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Type 'sell' into Google Finance and take a bite out of Apple

It's not clear why, exactly, but as of this writing, if you type "sell" into Google Finance, you get Apple's rather sullen stock chart. Algorithmic slip-up? Or Christmastime Easter egg?

Screenshot by Edward Moyer/CNET [click the image for a full-size version]

Update, 5:40 p.m. PT: Google says the situation isn't deliberate. See the note at the end of this story.

Fiscal cliff or not, Google Finance seems to have developed a sense of humor.

A Reddit reader noticed earlier today that if you type "sell" into the search field at Google Finance, the site serves up Apple's presently somewhat sullen stock chart.

Ouch. Is this some sort of nasty Christmastime Easter egg/lump of coal? That's what some in the blogosphere are currently trying to figure out -- Google watcher, Search Engine Land proprietor, and CNET contributor Danny Sullivan among them:

I've seen a few comments that this is due to the Reuters-description that Google Finance shows for Apple having the word "sell" in it several times. I doubt this is the reason.

I can see Amazon's page on Google Finance also has "sell" in its description twice, that exact word, whereas Apple has the "sells" form. If usage of "sell" in the description is the trigger, then Amazon would trump Apple.

Sullivan's investigation continues. "Sells" also brings up the Apple chart, he discovers, making him think it less likely that this is a gibe rigged up by a mischievous Google staffer (because "sells" just doesn't make sense, in terms of Street talk). And in support of some algorithmic oddness, he notes that "buy" brings up Best Buy's chart, so searches don't seem to be keyed to an exact company name or stock symbol.

(We tried "hold" and got a long list of companies such as Yingli Green Energy Hold. Co. Ltd., Longwei Petroleum Investment Hold Ltd., Chinese Estates Holdings Limited -- and many, many more. So it's possible there's some sort of algorithm burp happening -- as opposed to any assumptions one might make about an evil Android at work.)

So what gives? We have an e-mail out to Google for more information, and we'll let you know what we find out. (See the update below.)

In the meantime, we welcome your theories in the comments section.

Update, 5:40 p.m. PT: We've heard back from Google. A representative blamed search algorithms for the issue and said the company was working on a solution:

"This isn't deliberate -- our algorithms seem to be keying off of the words 'sell' and 'sells' in the description of this very popular stock symbol," Google spokesman Jason Freidenfelds said. "We're working on how to adjust things so it doesn't happen anymore."

(Via The Next Web)