Saturday, September 30, 2006

Reputation intelligence, to protect branding, would look at blogs


Since 2005, there have has been increasing attention to the concept of "reputation intelligence," with would be a service by which a consulting market research company mines the media, including blogs and profiles written by amateur consumers, for the impression that a particular brand is making on the public.

A good example of such a service is Factiva Insignt, web site here.

There is a LookSmart article about this company from Sept 2005 at this link.

Right now Wikipedia has a stub article on this concept.

This concept would seem to comport with the increasing trend for prospective employers to do "background investigations" of applicants on the Internet, mining the web for imporfation about applicants that may give clues as to their temperamental suitability for a job and how a visible employee's own personal reputation could affect a company's brand in some cases.

The HR industry is paying more attention to "rebranding," and in carefully training associates to participate in building a company's brand, especially when a brand's presentation to the public changes. Eric Krell has an article about this "Branding Together" in the Oct 2006 HR Magazine. I can remember that even internal technical employees were invited to "volunteer" at annual sales conferences where I worked back before 2001.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Making electronic communications evaporate

A new technology is emerging to allow separation of personal conversations and messages from business communications, and to allow the possibility of communications without leaving an audit trail, by encrypting messages and erasing them immediately after sending and receiving and reading.

All of this was reported in a Washington Times story, Brian Bergstein, “Messages to vanish in virtual vapors, System removes email records,” Sept. 25, 2006, at this link.

The company is called Void Communications LLC, and the product is called VaporStream Stream Messaging.

Specific information about this new company seems limited so far. A "Tech-Surf" blog by Graeme Thickin provides some description. The product provides the ability to keep sent and received messages from being seen at the same time, or from being copied or pasted. There are obvious law enforcement concerns that persons with malicious intent could use this technology to plot and cover their tracks.

To get an idea of how ad and public relations companies promote new companies like this, see Schwartz Communications.

Companies have often dealt with legal controversies over retention of email and other communications records. In some cases, there are legal incentives to erase communications, but in other cases, as with financial services, there are definite statutory record keeping requirements. But employees in a company might be inclined to use such a product to carry on personal business at work, and employers might be disinclined to offer it.

I always felt more comfortable if I had a record of all of my work-related communications. For example, I often preferred email to voice mail because I had a convenient record of what I had sent. In a broader sense, keeping records of work (even printouts), such as systems testing, for “CYA” purposes was often viewed as a controversial practice. It seems that if you have confidence in your work, you don't need to keep the evidence around.

In conjunction with the investigations of Congressman Mark Foley, commentators have pointed out that, while emails are saved by ISPs, IM's are not, unless the recipients save the IM's themselves. Police decoys will, of course, save IM's and chat logs as evidence. It is unclear if this new product could hinder such law enforcement techniques.

Note also that Vaporstream is also the name of an electric humidifier.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Jurisprudence slate.com column on blogs; concerns about unemployment claims


On Sunday, Spet. 24, 2006, The Washington Post ran, in the Outlook section (p B2), a column by Dahlia Lithwick, "Jurisprudence: Blog of A Death Foretold." The link is this, but the visitor may need a Post online subscription. The story was supposed to have been published on Slate, but I could not find it there.

The columnist brings up the point that many people who do not fit in and who feel hostile to social hiearchies or authority find psychological satisfaction by public self-exposure on the Web. (She talks about vampirefreaks.com; I'll decline to provide the direct link.) If they commit crimes, the police often use their Web postings as evidence. "And there are all sorts of legal implications in this explosion of virtual fingerprints -- not only with respect to solving crimes, but in terms of inspiring others." This brings up the enticement and coercion, and copycat problems, which have not yet been much explored legally in a passive setting.

Regulation, she points out, would be impractical and difficult (we know that from litigating COPA) when a social networing site like Myspace.com enrolls 230,000 new members per day (it has something like a hundred million subscribers). "As a legal matter, we still treat the Internet as though nothing on it is read."

Except by employers.

Wondering about implications for unemployment claims

When people qualify for state unemployment benefits and collect them, they must be actively looking for work. There are some guidelines. They may confine themselves to their field, and must accept as low as a percentage (often about 85%) of what they made. There are questions of temperament: if someone worked as a technician in the life insurance industry, must he/she consider a position as an agent if he/she doesn't consider sales as part of his/her mindset?

