Google Redesign or Stealthy Affiliate Program?

So I’m at the Blog Business Summit right now, courtesy of Byron, and in my A.D.D. 2.0 haze, I’m getting a really weird version of Google right now.

Here is what I’m getting.

My first reaction was that Google had been redesigned… rather poorly in fact. I asked Mike Rundle if he was getting the same page. He said yes. Then, I instant messaged a few people who weren’t in the conference. They were all getting the regular page.

So then I thought maybe Google was testing a new design on a small percentage of the population. Companies like Amazon have been known to do this. As I queried more people, it seemed that everyone in the conference (all connected via the same wifi network) was getting the weird version and all people outside were getting the normal version.

So I suppose two things are possible:

  1. Google is indeed running this test and they are doing it by IP address. Hence, everyone in the conference is getting the weird page.
  2. The wifi provider (AnchorFree), is doing some funky proxy stuff and essentially routing all Google searches to an “affiliate” search page powered by Google… and collecting click fees. What’s weird though is that people on the outside get the same IP address when they ping as I do.

Anyone have any insight into this? If the first scenario is happening, oh my god, change it back. If the second scenario is happening (which seems more likely), is this even kosher with Google? And furthermore, if it *is* kosher, are we going to see more of this? Why wouldn’t Comcast or any other huge ISP do this? Is this part of the future plan for Google?

Anyone have any insight?

38 comments on “Google Redesign or Stealthy Affiliate Program?”. Leave your own?
  1. Philip says:

    Hey, there’s no image in this article, what gives? First time I’ve seen that here at Mike Industries ;-)

    Judging by the ‘Powered by’ image on that page you show, it would seem like option #1 is not correct, why would Google say they are powered by themselves, seems kinda demeaning of themselves. They may as well just say that they are the all powerful search engine.

    I don’t like the idea of #2…

  2. Anon says:

    Have you tried clicking the “What is this page?” link in the top right?

  3. Peter Parkes says:

    Well, it looks to me like an ‘AdSense for Search‘ page – in which case, I’m pretty sure you’re looking at #2.

    I’m not sure, but wouldn’t you get the same ping result anyway – the AdSense and ‘normal’ versions of Google could well be on the same server, couldn’t they?

  4. Mike D. says:

    I agree that #2 seems much more likely, and that yes, it’s potentially not good. But if it’s cool with Google, it seems like it certainly could generate some revenue for ISPs.

    Anon: Yeah, I clicked the link and it explains something about AdSense, which seems very “affiliate-like”, but it also seems non-kosher because the page definitely does not explain that the ISP in this sort of agreement. Something about it just seems jimmy-rigged.

  5. Peter Parkes says:

    Here’s what the AdSense T&C have to say:

    … all search queries (including queries entered into an Ad search box) must originate from individual human end users inputting data directly into a Search Box (or Ad search box, as applicable) on Your Site(s).

    They don’t say anything about sneaky proxy redirects, but it looks to me like they’re in breach of Google’s rules.

  6. Eric Schwarz says:

    It’s an affiliate program…we have it too, and make money off of the AdSense for Search (not much).

    I’m not sure why no image loaded nor why you got that to begin with…

  7. Mike D. says:

    Eric: Good info. Interesting. So what are the ways in which someone can access your page? I mean, the only really weird part about the whole thing for me is that it comes up directly when I search through the front page of and even in the built-in Safari search box. That is the part that seems stealthy to me.

  8. Jeff Wheeler says:

    Definitely #2. Really weird though.

  9. Collin says:

    Certainly seems like something shadey going on there.

    What is odd is that the IP, you said, comes back as Googles IP. Does a traceroute shed any light perhaps?

    Hey, I just gave hacking Googles search page a shot and found it is VERY VERY easy to remove the top graphic and change the search page to leave off the “Search” hacked Google search Clicking this link will bring you to a page or search results. I bet even with the banner removed the Ad’s still generate a penny or 2 for Eric. So the only thing I don’t know is what they did to redirect people to their Google search results.

    Being so close to Mountain View, I would think a Google employee or 2 might have made it up there. They should be fired if they either don’t notice or can’t figure out what to do about it.

