by Mike Masnick
Tue, Apr 15th 2014 8:05pm
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Dec 18th 2013 1:05pm
from the it's-kind-of-fun dept
Hi,There are a number of variations on this. My favorite is the following, which ridiculously implies that that we were working with them and they "appreciate the support."
We noticed that your site http://www.techdirt.com is linking to our site [redacted] on the url [Techdirt article URL]
Unfortunately [our company] has been hit by an Unnatural Link Penalty and we are now trying to get all links taken down where possible, rather than disavowing them.
If you could spare 5 minutes to take this link down we would be extremely grateful. Do not hesitate to contact me with any questions.
Hello Webmaster,One time, we got one that insisted that if we didn't remove the link, Google would punish us as well. Every time we get these (and it's been happening with increasing frequency), there's a bit of an internal dilemma. We don't delete comments unless they're spam. That's our general comment policy around here. But, these are clearly spam, and it's annoying they got through our spam filter. If we had discovered them on our own, we would have deleted them. But, just the fact that these jackass comment spammers are getting in trouble for them... makes us pause and think a bit. It feels somehow wrong to abide by the wishes of these comment spammers who littered our site.
My name is Matthew Victor and I’m a SEO specialist with [redacted], first off I want to thank you for linking to our site from http://www.techdirt.com/, we appreciate the support over the years.
Unfortunately, it has come to our attention that this link may be viewed by Google as a violation of the Google's Webmaster Guidelines.
It is important for us to bring our website into compliance, so we are requesting that you remove our link from this page and any other page on your website.
To assist you in the process of removing these links from your site I’m including a list of the pages we have been able to identify as linking to us.
We would greatly appreciate your prompt response to this request and removal of these links along with any others on your site.
It appears that we're not the only ones dealing with this. Apparently, Google's algorithmic changes over the past year or so have hit those who abused comment spamming quite hard, and plenty of blogs are getting these kinds of emails. The folks over at The Awl have a nice article about it, in which they quote Boing Boing's Rob Beschizza going through the same debate we did, and ending up with the same conclusion:
This isn't only happening in The Awl's inboxes, either. "The funny thing is, we don't actually want that spam lurking around in old comments," Boing Boing's Rob Beschizza wrote to me in an email. "But we obviously like seeing the spammers suffering as a result of their own misbehavior."The Awl did some digging and found out that the changes to Google's algorithm have really hit those comment spammers hard, which is something worth cheering.
"So we just leave it up," he wrote, "even though we don't want it, in the hope that Google may penalize them further."
"The average drop was from page one to page five in Google," [the "SEO" guy trying to remove comments that The Awl contacted] said. In some cases they even dropped as low as page ten. How often do you find yourself on the fifth—much less the tenth—page of Google results? If you've gotten that far, you're better off just refining or revising your search terms.The Awl notes that it, too, has received emails from those trying to remove comment spams saying that Google will punish them as well. However, the first time we got one of those, we reached out to people at Google who told us that we were fine. First of all, all of the links in our comments automatically have rel=nofollow appended to them, which means that Google already does not use them as authoritative (though, I do wonder if they use them to help demote certain links...), and knows that we've "disavowed" the links. Also, our general page rank and reputation likely protects us from having the algorithm think we've suddenly turned into link spammers.
"We needed to delete all of the bad links," he said. "It was a big list—a few thousand, even ten thousand links. We just moved one by one: this is a toxic link, we need to delete it; this is a good, natural link."
"We had links from the Daily Mail, Huffington Post, and we had links from profiles in shitty forums or small websites that we didn't want to get the link from," he said. Apparently by that he meant... us. So the goal clearly isn't to remove all spam links. Just the least-good ones.
As we mentioned just recently, whenever I've brought this up on Twitter, some people have suggested we should offer to charge for the removal of those spam comments -- and at times that's tempting. But, in the end, the companies that spewed that spam deserve whatever crap they get. If they didn't realize it was evil to post comment spam, then they're not the kinds of organizations worth doing business with in the first place.
Now, if only the message that comment spamming is dead could make its way to the folks who are still hitting us with 1,000 or so comment spams per day...
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Mar 6th 2013 11:21am
from the riaa-logic dept
Either way, it makes you realize how incredibly pointless all of this is. If someone is doing a search explicitly for "pirate bay," not finding the actual site as a top result isn't suddenly going to make someone rush to their nearest RIAA-approved record store to purchase something. Google's job is to help people find what they're looking for -- not to tell them "this isn't the site you're looking for" when it clearly is.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Aug 31st 2012 3:25am
from the but-now-we-know-who's-upset-about-it... dept
The court isn't buying it, at all.
