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Old 07-19-2004   #21
bethabernathy
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Unethical SEO Firms - A Way to Help the Consumer

I was thinking it drives me crazy when my clients call me and say this company has contacted them and can guarantee top placement on Google, etc., etc. I research the company, usually takes about 3 mins. to read something on their site about doorway pages and there is generally not a phone number available to contact the firm. Anyway, I realize that you can report spam to Google etc., but could there be a way to report these companies and have maybe a website where these firms could be listed. Maybe have a new entity that oversees the practices of SEO and works as a governing body that is readily available for consumers to contact related to poor practices. BTW here is one:

http://www.1stspots.com

I got an email from them on Sunday saying:

Will your web site be #1 on Google ?
...Or will it be your competitor's ?

Goes into detail on the site.

Back to my idea. If there was more press out there on the issue that could help. The issue with Traffic-Power News which is being covered by:

http://www.seoconsultants.com/traffic-power/news/

is helpful, but does the average consumer know to look for this?
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Old 07-19-2004   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bethabernathy
Back to my idea. If there was more press out there on the issue that could help. The issue with Traffic-Power News which is being covered by:

http://www.seoconsultants.com/traffic-power/news/

is helpful, but does the average consumer know to look for this?
Well if the average consumer searches for 'Traffic Power' on Google, that SEOConsultants page shows up in # 7 position and everything else above that is all bad press about them. Problem is people that were (are) scammed by them did not do this or already knew they were spammers and took the risk anyway.
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Old 07-20-2004   #23
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Code of Conduct

The problem with standards is perception. And how you perceive something depends upon where you stand.

The web is emerging from the "wild west" stage into a period of accountability, and with that comes the dissenting vocal minority that want to argue against change. In many cases this argument comes in the form of "who do you think you are to tell an industry what to do?" In some cases they simply nitpick and scream and tell you that standards will not work. I often see distractions about religion and hypocrisy, challenges to ethics and morals, all certainly intended to discourage action (or at least to distract the thread). Talk is nice, but what is needed is some form of action. Without action there is no progress, and discouraging progress is as bad as spamming.

It takes a catalyst in order for change to occur. We need action by a group that has contributors and supporters not afraid of loud dissenters. Many people see the need for change, yet many leaders are hesitant to incur the potential wrath of the underworld. Some consider any organization that wants to resolve this issue as being power-hungry dictators imposing their biased and personal agendas on the industry. To avoid that forum discussion, many of the best and brightest have abstained, thinking (that because throughout history chaos eventually surrendered to organization) that all they had to do was lay low and wait it out. I hope to recruit them as supporters.

Ethics that simply state "do no harm" cannot be effectively disputed because they are so common sense that those speaking out against them look like fools. Likewise I consider similar common sense standards statements in the form of a personal Code of Conduct to be obvious. Everyone in this industry has a personal Code of Conduct whether written or not. In my version I believe that "do not deceive" is at the top and applies to everyone: search engines, clients, and site visitors alike. As such, the basic theme of my personal Code of Conduct is to avoid deceptive practices at all costs. Certainly some refined examples and guidelines have helped in making the blatant violation techniques clear to readers and practitioners. But I contend that there cannot ever be a complete list of deceptive tactics. Nor should we try to make one as it mostly helps the enemy. Deception can manifest itself in a myriad of ways we have yet to envision, and none should be acceptable. Examples of the worst cases should be adequate, and confusion should be infrequent. When in doubt, clarify and educate.

As I teach in my courses, "it is not the job of SEO to make pigs fly; it is the job of SEO to genetically re-engineer the site so that it is an eagle". If you strive to make pigs fly, it is deceptive. If you put real subject matter in an expert format and place the key words in the places that clearly identify that subject then you are enhancing the user experience and make the site actually more relevant. The Code of Conduct should encourage SEO's to work in ways that do not disguise pigs or make pigs fly. The Code should promote content improvement and clarity. The search engines should embrace this Code because relevancy is rewarded even if they claim SEO is not. [I recognize that many sites are pigs. In some cases we must simply make them the best pig they can be, but never promise the client an eagle if you cannot do the job.]

