Bitcoin and cryptocurrency prices are well known to be closely tied to media and general public interest–though that could be changing.
The bitcoin price has been climbing so far this year, rising some 200% since January, though has recently plateaued at around $10,000 per bitcoin after peaking at more than $12,000 in June.
Now, it appears Google searches for bitcoin and BTC, the name used by traders for the bitcoin digital token, could be being manipulated–possibly in order to move the bitcoin price.
This week there has been a massive leap in Google searches for “BTC,” which usually is lower than searches for “bitcoin”–with search volume for “BTC” around the world far higher than it was even at the top of bitcoin’s epic 2017 bull run.
The trend may have started in Romania, researchers at bitcoin and cryptocurrency news and analysis website Kryptografen found.
“It is reasonable to assume that someone is behind these radical changes,” wrote Kryptografen’s Bendik Norheim Schei.
“That the same pattern can be seen all over the world may indicate that VPN services have been used to distribute the search across the world, thus achieving a global trend. Google Trends points out that changes have been relatively large in Romania. Is this the source, or is it just because there have been fewer searches for BTC previously? Whatever the answer is–something very strange has happened to the interest in the keyword ‘BTC’ this past week.”
The bitcoin price has in the past tracked searches for “bitcoin” and “BTC” quite closely, with a sudden rise in searches for “BTC” without a similar rise in the price highly unusual.
Other bitcoin and cryptocurrency analysts were quick to join Schei in pointing to potential market manipulation.
“Somebody’s trying to game the trading algorithms,” said Glen Goodman, trading veteran and author of bitcoin investment book, The Crypto Trader, who explained how this could be used to move bitcoin prices on the market.
“There are algorithms programmed to look at Google Trends data and try to find correlations between numbers of searches for the word ‘BTC’ and the movements in the bitcoin price.”
“If they detect patterns, it may be profitable to trade off that data. This hacker may be buying some BTC, then sending a ton of ‘BTC’ search queries to Google, the algos see search numbers have risen and are triggered to buy a lot of BTC which pushes the price up, and the hacker then sells their BTC at a profit. Easy money!”
Meanwhile, it seems whoever is trying to manipulate the search results for “BTC” is doing it in an organised why.
“These searches appear to be timed to coincide with the quietest time in each country–around 4am or 5am, when search traffic is subdued, so the spam search queries will have maximum impact on the graph,” Goodman added.