It is true that the Defendant published an article with a numerical ranking, and that the Defendant suggests reasons to support its opinions, including that “87 percent of those who reviewed [Grand Resort] recommended against staying there,” but neither the fact that Defendant numbers its opinions one through ten, nor that it supports its opinions with data, converts its opinions to objective statements of fact. Any reasonable person can distinguish opinions based on reasons from facts based on reasons—just because TripAdvisor states its reasons for including Grand Resort on its list does not make the assertion one of objective fact. A person who is unable to distinguish the phrase “it is hot,” a subjective opinion, from “it is one-hundred degrees,” an objective fact, is hardly “reasonable.” Similarly, TripAdvisor’s “Dirtiest Hotels” list is clearly unverifiable rhetorical hyperbole.I find the implicit suggestion in there that the plaintiff is not a reasonable person somewhat amusing as well. Either way, as Goldman notes, this should be a somewhat useful case whenever others are threatened for opinion-based lists they put together. That said, as a district court ruling it doesn't have much widespread impact, but with clear and concise reasoning, that doesn't mean it can't be helpful in convincing other courts to rule similarly.
TripAdvisor’s list is of the genre of hyperbole that is omnipresent. From law schools to restaurants, from judges to hospitals, everything is ranked, graded, ordered and critiqued. Undoubtedly, some will accept the array of “Best” and “Worst” rankings as impenetrable maxims. Certainly, some attempt to obfuscate the distinction between fact and opinion as part of their course of business. For those that read “eat here,” “sleep there” or “go to this law school” and are unable to distinguish measured analysis of objective facts from sensational “carnival barking,” compliance will be both steadfast and assured. Nevertheless, the standard, fortunately, is what a “reasonable person” would believe. A reasonable person would not confuse a ranking system, which uses consumer reviews as its litmus, for an objective assertion of fact; the reasonable person, in other words, knows the difference between a statement that is “inherently subjective” and one that is “objectively verifiable.”
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Aug 21st 2012 3:06am
from the ethics-policy dept
Of course, what struck me as extra interesting about this, is that we always hear about universities disciplining students based on an "ethics" code or something like that. So I figured Emory probably had something like that as well... and it did. There's the Emory University Undergraduate Code of Conduct, which includes lines like:
Emory University expects that all students act honorably, demonstrating a keen sense of ethical conduct. The University expects that its students behave respectfully, providing particular consideration for other people and for property. As members of a community, Emory University expects that students act responsibly, being accountable for the safety and wellbeing of themselves and others. University students are expected to be trustworthy, demonstrating honest character upon which others may rely with confidence.That same policy also forbids "intentional misrepresentation," including "providing false or misleading information to a University official" or "filing a false or misleading report."
I also found that the school has a Code of Business Ethics and Conduct for employees, which includes this tidbit:
Emory University has adopted an overarching Statement of Guiding Ethical Principles that applies to Emory employees and all other members of the Emory Community. Emory employees should strive to adhere to these principles in carrying out their job responsibilities, and in particular any responsibilities they have in connection with Federal Research/Contract Activities.That pointed me to the Statement of Guiding Ethical Principles (pdf) which, among many other things has lines like the following:
Members of Emory are expected to strive for the highest degree of integrity.All of this has me wondering about these kinds of "ethics" policies and "honor codes" and the like. So many universities have them, but I'm curious if they actually do any good at all. Most of them say things that are basically common sense, and I have trouble believing anyone actually considers "oh, but the ethics policy!" before violating them. So what is the purpose of such policies? It seems that ethics aren't the kind of thing that you write down in a policy, but that you demonstrate by how you act and what you do.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Aug 10th 2012 10:59am
from the whose-master? dept
We aim to provide a great experience for our users and have developed over 200 signals to ensure our search algorithms deliver the best possible results. Starting next week, we will begin taking into account a new signal in our rankings: the number of valid copyright removal notices we receive for any given site. Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results. This ranking change should help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily—whether it’s a song previewed on NPR’s music website, a TV show on Hulu or new music streamed from Spotify.The company notes that it's just one signal of many and that they will only demote the results, but not remove those sites from the index. In fact, they point out, correctly, that "Only copyright holders know if something is authorized, and only courts can decide if a copyright has been infringed; Google cannot determine whether a particular webpage does or does not violate copyright law."
Since we re-booted our copyright removals over two years ago, we’ve been given much more data by copyright owners about infringing content online. In fact, we’re now receiving and processing more copyright removal notices every day than we did in all of 2009—more than 4.3 million URLs in the last 30 days alone. We will now be using this data as a signal in our search rankings.
