Studying a study

[A couple things to note: 1. This is a purely personal blog post–like other blogs posts I do, I haven’t run it by anyone else at Google. 2. I’m writing it quickly because I have a lot of work to do. If I get something wrong, please let me know and I’ll correct it.]

This morning I saw an article in the New York Times with the headline Two-Thirds of Americans Object to Online Tracking:

ABOUT two-thirds of Americans object to online tracking by advertisers — and that number rises once they learn the different ways marketers are following their online movements, according to a new survey from professors at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Berkeley.

So naturally I clicked to see who the co-authors were. One of the study’s co-authors was Chris Jay Hoofnagle. Hoofnagle has served as the Senior Counsel and Director of the West Coast Office
of Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)
. You haven’t heard of EPIC? EPIC was the group that in 2004 argued that Gmail should be shut down: “In a letter sent to California Attorney General Bill Lockyer on Monday, the Electronic Privacy Information Center argued that Gmail must be shut down because it ‘represents an unprecedented invasion into the sanctity of private communications.’ ”

I can guess what you’re saying. “That was five years ago. People didn’t know then how useful Gmail was going to be.” Okay, then did you know that EPIC lobbied the government to shut down Google Apps earlier this year? Here’s the article from March 2009:

A privacy advocacy group has asked the Federal Trade Commission to pull the plug on Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, and the company’s other Web apps until government-approved “safeguards are verifiably established.”

If the FTC grants the request, hundreds of millions of Internet users would be unable to access their e-mail or documents until the agency’s formidable collection of lawyers in Washington, D.C., became satisfied with the revised applications. The outage would extend to businesses that pay for access to Google Apps.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center submitted the far-reaching request to the FTC in a letter from its director, Marc Rotenberg, on Tuesday.

Most people know that the choice of questions in an study can make a huge difference to the outcome. To fully inform the people who read the study, do I wish Chris Jay Hoofnagle had mentioned his connection to EPIC in the paper’s bio section? Yeah, I kinda do. At least when I checked Techmeme, not a single story mentioned Hoofnagle as a Principal Investigator on the grant and co-author on the study, or Hoofnagle’s connections with EPIC.

I’m sure that EPIC has done plenty of fine work to improve privacy on the web. I certainly disagree with some of their opinions: EPIC may have wanted to shut down Gmail five years ago and wanted to shut down Google Apps earlier this year, but I believe that would be a bad idea. I don’t think a majority of people want their Gmail or Google Apps accounts shut down by the government. And maybe this most recent study will be received as completely impartial–but I wish that Hoofnagle’s connections to EPIC had been disclosed in the bio section.

Don’t get me wrong. I welcome criticism of Google (or other companies’ practices) from all corners of the web. From that criticism it’s important to look for ways to improve. People love (and hate) Google enough to give us passionate criticism, and I truly appreciate the feedback. It’s when Google’s features and products are greeted with indifference or apathy that I’ll really be worried.

95 Responses to Studying a study (Leave a comment)

  1. Sorry if this post comes across as a little frustrated, but this isn’t the first time I’ve been frustrated. Earlier this year, I saw a couple pieces on TechCrunch by Eric Clemons. The bio given was “The following is a guest post by Eric Clemons, Professor of Operations and Information Management at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The views he expresses are his own, and we present them here to foster debate.” What was not mentioned in Clemons’ bio is that he is also involved with “The Alliance Against Bait & Click is comprised of a diverse group of leading experts, organizations, and companies working together to stop bait & click and make deceptive sponsored search results a thing of the past,” and that some members of that group have sued Google over advertising policies.

  2. It seems that people don’t want to be tracked, yet we want custom content delivered to us based on our interests. It is kind of a two edged sword. There is a lot of fear and sometimes deservedly so, sometimes not. The best thing Google can do is keep trust with the people who use it and make sure we are fully aware of how information provided by tracking software is used. I would hate to lose tools like Google Analytics. It helps me know what my business is doing that is helpful and in turn helps me to do a better job for my customers. It is certainly a balancing act, huh?

  3. Someone lobbying against google apps ??? no wonder you are frustrated ..

  4. dinu, I don’t mind criticism. But if someone has an undisclosed interest or background that would cause people to consider the source in a different light, I think that should be disclosed.

  5. We could just turn it off. The Internet, I mean. That would protect us all, right?

  6. WTF?!??!


    “Every day, Internet users are misled by scam ads-or scads-on major search engines.

    Scads are deceptive sponsored search results that usually appear at the top and along the side of the page. Search engines allow companies to use brand names they don’t have the right to use to lure you to their site… bait & click! The result?

    You waste time and may risk falling victim to fraud, viruses or spyware.”

  7. Good post, Matt and thanks for the background information on the author. That makes a BIG difference in the report.

  8. Sounds to me like the stuffy elite are just trying to wrap their scaly coils around private entities and squeeze money and innovation out of them by dictating frivolous regulation.