Here I would wonder if the presence of questionable blogs, personal sites or social networking profiles could become the basis for discontinuing an unemployment claim, on the theory that they would interfere with job searches, since employers have, according to repeated media stories in the past year or so, become well known for trolling personal sites and profiles as part of informal "background investigations."
I haven't heard about the potential unemployment compensation issue yet, but I wonder if that is the next shoe to drop.

(The picture here, for conceptual illustration, is the printing press at the Kansas City Star on McGee St in KCMO.)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Turinit.com and copyright controversy


On September 22, 2006 The Washington Post ran a story by Maria Glod, "Students Rebel Against Database Designed to Thwart Plagiarists". (Subscription may be needed to view the content at the Post.) The service is Turnitin.com, a for profit company that builds a database of high school and college student research papers, and gives teachers and schools the ability to check for plagiarism. But the service arguably helps students, who often have an opportunity to get a "sneak preview" report of potential copying or similarity problems, and also an idea of the appropriateness of their paraphrasing and of their bibliographic or footnoted citations.

There have been suggestions that by building the database of submitted papers, Turnitin is infringing upon copyrights implicitly owned by the students. Here is one such http://chronicle.com/free/v48/i36/36a03701.htm by Andrea Foster in the Journal of Higher Education. There are other services such as Copycatch CFL and Eve2 that check for collusion without retaining the papers. Some universitites, such as the University of Kansas (where I went to graduate school in the late 1960s) have suspended subscription to Turnitin.

This report does get into some philosophical issues. One is the ongoing debate on how well copyright law as a rule protects content creators and preserves their incentive to produce. The other is that an application of copyright law that sounds right in theory can be counterproductive in practice. This shows up in Tim's paper, next blog.

I rememeber well being taught to footnote and create bibliographies in high school English. (I remember that handwritten term paper, around 1959 in junior English, on James Fenimore Cooper's treatment of female characters well.) Indeed, the whole concept of linking from websites (discussed elsewhere on this blog) has its philosophical justification in bibliographic credits (which will be picked up and retained by search engines, making the original authors more visible in public).

The Washington Post followed up with a story Oct. 4, 2006, "Score One for McLean High School Students, by Maria Glod. The high school will require that freshmen and sophomores use the service, but will phase in the requirement for juniors and seniors.

I state an academic intergrity policy for my sites here.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Paper summarizing arguments about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)

Let me suggest that the visitor study a recent paper on the Ditigal Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), dated March 21, 2006, by Timothy B. Lee. The link is on Cato's site and is this.

The paper starts with an executive summary about Digital Rights Management, which protects not only content but attempts to regulate the technological tools with which content can be made available to others, even for purposes that could be legal according to fair use doctrines of copyright law. Mr. Lee compares the DMCA to making it against the law to jump over a fence specifically, when trespass law would already protect legitimate property rights.

The political danger is that the DMCA could increase the barriers to entry for newcomers in various digital media enterprises. It could put practical barriers in place for newbies to publish their content and make them available to readers for lower prices. Therefore, the DMCA raises questions not simply about copyright in the usual sense of an intellectual property right, but also in terms of political turf protection. It is an expression of a "pay your dues" view of life.

Mr. Lee spoke at a forum on April 26, 2006 at Cato in Washington DC: "Copyright Controversies: Freedom, Property, Content Creation and the DMCA, summary link here.

The conference raised basic philosophical questions about the extent to which copyright protection protects and encourages new content development. Within the writers community, there is somewhat of a cultural rift between those who write on assignment for others and are paid mostly by specific contracts (which often deny the writers electronic reproduction income, they say), and those who are motivated to produce content (often given away in an open source model) by their own ideas or passions.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Career Digest advisory on employers and personal blogs


An issue of the online newsletter Career Digest (Sept. 18, 2006, Vol 6. Issue 39) provides an article by Selena Dehne of JIST Publihshing, that claims refers to an ExecNet survey finding that 75% of recruiters investigate applicants by looking at the blogs, personal sites and profiles, and that 26% admit turning down candidates based on more personal stuff online.

