Sunday, April 09, 2006

Search-Engine-Style Justice

ITEM: A year or so ago, my wife had dediced to get a Yahoo! email account. After telling all her friends about her new account, it abruptly got deleted by the company. The error messages she got when she tried to log in suggested that she may have fallen into a group of guilty parties who included those doing illegal things, racially offensive stuff, or spamming. We went through the automated process of trying to appeal but got no acknowledgement of the appeal. I'm guessing that, even though we weren't spammers, we did something that spammers often do, maybe in the kind of email address we used as backup for the service. We'll really never know. Some kid at Yahoo! wrote the algorithm, a few accounts got deleted, and he or she got pats on the back for it.

ITEM: I have another blog where I have been posting links to other folk's ocean shoreline photography at It's perfectly legal, as per the rules of flickr and blogger. But some kid at blogger came up with an algorithm to catch "spam-bloggers," i.e., folks who were filling up the blogspace with unedifying advertisements in the form of blogs. My blog got caught up in the dragnet. I was posting lots of really neat pictures of shorelines, with simple if not vapid comments about each one. Check out the site yourself if you want. Apparently, I was doing something similar to what spam-bloggers do. Off went my head. It took over a week and two emails to get it resolved.

I wasn't too bothered until I saw blogger's blog getting a little too triumphant over their action. They mention how they are taking actions to prevent further false positives.

It gives me some pause to think about how the Big Two internet companies are so willing to implement a "shoot first, answer emails a week later" policy to catch bad guys. As we commit more and more of our daily life to the internet, is this becoming increasingly dangerous? Our medical plan is sending us email acknowledgements of prescriptions filled by mail order. What if the request were to be made by email, and we lost our account because we were caught up in the dragnet of some kid's presumptuous data mining at gmail or Yahoo! mail??

This whole experience gives me renewed appreciation for the victims of racial profiling. (Not that as a white male, I haven't experienced mutiple cases of being judged on the basis of my physical appearance, at least twice with threats of physical violence on account of the judging.) Your car gets stopped, your email account gets deleted, your hospital gets shut down, your city gets bombed, your father ends up in Abu Ghraib, all because someone did some bad guy did or looked or was standing somewhere similar to what you were doing.

He answered, "For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it."
Genesis 18:31

1 comment:

SteveH said...

I've had a similar experience with Blogger. My blog (Internet Results) was automatically removed as spam. After I wrote to Blogger it was quickly reinstated, but before I could republish a porn spammer had taken over my URL. Now my non-spam blog has been replaced with porn spam--and after three emails I still have not received a response from This really hurts because potential customers and employers are going to my blog URL (it's listed in SERPs) to see examples of my SEM advice, and what they get is porn spam.