If you're a thief who breaks into homes by picking locks, the last thing you want to do is to go around bragging about the lock-picking technique you use. The next thing you know, the lock manufacturers will start making locks that can't be picked using your methods.
That's kind of what happened to a business owner in Brooklyn whose business practices generated so many complaints and negative reviews that it increased the links back to his site, all the while making his site more prominent in search engines like Google. It's a bizarre story that the New York Times tells about this guy, quoting his blatant admission that bad business behavior has been good for business.
I won't offer this particular business any more name- or link-dropping for this very reason, even though it's available in the NYT piece, which, by the way, is a pretty good read.
When the NYT story reached Google, the company decided that it needed to take some action and began to weigh its options, which included blocking the offender, displaying user reviews and ratings alongside search results or identifying negative comments and counting them against the site's prominence.
While those are all good ideas, they're flawed because they either create bigger problems - what do you do with all of the negative, albeit legitimate, things written on the Internet about a politician? - or they never really get at the heart of the bigger problem. Google chose instead to go straight to the algorithm, tweaking it enough to keep the offender - and others like him - from getting top billing. From Google's post:
in the last few days we developed an algorithmic solution which detects the merchant from the Times article along with hundreds of other merchants that, in our opinion, provide an extremely poor user experience... We can't say for sure that no one will ever find a loophole in our ranking algorithms in the future. We know that people will keep trying: attempts to game Google’s ranking, like the ones mentioned in the article, go on 24 hours a day, every single day. That’s why we cannot reveal the details of our solution—the underlying signals, data sources, and how we combined them to improve our rankings—beyond what we’ve already said.
More importantly, the company called this fix "an initial solution," implying that it will continue to work on ways to keep these sort of abuses of the technology from occurring again.