    I will end it at that.

  9. I don’t know what people are worrying about; of course you collect some data but who doesn’t? If I meet somebody I check him from head to toes to remember this data later. If Google does so, too… I’m not scared. Google is providing top-notch service since it was established and I wouldn’t be very amused if any of the Google Apps and Services were shut down due to somebody who actually is scared too much.

  10. Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I don’t understand the worry about privacy with Google apps. Google doesn’t know anything about me that any private investigator couldn’t find out pretty easily. I mean, besides my interesting browsing habits. “Let’s see… Jon likes to visit web design blogs every day. How interesting!”

  11. Let’s be honest, Matt. There is a pretty simple string of logic here:

    1. Google is the most powerful and relevant site, set of tools, etc. On the web.

    2. The web is not perfect

    3. It’s all Google’s fault

    I wouldn’t expect that the government will be listening to any lobbying about shutting Google down. I feel like Google has always been pretty transparent about any data they are gathering, and I’m about 100% sure NONE of it is attributed to an individual user….right?

  12. Reminds of the people in my home neighborhood that insisted on putting a stop sign at every single intersection… Much to the annoyance of everyone who lived in the area. Some people just need something to fight for, and unfortunately choose the wrong things.

  13. Clearly the online advertising industry has a TON of work to do to educate consumers on both the information in their anonymous profiles, as well as on the benefits of having free content supported by targeted advertising.
    Consumers form their perceptions on technology based on what they read in newspapers. It’s a shame that more consumers may decide they agree with this “majority” of 1000 people who answered a question that doesn’t adequately probe the realities of the ecosystem and the trade-offs that consumers will be forced to make if the industry is over-regulated.

  14. Whether one agrees with the there findings or not I believe the outcome is flawed by not being totally upfront with their affiliation.

    On a personal level..more restrictions, regulations and rules are just what our county needs to be more competitive. How about throwing in some new taxes for good measure!

  15. That is a very interesting and I agree with Michael David above about them not being totally upfront with there affiliation.

    Also Matt if you are sincere about taking feedback then post this comment quickly so people can see it. I will even post any comments you have about this on my Blog.

    This is a very important Google article that everyone should read:

    Also it is related to the this article, so it is not off topic.

    Let’s see how sinecere you really are about what you stated above regarding feedback.

    Thank you.

  16. Years ago, I wrote an editorial for about a junk science study of smoking in films. More recently on my blog, I debunked the junk science claims in some Sanofi-Aventis web ads trying to scare people into getting vaccinated for Whooping Cough (by presenting statistics out of context and neglecting to mention that everyone who has had a tetanus booster since 2005 got the Whooping Cough vaccine included in the booster). Most recently, I debunked the claims of a group trying to claim flu shots should be avoided (once again by presenting statistics out of context).

    I’m not a professional debunker, just someone who hates junk science. When a principal investigator brings such a history of bias into a study, it HAS to be disclosed and not as a buried footnote. But what is even more infuriating is that the media just parrots the press releases and rarely digs deeper to investigate whether there is sound methodology or the source materials being cited actually back up the conclusions being expressed.

    Thanks Matt for digging deeper. If the newspapers and traditional media wonder why more and more of us are leaving them in droves, in my case it’s because of this mindless parroting of press releases. It’s the media’s job to dig beneath the surface, present the news with context and investigation. Instead, they seem more likely to just republish soundbite quotes that make people’s eyebrows raise.

  17. Wow. I had found it strange that they would conduct a telephone poll about internet use habits (why the mismatch in medium?) but that is clearly nothing compared to a simple search for those conducting the survey. Perhaps it’s true that people of all demographics feel this way, but this survey definitely doesn’t show it

  18. It should have been disclosed. And I’m one of the people who object to persistent tracking on the Interwebs. But rather than government intervention as the solution, I simply avoid using services I feel would violate my privacy (Including Gmail, docs, etc). I also arm myself with script blockers, cookie blockers, and useragent spoofing, all of which allow me to use the Internet as I see fit, protect my privacy and PC security, and don’t require new laws.

    It’s a free country (more or less), and I support Google’s right to do whatever it wants. No one forces me to use the services. There are many people who are concerned about privacy, but by failing to disclose his EPIC affiliations, the editors have hurt the credibility of what was probably a legit survey. (shrug). My $.02

  19. Hiiii Matt,

    I do hope you don’t mind, but today is the day Google Wave went live for the 1st 100,000 lucky users (as you are well aware)!

    I’m sure you’ve probably seen there is a surge in eBay auctions with people selling their Google Wave invites!

    Well, I’m selling my unofficial “Google Wave” for charity;

    Yes, this was a blatant sales comment, but for a good cause! (100% of auction goes to Help for Heroes charity).

