Free linking is the lifeblood of the web, without it there would be no interconnections between websites in fact the web wouldn’t be so much a web as a load of separate entity sites which only come together in a list of search results. Imagine you had to get approval for every link you wanted to refer to? That could kill the web, couldn’t it?

There’s a court case going on in the U.S. which could decide the future for this. To me it seems impossible that this could ever get a ruling in favor of the plaintiff, but what if it did? Where would you see the web a year after linking was outlawed?

Court case details here (on The Boston Globe)… oops, that’s a link!

MicroHoo updates

February 23, 2008

Some updates on the Microsoft-Yahoo approach:

Kevin Johnson, president of Microsoft Platforms and Services Division sent an internal email yesterday. The email was obviously designed to be leaked (and ended up on Microsoft.com after it got into the blogosphere) judging by the language in it and the mentions of looking after both companies employees in the event of the merger going ahead. Trying to stop people jumping off the ship? Or just a good PR exercise?

Yahoo are facing another lawsuit, this time from some pension funds who claim that by declining the Microsoft offer they are not returning value to shareholders and are actually risking their investments by dragging it out looking for other parties to strike a deal with.

Lastly, Sergey Brin has expressed his nervousness at the deal going ahead, saying that ‘when you start to have companies that control the operating system, control the browsers, they really tie up the top Web sites, and can be used to manipulate stuff in various ways. I think that’s unnerving’.

So no progress really, rumours still fly about Yahoo trying to find anyone else to deal with and Microsoft seem confident as ever that the deal will go through in the end.

In a letter from Jerry Yang Yahoo have explained why they turned down the Microsoft bid. Is this just an attempt to appease them to prevent any further lawsuits (via Techcrunch)?

So Yahoo has settled the lawsuit with a number of Chinese dissidents who had filed a court case against them. The terms of settlement have not been disclosed.

The case had alleged that Yahoo had provided the Chinese government with information which helped them to prosecute the dissidents. No word on exactly what type of information Yahoo had handed over although one would suspect it could be search histories, email details, chat histories and possibly lists of websites visited.

So have they really breached the human rights of these dissidents? Well, the liberal in me thinks that they should never hand over any identifiable information to anyone else, I would be outraged if my details were misused in this way. But then, wouldn’t the same happen in the UK? If I broke a law then Yahoo would happily hand over my email if the government requested it.

I guess the difference in this case is that they are dissidents living under a restrictive regime. Therefore by handing over the information Yahoo have put these poor people in danger which is inexcusable morally. However, it is understandable from a business point of view, if Yahoo refused they would have risked being switched off in the largest populated country in the world which would have damaged their business considerably.

I would imagine it was a pretty tough choice for Yahoo and although they chose the route which to me personally is wrong morally for them it was probably the right decision.

It seems that NY State have decided to settle with Facebook over the child safety probe I blogged about a few weeks back.

There’s no mention in the Reuters story of exactly what the settlement entails, but Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said that he planned to hold a press conference on Tuesday “to announce a major development involving social networking Web sites.”

What could that be? A new law forcing social networks to better protect their users? A law forcing them to expose user data? Or maybe some kind of code of conduct that social networks will have to sign up to? My bet’s on a type of code of practice which if you don’t sign up to you get your ass sued!

It must be a sign of social networking success I reckon, first NY State now New Jersey State Attorney General Anne Milgram said on Tuesday her office has subpoenaed Facebook to discover whether convicted sex offenders in the state have profiles on the popular social networking site.

Milgram issued the subpoena on Monday to Facebook along with letters to 11 other social networking sites asking them to compare member accounts against a list of sex offenders.

Facebook has until October 12 to respond to the subpoena, which asks for all information concerning any user identified as a convicted sex offender.

I’m sure there will be more to come from other states as they all jump aboard the legal bandwagon with the latest hyper-successful social networking darling!

Facebook subpoenaed again

September 24, 2007

The popularity of Facebook is really starting to show, they’ve taken over the Myspace mantle and are getting hit by subpoenas.

