How Google destroyed $1 billion of United Airlines
by Brian Turner
There are few better reasons for keeping careful control of your content than the story of how Google News left United Airlines losing $1billion in share value.
- The South Florida Sun Sentinel website has a “most read today feature”
- The South Florida Sun Sentinel website is crawled by the Google News bot
- The South Florida Sun Sentinel website does not date-stamp its news
Uh-oh. Annoying for users, really – but then a farce kicks in:
- on Sunday 7th September, at 1:32am EST, a single view at this low traffic period of a certain article sent it to the most popular list
- Google’s newsbot happened to be on the site, found the story, and published it in its index
- Because there was no time stamp on the story, Google couldn’t tell it was an out of date archive story
And then the comedy of errors:
- The story was from 2002, about United Airlines filing for bankruptcy
- The story was picked up by an investment company in Florida via news alerts on Monday morning, and they forwarded this on to Bloomberg thinking it breaking news
- Because there was no date stamp on the story, Bloomberg reported it across their network as breaking news
Within minutes of the story breaking, shares in United Air Lines group plummeted from $12 a share to $3.72 as investors panicked and sold up quick.
You can see the massive dip on the following image from Google Finance. The flat line is where trading was automatically halted:
Of course, the fault wasn’t Google’s – but a number of very embarrassed people at the South Florida Sun Sentinel and Bloomberg are trying to push the blame at Google’s newsbot.
The moral of the story?
Take proper care of how your own content is published and indexed, and ensure any pointers such as dates are clearly shown – especially for news stories – because it’s good for human users.
Because if they can’t tell how recent your published material is, how on earth will Googlebot?
In the meantime, yet another example of journalists failing to even try to check up on a story.
Discuss this in the Internet Business forums
Posted in: Webmaster