    And anyone reading this, go ahead and bid, eh? 😛

  20. Matt, you bring up the excellent point that the folks behind studies are rarely mentioned, let alone named. How many times do we hear on the “news” about some medical breakthrough or how a food item is supposed to be good for you? Sometime later, we find out that the study was financed by a group that would benefit from a positive outcome or that the study was slanted to produce the desired outcome.

    As a business communicator and private citizen, a study is much more credible when accompanied by full disclosure. After all, we know that what folks want to keep hidden do come to light at some point – and most often at the most inopportune time!

  21. hey there’s no doubt that there is all sort of security issues and red flags google raises and EPIC has many valid points. I don’t care though because google’s services are useful enough to counter weight those much more so. so just relax about it. work on the sandbox.

  22. @Matt,

    Whats your take on Google sending a Cease & Desist letter to Cyanogen, Steve Kondik, who is the most prominent Android ROM Mod creator?

    Google is within their rights as its not about Android specifically but the inclusion of Google proprietary applications such as GMail, YouTube, etc in those ROMs but those applications are so intertwined into Android it really sullies the Openness aspect of it.

    Your thoughts since this is this post is your latest thoughts in general? 🙂

    ,Michael Martin

  23. Matt,

    I’m just jealous that when you’re frustrated, you can post it in one place and get a ton of readers. I’d have to repeat it all over my website for the same hearing.

    BTW, I don’t agree that EPIC has done plenty of fine work to increase privacy on the web. The web simply isn’t a private place.


  24. I think people have a natural reaction of protection when it comes to online privacy, but most truly have nothing bad to hide.

    Companies use data mining everyday. If they didn’t, companies would not be as professional and consumers would be the ones’ suffering.

  25. Oops, this time with the link correctly formatted (Matt, can you add a preview button?):

    I think Lawrence Lessig and Jonathan Zittrain offer a much more sober investigation of these issues. By coincidence (I hadn’t read the NYT article beforehand), I recent wrote a post entitled Privacy, Pseudonymity, and Copyright that explores some of these issues. People do have to learn that privacy isn’t binary, and that every social exchange has costs and benefits.

  26. People fear that the information can be used against them. In a business or private manner, information on someone interests can be vital. Even I am not sure do I like to get custom and useful content or tons of somehow related information.

    For the survey – do you know the saying “the one who pays order the music”? All studies are done this way. Just see the health news.

  27. I think your interesting and thought provoking post covers a few different issues.
    Purely on the privacy issue, I am not a statistician but I read a good part of the survey, and yes, it does seem to be professional with not too much ambiguity in the questions, so my take on that would be that putting all other issues to one side, there is genuine concern about privacy by many (most) people including young people, so, definitely worthy of note, again, thats purely on the privacy issue.

    Advertising tactics, in an attempt to target potential customers more effectively adverising is moving into new uncharted territory, I have seen the term digital advertising being used, how it will work long term, how people will react to any privacy concerns or if it will be better than traditional advertising remains to be seen

    As for Google and privacy, then google may be reaching a critical stage in terms of public perception, from dynamic startup driven by engineering innovation from a young and talented team in a fun to work for organisation, to a large company trying to find it’s place in the big scheme of things and make a profit and keep the investors happy,regarding privacy, there may be a diffrence between perception and reality here, but people deal in perception, i don’t know if that means better PR or a bit of give and take. Maybe time for some reflection and stick to what works for Google before becoming just another big company with all the baggage that goes with it.

    As for googles features being treated with apathy and indiffrence, I doubt it, Google is still number one when you talk about search, people even say “Google it” so hardly apathy and indiffrence, other features maybe need better marketing and a bit more hype, this is where engineering and marketing never seem to quite get it together, engineers want stuff to work properly and the job is done, I just don’t think enough people know about many of the other features that Google has or maybe working on and how it can benefit them. My two pence worth.

  28. Google is the most intrusive company there is when it comes to information these days.

    I’ve removed the toolbar and personally don’t use anything from Google that could capture information about me.

    Every chance I get, I let people know just how evil Google really is and I point them in other directions.

    People are getting fed up with Google’s practices and it’s only going to get worse for Google.

  29. Thank you Spamhound.

    I am smiling about your user name. 🙂

  30. EPIC has done some excellent surveys on privacy and human rights around the world. One of the things I learned from reading these surveys is that data protection and privacy laws in the United States are lagging far behind those of the EU, Asian tiger economies, and even emerging economies in South America. For example, in the U.S. I do not have a guaranteed legal right to demand that you Google folks tell me a) what personal information you have on me b) how you are using that information, and c) who you are sharing that information with. Nor do I have the legal right to see that information or demand that you correct any of that data if it is inaccurate. Your privacy policy informs Google users about some of these ABCs, but its no substitution for legal protection against abuse of my personally identifiable information.

