June 2006 Quick Links

By Eric Goldman

I have had virtually no Internet access over the past 10 days due to my move and travels, so my Bloglines account was bulging with more than 1700 articles. Here’s a quick look at some of the items that have caught my attention this month:

* The FTC announced its own data breach due to a stolen laptop. Hmm…is it just me, or is this incident dripping with irony?

* Microsoft appears to be in its “benevolent” dictator mode again. Last year I blogged about how Microsoft made the unilateral decision to wipe some “malicious” software off users’ computers without user notice or consent. (If it makes you feel any better, AOL has done the same thing). Now, Microsoft is installing mandatory software that phones home and doesn’t tell users it’s phoning home. Most people would categorize the phone home capability as spyware, and I’ll be interested to see how the undisclosed feature doesn’t violate 18 USC 1030(a)(2)(C). Yet, as Andy Patrizio wonders, where’s the outrage? The consumer protection lawsuits? Andy writes:

All manner of hell broke loose over the major phone companies reportedly cooperating with the National Security Agency over international phone calls, but the news that Microsoft is watching every single Windows XP PC has been met with deafening silence.

Suzi rounds up the situation.

[UPDATE: First lawsiut over WGA filed. I’m sure more are coming.]

* JP Enterprises v. Yahoo, No. 06-cv-01046-REB-PAC (D. Colo. amended complaint filed June 6, 2006). Complaint against Yahoo Dating and other dating sites for purchasing keywords of a competitor, LoveCity. I’m not optimistic about the plaintiff’s chances here, given that it doesn’t seem to understand the differences between metatags and keyword triggers. Also, note the irony that Yahoo is buying ads from competitor Google.

* The WSJ writes about the accuracy of recommendation engines. The article explains how consumers make some decisions based on brand perceptions rather than actual utility they derive from the product. As a result, recommendation engines do a better job serving consumer desires by watching consumer behavior rather than relying on self-reported consumer preferences.

This also raises interesting implications for the role of brands in the search process. Brands may help consumers find what they think they are looking for, but at the same time may interfere with utility maximization. To avoid this, one recommendation engine contemplated hiding brands from the consumers.

* Heidi Cohen states the obvious. (Well, she and I think it’s obvious, but apparently most marketers still don’t get it.) Marketers are in the content publishing business, so they need to think like publishers, not marketers. And, from a policy standpoint, this continues to reinforce the illusory line between marketing content and editorial content.

* Another shocker: Marketers pay-for-placement in editorial content in print publications.

* Michael Scott (from his new blog, Singularity) writes a fun article about the implications of three generations of cyberlawyers: the veteran “computer lawyers” from the 1980s (that includes him), the dot com boomers from the 1990s (which I belong to), and the post-dot com busters from the 2000s.

* More evidence of “banner blindness.” As usual, consumers can organically adjust to annoying marketer tactics if legislators avoid jumping into the fray.

* Finally, an article on fake consumer reviews. This is hardly the first article on the topic, but interestingly it hints that some merchants may be outsourcing/offshoring the creation of fake reviews. Forget click fraud shops in India and gold farming in China; those are passe. Instead, here’s a new possible tort for you plaintiffs’ lawyers–review “fraud”?