Audit Notes: HBGary Federal, Jeff Sachs Goes Off, Gaming Google

ArsTechnica has a great ticktock on how the HBGary Federal scandal broke open, recounting how its CEO got into a battle he couldn’t win with the hacker group Anonymous.

ThinkProgress follows up on the HBGary Federal scandal, reporting that several of the firm’s emails suggest that the Chamber of Commerce or its representatives were well aware of what the HBGary was up to, despite the lobby’s denials.

Meanwhile, Salon looks closer at Hunton & Williams, the lobbyist law firm that’s the plausible deniability layer buffer between Bank of America, the Chamber of Commerce and HBGary Federal, Palantir and Berico

And the Washington Post weighs in with a story.

— Columbia economist Jeffrey Sachs just goes off on the corruption of politics in the U.S. in a Bloomberg TV interview.

When you hear what my friends in the press like to call populism like this coming from a certified member of the super-elite, you can be sure that things are really messed up.

“What’s happening with this country? We give up massive amounts at the top in tax cuts and then we turn around and we squeeze the poorest of the poor.”

This is absurd what we’re doing… This is a game that’s going to come an end in a bad way. Do we really have to our own Egypt here in the United States or are we going to actually understand that we have a society where half the people have no voice in this country at all.”

Both parties are financed by wealthy people… President Obama has to get a billion dollars in his kitty for running for reelection. The Republicans are doing the same. Everyone caters to the top.”

Watch the whole interview.

(h/t Yves Smith)

The New York Times had an excellent story this weekend examining how companies game Google’s search algorithm.

David Segal spins a good yarn out of how JC Penney—or somebody working for it—used “black hat” techniques to gain stunning dominance of Google results:

The company bested millions of sites — and not just in searches for dresses, bedding and area rugs. For months, it was consistently at or near the top in searches for “skinny jeans,” “home decor,” “comforter sets,” “furniture” and dozens of other words and phrases, from the blandly generic (“tablecloths”) to the strangely specific (“grommet top curtains”).

This striking performance lasted for months, most crucially through the holiday season, when there is a huge spike in online shopping. J. C. Penney even beat out the sites of manufacturers in searches for the products of those manufacturers. Type in “Samsonite carry on luggage,” for instance, and Penney for months was first on the list, ahead of

The Times noticed and asked an online search firm to analyze how JC Penney did it.

What he found suggests that the digital age’s most mundane act, the Google search, often represents layer upon layer of intrigue. And the intrigue starts in the sprawling, subterranean world of “black hat” optimization, the dark art of raising the profile of a Web site with methods that Google considers tantamount to cheating…

“Actually, it’s the most ambitious attempt I’ve ever heard of,” he said. “This whole thing just blew me away. Especially for such a major brand. You’d think they would have people around them that would know better.”

Good stuff. And it’s a good explainer on why Google’s search results are what they are.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,