The tone of the article tries to be positive, and suggests creating weblogs that are narrowly tailored to specialized accomplishments, and provide downloadable elements or portfolio-like materials of ones professional life. Of course, sometimes work that one has done for an employer or client is proprietary and it is not always simple to do this legally or safely.

It would seem that many career counselors would advise limiting blogging to one's area of expertise and staying away from social controversies. Imagine, for example, how and consulting firm that sends its associates to clients imagines this kind of issue. A client might be distracted by finding out that some consultant on its premises was "involved" in some social controversy that seems disturbing.

This leads us to a conundrum with most distrubing social and political consequences. Indeed, written material about some social issues (dealing with religions beliefs, sexuality, political affiliations, and the like) may on an intellectual level be perfectly legal and legitimate, but create a disturbing impression in the mindset of some people because of their own social backgrounds -- and they may be customers paying the mortgage. Partly for this reason, many people stay away from personally visible involvement in social controversy and depending or lobbying organizations or unions to represent them, often with some attitude of solidarity. Personal publishing with the help of search engines offers society the opportunity to turn this around. But fear of employer reaction -- and of expected social conformity -- could well keep special interests alive and keep many political issues polarized, as they often have been in the past. Many people may want it this way, because their livelihoods depend on politicizing issues into bureaucratic hierarchies. Call it "partisanship." So where new tecnology will allow ordinary people to break this up is really up for grabs now, given all the reports about the way employers are reacting.

I have advocated that employers develop blogging policies, and tailor them to the job to be offered. A job in which an associate will be known publicly to be connected to the company or will be known personally by clients is certainly more sensitive to the effect of personal blogging and social networking. Blogging policies could become as routine a part of the workplace as are computer usage policies today.

I had an impromptu conversation on a plane today that pointed out that even low level employees of tech firms can be in a position to give away damaging secrets on personal blogs, and many more tech companies have very recently been taking this very seriously. Whole contracts can be lost because of leaks from individual employees. But this sounds like a simpler area, dealing with confidential information and trade secrets. Employment policies have always required that these not be disclosed, even outside of work.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

HR 5553 Section 115 Reform Act and fair use in copyright law


Electronic Frontier Foundation has been warning that there will be a vote soon in the House on a measure that could seriously affect the fair use concept in copyright law, as we know it, at least with respect to digital and video media. The law would include the legal rights of "distribution" to consider transmission over the Internet (to some extent this is legitimate, if one is talking about downloading movies for a fee the way they are now rented from Netflix or Blockbuster, or the way they are accessed from Cable companies). But the law would apparently require licenses to hold temporary copies of digital media in computer memory caches or temporary files.

EFF supplies a form letter to Congress at this link.

The EFF newsletter "Deep Links" has another discussion from June 4, 2006 at this link.

A related article concerns a lawsuit by Perfect 10 against a search engine company regarding caches. There are tricky concepts running around here. Remember the controversy over deep linking (further down on this web) Theoretically, Perfect 10 could be insisting that anyone who links to an infringing site (usually a search engine) is guilty of particpatory copyright infringement. That would end linking as we know it, despite favorable court rulings that links are essentially biblographic references if done right.

Search engine caches have gotten attention because they sometimes linger after the original material has been removed, exposing people to employers (the "myspace problem: below on this blog) or unfavorable action that they want to reverse. (Can you "undoredo" on the Internet?) There have been questions as to whether they are unauthorized copies, but search engine companies do remove them when requested.

Some sites seem to be blocking certain sites from linking to them. I have seen this in rare cases. They may be blocking all links with some mechanism to prevent bandwidth problems or DOS attacks. I am not sure how this works technically. (Someone may want to comment.) In these cases, the visitor can usually see the linked site by just typing the URL into the browser, or (for deep links with long url's) by going to the referenced site's home page and using the site's own search function the way the site owner intends. I can understand this practice if needed to present abuse but it could give the visitor the false impression that the site does not work.

When it rains it pours: More on social networking sites today


NBC4 in Washington DC had another report on employers and social networking sites tonight (9/14). It reported a site, bruinpied.com ("bear foot"?) that has been keeping track of this issue, and the site had several more reports of firings for personal blogs, either because of talking about the workplace or conflict of interest. The report also mentioned that some federal agencies were, under the Patriot Act, bypassing facebook privacy settings to see facebook profiles of applicants even when the applicants had not intended them to be "global." The report related the story of one college student who wrote a spoof or satire about resume falsification online, and found no recruiters would call him. When he removed the profile, they started calling.

