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Old 08-14-2005   #1
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Google Blacklists News.com

I thought for sure someone would have posted this by now, but since they haven't, here goes - Google has blacklisted all CNet reporters for a year over a story one wrote:

http://money.cnn.com/2005/08/05/technology/google_cnet/

A CNet reporter doing a privacy story about how Google can be used to invade the privacy of people used a Google exec as an example:

Quote:
To underscore its point about how much personal information is available, the CNET report published some personal information about Google's CEO Eric Schmidt -- his salary; his neighborhood, some of his hobbies and political donations -- all obtained through Google searches.
Of course, printing that this guy is worth 1.5 Billion, and oh, by the way, here is his home address, is about as irresponsible as you can get, IMO. Not every potential kidnapper and thief is as proficient as a professional online reporter with a search engine query.

The original story is here: http://news.com.com/Google+balances+...3-5787483.html

And it really does go into some of the serious issues behind collecting information and making it easy to put together.

Google argues that all they do is collect publicly available information, and for the most part (gmail, etc notwithstanding) that's true. The real culprit here is the people who are posting personal information on publicly available sites in the first place - let's not forget that breach of trust and responsibility during all this.

Some thoughts:

Google (and, lets not forget, ALL the other search engines) are just taking information already available, providing datamining resources and tools, then presenting it to anyone with basic search skills.

The question is, at what point does this become accessable? When it's posted, or when it's easily available to those with minimal skills?

Is there a difference between personal information being available only to experts, or when it's available to the masses easily? Or was the cat out of the bag when it got published, period?

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Old 08-15-2005   #2
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They blackballed certain reporters from a company, not blacklisted a site/company. As I understand it, they simply won't talk to the reporters for a while. It seems a bit silly (not nearly as silly as using the word "google" instead of "search"), but it's nothing drastic.

In recent days, I've turned very much against Google for a number of reasons, the latest of which is when I learned that they were busy stealing copyrighted works by scanning books for publication on their site. They've put it on hold for a few months, but, as is typical of them, they wan't an opt-out system to stop them stealing. There's already an opt-out system - laws that say they can't do it - but they choose to ignore them. But I side with Google on this blackballing thing. I don't see it as anything special. They can choose who to talk to and who not not to talk to, as we all can.

The original article was alarmist, and irresponsible, imo. It didn't say anything that can't be said of any other engine that offers email services, and most of the well known ones do, and the page threw in some misinformation about cookies just to add to the alarm. The article puts over the idea that Google stores goodness know how much information about people for the purpose of knowing everything about them, and that all the information is available to anyone with some search skills. In 20 years time, when the world lives under the dictatorship of Google, then I'll be proved wrong, but in the meantime, that article is inaccurate and irresponsible, imo.

Quote:
The question is, at what point does this become accessable? When it's posted, or when it's easily available to those with minimal skills?

Is there a difference between personal information being available only to experts, or when it's available to the masses easily? Or was the cat out of the bag when it got published, period?
I think the latter - when it got published. If it's in the public domain, it's public. If there's a reason why something shouldn't be in the public domain, then it's the publishers who are responsible and not the engines. All the engines do is answer question. "Where can I find <information>?" The engines reply "there, there, and there." That's all.

(Sorry about throwing in the rant about the books. For a company whose motto is "do not evil", willfully stealing like that takes the biscuit, imo.)

Last edited by PhilC : 08-15-2005 at 08:44 AM.
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Old 08-15-2005   #3
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It's a decision that's turning a little sour for Google with the competition taking the opportunity to have a go. But let's face it MSN aren't exactly strangers to making cheap shots!

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We would like to suggest some keywords for Mr.Schmidt to Google, starting with "public figure," "public relations problem," and "good for the gander." Any other suggestions?
How about "bitter", "sore losers", "playing at being a search engine" for M$?

IMO Google were well within their rights to blackball CNET. There was little value in using Eric Schmidt as an example and no more than bog standard sensationalist jouralism, which would inevtiably ruffle a few feathers and is no better than (their affiliate,) MSN's tech blog jumping on the bandwagon to take a shot.

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The real culprit here is the people who are posting personal information on publicly available sites in the first place - let's not forget that breach of trust and responsibility during all this.
Agreed, but I also think Google should have some responsibility in this too, along with idiotic journalists who repeatedly publish sensitive or innappropriate material just for the "wow" factor.

Should car manufacturers be held responsible for car bombings?

If you make a product in good faith and take reasonable steps to ensure it is used appropriately (including working with govenements, etc where appropriate), then I don't see that you should be held responsible for the screwed up actions of the average nutter on the street. It's kinda like blaming violence on games or films - they may be a contributing factor, even a catalyst, but there are deeper underlying issues to be addressed.

