John Andrews is a Competitive Webmaster and Search Engine Optimization Consultant in Seattle, Washington. This is John Andrews blog on issues of interest to the SEO community and competitive webmasters. Want to know more?

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August 13th, 2009 by john andrews

Palm on Pal Pre Privacy: We’re Just as Slimy as the Rest of our Industry

It seems Palm has decided that they are OK with being slimy about undisclosed privacy and user tracking. Give a chance to comment on the recent expose about detailed user tracking buried inside the Palm Pre, they tell us (paraphrasing) “everybody does it” and “we’re happy our users trust us”.

MobileCrunch re-highlighted this news from a CNET article, but goes easy on Palm, while exposing how they track users location, what applications they have been using, what applications they have installed on the Pre (including those not authorized by Palm), and other personal data unique to the user’s Palm Pre. If you read the article literally, it is almost as if they had been threatened by Palm and were treading lightly.. exposing but being careful to not openly suggest the Palm Pre was a privacy-invading abuse of consumers.

The Economist wrote about cell phone tracking, and location-based services do indeed need to report back location in order to deliver maps, directions, etc. But they don’t need to report back all that other personal data that Palm is collecting from Palm Pre users.  According to the MobileCrunch article:

When it comes to location tracking and device activity, you must alert the user and specifically request permission. If you don’t, you are spying, plain and simple. Regardless of what Palm is doing with this data, the user needs to be completely aware that it is being sent.

Palm seems to disagree. See this excerpt from Palm response (emphasis added):

Our privacy policy is like many policies in the industry and includes very detailed language about potential scenarios in which we might use a customer’s information, all toward a goal of offering a great user experience. For instance, when location based services are used, we collect their information to give them relevant local results in Google Maps. We appreciate the trust that users give us with their information, and have no intention to violate that trust.

They have no intention to violate your trust! How re-assuring, no? How about if a vendor asked you for your social security number and mother’s maiden name, and assured you they had no intention of violating your trust?

I have a follow up question for Palm. One day, when a Junior Marketing Executive at Palm gets a brilliant idea to exploit some of that juicy data, will Palm notify me of their new intent to violate my trust? I know they don’t have to, that’s the whole point.

Believe it or not, they’ve got that covered in the Privacy Policy as well. The default is that they can do whatever they want under that elastic justification “to enhance your device experience“. The lawyers make it sound less abusive by adding “For changes that are materially less restrictive or protective of your personal information than the privacy policy in place at the time of collection, we will seek your consent before implementing any such change.” Hard to imagine a case where they make an open, elastic data use agreement more restrictive, if that is even possible.

Scrutinize the Palm Pre Privacy Policy here, but be careful because Palm lawyers are just as clever as the rest of the lawyers in this industry: “We reserve the right to change our privacy policy. Please check our website periodically for changes…

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July 29th, 2009 by john andrews

Hitwise: Can You Trust Hitwise?

As a truly independent search marketing consultant I frequently encounter the “bigger is better” syndrome. A potential client, not sure whom to trust, decides that a cheap, starter package from BigCompany is a safer way to get started in search marketing than working with an independent search consultant. I call it a syndrome because a syndrome is a “collection of symptoms” and that is what I see — hesitance & uncertainty followed by a wasteful commitment of resources to a typically minimal value effort from a “trusted” Big Brand.

Hitwise is one of those Big Brands… they sell expensive products that promise deep insights into search marketing. Do they deliver? I have a better question than that. Can you trust them?

Last week Aaron Wall of SEOBook.com published a link growth chart. It was didactic — meant as a teaching tool. He didn’t produce actual data to accompany the chart, and he didn’t claim actual data was behind the graph. Behind the scenes I spoke with Aaron at that time,  on a technical issue related to geometric progression and the exponential function. Aaron adjusted his graph and language to make better use of “geometric”, instead of “logarithmic”. The initial comment on that post still mentions a “logarithmic link growth curve” but subsequent comments properly address it as the updated chart shows: geometric.

