Google said it was aware of and working to fix the issues, first reported by the blog Search Engine Land.
The spam campaign replaced direct links to the websites of Marriott, Hilton, Holiday Inn and many other hotels to the domains “roomstobook.info” or “roomstobook.net” on Google Plus listings.
As of Tuesday evening, those domains redirected to hotelswhiz.com, a booking site. It claims in its terms and conditions to be part of ian.com, which redirects to a website owned by travel giant Expedia explaining its affiliate marketing program, the Expedia Affiliate Network.
That program pays a commission to website operators who integrate Expedia’s inventory of hotel listings into custom-built websites to sell more bookings.
Affiliate marketing programs and their participants often have to be vigilant against spammers, who sign up for the programs in attempts to make commissions from shifting traffic around.
Expedia could not be immediately reached despite a call and an email to its public relations company.
Speaking at the US technology conference on Monday, Wolfram predicted that his analytics engine will soon work pre-emptively, meaning it will be able to predict what its users are looking for.
“Wolfram Alpha will be able to predict what users are looking for,” Wolfram said. “Imagine that combined with augmented reality.”
Speaking during a talk on the future of computation, Stephen Wolfram – the creator of Wolfram Alpha and the mastermind behind Apple’s Siri personal assistant – also showed off the engine’s new ability to analyze images.
Wolfram said, “We’re now able to bring in uploaded material, and use our algorithm to analyse it. For example, we can take a picture, ask Wolfram Alpha and it will try and tell us things about it.
“We can compute all sorts of things about this picture – and ask Wolfram Alpha to do a specific computation if need be.”
That’s not the only new feature of Wolfram Alpha, as it can also now analyse data from uploaded spreadsheet documents.
“We can also do things like uploading a spreadsheet and asking Wolfram [Alpha] to analyse specific data from it,” Wolfram said.
He added, “This is an exciting time for me, because a whole lot of things I’ve been working on for 30 years have begun converging in a nice way.”
This upload feature will be available as part of Wolfram Alpha Pro, a paid-for feature where Wolfram hopes the analytical engine will make most of its money. Wolfram Alpha Pro costs $4.99 per month, or $2.99 if you’re a student.
Wolfram also showed off Wolfram Alpha’s ability to analyse data from Facebook, a feature that was announced last August.
Google is about to start using semantic search techniques to produce search results.
The firm will start adding facts and direct answers to its pages, writes the Telegraph in a report that makes us look up Ask Jeeves on Wikipedia.
The Telegraph reports that the “new Google search engine” will add Wolfram Alpha like results, suggestomg that soon it might return just one answer to certain queries, rather than a list of links.
We have asked Google to confirm this, as it is not explicit in the Telegraph report, and a Wall Street Journal story quotes just “sources” for its take on the change.
Both reports say that Google will not change the way that it ranks and rates web sites, but will gradually add more relevant content to its results.
This would seem to be at odds with its recent decisions to drop “discussions” from search results and block Twitter content.
“We’re concerned that as a result of Google’s changes, finding information will be much harder for everyone. We think that’s bad for people, publishers, news organisations and Twitter users,” said Twitter when it learned of Google’s decision to block it.
Google has more or less confirmed the moves, saying that it is working towards improving its search algorithms and search results every day.
“We’re improving our ability to give you the best answers to your questions as quickly as possible,” wrote Google VP and Fellow Amit Singhal on his Google+ page.
“Right now, our understanding is pretty darn limited. Ask us for ‘the 10 deepest lakes in the U.S,’ and we’ll give you decent results based on those keywords, but not necessarily because we understand what depth is or what a lake is… Our initial steps towards this virtuous cycle are indeed baby steps. So stay tuned for updates on what will continue to be a long road ahead.”
Amid widespread concern about its new privacy policies, Google is now facing additional criticism over a deal to offer users Amazon gift certificates if they open their Web movements to the company in a program called Screenwise.
Google says the program launched “near the beginning of the year,” but the company’s low-key offer was disclosed Tuesday night on the blog Search Engine Land.
Google is asking users to add an extension to the Chrome browser that will share their Web-browsing activity with the company. In exchange, users will receive a $5 Amazon gift when they sign up and additional $5 gift card values for every three months they continue to share. (Amazon is not a partner in the project.) Users must be over age 13, and minors will need parental consent to participate. The tracking extension can be turned off at any time, allowing participants to temporarily close their metaphorical shades on Google.
The company says the program will help it “improve Google products and services and make a better online experience for everyone.”
Google declined to specify exactly how it would achieve those aims. A company spokesperson said, “Like many other web and media companies, we do panel research to help better serve our users by learning more about people’s media use, on the web and elsewhere.”
But David Jacobs, a consumer protection fellow at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, noted that the fine print of Google’s announcement suggested the program might allow Google to track user behavior “at a higher level of detail” than it already does. The offer says Google will observe not just which websites users visit, but also “how [they] use them.” Jacobs noted that the program could potentially capture behaviors like mouse-overs in addition to clicks.