The generally accepted measurements of optimization success is [ranking / traffic / conversion / return], and hence our industry is dependant upon the continued good will of the search engines. By acting to identify and speak out against attempts to falsify the content of a web site through deception, the search engine relevancy will improve and the industry will earn the support of the search engines. Understand that if you deceive a search engine you also deceive the consumer, and I consider that form of false representation to be unacceptable. Today, far too many SEO practitioners are part of the problem and not a part of the solution. Sure, there will always be a few SEO practitioners that lag behind and protest loudly and who will continue to deceive because the revenue opportunity by using deception often exceeds the penalty if caught (or because they simply do not know any better) but over time accountability will prevail.

I cannot presume to set a standard for an industry. I am not a sheriff, and I am not trying to be. I do not want to stifle creativity or dictate web design. I am a person that has lived from a time where ranking for the sake of the paying client prevailed. However, today I am rigid about avoiding search engine spam. Even when asked by a client to do something that is allowed, if I think it will soon be spam I refuse. Others in the industry have the exact opposite approach -- spam until caught, then get a new domain and try a new trick. Some clients themselves do not care as long as they get traffic now, next month is not important if faced with extinction. I disagree with the "if you cannot win fairly then cheat" mentality. I cannot presume to speak for them (or condemn them) other than to indicate that I think this short-sighted view hurts our industry and is unnecessary, and I will not do it. And in my opinion the search engines should take decisive action to identify and discourage it.

What I can do is set my own personal standards of behavior. Just for me. I control my behavior, not anybody else's. I have long taken responsibility for myself.

But I can also encourage others to follow my lead. So I have again decided to publish my views. The ability for me to do that is rather unique. I am reasonably well branded, many people listen to me, I have tools, I have training, I have been a success at obtaining rankings, I frequently speak at industry sessions, and I am white hat. So how can I help? I am publishing my personal Code of Conduct as a broad set of policies along with a formal certification ONLY for my own proprietary tools and methodologies, not for an industry. I support this certification with regular and spot audits of the voluntary participants, frequent training and re-training, and an online registration directory of who is trained and adhering to my Code of Conduct. If you do not agree with my certification policies then that is fine -- you do not need to participate in my certification programs. Really, if you don't like the idea then don't participate. If you think the items in the Code are too strong or weak, fine - I will listen, but they are my Codes. In other words, I am extending my personal Code of Conduct to a private, voluntary participation, product specific Certification program.

All certifications require a training class followed by a test, plus a commitment to adhere to the Code of Conduct. I need (out of fairness) to offer SEO's a consistent level of education if I expect consistent and reasonable understanding and implementation of the Code. Each certified analyst is registered with a unique serial number, and clients can inspect the rating of each certified member online, report a spamming practice, or request a practice review. As this is my criterion, I will initially determine if that member is violating the Code of Conduct, and then allow for correction. This is a double-elimination system with arbitration. Second offenses are usually fatal, although even here there is an opportunity for appeal. I am not certifying anyone as being anything more than trained on the use of my own tools and following my Code of Conduct. This is not an industry certification any more than getting a Microsoft training certification makes you a UNIX programmer. And, yes, Microsoft is well within their rights to manage their own personal certification program and it is well respected. As certified members prove to be leaders in this campaign they may be asked to assist in the audits, as the plan is to have a panel of at least 3 auditors such that no one person is all powerful, and even then there is liberal opportunity for appeal. I want converts, not convicts. And if I get none, I have still published and stand by my personal code -- more than most others are doing.

I truly believe that spammers can "see the light" and become converts. Sometimes they go back to their old ways, but like anyone in Spammers Anonymous, when supported with a structure, guidelines, regular meetings, training on how to beat spammers, and colleagues and friends that share the same values, then they can remain converted. I am sure that everyone that has been in the industry from the beginning has converted in some way; many used to do doorways but now do not, they tried cloaking but found it distasteful, and they are now different people. I do not want to penalize spammers if I can help them convert. Think of it as a second chance. I hope that everyone will join me in this approach because lasting success would be wonderful. If they will not convert then I cannot help them.

Most clients who use spammers do it because they do not know the difference. So it is clearly in the best interests of spammers to discourage both standards and client education. I think that in a vacuum, my SEOToolSet(tm) Certified Analyst program will prove to be a point of light among what I suspect will soon be many. (As always, copycat firms that watch me will mimic this approach within the next month or so). And I hope that regardless of source that clients will be attracted to the light and start to insist that their SEO practitioners follow the Code. It is the client community, not the SEO's or even the search engines that will cause evolution to kick in. Until someone will light the way clients will remain in the dark and will continue to hire spammers.