In this latest one, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating Facebook accusing them of not keeping youngsters safe from sexual predators.

Undercover tests have been conducted of Facebooks safety controls and procedures which should protect innocent young users from solicitation by adults. These controls aren’t working according to Cuomo.

The problem here is that no matter how good the controls are users are likely to be too blaise about them and leave themselves open to approach. Quite how Facebook can control that I’m not sure. Also, the type of people who prey on youngsters are unfortunately likely to find ways around them by enticing users to interact in other ways.

It’s a really difficult issue; in an ideal world no one would ever be put in a position where this could happen, in reality with the internet being an open and free platform for communication, that will never be possible.

I hope the attorney generals office see this and instead of firing off legal requests go to the table with the big social networks and discuss ways this can be worked around.

Now if I had some spare cash I may be tempted by this!

Forbes report that a groundbreaking patent related to social networking is coming up for auction very soon. The “Jaipuria Patent”, U.S. Patent 7,047,202, and a pending continuation-in-part application, which are amongst the foremost patent filings related to the social networking industry. The Jaipuria Patent was filed in 2001 and claims priority to an earlier application filed in India in 2000 — before the growth of the social networking industry. These patent assets will be offered as Lot 54 at the Ocean Tomo Fall 2007 Live IP Auction on October 25th at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago.

The patent involves means for building a user and community driven secure social network, flexible privacy features for users in maintaining their online social network, and a means to refer users to one another via a referral network. In addition, the patent covers a social networking technology that is driven by user privacy features – fundamental to all successful social networking services today. Now that all sounds pretty familiar doesn’t it?

Other features are (quote from Forbes) ‘Among the many social network features disclosed and claimed in the patent and pending application are: fundamental technology used to develop and maintain an online social network; creating an online social network including individual users and groups; searching a social network to identify users and groups for keywords and then identifying a chain of contacts leading to the targeted user or group; flexibility in granting user defined privacy rights and access levels to control availability of user’s personal information and contacts with respect to others in user’s personal and extended network; process of anonymous referral networking using a link by link request forwarding system; and accessing and using social network via the Internet or wireless devices.

Now, Facebook, MySpace and Bebo all use these types of functions as fundamental parts of their services. I’m confused as to why the owner of this patent hasn’t tried taking legal action in the past. The only reason I can see for selling this is to try to make money from someone who may use it either in a lawsuit or to sell it to an existing network. Although if it hasn’t been used up to now then I’m a bit sceptical as to its value. Will be interesting to see what it goes for!

Now American Airlines has sued Google for allowing other advertisers to use it’s trademarks as keywords in pay per click advertising. The airline accuses Google of selling the right to use American Airlines’ trademarks and service marks or “words, phrases, or terms confusingly similar to those marks” to competitors who then direct searchers to their own web sites.

This isn’t the first time Google has faced such a lawsuit. Geico sued Google for the same reasons some time ago and lost, and apparently other cases are on the backburner.

This confuses me a little… We use Google extensively for PPC advertising and our highest converting keywords are our brand terms (as you’d expect). Every so often we find a rogue affiliate or competitor bidding on our brand name and we always report this to Google and they remove the offending adverts for us. To enable this kind of response we had to register our brand terms with Google. They don’t really police it actively but they do take down offending ads when asked.

So if the above is possible, why don’t American Airlines just ask for them to be taken down? I’m guessing that they expect Google to do this automatically and to not even allow the ads to appear in the first place. To enable that would be a hugely complex and time consuming development for Google and a fundamental change to the Adwords system. I’m guessing Google would rather not have to do that. But if American Airlines lose (like Geico) then surely Google should not be taking down our competitors ads (as it’s not been deemed illegal)?

Who knows! What I do know is that brand keyword advertising is very lucrative, it returns excellent ROI and is any search marketers meat and drink. Any threat to the way brand term advertising works could have a massive impact on Googles Adwords revenue. If lawsuits like this keep cropping up it is possible Google could ban advertising on trademarked terms for all to stem the tide of subpoenas, that would make PPC a much less attractive proposition!

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