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March 15, 2006

Google Confirms News Prank, Pulls Source Of Bogus Info

Courtesy of TechWeb News

A 16-year-old Google fan was able to get a bogus press release announcing his hiring by the search engine on Google News, and the distributor of the release has been removed as a source for the automated news service, Google said Wednesday.

The phony release was posted last week after Google's Web crawlers picked it from I-Newswire, which distributes news releases free of charge.

The release, which has been removed from I-Newswire and Google News, said the boy had been hired to work on security flaws in Google's Web mail service Gmail, according to a blog posting from StepForth Placement Inc., a consulting service for getting higher listings on search engine results. The announcement, which was attributed to Google co-founder and president Larry Page, also said the teen-ager would work from his New Jersey home and his earnings would be placed in a bank account for his education.

I-Newswire was later removed from the index of sources for Google News, following complaints from readers. A company spokesperson declined to say whether the removal was linked to the recent prank.

"In order to ensure a high-quality service for our end users, we periodically review our index of news sources, particularly following user complaints," the company said in an emailed statement. "We recently removed this source because they allow open posting of content."

Open posting is what Google calls the practice of posting articles on the Web without an editorial review. The Google spokesperson did not know why I-Newswire got into the index to begin with, but pointed out that the index has 4,500 content providers. I-Newswire was not immediately available for comment.

Google News is fully automated, choosing and placing stories based on algorithms. As a result, the service's system has been criticized for what sometimes appears to be a haphazard way of choosing sources for news stories.

The prankster, Thomas Vendetta, apologized to Google on his blog.

"To Google, I am sorry for making a false claim and I can only hope that this will help resolve the bug, so that no one else does something like I did, because they will end up regretting it, as I am now," he said. "I geuss (sic) all my dreams and hopes of getting a job at Google have officially been demolished."

Google accepted the apology and did not plan to take any action against the teen-ager.

"We're not upset with him," the spokesperson said.

Vendetta said he decided to write the press release after reading on Digg, an aggregation site for Web articles submitted by registered users, a story on how to beat Google's news system.

Wanting only "to fool a few friends," Vendetta said he was upset when he found out that his article had been taken seriously and was posted on Digg.

"At that moment, I felt my stomach knot up and my heart drop," he said. "I knew exactly what happened and knew that I would end up regretting posting that."

In insisting that he meant no harm, the teenager pointed out that he's "the biggest Google fanboy ever."

"I mean hell, I even dressed up as Larry Page for halloween," he said.

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