Google might be paying big bucks to Mozilla to be Firefox’s default search provider, but its own browser Chrome is now by some counts more popular globally than Firefox itself.

Chalk it up to a good product, and Google’s improved ability to market its wares to mainstream consumers.

But is Google also using questionable tactics to promote Chrome? Surprisingly, the answer may be yes.

As detailed by Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan, there are hundreds of blog posts claiming to be ‘sponsored by Google’ featuring links to a Google Chrome download page. The content appears to be of the ‘sponsored post’ sort, which violate Google’s guidelines and have been targeted specifically by recent Google updates.

Google’s paying to produce a lot of garbage, the same type of garbage that its Panda Update was designed to penalize.

But is it? Google doesn’t need to buy links to boost Chrome’s position in the SERPs. After all, Google could manually manipulate them. Indeed, Google’s Marissa Mayer has essentially admitted that Google doesn’t have a problem giving preference to its own properties.

Some have speculated that the sponsored posts are the work of an unscrupulous operator being paid for Chrome installs. But it appears that the links to the Chrome download page on these posts go directly to that page without the use of tracking links, so this theory doesn’t appear to hold water.

More likely is the possibility that Google hired one or more companies to assist it in marketing Chrome online, and they turned to sponsored posts. This, of course, wouldn’t make Google look as bad, but it wouldn’t eliminate all embarrassment either.

After all, the fact that retailer J.C. Penney didn’t know what its SEO firm was up to didn’t keep Google from levying a harsh, albeit temporary, penalty.

Assuming that Google has also failed to adequately supervise the firms it outsources some online marketing functions to, the question now is whether Google will give itself the same treatment. Sadly, one would have to suspect not.