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Old 08-15-2005   #4
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shoot the messenger

Did they publish the actual document with Schmidt's address or just the location of it? I believe the document in question was a record of donations to the Republican Party. It seems to me if the information is publically available, and in fact, found using Google...
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Old 08-15-2005   #5
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A friend of mine works at Cnet and according to her, Cnet is loving the publicity they are getting from this story.
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Old 08-15-2005   #6
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Originally Posted by vinniesmith2227
A friend of mine works at Cnet and according to her, Cnet is loving the publicity they are getting from this story.
I bet Google is too.
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Old 08-15-2005   #7
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inciting action vs. reporting

I always lean towards transparency and press freedom. After thinking about this case, I think both (a) the reporter had the *right* to report the story that way; but also (b) there are good reasons, personal reasons, for Google execs to be upset at how it was done. How they responded is not going over well, and you'd think it could have been handled differently, but then again, handling it differently in the sense of getting together over a drink or dinner to talk about it informally also gets a little close to the line of trying to influence an independent press by forging friendships (so you wind up with an 'embedded' press corps).

Anyway, there has always been that line you draw when it comes to free speech, insofar as that speech can harm others and take away others' rights and freedoms. That is usually summed up in the "you can't shout 'fire' in a crowded theater (or Amphitheatre as the case may be)". But what if the theater was actually on fire? Was it, in this case? Or was it more a question of there were fire code violations taking place that management should be aware of... in which case you probably don't disrupt the movie by shouting "there are fire code violations which management should be aware of!"

I do think the CNET story got too close to the irresponsible side of that line.

To use another analogy, you often read articles about how certain kinds of bombs can be made out of commonly-available substances that anyone can buy at a hardware store. Those same stories will say "there are even recipes on the Internet." But do you do anyone a service, or do you actually create danger, by actually linking to, or reproducing, or otherwise drawing attention to, the bomb recipe? I think you do potentially create more danger by drawing attention to the recipe, so most news organizations walk the tightrope everytime they report on sensitive matters. They have to make the right call about that line betweeen talking about publicly-available information, and causing trouble by using their superior investigative skills to hand over valuable techniques to criminals, or just making criminal acts fashionable, etc. Just because you can find something out doesn't mean it's always fair or constructive to report it.

Isn't there a difference, for example, between using your power as the press, and hopefully freedom of information laws, to uncover governmental activity, to look into a candidate's criminal past (if they had one), to learn the details about legislation, campaign donations, and other matters of public record... and (let's say) publishing more personal information about the President in the here and now that might put his personal security at risk?

It appears quite possible (to use another example) that the expunged lyric in the Beck song "My Girl" is "cyanide." (It sounds like Summer Girl or Sun-Eyed Girl to some, but it could be Cyanide Girl). On the official release, the word has been eliminated so the lyrics just read "my girl." Did record company execs make a decision not to allow that lyric to be printed so it wouldn't glorify the act of suicide, or something like that? Would this be a responsible decision, or not? Probably overly cautious, but it's an example that suggests self-censorship is common when dealing with volatile topics.

These are tough calls, but here I have to think the CNET reporter showed a lapse in judgment and descended into an overly personal realm in publicizing personal information about a wealthy executive. Self-censorship would have been the wiser course.

Last edited by andrewgoodman : 08-15-2005 at 02:39 PM. Reason: minor edit
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Old 08-15-2005   #8
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The reporter didn't divulge any information that was too personal. The way I read it, it was nothing but a typical gutter press type article that sought to sensationalise some of her wayward imagination, and it was supported by what I can only see as deliberate misinformation on the page - the cookie bit.

She showed that some not too personal information about some people is readily available on the web in a sort of "who's who" site (nothing wrong with that), and she (a) implies that it's so personal that it shouldn't be there, and (b) blames the system that points you to where it is and not the other sites for publishing it. How stupid is that? Then, without any knowledge or evidence, she says that Google is gathering all manner of personal information about people, and implies some dark motive. That's really stupid.

The whole thing is completely irresponsible scaremongering, imo, and I don't blame Google in the slightest for blackballing cnet's reporters.
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Old 08-16-2005   #9
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Hmm. Let's see what was so private:

"Schmidt, 50, was worth an estimated $1.5 billion last year. Earlier this year, he pulled in almost $90 million from sales of Google stock and made at least another $50 million selling shares in the past two months as the stock leaped to more than $300 a share."