As I understand it, the plan is that for people who search for, say, "watch dark knight rises free online," Google will try to push results that are likely to be unauthorized down the list, and try to have more "authorized" results higher up in the list (though, with a search query like the one above, there may not be any "authorized results" that provide what the person is searching for).
It's that last point where this gets to be troubling. Part of the reason people are searching for such things is that there isn't an easy and legitimate way to get that content. The best result would be for Hollywood to get its act together, realize that its whole windowing procedure is a disaster from the consumers' perspective, and provide more of what consumers want. Instead, the end result is going to be that people do these searches and just get equally frustrated. I don't see how that's good for Hollywood or for Google.
My other concern is that things things that later turn out to be quite legitimate and massive opportunities for authorized and legitimate content, are quite frequently demonized as tools of piracy early on. Imagine an equivalent of this announcement today in the early days of the VCR, when the MPAA insisted that it was evil and infringing. Imagine if when you went into a store to buy a VCR, the store instead pointed you to the movie theater down the road. That might be what Hollywood thought it wanted, but the end result would have been a much smaller home movie market -- not a market that ended up being bigger than the box office market just a few years after Hollywood insisted it was illegal.
Same thing with the first MP3 players. The RIAA sued the Diamond Rio as being a tool for infringement. Imagine if when you went to buy an MP3 player, stores decided to instead tell you you should buy some cassette tapes instead. It enforces an older way of doing business, rather than a new way.
And this applies online as well. Obviously, there's still an ongoing lawsuit against YouTube for copyright infringement, and YouTube certainly gets a ton of "valid copyright removal notices." Would Google demote search results to YouTube based on this? In the past, Google has punished the search results for other parts of its own business, for violating its rules, so it's entirely possible that YouTube results could get demoted under this system -- though I would imagine that Google believes that the many other "signals" it uses to determine legitimacy would minimize the likelihood of this being an issue.
But... that might not apply to a new up and coming site. Take, for example, the cases of Veoh and MP3Tunes. What both of those companies did was deemed legal by the courts, but both companies went bankrupt due to massive legal fees from being sued by the legacy entertainment industry. Imagine if, on top of that, Google also demoted the results from those sites at the same time. Already, Google is facing antitrust scrutiny for what some companies claim was a policy that demoted Google search results to their pages. While I think those claims are pretty bogus, is Google just opening itself up to a similar antitrust attack on that point?
I recognize that Google has a tricky balancing act here -- trying to keep the entertainment industry off its back, and the governmental pressure that comes with that, while still providing the "best" search results for its users. And I'm sure that Google has tried to use an approach that minimizes the concerns I raise above. But we've already seen, quite clearly, how Google's automated systems often fail when it comes to copyright issues, and the risk for both abuse and bad results seems quite high. At the very least, it's going to bear very close scrutiny to see how Google handles legitimate sites, who get swept up in claims of infringement when they're actually providing legitimate services.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Feb 16th 2012 11:06am
from the good-luck-with-that dept
Of course, most of those suing over this are kooks... but apparently a much larger potential lawsuit on this issue has been considered. The IFPI and the RIAA supposedly have asked for a confidential legal analysis concerning the legal issues if they sued Google for sometimes showing unauthorized sites above authorized sites in its search results. In other words, in the mind of the RIAA/IFPI if Google shows The Pirate Bay over iTunes... that must be illegal:
“Google continues to fail to prioritize legal music sites over illegal sites in search results, claiming that its algorithm for search results is based on the relevance of sites to consumers,” the document states.Of course all of this shows a massive misunderstanding of how Google works. The IFPI seems to honestly think that Google employees are making a conscious choice that "let's rank these unauthorized sites higher." They don't seem to understand how algorithmic search results work.
“With a view to addressing this failure, IFPI obtained a highly confidential and preliminary legal opinion in July 2011 on the possibility of bringing a competition law complaint against Google for abuse of its dominant position, given the distortion of the market for legitimate online music that is likely to result from Google’s prioritizing of illegal sites.”