    I totally understand why people need to know about Chris Jay Hoofnagle’s involvement with EPIC, and I certainly do not agree that shutting down Gmail or Google Docs is the right answer. I would prefer that he lobby the government to enact stronger data privacy and protection laws that regulate the information you collect through your services. I mean, it’s really pathetic that our government has to set up a safe harbor just so that our banks can continue to do business with EU countries, don’t you think? Google seems to have a reasonable stance towards personal privacy and I think there is an opportunity to engage and work with Hoofnagle on these public policy issues. After all, proper control of data privacy and protection serve to facilitate, rather than hinder, the free flow of information by creating an atmosphere of trust and integrity.

    The basic problem I personally have with Google (and Facebook, and and and) is that the company is setting a bad precedent in terms of what corporations are allowed to do with my information, and in terms of the rights I retain to said information.

    Not everyone has a “do no evil” credo, Matt, while Google may use its powers only for Good, I’m sure you’re aware of all the naughty things that data brokers and identity thieves do with our information. And it’s not just about the data you collect for AdSense; I have a ton of personal information stored on your servers just by merit of using those services. What if that information is lost, leaked, stolen, etc.? If it weren’t for state laws such as CA SB1386, Google wouldn’t even have to mention the data security breach and I might not find out until someone commits identity theft.

    Bottom line: Hoofnagle is aiming his gun at the wrong target, and I don’t see how Gmail is inherently any more dangerous than any other webmail service. Frankly, he should be a LOT more worried about companies like AT&T, and the government would be overreaching its authority by shutting down Google Docs or Gmail based on these arguments. But when my information becomes Google’s data and I have less control over my identity, my media, etc. than Google does, something is seriously wrong with our society and the legal frameworks that are supposed to personal privacy. I mean, what if Google claimed rights to my car simply because I parked in their lot, and possibly even after that?

    But to be fair, we as citizens are also to blame for our complacency. It’s personally shocking that Americans have such distrust of the government knowing things about them and yet allow amoral corporations to gain access to all the intimate details of our lives. My personal information, in my humble opinion, should be treated as intellectual property. MY intellectual property.

  31. Wow Rick,

    That was excellent and I fully agree with you.

  32. mm banning gmail surely he should have lobbied for rfc822 and X.400 to be banned until movement approved safe guards (presumably a back door so the secret squirrels can read peoples email’s) could be implemented.

    Did he some how think that email is a secure medium – if you want secure communication use cryptography.

  33. Matt, besides the EPIC issue as described in your post I believe that there is a secondary and even more important message which is evident (which has nothing to do with EPIC). We should not be idle consumers of information on the Internet … we should actively challenge information on the Internet. The Internet makes it very easy for great as well as inaccurate and badly researched information to be published. At the same time however, the Internet allows for quick reasearch into content and authors of material. We should not just accept content but should take responsibility for ensuring that the content provided is accurate through background research.
    Thanks for illustrating the benefit of related research in this article.

  34. Agreed. If you ask someone “do you want to be tracked” of course they are going to say no. But if you ask them “are you in favor of archiving online activity” the answers would probably come out differently.

  35. Matt

    It is really hard to argue with the intent of stopping scam ads and I am pretty sure you are not speaking in favor of them…although I have never heard of and I do not know if they have some hidden agenda. It appears they equate scam advertising with brand bidding for PPC. These are both legitimate discussions, but I am not comfortable with equating the two.

    Likewise, if you strip out the motives of the researchers, I am reasonable sure that respondents would say they are concerned about there activity online being tracked…I know I am. Generally, I support the goals of EPIC even if I am not comfortable with every position they take.

    The fact is that success has made Google a target for anyone trying to sue or get press about what is wrong with the internet. That success also leaves Google with a moral responsibility to show leadership. I know you have thick skin, so I suggest you let it roll of your shoulders like so much else.

    Full disclosure, I have been campaigning to make ad networks responsible for deceptive advertising for over 2 years. 🙂

  36. Lots of people are against landfills, power plants, windmills, G20, Microsoft, Google, and even Halloween. Plotting them in N dimensional space yields a cluster on the left side of all of the axes.

  37. Matt, I have no problem with Google tracking my online movements, It’s not as if Google is not open about it. However, one-day (if that hasn’t already been) Google will have to do “evil” to increase profits for it’s owners (Shareholders). Google simply wont have a choiuce as it is legally bound to do what is BEST FOR SHAREHOLDERS OVER IT’S USERS.

    As for the “Study” how stupid! You only need half-a-brain to know that most people online dislike having their privacy compromised. I guess they need to justify their jobs and salary.

  38. Of course we’d all best consider the risks of placing our companies industry-secrets at GoogleApps, where we know (I hope all do) that Google will be indexing the content of our mail and documents to present relevant ads.

