Economics/Class Relations

A Google loophole exposed

September 28, 2023 • 5 min read
with Dan DeFrancesco
Hey there! Yes, the 1-ounce gold bars for sale at Costco are real, further proof that place sells just about everything. But good luck finding them in stock.


In today’s big story, we’re looking at how a Google loophole brings advertisements for illegal drugs hosted on defaced government websites to the top of search results.

What’s on deck:
But first, a quick search.


Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up now
Arantza Pena Popo/Insider
The big story
Drugs for sale

When searching for illegal drugs, government agencies aren’t where most people think to start.


But you wouldn’t know that by looking on Google. Pages advertising illegal drugs hosted on websites for government agencies, businesses, and nonprofits feature prominently in Google searches.


It’s all thanks to a loophole made possible by a recent change in how the search-engine giant indexes web content, writes Insider’s Katherine Long.


In simple terms, many websites’ internal search functions create a new, permanent webpage for every unique search a user enters. Previously, that wasn’t an issue since these web pages never appeared in Google searches because website owners restricted Google from indexing them.


However, Google recently said its automated web crawler could “automatically” discern which user-generated pages should appear in searches.


But, as Katherine’s reporting details, that hasn’t been the case.

The result is people using internal search functions to create webpages advertising drugs on websites viewed as trustworthy by Google. Insider identified more than four dozen websites, including our own, hijacked by the loophole.

Jake Swearingen/Insider
If all of this seems shocking, understand you’re not alone. Web admins seem entirely in the dark as well. 


The CEO of one company whose website was exploited was blindsided. “What in the hell?” he texted an Insider reporter upon hearing the news.


What’s even more unsettling is the type of websites some of these people are using to advertise, including those meant to aid people with addiction problems, Katherine pointed out to me.


The Australian Alcohol and Drug Foundation, an anti-drug abuse nonprofit, and Narconon, a narcotics addiction treatment program, were among the sites defaced with contact info for drug dealers.

Read the full story
3 things in


🔔 Before the opening bell: US stock futures rise early Thursday as investors await economic data on jobless claims, home sales, and more.

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
1. People are bummed out about the economy. US consumer confidence dropped to a four-month low in September, according to the Conference Board. And student loan payments resuming next month won’t help consumers’ spending power.


2. Jamie Dimon flags his biggest concerns. The JPMorgan CEO said the Russia-Ukraine war, and its impact on global relations, is the top threat to the world. The event, he said, could be “an inflection point for the free democratic world.”


3. The housing market has hit “rock bottom.” That’s according to Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman, who warned things can’t get much worse from here. High mortgage rates and high prices have crushed affordability for buyers, and the sales slowdown is bound to last “a long, long time.”

3 things in
Courtesy of Meta
1. Celebs like Tom Brady and Kendall Jenner could be your new AI assistant. Meta unveiled its new roster of AI assistants. Former NBA basketball player Dwyane Wade, for example, plays the role of AI assistant Victor, who can put together a workout plan and help users stay motivated in reaching their fitness goals.


2. The massive debate over using ChatGPT for therapy. Employees of ChatGPT’s parent company, OpenAI, celebrated feeling “heard and warm” after talking with the chatbot. But AI ethicists banded together to voice concern over this type of usage and warned about the harm this could cause.


3. The Big Yawn: You really think the FTC will win against Amazon? This lawsuit highlights a major problem in the US. Big Tech companies are incredibly dominant in their markets, yet they continuously avoid getting in trouble with regulators.

3 things in
simpson33/Getty Images; Jenny Chang-Rodriguez/Insider
1. DoorDash, Instacart, and GrubHub drivers say they’re being booted from their delivery jobs without notice. And they claim the companies won’t tell them why. So, some are now seeking third-party help — through arbitration — to fight back.


2. Inside the lives of families that left the US to travel abroad as digital nomads. Remote work led to people traveling the world more. But now, people are taking their children with them — and the communities feel a bit like family camp.


3. ThredUp says the four-day workweek cut its corporate turnover in half. To prep for the shorter workweek, ThredUp shared that it cut 20% of its meetings. Plus, it set aside one day of the week to do focused work without interruption.


In other news



What’s happening today
  • The Atlantic Festival kicks off today. The two-day event in Washington, DC includes in-depth interviews, intimate breakout sessions, book talks, screenings, and more. Speakers include Nancy Pelosi, Karlie Kloss, Spike Lee, and other well-known figures.
  • “The Golden Bachelor” premieres today on ABC. It’s a spin-off of the popular dating show “The Bachelor,” but for older people. The first golden bachelor is a 71-year-old man who will meet 25 women — none below the age of 60.
  • Earnings today: Nike, Accenture, CarMax, Blackberry, and other companies.


Nattakorn Maneerat/Getty Images
For your bookmarks
Mindfulness exercises
These five, simple exercises at your desk can help regulate your emotions. The psychologist-recommended exercises include flexible and positive thinking.
The Insider Today team

Dan DeFrancesco, senior editor and anchor, in New York City. Diamond Naga Siu, senior reporter, in San Diego. Hallam Bullock, editor, in London. Lisa Ryan, executive editor, in New York.


Get in touch


To read unlimited articles, subscribe to Insider.

Leave a Reply