March 30, 2006

Google Finance, Blogs, and Politics - use COMPANY NAME, not TICKER SYMBOL

Note: Exposing Yahoo, Inc., or other companies, by having blog posts show up on a company's page in Google Finance, is accomplished by having the post rank highly for the company name, not company ticker symbol.

The algorithm used by Google to rank blog posts for Google Finance doesn't have anything to do with the company ticker symbol. It works off a search of the phrase of the full company name. It just looks like it's related to the ticker symbol, since that's how the Google finance page itself is organized, and many finance articles are written in a style of "[name] China Repression Associate Personnel [symbol] (Nasdaq: CRAP) ..."

This is very clear if you look at a company with a long name, such as e.g. "Check Point Software". You'll likely see many articles which make it clear that what matters is name, not symbol. So if you have a post about "Secure Computing (SCUR)", it's the "Secure Computing" part which matters, not the "(SCUR)" (the best phrase to use there is actually "Secure Computing Corporation". At best, the ticket symbol is a related word, but by no means the primary ranking factor.

Spammers have already discovered this use of blogs, so it'll probably be changed soon. But while the fun lasts, remember to Google-bomb with the correct target.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on March 30, 2006 06:47 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)
March 27, 2006

In Favor Of NOT blogging

I'd been saving some of the following material for a big retrospective article, but a discussion today against corporate blogging is a good occasion for writing this post, and makes it not completely self-indulgent.
For example: Seven rules for corporate blogging:

[#1] Don't do it. If you have no compelling business reason to get involved in the blogosphere, then don't. While there's no evidence, beyond a few anecdotes, that corporate blogging leads to better business results, there are clearly risks. If you give bloggers too much freedom, they may "go native" and tarnish your reputation by writing something stupid. If you try to rein them in, you'll be attacked for being a dinosaur. That's a lose-lose situation - the kind companies should avoid if at all possible. And don't buy that nonsense about needing to have "conversations" with the marketplace. That's an ideology, not a strategy.

When I started my blog, there was some very deliberate thinking involved. One idea was that, basically, I didn't have anything to lose. I was being attacked every single day, by a Slashdot "editor", and it seemed to me that anything at all that helped me counteract those attacks was likely worthwhile. And a somewhat "personal" tone was probably a good idea, since free-speech activism involves emotionally stirring arguments. Moreover, given that I was relentlessly portrayed so negatively, presenting myself as some sort of business-etiquette-rules person wasn't going to work (not to mention that I couldn't do it anyway).

But, there's costs involved. There's definitely evidence that decision hurt me, in my (failed) quest for a policy position. It wasn't the only negative there, by far, but it seemed to be a negative. The blog evangelists, being evangelists, do not like to serious consider the negative aspects of what they preach. It's akin to a pitch for quack medicine - good for what ails you, no side-effects whatsoever.

Going through this discussion with marketing types sometimes seems a trip through every cognitive flaw, designed to play on thinking errors, so as to lead a person to the wrong answer (but an answer profitable to the marketing types). There's the lottery/stock-speculation argument ("Look, look, that person bought a hot stock, and made a killing" - yeah, but how many others lost everything?). There's social reinforcement bias ("I read your blog, and love it" - but how many people are going to use it against me, and have far more power than you?). There's emotional appeals to frustrated hopes and dreams ("A Voice In The Conversation" - where if you're not on the relevant A-list, it's actually more like ranting on a streetcorner, and then saying maybe you like ranting on a streetcorner). Not to mention the option of personal attack ("Since it works for everyone worthy, if it doesn't work for you, you must not be worthy").

Anyway, these days I'm thinking more and more that for me, the costs/benefits have shifted in favor of not blogging. That, though I had my reasons, and it might even be argued to have been a good idea at the time, it's definitely not a good idea now. I've essentially been driven out of activism, and being gainfully employed is much more attractive than being marginalized. Note this doesn't mean there are no benefits - it means it's not worth the costs. The fact that the skeptical side considers a weighing of positives and negatives, while the marketing side seems to follow a cultist reinforcement of only favorable evidence, inclines me to believe that the skeptical side is right and the marketing side is wrong.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on March 27, 2006 05:19 PM | (Infothought permalink)
March 22, 2006


With the end of the Nitke case, it's clear everyone involved is disappointed. The problem with taking on tough tasks is that, by definition, it's a tough task. Fighting the good fight is no guarantee of victory. I've come to know some of the people involved, and how much they've put into this case.