Hardly private, something I've seen reported plenty of times in various stories. Heck, look at this Forbes profile: http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2004/1011/116_print.html. I don't recall anyone getting banned over this, despite the mention of his two children and the city he lives in.

"He and his wife Wendy live in the affluent town of Atherton, Calif."

I know his wife's name, now -- something I'd probably get in other articles about him personally, such as profiles. Same too about being in Atherton. In fact, if you go back and read the link in the article, both facts come from an article about Schmidt inviting a 15-year-old jazz pianist to play at his house when President Clinton came to stay.

Fair to say that having the US president stay overnight at draws some attention to where he lives. Heck, check out this News.com article from 2000: http://news.com.com/2011-1088_3-277794.html. That's all about Schmidt doing political hobnobbing at his Atherton home. I don't recall him rolling out the big guns in response to that article or trying to ban CNN for reporting from Atherton that he had a big Gore fundraiser with Elton John there, http://edition.cnn.com/2000/ALLPOLIT...ore.john.reut/. Clearly he's not kept a low profile in Atherton with the whereabouts of his home a guarded secret.

Maybe we should ban George Washington University, http://www.gwu.edu/~action/2004/kerry/kerrfin.html, for the gall of listing Schmidt as living in Atherton when listing contributions to the Kerry campaign. Hold on, we should ban the Wall Street Journal for listing that there are others in Google spending the big bucks to own homes in Atherton, http://online.wsj.com/public/article...mod=r ss_free
, including Schmidt? Double secret probation begins now! The WSJ even goes so far as to alert you to the fact that the assessors office provides access to these public records.

The step too far seems to be that one of the links was to a web site that listed Schmidt's actual address. I doubt it would be hard for anyone to locate the actual address without News.com's indirect help -- they didn't actually put it in the story. The assessors office probably has it, as likely do plenty of other public databases.

So to come back to some points above:

Quote:
Of course, printing that this guy is worth 1.5 Billion, and oh, by the way, here is his home address, is about as irresponsible as you can get, IMO. Not every potential kidnapper and thief is as proficient as a professional online reporter with a search engine query.
Plenty of articles have written about how rich Googlers are, so there's nothing irresponsible here. Heck, the WSJ article could be worse from that point of view, in highlighting there are plenty of lower ranking (and likely less well protected) Googlers with plenty of cash. Nor did News.com print is home address. They linked to a site about political contributions that list that address.

And where did they get that? Public records -- accessible to potential kidnappers who I suspect would be far more proficient on finding him if they wanted to. I doubt they are depending on News.com. You've got someone doing a protest right now outside of President Bush's ranch. Apparently she could find that place. With Schmidt having hosted some high profile fundraiser, where he lives is hardly an open secret if a secret at all.

Quote:
Google (and, lets not forget, ALL the other search engines) are just taking information already available, providing datamining resources and tools, then presenting it to anyone with basic search skills.

The question is, at what point does this become accessable? When it's posted, or when it's easily available to those with minimal skills?
Yes, it's a point that's been raised again and again and again. Google's been the whipping boy on the issue. I wrote in response to the News.com article a long criticism, http://blog.searchenginewatch.com/blog/050714-083710, about how it singles out Google on the issue but not other search engines. That was my main disagreement. But people remain concerned, they focus on Google, and the article frankly highlights that so clearly in that Schmidt himself was ticked off by it. Why does Schmidt get to be so upset that information found via his own search engine might get used this way but others should suck it up and take it?

Some further perspective. I've been reviewing articles on this subject for literally years. You can find a list here, http://searchenginewatch.com/resourc...156541#Privacy. Some interesting highlights:

Quote:
"Google kind of makes it easy to connect all the dots together," said Richard M. Smith, former chief technology officer at the Privacy Foundation. "I think Google is the biggest privacy invader on the planet, no doubt about it."

But whether Google ought to obscure information in the name of privacy is a policy issue Google would rather not tackle directly.

It's better, Google co-founder Larry Page said, if the Internet community were to reach consensus by deciding whether that information is made public in the first place.

"We're not experts on all possible topics," Page said. "These are hugely controversial, and I don't think it's a good idea for us to set policy."
That was from last year, http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/te...-privacy_x.htm. Failure to set policy last year -- to do anything -- resulted in the issue not going away and Schmidt getting ticked off this year.