    Also, how do we know that our mail and documents are protected? The local server, behind our companies firewall, that demand Active Domain-login to permit access, that I can control, but how can I be sure that my GoogleApps are secure?

    I can also argue that the hosted solution, shared over a large server farm, hosted by a group of experts probably will be more secure than my local solution.

    We all need to consider this before we make the decision to use, or not use, GoogleApps. The company where I’m employed are hosting it’s own servers. My personal company picked GoogleApps.

  39. I think Its a easiest way to get popular … What I mean is if you want to get recognized by the people you should do something that makes you popular in a single night. Like the EPIC people … they know how Google is popular all over the world and if they go against to the giant company they all will focus and they get some recognition.

    I donno whether my opinion is correct or not.

    Watcha say you guys … and Matts ???

    while coming to the online tracking I dont even mind if google tracks.

    I dont understand what the EPIC is having problem with only google?? Why not they targetting AOL .. Yahoo … Bing or any other …. all are providing same apps as google does.

    They should answer to this question ….

  40. Seen this kind of thing before – I used to live in the UK and was involved in ‘Green laning’ (4×4 or perhaps 4 wheeling in the states). A lot of people pulled together and formed opposition groups trying to get us banned from exploring ancient rights of way.

    The media passed on the expressions of these people and pretty soon the general public took on their ideas and thought that we were vandalising the countryside, killing the planet, running down puppies and greater crested newts, causing tidal waves in the Pacific etc……

    The point is that people form their opinions on limited, often incorrect information and sometimes down right lies…. From this point on it is very hard to change peoples opinions, people resist changing their opinions! So with Google, M$ etc. it is very easy for people to take on the idea that they are big brother and are evil…. once they get this into their heads it’s hard to shift!!!!

    I have faith in Google, I hope that they are not and will not become ‘Evil’ or be controlled by anybody that is ‘Evil’- I know that governments, politicians and some religious leaders however are not worthy of the same faith!

    Good Luck Google!

    p.s. these are my personal opinions, if anybody wants me to change them… good luck 😉

  41. I actually can’t even believe this is an issue to begin with. No one is forcing people to use any Google product. If you’re not comfortable with what google might do with your data then don’t use their product. Simple. Personally I think Google is one of the most honest online companies I’ve seen and I’m happy with their services. Crazy groups like the one cited here keep Google on their toes which helps us as well. Luckily courts are intelligent enough not to do crazy things like ask Gmail to be shut down because some looneybin says so.

  42. I do not think there’s anyone who’s going to be obsessed about being tracked. As far as internet marketing is concerned, that’s why it is gaining more $$$ than any other marketing medium. It is the only medium via which the marketing effectiveness can be traced near to 100%. It’s ok one begin followed digitally, I should be worried when I have to do something I have to be ashamed off and someone is following me, not otherwise.

  43. The best defence is transparency, giving the user control.

    There’s one area in particular where I feel greater transparency is required, and that’s the search log anonymisation – I strongly agree with Microsoft’s statement that it’s not just the length of time before they are anonymised, the method of anonymising is critical. I feel a minimum standard (applicable to all search engines, not just Google) is needed here.

  44. Information and the Internet want to be free.

    Google is a big part of making the Internet free, open and accessible. I would trust Google over any government, any day. Google’s interests are financial and I trust Google to act rationally in that regard. If people didn’t want to share their information, or have access to free apps and email at the expense of that information, Google would be out of business.

    In my opinion Google does a lot more to promote a healthy World Wide Web and protect the rights and privacy of the individual than any other organization, governmental or not.

  45. Sorry buy I agree with stopscads there are TOO many bad PPC adverts, look at “passport” in the UK, they stop people going to and getting the correct information – Google etc.. are very quick at pointing out bad webpages, but are slow at policing themselves, especially if they are ‘dark grey’ in nature.

    Having worked with targetting (Atlas etc..) I personally WANT to have targetted adverts, I love Gmail and I would prefer “mobile phone” adverts I am interested in to “designer handbag” I am not. However Tim Berners Lee has a point, if this data is collected about you, it CAN be used against you – if I search for cancer information prior to purchasing health insurance and find out I am being charged more, is that ok? I had a colleague that was very openly gay, but he wanted the option of not being shown to be and not be profiled as such… privacy is a hard balance and to be honest I think Google has it right at the moment, what terrifies me is the future – the information is worth a lot of money, and a small change in T’s and C’s could result in this information passing into the wrong hands.

  46. Just wanted to let you know that if gmail and google docs was shut down, It would NOT make me happy. I rely on these apps and the many more that are available on Google.

  47. Matt:

    While there may be bias here, and one can try and discredit the findings on that basis, there are other studies that show consumer objections to tracking and/or confusion about online privacy, cookies, etc.