We will see. Although my new site is ready, I will not release it until August 1st. But it is too late to convince me this idea is stupid.
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Old 07-20-2004   #24
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Bruce,

You use a lot of loaded words in your post. I do not think that everyone the suspects the motives of some of the reformers is a reactionary fossil from a frontier age. (My words, not exactly yours.) Some of those that are sceptics may be more white hat than you or the others but still wary of Trojan Horse powergrabs and I'm not so sure their concerns are so easily marginalized.

Quote:
I am publishing my personal Code of Conduct as a broad set of policies along with a formal certification ONLY for my own proprietary tools and methodologies, not for an industry.
Sounds like the DRM is built in then.
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Old 07-20-2004   #25
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Bruce,

That sounds a great initiative.

One thing that might help potential participants in your standards certification process would be to understand your motivations. Will there be any revenues to your organization in running this process or will this be a stand-alone non-profit or even subsidized venture? If the latter, it would seem that the Search Engines might be encouraged to provide financial support since they would also benefit from its success.
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Old 07-20-2004   #26
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Change!!!

I've read all of these posts and I'm of the opinion that change hasn't been discussed enough.

I've been in the space for many years now; I learn't initially how to work with a site to optimize for search engine spiders (as there wasn't anything else around), then watched companies like GoTo grow (and laughing when someone said that a click would cost more than a pound!) and seeing search engines consolidate, the development of bid management, tracking techonolgoes etc etc... this isn't an uncommon story for most of the users in this forum but the one thing that is constant here is change.

I believe it very hard for any governing body, no matter who it made up by, to create a system of rules and regulations or code of ethics around an industry that is still in total flux. Why spend 6 months creating codes when in the time it takes to create them the industry has changed.

Arguably search is maturing but if we look at the changes in the past quarter (Yahoo! & Overture Site Match, MSN, Paid Inclusion) and the forthcoming developments of local search, contextual advertising (that you can track), MSN's search technology the space is still developing.
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Old 07-20-2004   #27
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Code of Conduct

Brad, I agree, a great many that have posted are past beating their own drum and are really looking to advance the industry. But the posts are generally correct, there is no one organization that can say they are leading this charge, and any that do will get eaten in the forums. That is why my "first step" is to speak loudly for only myself.

bwelford, initially it is simply a stand-alone domain. I felt that the search engines would be afraid to align with any firm taking a lead since they would suffer if this was not a success. Once a success it can perhaps change, but today it is not intended to be anything but a step in the right direction. I also did not see SEMPO doing it because to succeed you would need to educate, and that competes in many ways with their own members. SEMPO is an organization (as I understand it) specifically chartered not to offer services that compete with their membership. I will charge little for the training, audits, and certifications because they are labor and resource intensive and as dmoz has proven, volunteer organizations meet with spotty results. To be a success in today's world I think it needs to be "for profit" and affordable to the point that the price does not matter.

James, you are right, which is why you cannot micro-manage the Code. It has to be able to be understood by everyone. We all understand "do not lie" without having a complete list of how people lie, and so my personal Code is written to this level.

In general, I get upset at some organizations in a position to influence the industry that do not try to convert and recruit followers. Many have a closed door policy stating that you were once evil and we know you cannot change so keep out, instead of noticing that you see "see the light" and welcome you into the organization. Our entire industry is in transition, and I think that most want to become white hat. Yes, there will be golf clubs out there that are making too much money to change, but they do not speak for the industry.

All journeys start with a step.

Last edited by BruceClay : 07-20-2004 at 10:47 AM.
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Old 07-20-2004   #28
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I like the general scope of your project, Bruce. I like the fact that you emphazise it's yours code and that people can apply for the certification. You probably have a strong enough brand to make this badge have some value - at least in the US. For new people entering this business, or people that just want better training, your program is most likely a better choice than trying to sort out the chaos of online information where, unfortunately, not everything is (to say the least) very accurate. For more experenced, or border line SEOs, you program may not be right. Thats all fine.

There is another side of all this that I haven't seen mentioned yet: Globalisation ... Is it realistic at all to make a code of conduct that will work for all nations? Just as an example I know there is a huge difference in the way US companies (have to) deal with liability versus the way Danish companies do. Some of it has to do with the fact that laws are very different, and some has to do with culture of trade and business. Something that might be considered fatal in the US could be OK in Denmark.