I suppose, on a personal level, I came out of it OK. I didn't get attacked (deposed and cross-examined in testimony, but I could handle that, it was conducted professionally). I made some friends, and will be warmly recommended (though I don't think I'm connected enough to get any $110/hour expert-witness gigs, those are political plums, at least I can ruefully note another "dues payment" to The Cause). I did my best, helped with what I could, and at times that's just not enough to win.

This case was my last big "open" civil-liberties task. I too often think I'm going to get my big break, and be vaulted to netgeek rockstardom (or at least some level above street performer). But that's a delusion. It won't happen unless either I strike it rich (so I can buy the necessary attention), or get a prestigious policy position (so the institution directs attention to me) - both of which, contrary to some myth, are relatively difficult and improbable. Otherwise, I'm going to be slogging in obscurity forever.

Now that this case is over, I think yet another reason for me to keep a blog is gone. I thought there might be something to "citizen journalism" coverage. But again, I think any objective assessment of the results would have to be negative. Nobody is going to read me just for the very occasional update. And as I keep asking, what's so great about being an unpaid freelancer?

Posting will be light/attic-cleaning mode due to real work and other writing. Blog is not quite dead (yet?), but "Life Trumps Blogging".

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on March 22, 2006 11:49 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3)
March 20, 2006

"Justices Pass on Internet Obscenity Case"

[This is about the Nitke v. Gonzales case, where I'm an expert witness. Check the The Wirenius Report Blog, from the case's main lawyer John Wirenius, for first-hand information in the near future. ]

[UPDATE 3/21: See "Supreme Abdication", John Wirenius' follow-up]

Justices Pass on Internet Obscenity Case

By GINA HOLLAND The Associated Press Monday, March 20, 2006; 10:27 AM

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court turned back an appeal on Monday from a photographer who claimed a federal decency law violated her free-speech rights to post pictures of sadomasochistic sexual behavior on the Web.

Justices affirmed a decision last year by a special three-judge federal panel upholding the 1996 law which makes it a crime to send obscenity over the Internet to children. ...

[I'm not sure they affirmed, versus refused to hear, those are different actions.
Update: 2:30 pm - Ouch! "The Judgment is Affirmed". ]

Sigh ... see: An Overview of Nitke v. Ashcroft:

However, the definition of "obscenity" approved in Miller does not fit well in an online world; it is based in part on the harmful effects that adult book and video stores have on the quality of life of a neighborhood, and further defines what is obscene by whether or not the material is "patently offensive" under "local community standards" based on geographic locality. See also Hamling v. United States, 418 U.S. 87, 99 (1974). Whether, and how, such a definition can apply to cyberspace has not yet been resolved by the Supreme Court.

[Again, what good does this tiny blog-squeak do, against the sheer volume of the Associated Press, and the inevitable blog echoing? sad face ]

Update: Official press release:

"We have proven that Miller does not work," says Susan Wright, Spokesperson for NCSF. "But the Supreme Court has declined to strike it down at this time. That means every website on the Internet can be judged by the most repressive local community standards in the U.S."
"We knew that the Bush administration was laying its plans to prosecute sexually explicit material on the Internet," says John Wirenius, attorney for the plaintiffs. "By filing our lawsuit in 2001, we may have slowed the Justice Department from prosecuting obscenity in 2002-3, but the number of obscenity prosecutions has steadily increased ever since. We believe in fighting this battle and we took our fight all the way to the Supreme Court."

"I think we've achieved a great victory in drawing attention to how politicized our judicial system has become," says co-plaintiff Barbara Nitke, a fine art photographer who explores sexual relationships in her work. "Our obscenity laws are outmoded, especially in conjunction with the Internet. We've made a huge dent in how obscenity will be judged in the future, and I hope others will now stand up and continue to fight against repressive laws like this."