    The momentum already exists for regulation and this just provides one more piece of support. The online publishers must come together and make a much stronger effort with privacy and transparency to avoid the FTC or legislators imposing rules from without. The IAB’s july statement/position won’t cut it either.

  48. I can understand your feelings about not having the connection to EPIC in the bio section, but to when you state:

    “Most people know that the choice of questions in an study can make a huge difference to the outcome.”

    you are implying that something is actually wrong with the choice of questions, but then you don’t follow up with actual examples. Perhaps this is because you wrote it so quickly. But your criticism would be more powerful if you either left out the sentence regarding the choice of questions, or fleshed it out more with actual examples.

  49. Yes, the government should certainly shut down Gmail. After all, the government would NEVER commit “an unprecedented invasion into the sanctity of private communications.”

  50. I actually can’t even believe this is an issue to begin with. No one is forcing people to use any Google product. If you’re not comfortable with what google might do with your data then don’t use their product.

    That’s exactly what I was thinking. No one’s sitting there with a gun forcing us to use GMail or Google Docs or Adsense/Adwords or the Toolbar or any other service they offer. No one even forces us to use the flagship product. If you’re worried about your privacy, don’t use the tools Google provides. It’s no more complicated than that.

    Ya gotta love the so-called consumer watchdog organizations.

  51. My question is what needs to be disclosed in a BIO? I know I certainly wouldn’t include information about myself that is over 5 years old especially if I no longer am involved with the said company. Usually Bio’s are just to give you a little bit of information about the author not their entire life story. I am not defending this person at all as I love Google and it’s many diverse products. I am just saying that maybe we expect too much out of a Bio? What do other people think? Should you include your life story in a Bio?

  52. I don’t believe a well worded question requires the disclosure of who is asking it. Given that the current state of law is lagging so very far behind the technological advances, and the penchant for the government, businesses, and criminals to manipulate and misuse data, and completly disregard the fundamental constitutional right to privacy, it is abhorant that Google, advertisers, social websites and others use extreamly covert tactics to sell or provide the means to discover every shread of activty a specific user is involved with. IF, and only if, all this techno-vouyerism was benevolent, perhaps it wouldn’t matter so much. But we are on the verge of total information awareness of all activity by everybody except ourselves. And so, when Joe Agent says to Ad Agent, I would like to have all you got on Qpublic, we have them under investigation, the government has access to more information than they can understand, and so minimum wage Charlie says, I think we found a person of intrest, lets start an assessment. My RIGHT to privacy has been usrped in the name of profitability. All just because I allowed FarmLand to connect to my FaceBook. I didn’t need or want all those advertiser know that I also have a FLickr account, a boss with a foreign name, an old classmate that has gone ex-patriot, and a relative that likes pot-related music. We are demanding transparency from our gonverments, our soscial networks, and the businesses that are exploiting our habits. Answer the question on the face of it. Do you like mustard – yes or no. Who cares if I am the sole Frenches mustard heir? The question would stands well on its own. (Sorry for the passionate ramble). I do not like all these API’s being used to uncover my every web encounter. For any reason. Period. It’s the same answer to anyone asking this question.

  53. Matt, Google is simply Superb and I think all the products offered by Google are great. I never have worried about the privacy issue before and I will not in the future. I think you don’t have to worry about such article’s author bio anyway 🙂

  54. I actually can’t even believe this is an issue to begin with. No one is forcing people to use any Google product. If you’re not comfortable with what google might do with your data then don’t use their product.

    Rather a simple way to look at. In fact, far too simple. You know it’s too simple when the likes of Multi-Worded Adam has the same thought.

    If I left a loaded shotgun on the side of the road, nobody is forcing anyone to pick it up and start shooting people. BUT, I bet everyone would blame me for the murders as much as the person who pulled the trigger, and rightly so.

    Make no mistake, Google has a HUGE responsibility, having much more personal information that any other company on the Planet. My only fear is that shareholders, always wanting increases in profit, will force Google hands to do “evil” with information.

    Then again, I read somewhere that Larry Page and Sergey Brin define the meaning of “evil” as it relates to Google. Rest easy folks 🙂

    LOL! Google spellchecker tries to change “Sergey Brin”.

  55. I figure if I don’t want to be tracked I’ll use another search engine. Problem is I like Google so I guess I’m getting tracked.

  56. Dave (Original) makes some good comments above, and I agree with him.

    This is a very complex subject and if you have ever been profiled or targeted by Google you will understand.

    We need to know in great detail everything Google is doing with the data and exactly who in Google is using it, and how they are using the data they collect. Look at the Japan Google selling links as an example. Google can have evil employees violating Google’s own policies, and just think if some bad people in Google started to abuse the privacy data Google has?

    This is a very real concern everyone should have.

