Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Google Automated Spam Filter Blocked My Spreadsheet

Google finally replied to me about "blacklisting" my spreadsheet. Apparently there are one or more link shorteners that are marked as spam sites. By putting links in my spreadsheet to them, an automated filter singled out my spreadsheet to be blocked. Here's the email I finally received:

Based on the spreadsheet URL you provided in your email, it looks like
some of the links in your spreadsheet were detected as spam by our systems
and caused your spreadsheet to be blacklisted. When putting links in a
spreadsheet it would be best to make sure that they do not redirect to
spam sites.

We have restored your spreadsheet and will use this case to help inform
our systems moving forward.

Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience.


The Google Team

I have a few observations to make about this incident:

  1. Google can be responsive to problem reports - and a real person will investigate reported problems.
  2. I am happy that Google is working to reduce the spread of spam and mal-ware on the Internet.
  3. I would have appreciated some form of prior notification before my spreadsheet was blocked. Notice that Google has never explicitly identified which link they object to. Are they worried that this would allow spammers to game the system? Are they afraid of libel suits or allegations of restraint of trade ?
  4. I should take a bit more care in adding sites to this list. I have reviewed most of the domains to make sure they are bona fide URL shorteners; it can be difficult or impossible for me to determine if they are used as vectors for spam or malware.

I appreciate that Google apologized for unpublishing my data - and I accept their apology. But note that Google's Terms of Service allows them broad latitude in removing users content when they use Google products to publish it:

8.3 Google reserves the right (but shall have no obligation) to pre-screen, review, flag, filter, modify, refuse or remove any or all Content from any Service

This teaches that if you want to express yourself freely on the Internet - you should refrain from using Google publishing sites.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Tr.im Planning a Shut-Down, then Donates All to "The Community"

Eric Woodward has reversed his decision to shut down link shortening site, tr.im by the end of the year, and instead donate all the code and data assets to "the community" to continue to operate in the public domain.

It's a magnanimous offer, and one which, I'm sure, will gather some supporters. But these announcements are coming out pretty fast, and it does seem that some of their decisions are being made too rapidly to carefully plan the transition.

But Eric has silenced all doubters by personally guaranteeing the financial viability of the service from his own personal funds. While he does not specificially address the structure of the new tr.im, it sounds like he will be setting up an independent not-for-profit foundation to own and operate the assets of tr.im (though the source code will be open-sourced).

It's an interesting wrinkle in the story. Will the "open" mojo be enough to materially impact the position of tr.im amongst url shorteners? This is reminiscent of social bookmarking site, Ma.gnolia (which subsequently lost all of their user data), and micro-blogging site, Jaiku - (now an open-source Google Service being operated as a 20% project).

Open-sourcing is not a panacea, but it may inject enough life into a foundering project to remain a valuable piece of the internet infrastructure and community.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Google Censoring Me?

I was surprised to see that the spreadsheet I shared in my most recent post has been blocked from the public. When I visit the page I see this warning:

This spreadsheet is currently blacklisted, and not visible to the public. You are seeing this spreadsheet because you are on an internal IP.

What does THAT mean. Unfortunately, Google won't tell me why my sheet was blacklisted. When I go to their problem report page, there is one link about the DMCA there. But my spreadsheet only includes domain names of other sites, and data I have generated myself. Did someone file a complaint with Google about it?

This points out a very serious problem with cloud computing and Google's policies in particular. If Google is going to try to censor my speech on the internet, should they not at least provide me with visibility to the reasons? I received no prior warning (NO notification at ALL, in fact) that they were going to blacklist this page, nor do I have an opportunity to confront my accuser - whomever that may be.

I am a huge Google fan in general - so this behavior comes as quite a shock to me.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Bit.ly Dominates TinyURL and 213 other Link Shorteners

Bit.ly continues to dominate the link shortener usage on Twitter through July 2009. Bit.ly has doubled the number of links being shared per day on Twitter from 800,000 in June to 1.7M by the end of July. In the same time, TinyURL lost half of their traffic, dropping from 500,000 to under 250,000 links shared per day.

No other link shortener has more than 1/4 of the traffic of the two leaders, and in fact, the next two leaders, is.gd and tr.im lost about 30% of their traffic in the last month.