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in legal , nitke-v-ashcroft | on March 20, 2006 11:35 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
March 17, 2006 - spam result

In Google Terrorists on Yahoo, Philipp Lenssen asks

When you search Yahoo UK/ Ireland for "google", the fifth result will be for... "". What's that, a Yahoobomb?

[Thanks Eric of Mechanical Turk Monitor.]

Update: Something similar happens when you search for "mcdonaldsforshizzo" (the second result for me is ""). [Thanks Maurizio M.]

(also Search Engine Watch)

These seem to be results of web-spamming, perpetuating itself by pages being scraped and re-scraped. It's not clear how it started. But I conjecture the tag after the "#" seems to be so that they can track which spamming pages are working.

Yahoo is being affected by the spam-pages.

Here's some examples (*not* linked, since these are spam!)
(note there's a tag "#darwin" there)

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on March 17, 2006 07:38 PM | (Infothought permalink)
March 15, 2006

Google Subpoena Hearing Result - Of Mountains, Mice, and Elephants

Now we know the Google subpoena hearing result:

A lawyer for the Justice Department told [Judge] Ware that the government would like to have a random selection of 50,000 Web addresses and 5,000 random search requests from Google, a small fraction of the millions the government originally sought.

As the saying goes, the mountain has labored and brought forth a mouse.

To save myself typing, I'll just quote Andrew Orlowski's take:

For the hearing today was a charade in several ways. Google and Justice department attorneys had already agreed on the scope of the data to be transferred, in private negotiations before today's hearing - for which the Judge complemented both parties.

So why hold it at all?

Because the hearing allows both parties to clean up their tarnished public reputations.

It's all been a serious of misreporting, hype, and more importantly, a projection of people's worries onto a convenient target. Because, further, the real problem is not going to be so openly discussed, and elephant in the room.

Under the PATRIOT Act, Federal officials can undertake wide ranging data mining requests on Google's treasure trove of information. And not only is Google unable to refuse such requests - it can't even talk about them.

There's a deep issue with search engines as Big Brother's agents. But it's hard to get people's attention about that, given the secrecy surrounding the serious problem. So a relatively trivial searching data study was drafted as a stand-in for the, ahem, sexy topic.

Hopefully there's been consciousness-raising. We'll find out.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on March 15, 2006 09:02 AM | (Infothought permalink)
March 13, 2006

IAC v. Citrin, file deletion and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

Bob Helmer sent me a note about International Airport Centers, LLC v. Citrin, which involves:

The Seventh Circuit United States Appeals Court has ruled that employees cannot unlawfully delete their computers before handing them back to their employers. International Airport Centers (IAC) sued Jacob Citrin, a former employee, after he returned a laptop whose contents had been erased with a deletion program.

In a three to none decision the court said that Citrin violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act by installing a secure delete program. In addition the court said that Citrin effectively terminated his employment, not when he turned in the laptop, but when he started doing personal business while still being employed at IAC.

Despite hype elsewhere, it's been well-analyzed by: Groklaw: IAC v. Citrin - Deleting Files a Crime?, so I'll just point to that:

I know if I were on the jury, I'd find it hard to view such a [secure delete] program as a cracker tool, since I use the Mac OSX secure delete option every time I delete anything from trash. So, unlike Judge Posner, I just can't view it as an evil hacker tool, the way he does. However, if the guy deliberately destroyed the materials so as to prevent IAC from being able to compete, and the materials belonged to them and they had no other copy, obviously that isn't right either, and the wording of the CFAA [Computer Fraud and Abuse Act] then might well seem to cover what he did. But their other claims under state law are certainly sufficient to deal with that kind of behavior. What happened was, as I see it, a dance to keep it in federal court. That doesn't mean that in the end he'll be found guilty of violating the CFAA necessarily, but it does mean that anyone in the Seventh Circuit now can be, if the circumstances are right.

