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US ISPs 'hijacking' search engine queries

Bing

Bing and Yahoo! search results are being 'hijacked' by some US ISPs, according to new research

The New Scientist reports (opens in new tab) that millions of US internet users are having their search-engine queries 'hijacked', and are being redirected to marketing companies and then appropriate retail websites. According to the article, evidence collected by the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley, California, has revealed 165 affected search terms; these are words that are (or that are related to) high-profile brand-names, such as 'apple', 'dell' and 'safeway'.

The article adds that patents filed by Paxfire, a company involved in the hijacking, suggest the appropriation of search terms could be part of a plan to allow ISPs to generate revenue by tracking the sites that customers visit. However, the process is, at best, controversial, since users are getting inaccurate search results and search engines are being denied traffic (and, by extension, advertising revenue). At worst, there's a possibility the ISPs are breaking the law, and US firm Reese Richman, which specialises in consumer protection lawsuits, has filed a class action lawsuit against both Paxfire and one of the ISPs.

The article adds that Google has already complained about the redirects and so is no longer affected; but at the time of writing, it appears Bing and Yahoo! searches are still being redirected.

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