The July-September 2006 issue of SHRM Staffing Management contains an article by Steve Taylor: "Seeking Secrets in Cyberspace: To surf or not to surf when checking candidates: that can be the question." The article goes on to examine the practicality an ethics of this kind of "background examination." It is possible to get a misleading impression; the NBC4 report tonight concluded with a remark that sites like myspace and facebook had been intended for social networking, not job applications or, for that matter, political activism or literary publication; employers should bear this in mind.

SHRM also sells a book "Blog Rules" by Nancy Field. The book discusses the legal implications of corporate blogging and the indirect effect that personal blogging by employees can have on employers. It does mention firings and pre-screening of employees.

One theme comes up repeatedly, I've noticed. Employers seem particularly concerned about self-defamation, which is often done on the Internet in profiles and personal sites, to be intended as parody, satire, or a political protest. The writer may believe he/she is right morally and have an intellectual justification for personal content, but employers may, out of context, be very concerned about the effect on customers or clients should they find the same content by search engines. Legally, there can be indirect consequences, too. The writer is giving the public the legal warrant to believe and reprint false statements about him/her. This could lead to legal problems with intention, propensity, enticement, and the like. This problem is only now beginning to be understood; probably two years ago no one had thought about it.

The logical temptation is for companies to be formed to specialize in doing "background investigations" based on social networking profiles and personal blogs. I worry that what started as a vehicle for freedom of speech can be turned upsidedown into a test of social conformity. Freedom of speech can ride in reverse, too. Already, there are companies that promise to "manage" professional online profiles.

Business 2.0 "Blogging for Dollars"


CNN's Business 2.0 has a great article "Blogging for Dollars" on p 64 of the September 2006 issue, by Paul Sloan adn Paul Kaihla.

The article discusses how some niche bloggers have been able to make big bucks from advertisers. Generally, because there are so many blogs, it is difficult for most bloggers to make significant income from ads, but a blog that "catches on" in a niche area, particular a technical or media area, might have a real chance. The article gives some successul examples, such as Michael Arrington's TechCrunch. Try looking at it; it covers leading edge areas similar to what would interest me. Other examples are Nick Denton's gawker.com and gizmodo.com. (I had trouble getting to these today.) John Battelle has made a business, Federated Media, out of analyzing blogs and serving as an intermediary with advertisers.

The article gives some pointers toward running successful blogs. These include (1) use niche material, make it as factual as possible, and generally as technical or business or money oriented as possible; make the tone professional (2) blog frequently, so that visitors will be curious about what your next move is. A blog is not a "wikidpedia" (last post). Rather, it is a constantly building body of factual knowledge, and should assume that the visitor has the maturity to interpret the broader significance and context for what he/she reads. Blogs could well be linked to by encyclopedia-like sites, however. The blogger should remember that most of the time, "the ball is in your court." Including photos, especially those that communicate in a picture the concept you want to convey (the way a movie should), will make a blog more attractive for return viewer.

The article does discuss CPM and other methods for pricing, and this is a sensitive topic with companies having various proprietary purchase algorithms that are likely to be changing frequently. Ethics does come into play. The click rates for most blogs are low, so financially successful blogs must attract a lot of page loads, often from search engine hits, as well as from regular visitors.

Some blogs of a more personal nature have been successful. For example, Heather Armstrong's Dooce became very visible after she was fired for writing about her workplace (a web design company) in 2002. In fact, "to dooce" has become a verb in our vocabulary.

Other sites making money have original paradigms, such as Drew Curtis with fark.com, which invites the submission of newsy links.

It isn't necessary for a site to be formally a "blog" (in reverse chronological order) to work with advertisers. But it is probably necessary that it look nice, and blogging software (like Push Button publishing) makes it a lot easier for novices. Even as the number of blogs continues to grow geometrically (it may slow down because of employment pressures and conflicts now emerging), the right niche and the right blog could make a lot of dough.

