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This has been discussed in several HN threads recently. Often some insight can be gained by following the money. SO doesn't carry Google advertising, so there is no way for Google to profit when people go there. The spammy and other low-quality sites that persistently show up near the top of Google's search results invariably carry tons of Google ad boxes.

Of course Googlers claim that there is a firewall between search quality and ad revenue sides of the business, and, from the perspective of a Google engineer, that might actually appear to be the case.

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