In Depth

Bitcoin price: was spike in Google results a ploy to manipulate values?

Some experts suspect foul play but others say BTC searches were linked to Hurricane Dorian

Google searches for bitcoin have surged to an all-time high over the past ten days, but some experts are suggesting that may be the result of a ploy to manipulate prices.

As reported by cryptocurrency news site Cointelegraph, searches for bitcoin’s trading abbreviation “BTC” shot up from a value of two on 29 August to 100 - the maximum level of interest - just three days later. 

Interest gradually fell earlier this week, with the most recent result being a search rating of 74 recorded on 3 September, the news site says. It’s particularly perplexing when “BTC” is compared with the term “bitcoin”, as the latter has “stayed virtually level” at a value of eight. 

Bitcoin values are often tied to search activity, so prices tend to increase when a critical news story breaks. As the digital coin is trading at a lower price compared with its 2019 high of $13,000 (£10,550), there’s a chance the jump in BTC searches is the result of foul play. 

Who - or what - is behind the search spike?

Given that there has not been any major news around bitcoin in recent weeks, it seems unlikely that the recent surge in BTC searches is legitimate.

Therefore, says Bendik Norheim Schei, of cryptocurrency news site Kryptografen, it’s “reasonable to assume that someone is behind these radical changes.

“That the same pattern can be seen all over the world may indicate that VPN [virtual private network] services have been used to distribute the search across the world, thus achieving a global trend,” he said. 

Glen Goodman, a financial adviser and crypto trader, agrees with Schei, telling Forbes that “somebody’s trying to game the trading algorithms”.

Cointelegraph, however, poses an interesting counter theory. It claims that BTC not only represents bitcoin, but it is also the abbreviation used by the Bahamas Telecommunications Company. As Hurricane Dorian is currently “wreaking havoc” across the Bahamas, there’s a strong chance the search activity is linked to the event. 

While that may be true, the country with the highest search interest in BTC is Slovenia. 

What’s more, Schei notes that Google Trends, the website that monitors activity on the search engine, indicates that “changes have been relatively large in Romania”.

Have values increased because of it?

If the spike in BTC search interest is in fact an attempt to bolster bitcoin values, it hasn’t had a major effect on the cryptocurrency market. 

Bitcoin prices have gradually increased during the first week of September, starting the month at around the $9,600 (£7,790) mark and rising to a high of $10,890 (£8,840) earlier today, according to CoinMarketCap

As of 2.30pm today UK time, bitcoin was at $10,860 (£8,810) per coin, the ranking site notes. 

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