Quote:
Google says its search engine reflects whatever is on the Internet. To remove information about themselves, people have to contact Web site administrators.
That's from the NYT in 2002, http://tech2.nytimes.com/mem/technol...C0A9649C 8B63. It's completely true. You don't want this info out there? You need to get it off the web and out of public records. Apparently, Schmidt hasn't done this. And no doubt, that's because in some cases, he can't. But as a big mover and shaker, perhaps he'll use some political connections to see if there's a way to make some public info less accessible like this.

http://searchenginewatch.com/serepor.../34721_2162181, scroll down until you find the "A Nation Of Voyeurs" write-up in 2003. The original link no longer works, but here's the key part I wrote up about this Boston Globe article:

Quote:
Best part of the article is when Google cofounder Sergey Brin is asked if he would be comfortable knowing someone could find his home address via Google. "I hope not," he says, saying it would bother him. So perhaps those worried about personal information being provided via Google may find a sympathetic ear in coming up with a solution to remove it from Google. Of course, it will still remain online and accessible through other search engines.
Dug around, and I found a copy of the article here, http://www.faculty.fairfield.edu/man.../watching.html

Quote:
I ask Brin if there is anything about him a Google search turns up that he wishes wasn't there.

"There are certainly some embarrassing photos from my younger days," he says, chuckling. "I had not the most stylish of hairdos."

How about his home address?

"I hope not," Brin says, no longer chuckling.

Would it bother him if it was there?

"Hmm, I think it would," he says.

As it turns out, his current address does not show up. Nor does the personal information for many of today's digital power brokers. Most of them were smart enough to begin years ago the process of making their personal information invisible online. So much about privacy is preventative, because once the information gets online somewhere, it spreads so fast that it's virtually impossible for it to ever be private again. (Google says its employees must follow the same procedures as the general public when requesting that information be removed.)

Brin didn't cover all of his tracks, though. Type his name into the cheery but disturbingly comprehensive Web site anybirthday.com, and up pops his birth date: August 21, 1973.
That was two years ago. Schmidt was on board with Google then. Here you've got a cofounder of the company saying he'd be uncomfortable if someone found his address through Google. That's what's since happened to Schmidt. Solution? I don't know. If the data's on the web, it gets into Google and other search engines. But perhaps there's something the search engines can do. It's a tricky issue and one that none of them have touched. Perhaps they might now.

continued...
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Old 08-16-2005   #10
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They blackballed certain reporters from a company, not blacklisted a site/company. As I understand it, they simply won't talk to the reporters for a while. It seems a bit silly (not nearly as silly as using the word "google" instead of "search"), but it's nothing drastic.
Nope, they blackballed the entire news organization. There are bad reporters. There are some I simply don't talk with myself. There are organizations you might not want to talk with because you know they aren't going to ever give you a fair shake. Google can talk to whomever they want. But to put News.com on restriction indicates they think it's a good organization, one they'd like to talk to, but that as if they are some type of parent, it needs to be taught a lesson. That's just condescending. There may be other issues they want to talk with News.com about, hmm, say like perhaps the entire "Is Yahoo bigger than Google" thing. They lock themselves out from doing so with such a wide-ranging "we're not going to talk to you" attitude.

By the way, go search on Google for [eric schmidt's address] and you'll see this ad:

Find Any Phone & Address
Find Any Unlisted Number & Address
Search by Maiden/Spouse Name, SSN.
www.Intelius.com

Click on it, and you head over to Intelius, which fills out the form with his name and city. Click further, and it tells you:

Quote:
We are searching Billions and Billions of Public Records to help you find what you are looking for. We are searching Marketing Lists, Catalogue Purchases, Magazine Subscriptions, Change of Address Records, Real Property Records, Court Records, Business Records, and a variety of other public records and publicly-available sources for you.
So it's bad that a news organization raises the issue of access to public info but it's cool to carry ads from organizations selling it in a nice, neat package? As it turns out, I checked out the Intelius basic info and didn't get his address, only his city and prompting to buy further reports. But there are a wide range of relatively easily accessible databases, such as public assessor offices, that do have this type of information.

Overall, as I said, I pretty much hated the article for singling out Google. Nor are the search engines to blame over the fact that lots of people put public information online. They make getting that info more accessible, but they can't solely bear the blame. However, clearly Eric Schmidt doesn't like that accessibility. The responsible thing isn't to go off half-cocked at the news organization but rather acknowledge that if he's concerned about his personal information being so accessible, as others are, so perhaps there's something else that can be done. At the end of the day, anyone else can easily out him and in far more detail and far less responsibly than News.com did.
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Old 08-16-2005   #11
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At the end of the day, anyone else can easily out him and in far more detail and far less responsibly than News.com did.
I don't agree that the article was in any way responsible. Imo, it was just scaremongering and completely irresponsible - typical of the gutter press. I wasn't that she wrote about being able to access personal details online - details that are readily available - it was that she wrote it in such a way that she sought to have readers wrongly believe that Google is gathering every piece of personal information about everyone that they can lay their hands on - and for some dark, unstated, motive. And it was backed backed up with what I can only believe was deliberate misinformation about cookies to add to the alarm. That's just sensationalism for the sake of sensationalism, and is completely irresponsible.