The advice to make blogs as specific and focused as possible seems well founded, when one looks at the business today in email newsletters from various companies (potomactechwire.com, fiercemarkets.com) that often focus on narrow technical areas (often cutting edge areas in wireless, medical, security, etc.). Small changes in very specific technologies can make huge changes in bottom lines for some companies, and executives need to know about these changes quickly; so these kinds of newsletters and blogs that resemble these newsletters may attract better paying advertisers.

There is a Tech Republic issue on blogging later on this blog. Here is the link to the discussion of it.
Newer link.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

ABC Nightline presents a report on Wikipedia

I remember in the early 1950s the encyclopedia salesman coming to our home. That was something every family with a young child needed. We got the 1950 World Book, which I would gradually learn was greatly simplified compared to some other encylopedias like Brittanica and Americana, and the Knowledge in Depth set. But the World Book had those great garish-colored topographic relief maps of every state and every Canadian province, ranging from bright green at sea level (not yet rising then) to browns and reds for the Rockies. I even associated provinces with colors: Manitoba was yellow, Saskatchewan was orange, and Alberta was brown.

So today we have the great democratizing Wikipedia, a project of Jimmy Wales, who set out to "conquer knowledge." He told "Nightline" (Tuesday Sept 12, 2006) that we cannot look for perfect people to contribute; so everyone can contribute. It is true that sometimes controversial pages get vandalized, and editing is suspended for certain pages.

Wikipedia has content in many languages, even the utopian standard Esperanto, as well as curious ancient and mystery languages like Euskara (Basque).

Professional journalists are not allowed to cite Wikipedia as a sole source, because of the presumed lack of formal verification in this volunteer, free effort. But of course they can check the secondary sources given by better Wikipedia entries. The online encyclopedia is a good starting point for investigating almost any important topic.

My own site doaskdotell.com is somewhat like an online encyclopedia, but it is organized around the six chapters of my first DADT book, which forms a knowledge network to walk down to almost any important topic (that affects individual liberty). It has become my own knowledge project.

Could I join forces with Wikipedia? I have not yet contributed, but I may well. One advantage to Wikipedia is the relative anonymity. One can contribute without having to be publicly known, which can be a plus or a minus, totally depending on one's job and family circumstances.

Can we have too much knowledge? Some people think we can. In fact, political theory often revolves around manipulating public perception -- propaganda -- which is the opposite of open source knowledge, and which is becoming politically less important in a global Internet age, to the dismay of many. The film "Copenhagen", about Heisenberg and Bohr, does illustrate the dangers of releasing privately discovered knowledge into the wild, even with the noblest of intentions.

US News and World Report has a story "Decoding Myspace"

Michelle Andrews has a story "Decoding Myspace" in the September 18, 2006 U.S. News and World Report. The link is this (article may become archived and you may need a subscription or may need to buy the hard copy.) She re-echoes the practice of employers and college administrators checking social networking sites, but seems to suggest that this may not be as important as the effect that these sites have on the way teens develop socially. One possible rule is not to meet someone new online until one has met the person in the bricks and mortar world.

(For the record, I had an LTE published in US News and World Report, Blue Chip edition, on Sept 30, 1996, about "gay witch hunts" related to the "don't ask don't tell" policy. Obviously, DADT policy would mean that the military could discharge someone today because of personal web profile content that "tells.")

Newsweek had published a similar story on Aug. 28, 2006. Brad Stone, "Web of Risks: Students adore social-networking sites like Facebook, but indiscreet postings can mean really big trouble." In one case, a student lost an internship opportunity because she had a profile of herself holding a bottle of vodka, suggesting a propensity for underage (illegal) alcohol use.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A note about pre-texting

Media reports (such as ABC "Good Morning America") have very recently (Sept 2006) presented stories about a questionable practice called "pre-texting." A good writeup is a this link from Federated Financial.

This process takes place when someone tries to get personal information about someone under false pretenses. Probably the obvious example is "phishing" emails on the Internet, sent by spammers. But sometimes people, pretending perhaps to be doing legitimate skip tracing, call and ask for personal information. A "pretexter" is a party for whom personal information is a potential asset.

Sometimes employers have reportedly used this practice, trying to get home phone records of employees whom the employer suspects of leaking trade secrets. Likewise, employers could try to get a hold of personal emails.