However, I personally found the most interesting part of the analysis to be:

And you'll notice that he bases his argument not on the parts of the CFAA that the plaintiffs cited but on [a different section]. When you see judges helping one side out like that it generally means that they are looking for a way to pin the guilty party, in their estimation. Frankly, if a judge wants to get you, you're going to get got. They know how.

In the past, I've had long arguments over risks regarding "authorization" and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The problem is that any truth residing between pseudojournalistic wolf-criers, and overconfidence in the opposite direction, still ends up in a bad place.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in legal | on March 13, 2006 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink)
March 11, 2006

On the Alleged "Outing" of Secure Computing's Chief Blacklister

Politics is not harmless.

I've been watching the controversy over certain alleged fetishes of Secure Computing's chief blacklister. From one perspective, the way it's been handled would make a good Monty Python comedy routine, something I'll parody as:

"The Minister Of Silly Posts has issued the following statement: "I shall have nothing to do with the rumors that my opponent likes to wear lady's knickers on his head, and eat peanut butter from his partner's private areas. His alleged extremely weird sexual fetishes should not be an issue in this campaign. Even if the reports of his multiple drunken orgies were true, no laws were broken, and all attendees were consenting adults. As there has been no credible evidence he has seduced underage schoolgirls, exchanged drugs for sex, or sold his office to High Street tarts, we should strive to keep this campaign on a higher level. That is all. Thank you."

[I'm sure going to get some strange keyword searches with that paragraph!]

The debate on the morality of "outing" is extensive in general, and I'm not going to go over it here. I am only going to make a meta-observation:

I am now SO GLAD that I did not volunteer to be the human sacrifice, err, main proponent, of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) anti-circumvention rulemaking exemption for censorware, this time around. Because there's going to be a backlash, and I'm happy *not* to be a tempting target. Writers for the number-1 blog can defend themselves, in a way that a Z-lister can't (so much for the blog mythology).

I'm told one never knows who is reading, so if anyone from the Library Of Congress committee is lurking out there - THIS is the sort of politics that I've tried to convey is not a reasonable background for determinations of fair use to allow research. Is my point clear? Could it be any more, err, explicit? Of course you try your best, I know that. But the fact remains, the DMCA process is broken.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on March 11, 2006 11:20 AM | (Infothought permalink)
March 08, 2006

Updated summaries of Censored Censorware Research

I've added one-line summaries to the material linked in my page of Censored Censorware Reports. These are general descriptions of censorware research which I could not complete and publish, due to fear of legal liability, and being marginalized. I've wanted to improve that page somewhat, and the recent interest in censorware due to attention from a gatekeeper seemed a good reason to go back to it. If you've already seen it, it's not worth re-reading (for the summaries, rather than in general). But there might be new or casual readers who would have an interest in what won't be done, because of the lack of support for my research.

I still regret having to write-off all that work, since a huge amount of effort went into it (some bits and pieces were usable here and there, but much remained a total loss). But nowadays the realistic choice is just between bad (write it off) and worse (ignored AND possible lawsuit).

As the saying goes: "Remember, no matter how hard you work, no matter how right you are - sometimes the dragon wins."

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on March 08, 2006 11:57 PM | (Infothought permalink)
March 07, 2006

BBoing: "Did Secure Computing lie about amount of net porn to tout SmartFilter?"

BBoing, reposting Yorkshire Ranter:

Interesting tidbit from the Yorkshire Ranter about a 2004 "porn study" issued by Secure Computing (makers of SmartFilter, the censorware company that sells tools of oppression to dictators and labels every Boing Boing post as "nudity," even though 99.5% of Boing Boing's posts do not contain nudity.)

"Take this report they put out back in 2004. Apparently there were 307,000 pages of feeelthy pictures in the .st domain, Sao Tome's TLD. Which would have been mildly interesting, if it had been the truth. ..."

Ah, I remember that "study" well.