A person's address seems to have become a big point, but, for most people who read the article, who cares if it's available online? All anyone needs to do is pick the phone book up and it's there. But, because the article sought to sensationalise it, these same people would be led into being startled to know that Google is intentionally storing their address, which they aren't, and that anyone can find it by searching Google.

There may be some privacy issues that should be addressed, but that article didn't seek to address them. It provided misinformation in an attempt to lead people into believing things that are untrue. It wasn't the work of a reputable reporter or journalist.
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Old 08-16-2005   #12
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I don't agree that the article was in any way responsible.
I think there are two different issues in terms of responsible here.

1) Was the article irresponsible in the profile it built of Eric Schmidt?

2) Was the article irresponsible in blaming Google for privacy issues or scaremongering?

Those are the two areas I see. For the first, no, I don't see it as that irresponsible. Schmidt's a public figure, and the article so well illustrated what can be found out about someone via Google or web search that Schmidt himself was upset. Hey, I get feedback all the time from people who are upset that personal details can be found this way. They'll be nodding their head that Schmidt is so upset, but they won't be upset with News.com -- they'll be upset with Schmidt's company, Google.

On the second, I agree entirely with you Phil. My write-up of the article blasted it for blaming Google in particular and search engines in general for the fact that other people have put public data on the web. It was the same old thing we've read so many times before, hence my headline, "Moving Past Google Privacy Fears & Toward An Industry Solution." I want to get past the scaremongering and more toward actual reassurances and solutions, where we can. Otherwise, we'll just see the same old News.com-style article again and again, as we already have for the past three years.

I still don't know what Google would do to block that public info. As I and others like yourself have said, if it is up on the public web, it's accessible. But fair to say, the search industry itself perhaps could look at ways to better educate people so it's not the scaremongering and lead them toward ways perhaps to limit what's exposed publicly. After all, as search technology improves, we're just going to see more and more of this out there. In part, it may be that we just have to get used it it -- Schmidt along with the rest of us.
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Old 08-16-2005   #13
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It isn't the very limited amount of personal information about Eric Schmidt that the article built that I found to be irresponsible, Danny. I agree with you about that. And, of course, I agree with you on the second point - I have to - you were agreeing with me

What I found to be so irresponsible is what the article made of that publically available personal information. From there, she sought to persuade people that Google is gathering every bit of personal information that they can find about people, and storing it for some unstated purpose. That was a big leap, and was without any foundation, and that's what I find to be completely irresponsible. If that weren't enough, the sidebox gave additional support to it by deliberately stating some misinformation about cookies.

I don't find any fault with pointing out that, by using search engines, people can find some information about other people. What I find fault with is what she incorrectly implied in the article. I'd expect to read that sort of thing in the tabloids.

Last edited by PhilC : 08-16-2005 at 12:16 PM. Reason: typo
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Old 08-17-2005   #14
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I wonder if CNet will be able to do a reinclusion request.
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Old 08-17-2005   #15
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Google can off course chose who they want to talk to or not but I find it rather silly to refuse to talk to an entire news media of such size and importance as CNet for a whole year. The only real "winners" in that game seems to me to be all the other engies that, for whole year, will get exclusivity on commenting search related issues. How does that serve Google well?

Sorry, but too many of Googles decissions seems to be driven by the same logic that drive small kids in a sandbox. Not very business wise if you ask me.
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Old 08-17-2005   #16
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Would anything be different if cnet had instead linked to the Google or Yahoo or MSN search results which provided the links to the articles which were the public record?
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Old 08-17-2005   #17
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It wouldn't have made any difference for me. The article deceived people in a sensationalist way. Linking to searches wouldn't have changed that. It would probably have made is worse.
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Old 08-18-2005   #18
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I'm late to this thread, and forgive me if I'm a little off-topic.

But does anyone else think this Ban by Google has ANYTHING to do with the "search engine" that Rupert Murdoch is considering turning into the "news search engine" for the future?

Not speculating...just thinking out loud.
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Old 08-18-2005   #19
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But does anyone else think this Ban by Google has ANYTHING to do with the "search engine" that Rupert Murdoch is considering turning into the "news search engine" for the future?
Nnnnnnnah.
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