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Google has removed Privila sites from its index after the firm was caught attempting to hoodwink the search engine giant.

Chicago-based Privila has built "portals" designed to have relatively high search engine ranking scores while presenting nothing but ads. The firm's modus operandi involves buying sites after the original owner forgets to renew a registration.

Examples in the network include wallofdove.com, previously owned by a stoner metal band called Dove; bustem.com, the one-time website of a brand-protection outfit; sailjworld.com, the former home of a Maryland sailing school; and soccerlove.com.

Privila fills these bought-in sites with custom-written material, generated by unpaid interns. These articles are strangely worded affairs, distorted so as to include the maximum number of keywords. Each site on the network contains a score of "articles" each around the 600 words mark.

These sites are promoted by link exchange spam. But following a recent refinement in the technique users who visit these sites will see nothing but banner ads, created by unpaid graphics interns, unless they set their browser’s user-agent to match that of Google’s spider. By dropping the "articles", Privila was able to fit in even more ads.

The ruse came to light after researchers at Cambridge University's Computer Lab received a link invitation spam email from a Privila-run site. Steven Murdoch of Cambridge Uni discovered 329 websites in the Privila network after he investigated the business model behind spam emails unwisely sent to his colleague, Richard Clayton.

"Curiously, the Windows Live Search, and Yahoo! spiders are presented with an almost empty page: just a header but neither adverts nor articles," Murdoch writes.

Google purged Privila sites from its index on 8 March, a day after Murdoch wrote about the scam on Cambridge University's Light the Blue Touchpaper blog. The sites remain unavailable.

We dropped Privila an email to get its take on the matters, but we're yet to hear back from the firm. ®

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