SmartFilter / Secure Computing Web Porn Study is "Fabricated", claims target and Update

.NU Domain Ltd, the US-based operator of the .nu top level domain name registry, today announced that it will take legal action against Secure Computing Corporation (NASDAQ:SCUR) for making false claims that .NU Domain is hosting millions of pages of pornographic material. The company also stated that it will take legal action against anyone who republishes this inaccurate and defamatory study.

They never did take that legal action.

I thought of getting involved in some way, but let it pass. Nobody (essentially) would have heard me debunk the "study", so why bother?

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on March 07, 2006 11:58 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
March 06, 2006

Resisting The Temptation To Ever Do Censorware Research Again

BBoing's latest on censorware banning translation service:

"It's hard to believe that Secure Computing would behave so irresponsibly as to actually block access to a translation service just to keep its censorware from collapsing."

Sigh ... November 16 2000 - SmartFilter's Greatest Evils - "Abstract: This paper examines what the censorware product SmartFilter considered to be the worst websites, as measured by the number of categories under which the site was blacklisted. It was discovered that two broad classes of websites were maximally blacklisted. These were privacy/anonymity service sites, and language-translation services. In retrospect, this is in fact an obvious requirement of censorware, as any private or anonymous browsing ability is antithetical to the goal of control in censorware."

August 2001 - BESS's Secret LOOPHOLE (censorware vs. privacy & anonymity) - "Abstract: This report examines a [then] secret category in N2H2's censorware ... This category turns out to be for sites which must be uniformly prohibited, because they constitute a LOOPHOLE in the necessary control of censorware. The category contains sites which provide services of anonymity, privacy, language translation, humorous text transformations, even web page feature testing, and more."

This is what marginalization looks like.

I can decrypt and write and blog ... IT'S NOT HEARD!!!

I'm even on the first page of results for a Google search on "SmartFilter". Which debunks the pollyanna argument that you can toss the information out there, into the ocean of webpages, like a message in a bottle, and it'll be found by the magic Google.

I can't say I haven't experienced temptation over the last week. But I think I've been shown once more that, at best, I'm going to have the research ignored and later others will get the credit, and at worst, I'm going to hurt my life (note, again!) by making myself a target. Caveat, that last sentence encompasses a few things I shouldn't discuss in public. But, even so, the objective results seem re-affirmed :-(.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on March 06, 2006 11:58 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3)
March 05, 2006

Welcome "Daily Rotation" Readers

Daily Rotation

"Daily Rotation" ("Quick Loading Headlines From 300+ Tech Sites") has added InfoThought to its list of tech headlines ("we think highly of Infothought"). Thanks!

[Disclaimer/disclosure: One of the people who runs the site is a net-friend from way back, but he never said anything about it to me before, and I never heard of it before, or asked anything related.]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in press | on March 05, 2006 11:43 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
March 03, 2006

_Nitke_ Net Censorship Case Progress Update

Update on the Nitke v. Gonzales court case, which concerns Internet censorship and the conflict between US obscenity law and the global properties of the Net. I'm an expert witness.

The following is a post echoed from The Wirenius Report Blog, from the case's main lawyer John Wirenius:

Monday, February 20th, 2006
1:09 pm Just a Quick Note

Blogging has been light for the past two weeks, because of another round of briefing in Nitke v. Gonzales. Very briefly, the state of play is this: Our jurisdictional statement (a document asserting that (1) the case is before the Supreme Court as of right, and (2) that the Court should order full briefing and oral argument, rather than just decide it on limited papers) was filed in late October, 2005. The Government obtained one extension of time to file a response from the Court, and then asked for two more from us. Because the briefing calendar wouldn't be affected materially as far as I can tell--the Court has a pretty full docket for this term already, we granted the extensions (not to mention the Court would have, traditionally, given them anyway).

The Government filed its response on February 9, 2006. The Government did not contest that the case was properly before the Supreme Court, but requested that the Court affirm the lower court decision against us on limited briefing, without argument. We have a right of reply--limited to ten pages--and are filing our reply brief this week.