So let's assume we need some local adaption - at least so local SEOs can operate under such code of conduct withour braking any local regulations or set traditions. Should you abide by the code for the nation your marketing is targeting or the nation you are operating in?

For the marketing laws of Europe I know that they apply on the targeting country. So, as an example, all US companies that sell services and goods to consumers and companies in the EU have to abide to these laws. Can I ask you guys from the US, do you do that? Do you even know the laws? : (Can't say I do, not all of it - even living here!)

So, if we already have laws to protect consumers and companies from fraudulent marketing and such (at least, to some degree here in Europe) and only a few (I assume) companies outside the EU follows them, then why should the same companies follow SEO-guidelines of best conduct?
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Old 07-20-2004   #29
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Code of Conduct

Mikkel, you are absolutely on the mark, and I have been considering this issue for months. I seek "partners" outside of the US to assist in this venture, but they need to do it at near break-even fees and to want to do it for "self actualization" reasons. While a profit-making proposition, it cannot be unaffordable to the masses. This is world-wide in scope and impact.

Interested parties should inquire within...
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Old 07-20-2004   #30
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Bruce, that sounds like an excelent idea. I have been working with larger groups of multinational companies and people too and it is never very easy but often very rewarding. I hope you find some good folks
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Old 07-20-2004   #31
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>But it is too late to convince me this idea is stupid.

I don't think anyone would call it stupid, its great marketing, I'm sure that if it's a sucess your bottom line will see the benefit.
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Old 07-20-2004   #32
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100% agreed.

Why, if I could become the "czar of correct SEO" wouldn't that get me some good sound bites, too?

Media coverage - Danny gets some, as does Andy Beal, etc, all - can't see why "Bruce Clay, LLC" can't get some of that there lime light too.

I guess pursuing the role of 'industry saviour' must be entertaining to some, else we wouldn't have so many folks jockeying for the role.

Me? I spend my time on work / networking, staying up on trends, etc. I'll leave the 'code of conduct' to the SE...when there's a cross the algo, "we will not ban you, etc..." then I'll cosy up to the idea of doing the same for my side of the table.
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Old 07-21-2004   #33
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Good post, Bruce, and good luck with it!

Funny how exactly what you said in your post has already come true by some of the posts that followed!

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Old 07-21-2004   #34
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A formal qualification to govern online marketing by recognised training institutions worldwide would put a fix to this problem in one fowl swoop.
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Old 07-21-2004   #35
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I think the expression is "one fell swoop". See here for more explanation.

... or was there some meaning in that word 'fowl' that went over my head?
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Old 07-21-2004   #36
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Ahh you beat me to it, Barry. I was just gonna ask if that was a flying chicken...
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Old 07-21-2004   #37
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bethabernathy
I research the company, usually takes about 3 mins. to read something on their site about doorway pages and there is generally not a phone number available to contact the firm.

Maybe have a new entity that oversees the practices of SEO and works as a governing body that is readily available for consumers to contact related to poor practices.
Ethical / unethical firms and consultants, code of ethics and governing body to over see this. Hmmm…

I doubt you can even begin to address this until you address precisely what is spam and what precisely isn't.

Some pretty good “grey” area examples:

A classic: same color text on background say #ffffff on #ffffff but what about #ffffffa on #ffffff - is this spam?, or what would you define is the threshold between spam or not.

A hidden link is spam or a 1x1 pixel image link but what about 100x100 image link that has nothing written on it, or how about an image map the contains untext links. How about that rollover which has a hidden surprise for the person that finds it and clicks (A discount offer) - is this spam or an attempt to make your website sticky.

What about CSS and off screen divs (negative position) must be spam but what about formatting problems in one browser version and now off-screen. Are layered divs that are meant to appear on one page but not the other, are in sequence of mouseovers.

TP advertising pages that are gibberish with redirect rollovers must be spam but MC sells gibberish to customers for $900 without the rollover redirect - is this ok.

Sample:
Quote:
Black Pearls
Even though they start with a round bead, the action of the mollusk and movement of the water usually cause the pearl to become a shape other than perfectly round.
Read more 1 : 2

Cultured Pearls
Pearl strands should be knotted to prevent them from wearing against each other and to reduce loss in case the strand breaks. Modern pearl culturing emphasizes silver or white pearls in australia and gold pearls in the philippines, myanmar and japan. (Baroque pearls are considered a separate category. The extensive and successful use of the biwa pearl mussel is reflected in the name "biwa pearls," a phrase nearly synonymous with freshwater pearls in general.
Read more 1 : 2

Discount Pearls
Color enhancement is considered the norm for both colored and white base pearls. Low-luster pearls display very little if any reflectivity.
Read more 1 : 2

Pearl Necklaces
After months or years of coating, a pearl emerges.
Read more 1 : 2
Since they are not known as an SEO this would be outside of any mandate - correct?

