Feeds

Whitehall to train pro-West Islamic groups to game Google

Experts say it won't work

Reducing security risks from open source software

Exclusive Whitehall officials will train pro-West Islamic groups to manipulate their Google search ranking in an attempt to drown out extremist voices online, The Register has learned.

The policy is being developed despite recent warnings from a group of international experts on radicalisation that such strategies are likely to be "largely ineffectual".

The Office of Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT), a 200-strong Home Office unit created 18 months ago, has said in meetings it wants to "flood the internet" with "positive" interpretations of Islam. It plans to train government-approved groups in search engine optimisation techniques, which it's hoped will boost their profile online and battle radicalisation.

Organisations such as Quilliam, which describes itself as "the world's first counter-extremism think tank" and is jointly led by former radical Ed Husain, have been identified as potential beneficiaries of the work. A spokesman for the group declined to comment.

Officials are currently understood to be in the early stages of the programme.

A Home Office spokesman confirmed search engine optimisation training is part of the government's anti-radicalisation strategy. "In order to support mainstream voices, we work with local partners to help develop their communication, representational and leadership skills," he said.

"This support could include media training, which can help make their voices heard more widely, and support the development of skills which allow communities to be more effective in debate."

The effectiveness of search engine optimisation in reducing traffic to extremist websites has been dismissed by academics however. In March, a report produced by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) said young Muslims were much more likely to be directed to extremist material online by web forums and offline associates than by Google or other search engines.

"Tweaking the results for supposedly extremist terms would be largely ineffectual, not least because it is unlikely that any but the most callow wannabe terrorist would use a mainstream search engine to find banned material," the authors wrote. ICSR is a collaboration between British, American, Israeli and Jordanian universities.

The embattled Home Secretary Jacqui Smith recently launched the government's updated counter-terror strategy, CONTEST 2, which put heavy emphasis on countering extremist views. In December she said: "We will host a core network of people who will put forward positive messages from the British Muslim community on the internet, directly challenging the extremists that set out to groom vulnerable individuals."

The OSCT plans to help Islamic groups manipulate their Google rankings appear to be a part of that "direct challenge". The Home and Foreign Offices also set up the secretive Research, Information and Communications Unit, which actively produces and distributes propaganda against extremist groups.

Search engine optimisation techniques are used widely by news organisations and online merchants to make websites more attractive to Google's ranking algorithm. They are broadly classified into legitimate "white hat" manipulation methods such as using common keywords in page titles, and "black hat" methods, which try to trick search engines into giving undeservedly high rankings.

When Google detects black hat methods it bans the page from its index, as it did to the German website of car maker BMW in 2006. ®

Maximizing your infrastructure through virtualization

More from The Register

next story
Yorkshire cops fail to grasp principle behind BT Fon Wi-Fi network
'Prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network', pleads plod
Major problems beset UK ISP filth filters: But it's OK, nobody uses them
It's almost as though pr0n was actually rather popular
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
ITC: Seagate and LSI can infringe Realtek patents because Realtek isn't in the US
Land of the (get off scot) free, when it's a foreign owner
MPs wave through Blighty's 'EMERGENCY' surveillance laws
Only 49 politcos voted against DRIP bill
EU's top data cops to meet Google, Microsoft et al over 'right to be forgotten'
Plan to hammer out 'coherent' guidelines. Good luck chaps!
US judge: YES, cops or feds so can slurp an ENTIRE Gmail account
Crooks don't have folders labelled 'drug records', opines NY beak
prev story

Whitepapers

Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.