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Google, Chicago Tribune blame each other for collapse of United Airlines stock price

Google and Chicago Tribune have blamed each other for the recent collapse of United Airlines stock price when an old story originally published by Chicago Tribune on 10th December 2002 about United Airlines’ plan to seek bankruptcy protection was picked up by the search engine as a fresh story.

Google and Chicago Tribune have blamed each other for the recent collapse of United Airlines stock price when an old story originally published by Chicago Tribune on 10th December 2002 about United Airlines’ plan to seek bankruptcy protection was picked up by the search engine as a fresh story.

According to Google, the problem began with the Sun Sentinel site, which had failed to give the United Airlines story a standard newspaper article dateline, so the search crawler looked for the only date available and it found a fresh date that appears on every page of the site next to the Sun Sentinel masthead.

Because Google had picked up the old article, traffic flowed to the story, and it was eventually distributed by Income Securities Advisors to a Bloomberg stock market information site. When investors saw the article, they believed it was current news, and the sell-off began. The price fell from $12 to $3, and trading in United Airlines was halted. Eventually the truth came out, and the price rebounded.

Tribune Company says the old story showed up as a top link in the South Florida Sun Sentinel (also owned by Tribune Company) because the story was clicked on once during a late hour when there was little traffic to the site. That made it a ‘top story’, and so it was automatically put near the top of the page. The Google bot saw it, and assumed it was a new story.

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