Friday, July 06, 2007

Search engines and links: context is what matters

This week there were a few incidents with my blogs that illustrate some of the latent concerns that I have often expressed before.

On one of my book reviews, I credited someone for writing the Foreword and repeated what was in the book about that person’s association with a television program. I got an email from that person, denying connection to the program, and asking that his name be removed from the blog. It was not clear from the email whether he had really written the Foreword, so I changed be blog (and associated entry) to say that the authorship of the Foreword is “disputed.”

Another time a person in a bar mentioned his concern about being credited for an old press release which, interpreted today, might seem unsympathetic. I changed the attribution to just initials. And late in 2001, someone was concerned about being mentioned as having been the secretary at a particular meeting, so I deleted the reference to him.

These sort of “incidents” don’t happen often to me, but they definitely reflect the growing concern about “reputation maintenance” and the fact that perspective employers and customers will gain an impression of them (often incorrect) from the results of a search engine on the Web. Some people are in a position where the feel very vulnerable to the public impression others have of them. One issue is that references on the Web can stay up with no cost and no validation for years, whereas in the hardcopy print world they would have been forgotten (it’s too much trouble to go through microfilm in a public library). (Note – I didn’t repeat the names I this blog entry, so they can’t be respidered.) Of course, for almost anyone with any connection (however tangential) to the movies or TV, one can have an imdb entry now and numerous user comments.

Then, this week, there was an issue that my ad’s don’t show up on my June 26 book review of Andrew Keen ’s “The Cult of the Amateur” when it is linked to alone. (On a blog, every entry can be brought up separately, and the spelling of the links can be determined by going into “view source” in a web browser). I just get the public service ad for Hurricane relief. But if I go to the entire blog the ads (where that one ad is diluted by other content) are OK. I added a review of a couple of “history” books ahead of it to make the blog more ad friendly, and the ads seem to be working. The review of Keen’s book may be objectionable because the book itself (as discussed) is hypercritical of Internet culture as “amateurish” and a serious concern for security and professionalism. But that’s not an ethically legitimate reason for a advertising module to reject it.

Yesterday, I posted some detailed discussion of my concern over filial responsibility laws on my “Bill retires” blog. This morning I got an email from someone very worried, asking “what should I do?” I wrote back and gave the party some web references for legal services (with a link for finding an attorney quickly in that person’s hometown). I am not a lawyer, and I present these topics to provoke discussion of political and social issues, not to give “legal advice.” In all states, it’s illegal to practice law without a license. But what seems of some concern is that some people confuse a quizzical discussion of a problem on the Internet as “legal advice.” The lack of contextual literacy (of reading things in context) –what high school English is supposed to teach -- is what makes some people vulnerable to “social engineering” and various scams on the Internet.

There were important stories on Internet safety in both the Washington Post and Times. The visitor can navigate to my “Internet safety” blog through my profile.


There is an important post on filial responsibility laws on my retirement blog, here; also Check July 5.

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