Source: Google Trends

Drastic change overnight

Google Trends is a tool used for checking the popularity of keywords on Google. Recently, several sources have pointed out that something mysterious has happened to the search numbers on bitcoin. It is true that searches on the word “BTC” have skyrocketed.

The graph below shows a sudden drastic change in popularity around the end of last month. These are levels that are far above what was seen during the 2017 bitcoin peak, which now seems completely insignificant. The results are given as a relative size, which means that the levels are set according to what they are compared to. To illustrate this, the graph for the same period, minus the days with the new activity, is also included. Then we see search results that are very similar to the price movements we have seen in recent years. In other words, a more normal search history.

Somethings not right

There are several reasons why these results are strange. For one, this jump is completely uncorrelated with the bitcoin price. In the past, search history has followed the price movements. Today, the price is close to half of what it was on the previous “search peak”.

Second, and perhaps the main reason for the suspicion of manipulation, we see no particular change in the search for the word “bitcoin”. Since “bitcoin” is the main way to refer to the cryptocurrency, it is clear that this should have followed the same movements as the abbreviation, “BTC”. Below is the graph for searches on “bitcoin” over the same period as above, including the very last period of strange activity around “BTC”.

Could Romania be the cause?

If we limit the search to just the last period, we find several interesting pointers. It is clear that the change happened suddenly, around the 29th of August. The graph below shows how popularity has systematically jumped every day during the past week. The graph a week further back in time shows something completely different.

The figures from Google Trends also say that Romania is the country that has seen the biggest change in searches last week. This does not mean that Romania is the country where most people have searches for BTC, but it is in this country where change within the country has been greatest last week.

If we take a closer look at the graph from Romania, the systematic movements in popularity are even clearer. According to these statistics, it seems that Romanians tend to search up BTC at 03:00 every night, which seems quite odd.

If we dig further, we can actually see that this system is applicable to several other countries as well. Both the United States, Norway, Hong Kong, Argentina, Thailand, to name a few, show the same pattern.

So what has actually happened?

It is difficult to give any clear answer to this. It is 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 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.

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