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The Net Takeaway: Why can't companies police themselves?

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Why can't companies police themselves? · 03/05/2006 03:13 PM, Marketing

I get annoyed with greed. Its boring. Watching good things get destroyed by unrelenting yearning for more is all the more painful because it doesn’t have to be.

I’ve raged before about affiliate spam, which I believe to be the number one reason email has had such huge increases in fear. Spam was driven completely by affiliate links, and only in the past few years have other scams come along to phish and trojan in these waters.

Now, look at “splogging”, or blogs set up simply to get foolish people to click on the adsense links. Through typosquatting and other techniques, these people create networks of websites which link to each other and raise rankings, and simply show ads.

Google, like the affiliate sponsors, say that they aren’t responsible for how people use their products, and that its impossible to police them.

Yet somehow, mere mortals from the outside, without access to internal data, somehow seem to be able to track and detect splogging networks. Since August, 2005, the Fighting Splog blog has detected and reported thousands of these pseudo-sites. While he (or she) gets little response from Google, sometimes they are shut down, and sometimes not.

Now, one could say, “Why should Google spend any money at all trying to clean up? Volunteers like this sucker will do it all for free!”. That’s greed talking again. If we believe the world will be a better place, both those on the outside and the inside of an experience or situation have to work together. Google should be doing everything it can to either build up this talent base inside its org, and/or provide data feeds and tools which would empower outside judges to assist in detecting scumbags.

There are always the “who watches the watchers” people who immediately throw up edge cases (which, by definition, are rare or they wouldn’t be edge cases, they would be part of the border definition) and imply that some judges would attack legit groups who seem spammy, that lots of people would be abused, how do you set the guidelines, etc., etc. We hear the same thing about affiliates: for every 10,000 scumbag spams, there is a legit affiliate link by some small guy trying to make a few cents off recommendng a product he likes. How do you define spam? etc. etc.

Yes, some edge cases might be hurt, and some scumbags might slip through. But given where we are going now, where vigilantes feel that they have to establish RBLs (blackhole lists to help ISPs block mail percieved by some arbitrary person to be bad) and sites like Fighting Splog, it seems time to shape up. There’s lots of pain far outside of the edge cases; you don’t have to solve 100% of the problem to happy about solving 80% of the problem.

I won’t even start to talk about the issues around spyware forcing, but you get my drift. Its time for companies to be the first to admit there are problems, and the first to show how they will fix it, instead of sitting on it until others are forced to solve their problems, sometimes incorrectly.

Do I disagree with the vigilante movement? I don’t if its rational. If it considers ways to mitigate harm, to allow appeals, to mete out punishment with justice. But looking at vigilante software installers who try to destroy the pocket pc of potential pirates or “you can’t get off of us ever” blocklists that corporations use without even thinking about what they are blocking… these are not rational reactions, and they are destroying the very thing they want to create: trust.

We talk of relevance in email all the time, but we dance around trust. I think we need to solve that one first. And companies like Google and Yahoo and MSN on the search side, and companies sending email on behalf of large corporations like e-Dialog, Responsys, ExactTarget, and DigitalImpact need to consider how they can both enable outsiders to help, and lay a foundation themeselves.

PS: I was pointed to a book review in the Boston Globe about a new book called Integrity by Henry Cloud. He points out that many successful companies are led by leaders who focus on honesty and truth. These are character traits which, when exemplified at the top, grow through an organization. Probably a good book to read soon.

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