The fact that no lawsuit has appeared since July suggests that (hopefully) the "legal opinion" explained to the IFPI that any such lawsuit would likely be laughed out of court. Hell they just had to look at the dismissal of the myTriggers lawsuit in September if they wanted to understand why such a legal strategy is destined to fail miserably.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Aug 8th 2011 10:46am
thomas m cooley law school
from the oops dept
"In contrast to their own mission statement, Cooley Law School is now seeking to use its power to stymie the constitutional right of free speech of its own students -- albeit speech that negatively portrays the school consistent with other empirical data," Berkley attorney John Hermann said in the motion, filed on behalf of his client, Rockstar05. "Ironically, Cooley is now the emperor who appears angry at being told he is not wearing any clothes."The school itself publicized this particular lawsuit, as well as a separate lawsuit against some lawyers who claimed to be putting together a class action lawsuit against Cooley over (the lawyers claimed) "manipulating post-graduate employment data and salary info." You can see both complaints embedded below.
I have no idea if the statements made by anyone targeted by Cooley rise to the level of defamation. Certainly many of the statements highlighted could be seen as statements of fact, though many appear to be standard hyperbole from someone who had a negative experience. Still, all of this had me wondering about the Cooley Law School, as I have to admit never having heard of it, so I decided to check it out. The law school's biggest claim to fame appears to be that it has the largest faculty, and if you count all of its various students, the largest student body as well. Bigger is better! But is the school any good?
Well, that's where things get hilarious.
You see, if you look at the various rankings for law schools, Cooley is considered near the bottom of the heap. The US News rankings have put it as a "fourth tier" law school, in the past, and currently has it as "unranked" because it apparently "did not supply enough information to U.S. News to calculate a ranking." But, wouldn't you know it, according to Cooley itself, it's actually the second top ranked school in the country, behind only Harvard.
How's that? Well, you see, Cooley's administration decided to create its own rankings system! A report from last year (at which point Cooley ranked merely #12 on its own ranking criteria, demolished the way Cooley's own rankings system works:
How did they arrive at this order? Cooley can only make this claim by sufficiently broadening the number of factors and then allotting them equal weight. Traditionally, highly important considerations are GPA, LSAT, Bar passage rate, and employment upon graduation. However, in this scheme they are given the same weight as Total Volumes in Library, Total Applications, Total Law School Square Footage, Program Achievement Rating Rank.That blog post then goes on to display how Cooley minimizes the importance of the numbers that actually matter. Meanwhile, it appears that some others were similarly flabbergasted by Cooley Law presenting itself as the 2nd highest ranked law school, based on its own silly rankings. Cooley's own rankings explanation says that they got rid of pesky things like "reputation," and declare that, without question, "bigger is better than smaller" (even though, amusingly, in the same list, they claim that smaller class sizes are better than bigger!).
The thing is, I wouldn't have gone out and learned any of this if Cooley hadn't decided to jump and sue some of its critics. Even if some of the statements turn out to be defamatory, suing your critics is an open invitation for people to take a closer look at you and what you do, and what comes up for Thomas M. Cooley Law School does not look good at all.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Sep 3rd 2010 4:00am
from the and-avvo-hits-back dept
Avvo hit back in a blog post highlighting some history that the lawyer in question, Joe Davis, probably doesn't want to generate any more attention (such as being "twice convicted and spent eight days in the pokey") and suggesting that it's the desire to hide this info that is the real reason behind the lawsuit.
So, how does Davis try to get around the whole "opinion/free speech" thing? Well, he tries to find some factual errors in his profile -- such as the page claiming that he practices "100% employment/labor law," which is apparently not the case. That said, it's difficult to see how such an error amounts to libel. Also, apparently Avvo has the wrong address, which Davis suggests is a "misrepresentation." He also claims that Avvo's "failure to take into account" Davis' Board Certification (which is mentioned over and over and over and over again in the complaint as if that, alone, conquers all) is a "misrepresentation" as well.
From there, Davis suggests that various fluctuations he saw in his ratings over a period of a few days "obviously occurred based solely" on his "level of participation" on the site, rather than "what is in the public record." Davis also gets upset that his profile points people to other, competing lawyers, and claims that Google forbids a similar practice. Unfortunately, I believe Davis is simply wrong on this point:
Google's AdWords' policies prohibit AdWords users from doing the very same thing that Avvo.com does--that is, to hijack a competitor's name as a key search word to trigger the appearance of a competitor's ad next to the competitor's search results.But Google actually does allow that and has fought an awful lot of lawsuits that it's usually won, saying that such a practice is perfectly legal. In fact, Google just recently changed its European policy to have it match the US policy in allowing greater use of trademarked terms in AdWords.
There's also a suggestion that by using Davis' photo from his own website, Avvo may have violated copyright and local Florida statutes on using images of lawyers. The full complaint is a bit rambling, and at times rather informal, which makes for some fun reading, but seems like the sort of thing that a judge might not appreciate:
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Apr 13th 2009 1:33am