Solid original copy must be good but if placing it on another website (whether or not on your own) for a link is this ok to? What about 50 sites, 100 sites, 1000 sites?

Maybe it's the level of moderation used that defines spam or not.

Doorway pages are bad... that fine... (In the original concept though a doorway resided on the same website). If on a different site is this ok? What’s about gateway page, a profile page, a banner page or just a single banner, a whole website of banners (site wide links) and text links... is the size that says this is spam, the amount of use, or the intent... and if intent how can you attempt to conclude intent?

Obviously for sites that offer some mutual interest and leaders in a field it appears ok but if you sell PageRank it appears not (is there really a difference).

Networks of websites crosslinking tend to be ok (to a degree) but if you are labeled as an SEO it's not. (As sort-of stated by Google "don't link to SEOs") What about website design companies that banner themselves on every page "website design by: NOT AN SEO".

Is it the knowledge that you are well known in the industry segment that defines you as a spammer or the fact that no one knows you that makes you a spammer?

Is it the level of knowledge that aids to inducing spam or lack of?

The last point - is it the fact that you got caught or the fact that you started?

This isn't a rant, clearly - "spam” is not well enough defined "anywhere" to categorically say ethical / unethical and will certainly stop "code of ethics” in its tracks if not address first.

Last edited by fathom : 07-21-2004 at 11:48 AM.
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Old 07-22-2004   #38
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Quote:
A formal qualification to govern online marketing by recognised training institutions worldwide would put a fix to this problem in one fowl swoop.
It sounds easy, but I do not think it is so. Where are those training institutions recognised worldwide? I am not sure what kind of "institutions" you are referring to ... Can you explain?
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Old 07-25-2004   #39
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Discussion Helps Mold the Next Steps

This discussion has become, IMHO, the most constructive to date on what the industry (SEM/SEO/Internet Marketing) should or should not do about standards. Animated discussions, with good/evil and indifferent points of view helps move our industry to a more mature stage. I'm not saying we need these written guidelines or rules to be put in place. I am saying that discussion is a way to discovering the needs and realities of the marketplace.

I have been very clear about standards in the industry from a personal point of view - standards at this point would constrict the development and innovation of a marketplace that is still in its infancy.

From the SEMPO point of view, I do believe that simple 'best practices' or 'code of conduct' could be developed over the next 6-8 months. This would not be standards and not be tactical in any nature. They would not require education. They would not require a test. These would be at the business level. This kind of thing:

- [to steal from Bruce's thoughts] Do not deceive client or target advertising portal (destination site or whatever we call the search engines and portals and online sites]
- Disclose risks of implemented tactics to clients
- Have available references for all clients who ask
- Disclose fee structure to clients

[I include the last one because I believe that one of our (SEM companies) greatest advantages in the market is that we can tell clients EXACTLY what they are getting for their dollar]

These are JUST brainstormed ideas and not supported by SEMPO membership or the Board. They are only along the lines of what the SEMPO groups have been discussing and I wanted the feedback on the approach (not necessarily the specifics) by this esteemed group.

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Old 07-25-2004   #40
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Bruce Clay Tools & Certification

Quote:
Originally Posted by webmama
- [to steal from Bruce's thoughts] Do not deceive client or target advertising portal (destination site or whatever we call the search engines and portals and online sites]
- Disclose risks of implemented tactics to clients
- Have available references for all clients who ask
- Disclose fee structure to clients
Nice list!

My $0.02: what about adding some knowledge based criteria, such as:
- Don't misrepresent your knowledge
- Know what the risks are

The TP case, and the subsequent emails that have come to light, show that TP may not have not had the required knowledge to understand the risks. This makes disclosing risks irrelevant.

Anthony's "fowl swoop" is pretty accurate, IMHO, (and funnily enough fits nicely with Bruce's Pig analogy, a lot of flying going on round these parts!) Part of any code of ethics for a profession surely comes with a knowledge pre-requisite, and it is worth incorporating that in any code.
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