  57. Sorry, I meant to say Google Japan buying links in the comment above.

  58. Matt, I’m not all sure EPIC has done plenty of fine work to improve privacy on the web, though I do appreciate the generosity of your comment. As a long time software developer who replies on the web for my livelihood, I see organizations like these not as necessary balances to the evils of capitalism or as noble protectors of liberty. Rather they are parasites that suck enormous time and energy away from organizations like Google that participate in the truly noble practice of capitalism.

    I have every confidence in our free market system – if Gmail or Google Docs were inherently bad ideas (for technical or privacy reasons), competitors would soon arise who would show us these flaws and offer us superior and private alternatives.

  59. Tom, don’t ever encourage Dave (Useless). The only way he can make a point is by sharpening a pencil.

    I’ve been targeted by Google, and I don’t see this as a complex issue at all. In fact, I was one of the first people targeted by Google. A representative called me about 5 years ago from the New York office (I think his name was Jerome) asking me to sign up all of my clients for Adwords. I told him politely that I refuse to buy anything from anyone that cold-calls me. To the best of my knowledge, they changed the cold-calling policy shortly after that, though (I haven’t heard of anyone getting cold-called since then, and I remember reading somewhere that it was changed).

    Do I think Google or the rep who called me was intentionally trying to “be evil”? No.
    Did I like the marketing tactic? No.
    Do I have the power to do something about it? Yes, and I did. So does everyone else.

    What this all boils down to is that Google’s services are marketed in an environment that represents one of the purest forms of capitalism. Government intervention is minimal, as well it should be…governments have repeatedly demonstrated both a lack of Internet knowledge and the inability to enforce any laws that they create (just ask the geniuses who came up with CAN-SPAM). While Google has a major market share in search and in advertising, they still have to be very aware of both the general public and its competitors. The former in particular has a strong influence in what big G says and does.

    What makes this even more difficult for Google is that a major portion of their market is the tech-savvy crowd, and let’s face it…whether we’ll admit it or not, we’re a bunch of flakes. Even the slightest comment by Google sets off a whole bunch of misguided criticisms and passionate outbursts and potential evacuations to Bing and Yahoo! as the search engine of choice (for about 15 minutes). Not that Google should expect it, but loyalty and free market understanding aren’t our strong suits. In other words, if Google says the wrong thing (or even something interpreted as the wrong thing) to the tech-savvy community, we’d be the first ones to start looking elsewhere for search. If you don’t believe me, just read spamhound’s comments over the last year or so…(s)he (I think it’s a he, but I’m not sure) really has a grip on the tech-savvy thinkers.

    Bottom line is this: Google is actually behind the 8-ball. Not that I feel any great empathy toward them…it’s the business they got into, and that’s part of the territory. But the people who ultimately possess the control are those who use/don’t use and invest/don’t invest in the company, not the company itself.

    That’s why this is not a complex topic: Google doesn’t really have the power that people seem to think it does. Internet users and shareholders do. If we don’t like something Google says, we can vote with our feet. But some people would rather whine, complain, start conspiracy theories, and God knows what else than to actually do something abou tit.

    You think Google’s evil? Block your site from the spiders. Don’t click on Adsense/Adwords ads. Don’t use Adsense/Adwords. Don’t use GMail. Don’t use Google Docs. Don’t use any Google services. It’s not rocket science. It’s just free market common sense.

  60. Regarding the full disclosure of whom is asking the question and why, I believe a well worded question doesn’t need such transparency. I don’t care if CATO, EFF, EPIC, NSA, CIA, FBI, or Google asks if I object to online tracking. As it stands today, in general, yes, I object. The API’s that provide this functionality are easily abused. The average Joe User simply doesn’t have any clue as to how deeply these API’s track data. They can effect data collection off family, friends and others with-out their knowledge that they have been assessed by these creepy crawlers. If Matt wants transparency, why didn’t he mention that Google has publicly posted that they had hired top-level programmers who had previously been employed by the CIA? Does Matt know he works with these folks? Does anybody know if any former CIA agent every really quit the CIA? Yes, I agree that transparency and accountability are desirable, but it should be across the board, in every direction. We should all know who is doing what with whom. Total Information Awareness for everyone, about everything. Let’s start with all of the various US government entities. Then work our way in to all the search engine companies and tele-communication entities; then let’s open up the advertisers and their databases. Once everybody knows everything about everybody else, then we can have our customized content and advertisements too.

  61. Hi Multi-Worded Adam,

    I am sorry if I offended you, that was not my intent.

    Please accept my apology.

    Did you try to report what Google did to you to anyone, or did you just think it was a waste of time reporting anything to Google?

  62. Hi Multi-Worded Adam,

    I studied your comment in detail, and I am sorry I respectfully disagree with you.

    What if Google unfairly penalized your site and made it a PR0?

    How would you fell about that?

