Jan.-Feb. 2011 Quick Links, Part 2

By Eric Goldman

Search Engines

Google’s search algorithm has been very much in the news the past 2 months!

* Google’s announcements:

- “Google search and search engine spam

- Matt Cutts explains Google penalties in a video.

- “Microsoft’s Bing uses Google search results—and denies it.” Comments from Search Engine Land and Greg Linden (on privacy)

- Interview with Amit Singhal on content farming

* Google publicly penalized numerous targets, including

- JC Penney, punished for black hat SEO (the 4th time Google had penalized them).

- Overstock, punished for coopting too many .edu domains

- Forbes, punished for passing PageRank to paid links

- Then, Google dropped the hammer on content farms

The running question with all of these changes: should we praise—or regulate—Google for fighting back against the algorithm gamers? My 2006 article on search engine bias answers that question. I recently wrote a short essay updating the 2006 article—more on that soon.

* Speaking of regulators, they are hardly standing on the sidelines:

- EU regulators hate Google. They really hate Google.

- The Italian antitrust authority dropped its investigation into Google News after Google agreed to make it easier for publishers to opt-out.

- More details emerged on the Texas AG’s investigation into Google. WSJ and AllThingsD (including the actual letter). My prior blog post.

- Interestingly, FWIW, it’s not clear consumers are sold on the need for regulatory intervention. 77% of Americans say “there is no need for government regulation of the way that search engines select the recommendations they provide in response to search inquiries.” Then again, survey wording is key. I could see an equal percentage say that we should prevent search engine bias.

* Questions about Google’s algorithms:

- Techdirt: “Will Google’s New Hamfisted Censorship On Autocomplete Raise Questions Of Human Meddling?”

- News.com: Google’s double standard on user-generated content

Privacy

* H.R. 654, “Do Not Track Me Online Act of 2011.” The law would require the FTC to promulgate regulations that “establish standards for the required use of an online opt-out mechanism to allow a consumer to effectively and easily prohibit the collection or use of any covered information and to require a covered entity to respect the choice of such consumer to opt-out of such collection or use.”

* Information Law Group’s 2010 privacy law recap.

* Jeff Jarvis: “the emergence of Privacy, Inc., as a industry built on scaring people is beginning to scare me.”

Remember, every regulation creates winners and losers, and we should always ask what’s in it for the winners. On that score, see James D. Campbell et al, Privacy Regulation and Market Structure, reaching the conclusion: “privacy regulation can benefit incumbents and reduce innovation.”

* Lyall v. City of Los Angeles, Not Reported in F.Supp.2d, 2011 WL 61626 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 6, 2011). Publicizing an event on MySpace made the event space into a public place for purposes of a police search.

* After Pineda v. Williams-Sonoma treating zip codes as private information, a flood of lawsuits. In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling, Sacramento urgently needs to make a statutory fix to Song-Beverly to avoid business-sapping and socially wasteful litigation.

* FTC: Data Resellers Liable for Downstream Security Failures

Social Media/Web 2.0

* Reuters: “Companies warily eye new consumer complaint sites”

* Mountain View Voice: Contractor files big claim for bad Yelp review.

* Teacher is suspended for blogging about her “whiny” students. Compare Yoder v. Univ. of Louisville.

* Reuters recaps e-discovery of social networking site content.

* NYT: Is blogging passé?

* Facebook ads have really low clickthrough rates, but the clickthrough rate improves if another user “likes” the ad.

* Unintended consequences of CA’s E-personation law are beginning to manifest themselves. Apple goes after the @ceostevejobs parody Twitter account.

* NYT surveys some esoteric niche online dating websites.

* U.S. v. Forde, 2011 WL 63831 (4th Cir. Jan 10, 2011):

In a post-trial motion, Forde informed the district court that while the trial was proceeding, a friend of the husband of the jury foreperson posted on Twitter an explanation of the difference between “assume” and “presume.” Ford contended that, since the posting occurred during trial, it was possible that the jury foreperson had talked to her husband about the case, her husband then talked to his friend about the case, the friend then posted the statement on Twitter, and the foreperson saw the Twitter posting. Forde thus requested that the district court hold a hearing to investigate the potential misconduct. The district court denied the request.

…Forde’s string of possibilities about the origin of the Twitter posting—that the foreperson possibly talked to her husband, who possibly talked to his friend, who possibly took to Twitter in response to what the husband possibly told him—is nothing but speculation and thus falls far short of establishing reasonable grounds for investigation. The district court therefore did not err by denying Forde’s request for an evidentiary hearing to investigate his claim.