There are disturbing media reports that Hewlett-Packard board chairman Patricia Dunn spied on her own directors personal phone records in order to investigate a leak. The details are in a story by David Kaplan, "Suspicions and Spies in Silicon Valley: In a business saga, how Pattie Dunn's obsession with trying to root out the source of press reports ended with the covert tracking of directors' phone records," in the September 18, 2006 Newsweek. Here is the MSNBC link (visitors may need a subscription to see this content, especially when archived).

This kind of story is a break for employers from the previous controversies over employer monitoring of associate email and web surfing (and blogging) at work, to a concern over employers making compromising public disclosures at home with their own resoruces, by phone or by the web.

The issue also comes up because there has been so much attention recently to people, especially teenagers, giving out personal information over the internet on personal websites or social networking sites.

There is a bit of a philosophical issue developing. Some web content seems inherently valuable on the literary or informative content that it contains, but sometimes the context, which would include facts about the author of the profile or site, affects how it is perceived or valued by others.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Colleges orient students on the risks in misusing social networking sites


First, I’ll share the location of my own myspace profile. http://www.myspace.com/jboushka It’s pretty barren and “conservative” but I am trying to make a point.

On September 6 and 7, 2006, NBC4 (in Washington DC) reported at least three times that many colleges in the area are briefing students, especially incoming freshmen, on the dangers of misusing social networking sites like myspace.com and facebook.com.

College administrators at several schools, such as George Mason University, VPI, and Virginia Commonwealth University, provided sobering orientations on the recent string of serious incidents resulting from students making inappropriate postings. The risks have included attracting stalkers or persons with hostile intentions, to (more seriously) self-incrimination (for drug use or underage drinking) sometimes resulting in police prosecutions. Employers have been looking at social networking site profiles of job applicants, and college and school administrators sometimes review them when looking for discipline problems.

There has been controversy over employer practice, and just how extensive it is. Employers say they are more concerned about flagrantly anti-social behavior or illegal behavior (such as underage alcohol use) than political or religious attitudes, or even sexual orientation. Nevertheless, some of us are concerned that employers could use personal blogs and social networking profiles as a test for social conformity or job suitability, especially for jobs with a higher public profile. Social networking sites usually allow their subscribers to restrict the range of persons who can see the profiles (facebook restricts access to those with .edu addresses), yet employers have sometimes demanded to see the profiles, or have managed to see the profiles “under the table.” Employers will also look at personal blogs and websites like this one (which they can find through search engines) but so far have acted somewhat less concerned about them than they are about social networking sites.

I asked one major employer, an insurance company in the DC area, about this when attending a job fair about tech jobs in May 2006, and the company said it was not particularly concerned about personal sites unless there was a specific issue known already.

There have been recent stories in Newsweek (Brad Stone, Aug. 28, 2006) and the Washington Times (Jacqueline Palank, July 17, 2006), to which I replied with an LTE.

On Sept. 7, 2006, The Washington Post, Susan Kinzie and Yugi Noguchi presented a story, "In Online Social Club, Sharing Is the Point Until It Goes Too Far, where Facebook has taken some personal profile changes and made them into "newsfeeds" although the company maintains this is with customer consent.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Two new frequent blogs to be started


I plan to open two new blogs in the near future.

So far, the blogs (and my permanent websites) have tended to be static, and I have tried to organize all of the material in a quasi-networked fashion (rather like a network oriented database). What I constantly find is that I am hitting a moving target. Therefore, I think it will be more helpful to visitors to provide a conventional blog, in reverse chronological order, that posts detailed "current events" items as they occur. Yeah -- students should read it daily to prepare for the professor's next pop quiz. (Just joking!) The blog will allow items to archive off, and will provide links to archives or more static articles as necessary. The blog will assume some basic knowledge of the legal, technical and social issues at hand. I'll try to keep it lively with more images (rated no higher than PG-13).

One of these will keep up with "law v technology" issues as they occur. These would include problems like COPA and the controversy over employers' checking myspace.com (and similar social networking or personal) profiles of job applicants.

I expect to start a second blog keeping track of GLBT issues on a state-by-state or country-by-country basis.

I have not yet determined whether the legal blog will stay on this name or whether it will have a new name.