  10. I had that on my site for 30 minutes and decided that the positioning of the ads is just awful. Not many people click on ads in the search results anyway.

  11. Adam says:

    From the “what is this page” link in the upper right hand corner of the page you posted —

    “….or if you got to this page after doing a search on Google’s own site (, please let us know. ”

    It would seem that they ARE certainly in violation of the rules.
    I say report their ass.

  12. Dan says:

    Interesting, I can’t say that I think that it’s Google’s system unless it’s coming from a personalized version using the API.

  13. Henrik says:

    This screenshoot in the tour pages looks somewhat like what you are getting. I say it seems pretty much google-oked.

  14. Jasper says:

    Perhaps it’s just some cleverness by the folks running the blog summit to point at their affiliate search.

  15. Conánn says:

    It’s definitely AdSense search, I use it here

    I would be very surprised if Google was aware that they were redirecting, it makes no sense for Google to share the revenue on a search unless its searching your domain. Someones done a little wifi network hack to pass it through their domain.

  16. Ping uses a different protocol (ICMP) than web use. In any case, the DNS will resolv the host to the proper IP but any HTTP requests made to that address and/or IP are transparently sent to the other site.

    Transparent proxies and other techniques mean that you can never know for sure who you’re talking to, except you’re using SSL.

  17. Collin says:

    It doesn’t make sense to me that the organizers of the event would have anything to do with it. Probably not knowingly at any rate. Perhaps a clever hacker gained access to the network and installed a “Transparent Proxy” as Gabriel calls it.

    It’s not a wise move on a hackers part considering it’s an event with many tech-heads. If the number of Google users and amount of money being taken away from Google add up to enough then I am sure they would be interested in catching the hacker in the act so they can find out who signed up for adsense in the first place and take action.

  18. Adam says:

    I think you guys are missing the point. He went to, and got that page as a result of his search. That is not okay with Google.

  19. Don says:

    I often present at sites with wifi. Next when I try to show the audience something it will look totally different than what I expect because of this type of redirect? This is just wrong. I’d get with the provider and ask what is up. I’d log a complaint with the facility and explain the difficulties. I’d let google know as they may want to take steps to prevent this from happening. I’d find a new place for my next summit if the facility cannot provide a good wifi absent the games and gimmics. Speak with your dollars.

  20. JY says:

    Still there?

    If so ‘curl -D headers.txt‘ That’ll dump the headers to that headers.txt file and you can check them for a ‘Via’ or ‘X-Forwarded-For’ header, which would indicate the proxy. Via might even have the proxy’s hostname or IP, which you could then traceroute.

  21. Joe D'Andrea says:

    Mike – what is the full link for the search results page (after searching via Safari)? Does the path start off as /custom instead of /search perchance?

    If not, then it does indeed sound like the link is being rewritten somewhere along the way. Perhaps a reverse proxy at work?

    More info on Google AdSense for search.

  22. Mike D. says:

    JY: Money! Here is what I get:

    HTTP/1.0 200 OK
    Date: Fri, 19 Aug 2005 19:02:48 GMT
    Server: Apache/1.3.31 (Unix) FrontPage/ mod_ssl/2.8.19 OpenSSL/0.9.7d mod_perl/1.26 PHP/4.1.2
    Vary: Host
    X-Powered-By: PHP/4.1.2
    Content-Type: text/html
    X-Cache: MISS from
    Connection: close

    So the X-Cache thing… does that mean they are basically caching their doctored homepage and serving it up every time?

  23. I’m not a Google fan although I use free google blogging service. But I see no difference between the google portal from the day 1. It has always been like this. every website portal is crowded with a lot of garbage. Not Google. I wish I had made business like Google has with this site. Whatever Google does it must be doing something right.

    By the way what is Mike Industry and how does it get listed on the search Engine. and who are you criticising others for slf promotion. I think you are the best self promoter without having to promote. who wants an iPod. Come on people must be desperate. Keep your iPod, bro. we don’t need it.

  24. Joe D'Andrea says:

    Yep, there’s a proxy in the mix alright.

    You might try contacting AnchorFree directly at +1 (877) UNWIRE1. Perhaps they can give the straight dope.