All of these documents will be made available on

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in nitke-v-ashcroft | on March 03, 2006 11:40 PM | (Infothought permalink)
March 02, 2006

The Censorware Taint-Of-Blood Topic

[Non-echo, historical, material below. You won't find it in any other blog before here]

I rarely get a chance to write the following, so I'm going to cheerlead BoingBoing's latest censorware post:

While we don't know which internet filtering product/s is/are to blame in other cases, we're hearing that several other blogs with large audiences, including Wonkette, have just become inaccessible for many fans (including active duty US Marines overseas, hooray freedom!). Censorware is a blunt tool that renders harmless information inaccessible, and fails to prevent "bad stuff" from leaking in. The economic and social impact of internet filtering is a much bigger story than the fact that BoingBoing or Wonkette are blocked -- but if products like SmartFilter dump blogs that post Michelangelo's "David" in the same sandbox as porn sites, just how smart can these products really be?

Yay! Yay! Go, Boingers!! It's so nice to see that shouted from the mountain-top, instead of squeaked from the basement.

Now, though, let me pull out a post from my archives. Compare:

Unfair, Dan. What I told you was:

"On a user home page, generally indicated by the ~, we assume that said user could add additional inappropriate content at any time, so we block the root directory or tilde directory where we find the info. In this case, it is kip."

This is a general rule, which we apply to *any* user homepage that contains adult material. Not specifically to any one user, as you seem to imply below.

We apply the rule based on experience -- users do add new pages/directories of material to their sites. If we blocked each page, page by page, we would have a list that would soon grow too large for our users PCs. And of course, our users can over-ride our list at any time, or not use it at all if they so choose.

And, you are correct, when you have a general rule, it may not be perfect. We are trying to make it better.

One way we do that is by working with site owners who want to isolate their adult material in an easily identifiable directory so we can restrict only the adult material. We would be more than happy to do that with ~kip or any other site that believes that it has material of both kinds -- appropriate for children and inappropriate for children.

Our job is to provide the best possible product for our users. I think we do that. I also think we get better every day, in part because of the feedback we get from our users and the 'net community.

Guess when that was from.

1997. A mailing-list message from Cyberpatrol's then PR-flack (who I actually asked today if she minded my posting that, she said it was a public message, so I could use it. She doesn't work there anymore, no personal views should be inferred).

That is, people were complaining about whole sites being blacklisted for a few files, around a *decade ago* (sigh ...). And censorware companies were saying PR things about it.

So I'm not sure it's different this time :-(.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on March 02, 2006 11:27 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
March 01, 2006

PR Flacking Strategy and Secure Computing v. BoingBoing

In following some of the postings about BoingBoing Censorware'd as Nudity, I was intrigued by Susan Getgood's assessment. This is notable since it's coming from a past PR flack for a censorware company (CyberPatrol/SurfControl):

What I am interested in are the PR and business implications. Because this will end up being more than just a PR firestorm that will blow over in a few weeks. This will become a business nightmare. Blogs are going to spread the word further faster and more furiously than we ever faced in the old days of the Communications Decency Act. And the folks at BoingBoing have much more clout -- through the blog and their other business and personal interests -- than any of the opponents the filtering companies faced before.

Figure it out fast, Secure -- blogs *are* more than just "personal diaries" and now, you've got the most popular one in the world gunning for you.

Like I said, glad I'm outta this space!!!!!

I'm interested in the PR implications too, but from the opposite perspective :-).

Hmm. I have a hard time making an estimate, since the Boingers operate on a whole different level from me, being that they're on top of blog-mountain (my first instinct is to refer to how little blogging has helped my own anti-censorware activism, but that's not relevant, since I'm a marginalized Z-lister). However, I can think of a couple of obvious tactics that Secure Computing's flacks could take, which I won't detail now since I don't want to give them ideas.

My sympathies are of course clear. But I'm also quite Eeyore-ish after all I've seen happen.

[Update - Susan Getgood, from comments - "Seth - You didn't quote my whole post. I said that Secure had made a bad decision, in the initial categorization, and how they handled it subsequently.". Right, I took that as understood from the context, though I'm happy to add this update if it was unclear.]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on March 01, 2006 11:48 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)