Hitwise charts

If a research company like Hitwise was to produce a not-free white paper or webinar on search marketing, for its paying customers, you would expect them to do some work. Check their facts. Actually know something about the topic. Well, it seems Hitwise did produce a report a few days ago.. on link growth profiles. In that report they reproduced Aaron’s chart, adding captions describing how Google detects link profiles, and “penalises” sites. I didn’t see the full presentation, but only the slide that shows the graph and the accompanying claims, and a comment admitting to their adoption of Aaron’s chart as their own.

They, too don’t mention if the chart is based on real data or not. They don’t even mention that it came from SEOBook.com. In fact, the image clearly shows they removed the SEOBook logo, and patched up the chart lines where the logo was positioned. Aaron outlines their unauthorized use and the obvious removal of the SEOBook logo in a follow up post on his blog, where Hitwise also commented.

It’s a shame they stole someone else’s chart and offered it to their paying customers as their own, but they also referred to the optimal link growth profile as “Logarithmic / Geometric“, which I consider the most revealing aspect of this Hitwise rip off. Not only didn’t they know what to make of the difference between the chart’s use of “geometric” and the comment streams use of “logarithmic” as an equivalent term, they didn’t even research it to clarify. I doubt they understand the difference even to this day, or that there is a difference. The most disturbing part of all, may be the “Hitwise Client Commitment” published on their website:

Clients will experience the highest levels of integrity, ethics and respect at all times from all Hitwise employees.

Can you trust Hitwise? Should you? They had a chance to comment on the SEOBook blog, and this is what they said:

Hi,
I was part of a webinar that Hitwise Search ran yesterday . Firstly, apologies for not sourcing and attributing the SEOBook chart that we used in the presentation.

This was an oversight and we have taken measures to prevent this from happening again. We’ve committed to re-recording the webinar with the proper attribution and other courses of action to help rectify this error with SEOBook. It’s a great site for Search professionals to refer to – very useful and enjoyable to use.

Again this should have been properly attributed and I hope that people and SEO Book accept our sincere apology and trust that we take this matter seriously and are doing everything we can to put it right.

Stuart McKeown

Hitwise press releases identify Stuart McKeown as Product Director for Search Marketing Services at Hitwise. He’s the guy directing the search marketing offerings. Several subsequent comments from others highlight that such a “we got caught, we’re sorry, we’ve fixed the problem” is not enough. I can certainly see how someone might make a bad decision while preparing a presentation, and how Stuart  might jump in to apologize quickly, perhaps not putting adequate care into his comment. However, I just can’t get past the research aspects.

Does Stuart McKeown know what a natural link profile should look like? Do his search marketing experts? He’s responsible for teaching his paying clients about search marketing. Does he know what “geometric” means? Logarithmic? To put it into perspective, a link builder looking to achieve a geometric growth profile might double or triple his productivity every month. Were she to desire a “logarithmic” profile, she’d need to multiply her productivity month over month (1000 this month, 100,000 next month? A few million links the month after that?)

What about the validity of that graph? There is no data, and no mention of data, but I would bet that paying Hitwise customers assumed that Hitwise had done research to produce that chart. Data, behind the data points, not just made-up data intended to teach. I have no idea what data (if any) Arron Wall used to make that chart… in context as it was presented on SEOBook I had no such concerns. It was obviously intended to teach, and based on experience. It was not sold as a research report.

I have to question the other assertions from the experts at Hitwise. Can Google really detect unnatural link profiles, such as those from Social Media or linear link building? Does Google really penalise sites based on trust from this?

Bottom line: be careful whom you trust, especially if it is Hitwise. Bigger is not better. Bigger is not a better value. And bigger should certainly not be more trusted, absent any other evidence. Hitwise is owned by Experian, that big consumer credit card data aggregator with the big government contracts. Scary stuff.

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June 1st, 2009 by john andrews

Hey Affiliates – Screw You! (pass it on)

If this new ICANN proposal called “Rapid Suspension System” goes through, I can cheaply file a complaint to get your affiliate landing pages taken down immediately. Shoot first and ask questions later! Think about that… I file for next to nothing, claim your Acai-berri site is confusingly similar to my Acai-beari site, and your landing page goes “bye bye” while your PPC campaigns click away into the red. Don’t even think about arguing… it goes off line FIRST (I’ll make sure it’s on a Friday at 4:45pm heh heh).