  25. JY says:

    Sounds right.
    According to this, anchorfree is giving you your WiFi

  26. JY says:

    Keep your iPod, bro. we don’t need it.

    Oh, I need it.

  27. Joe D'Andrea says:

    Oh, I need [an iPod].

    Ditto! Mine unwittingly drowned … in my pocket … during a rather stealthy thunderstorm … while bicycling … in the Caribbean.

    (Don’t ask.)

  28. Mike D. says:

    Satish: What exactly are you talking about? I personally don’t really care if AnchorFree is subsidizing the cost of providing free Wifi by using AdSense. That’s fine with me. It’s just that it wasn’t exactly transparent. I would think that if Google approved of this sort of thing, it would be clearly called out on the search results page. It isn’t.

    Furthermore, the bigger question I brought up is that if this is INDEED cool with Google, why shouldn’t all ISPs do it? I know if I were Comcast, I would. Do you know how much money that would divert their way? Quite a bit.

  29. Collin says:

    Keep your iPod, bro. we don’t need it.

    Well, I don’t need it. It’d be a nice replacement for my dying RioVolt so if Mike wants to give it away then I’d be happy to help him with that.

    Satish, I think you missed something here. Self-promotion certainly has it’s place. What they are doing with the search results is wrong for many reasons. For one, you hit a trusted web site and don’t know that it’s really an untrusted server and a ploy to steal a few bucks from Google. What about when we click to log into Gmail, can that be trusted? That is the issue as I see it, not a matter of self-promotion being evil and wrong.

  30. Tom Trenka says:

    I seem to remember running across this one (or something very similar) a while ago when I was having major DNS issues on my home network…I want to say that what you’re looking at is a modded version of Google search for mobile devices, but now I can’t seem to find the equivilent…and it’s definitely a proxy issue, not the fault of the Goog.

  31. Jesús H. says:

    Just a quick note about the link in to “Byron”. It is missing the .com on the a href.

    (Editor’s Note: Thanks… fixed. Sorry Byron!)

  32. Ryan Latham says:

    Mike — if you pay attention, Comcast does do this search off and see “Powered by Google” in the upper right hand of the search results. AOL/TimeWarner/Road Runner does this as well, as I am sure a plethora of other providers.

    The difference being is they have it setup through Google as to where they have further customization. They are able to have access to advanced features little guy A and little guy B don’t have because they are the big guy.

    In this instance I don’t know if this is cool with Google. But it is apparently done via .htaccess or some other Apache host configuration.

  33. Mike D. says:

    Ryan: But you’re talking about searching explicitly from the homepage, right? I’m talking about searching directly from the homepage and receiving sponsored results. That’s the seemingly shady part to me: actually intercepting hits to known web sites.

  34. Ryan Latham says:

    Ok now I see what you are talking about. In that case I see some major issues. You’re paying for Comcast’s services thus you should be allowed the freedom of choice. However with a free service it’s easier for them to tell users that they are limited to X as opposed to Y.

    If you’re getting something for free, it is less likely you will complain about it. Right now it is them trying to pay some bills if Comcast did that I would look at is shady.

  35. Dustin says:

    two words.
    Conspiracy Theory.


  36. Eric Schwarz says:

    That is pretty strange how easily Google can be “hacked” to get rid of the header graphic. That explains why a few times, a header graphic wasn’t loading (I redid the code and then it was fine).

    As for your situation, I still find it weird that someone is perhaps making money off a search that you didn’t particularly choose.

  37. To me this looks like a violation of the Google Adsense program. Has anyone notified Google about the issue?

    Bro, I do need that iPod :)

  38. William Q. says:

    OK, so I stumbled across this discussion, not because I was at this blog conference but because I think I have seen this done elsewhere and was wondering about the practice. I saw this on an access point in downtown rankfurt germany, but i can’t remember the ssid to mention it here. But I am making a list of places that rewrite attempts to reach google, etc, to their own page in order to make a few bucks. I am not so sure it’s a bad thing if it works ok, I mean, if you are getting the wifi for free maybe the hotspot owners should make a few bucks? How about other things…like rewriting Amazon affinity program IDs, etc? Has anyone seen this, or heard of it? please tell me if you have.

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