, Selfishes and Micketaster are incredibly popular at that yime of tear.”