Send an email to ICANN right NOW saying “no way to rapid dispute system”(mailto:) it could save your future.

When opportunity knocks you have to answer. This time, it’s a “negative knock”. That means if you don’t answer, you don’t just miss an opportunity but lose out later, when the consequences of your inaction hit you smack in the face. Luckily, this one is easy. It’s a simple email. If you’re smart, you’ll send one right now.

What’s the opportunity? How about an opportunity not to have to battle Joe-abusive when he has your domain taken offline?  There’s a proposal on the table that would make it dirt cheap and simple for just about anyone to file a claim that YOUR domain name infringes on their trademark, and to have your website immediately taken down.

The existing dispute process for internet web sites (domains) costs about $1600 bucks. A trademark holder has to make a case for why your web site is infringing on their trademark, before they can get anything changed. And of course you have a right to answer the complaint. This process keeps things “civil”…. it takes effort and some money to acuse you, and you can respond reasonably (or tell them to take a walk) with no cost. Only after a claim has been made, debated, and judged, does your website come down.

We also have the DMCA, which can be used for more immediate concerns (but which also has a penalty for mis-use).

But now a lobby group for big corporations has pushed to change the  system so they can get your site taken down for a few dollars, based on their claim that it infringes. What do you think? Do you agree with me that this would mean constant headaches for you?  Bad idea.

So tell them so. Just send an email to irt-final-report@icann.org and say “No way! Bad idea!” and tell them you do NOT support this “Uniform Rapid Suspension System”.

I have a website I’ve used for email and a home page for about 8 years, which is a clever twist on a word. I have received  inquiries from companies over the years, because they, too use that same clever twist on the word. They have asked about buying it from me, asked whether I would link to them, or if I would help promote their products (for free). They have never filed a dispute claim because I would probably win and they don’t want to waste $1600. Even though I never trademarked it, I had it first, and it is not (despite their wishes) truly infringing on their trademarks. Under this new proposal, they could take my site offline immediately at almost no cost to themselves. Is that fair? Think about the leverage they would gain if that was a revenue producing site. For each day it was off line, it would be costing ME money, putting pressure on ME to negotiate out of the mess that I had nothing to do with in the first place. When I think like a dirty bastard, I imaging all sorts of cute ways this could be used as an anti competitive  tactic in the affiliate world!

Just think of all of the affiliate sites that could be immediately taken off line because some company claims the websites are “confusingly similar” or files some other grey area complaint, knowing they don’t need to actually make a case, just file a complaint. THINK OF THE LOST PPC REVENUES when your landing page goes offline but you don’t know it!

This is pretty important -send an email TODAY and let ICANN know you won’t tolerate big business telling us how the Internet will be managed. Do it now, because in a few weeks, it might be too late, and you’ll probably regret it as your web sites get  taken down.

Perhaps most important, pass the word. Let everyone in online marketing know about this a.s.a.p. because this is under consideration NOW and the comment period closes in JUNE!

Update: Okay I’m rewriting this… I noted in this update how Shawn Collins podcast got this all wrong, but I’ll grant that a conversational podcast is not the best format for accurate reporting. I’ll also grant that I didn’t want to spend all day arguing about it, so I’m re-thinking how I shall handle this.I saved everything and will review it more carefully.. might even make a transcript. I saved Shawn’s comment in moderation since it just furthered the confusion. I’ll release it when I update or if Shawn wants me to, although I doubt he does.
For those who followed along, One: I feel disrespected by the “swine flu” reference. Two: one of the self-proclaimed leaders of the affiliate industry decided to address the issue in front of his audience, while showing that he doesn’t understand the issue and doesn’t respect those giving it attention. That means it is my civic duty to either call him out on it (a.k.a. challenge the authority) or find out why, and three: I’m not sure how important that fact is, or how much time it deserves.

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John Andrews is a mobile web professional and competitive search engine optimzer (SEO). He's been quietly earning top rank for websites since 1997. About John

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