  63. How would you feel about that?

  64. Tom, don’t worry about Multi-Worded Adam, he’s got a chip on his shoulder about me and has stalked me in the past, probably still is. He ,obviously cannot comprehend privacy issues and thinks it should all be as simple as he is.

    I studied your comment in detail, and I am sorry I respectfully disagree with you.

    As with all his posts, it’s just Multi-Worded Adam stroking his Ego……………………again.

  65. Google can have evil employees violating Google’s own policies, and just think if some bad people in Google started to abuse the privacy data Google has?

    Good point! It doesn’t take Google to be ‘evil’ it only takes the right Google employee.

  66. Thank you Dave (Original),

    I will still try to win Multi-Worded Adam over to some of these ideas, and I believe very strongly in freedom of speech. I travel around the world a lot and it makes it very clear how lucky we are to be Americans, many countries do not have true freedom of speech like we do. However it is also clear that we are behind European Countries in Privacy laws as stated so nicely above by Rick Thomchick.

  67. I am sorry if I offended you, that was not my intent.

    Please accept my apology.

    Nothing to apologize for, dude. It’s not your fault. You didn’t say or do anything offensive.

    Did you try to report what Google did to you to anyone, or did you just think it was a waste of time reporting anything to Google?

    I never bothered to report it, so part 1 is no. The reason, though, was that I couldn’t immedateily see where to report the problem. I probably could have called the same office that called me, asked for a manager, gotten told to call Phone Number X, dealt with that person, etc. and so on. I suspect it wouldn’t have taken as many hops as it usually does in the corporate world to reach the person I intended to. And I probably would have gotten some resolution. But would it have been worth the effort? To be honest with you, I don’t know. I don’t think it would have been a total waste of time, but I couldn’t say that for sure, nor do I intend to.

    I studied your comment in detail, and I am sorry I respectfully disagree with you.

    What if Google unfairly penalized your site and made it a PR0?

    Hey, at least it’s respectful. That’s more than most people give me. 😉

    I can tell you exactly how I felt because something “even worse” happened by SEO standards…my site got completely removed from the index in August of 2006 (as in the site my name links to).

    Had I done anything wrong? No.
    Did Google give me any indication of what I had done wrong? No.
    Have they ever given me an indication of why the site was removed from the index? No.

    But it happened. For two whole weeks, it was gone. And I had no explanation or recourse whatsoever. I still don’t know exactly what happened (I’ve got a theory that they couldn’t reach the server for some reason, but I’ve never been able to determine it conclusively.)

    And at first, it bothered me. I saw a significant traffic decrease, not to mention that if anyone had figured out what had happened, it would have looked really bad (fortunately, no one did). But then I thought about it and I realized two things;

    1) I don’t have any right to expect to be included or not included in the index. It’s their site. They can include or exclude whatever pages and sites they want. They don’t tell me what to do with my site (yes, there are “guidelines”, but “guidelines” are not hard and fast rules and they don’t have control over what any of us choose to do with those “guidelines”). So why should I get to tell them what to do with theirs?

    2) I formed a traffic dependency. Google is a major traffic source; there’s no denying that. But if it’s the only traffic source, or if it represents a significant percentage of traffic, then the impact that occurs when that source is removed is far greater than it should be.

    If you ever go into the club district of some cities and towns, you’ve probably seen a wall with signs stuck to it. If I was to stick my sign on that wall for free, what right do I have to expect that the sign will stay there? I didn’t pay for the advertising privilege. I just stuck my sign there. Search engines can be roughly equated to “sign walls”. We get in for free. There aren’t any expectations or guarantees. “As is” logic applies, as it should.

    By the way, in case you’re wondering what I did to get reinstated…I didn’t do a thing. I didn’t add, delete or modify content. I didn’t chase backlinks. I didn’t do a single thing whatsoever. Exactly 14 days later, the site showed back up.

  68. Hmmm,

    That is a strange story, you also made me laugh.

    However I do not need Google at all, I am very fortunate and have several very large fortune 500 clients already. I still do not want Google treating me unfairly even if it is their right to do so. Matt Cutts wrote about how he was unhappy because he could not use his frequent flyer miles, it is kind of like that. I just want to be treated fairly, I think perhaps what we might not agree about is the fact that to me and others Google is so big and so powerful they should offer a higher degree of fairness then small guys like you and me.
    I am not going to keep going on here even though I could …….

  69. Also because Google is so big they can ruin your reputation.

  70. I really appreciate the hard work and value you and your colleagues have brought to Google, but please cut all the liberal nonsense that creeps through. Ignoring Easter in your Google logo, and then depicting China today is insulting to many Americans(your customers), along with being very left biased and ridiculous.

  71. Tom, forget TBPR, it is a bad indicator of real PR (which Google uses) at best. Focus on you page ranking in the SERPs, not Page Rank.

    I doubt your site has been penalized for no reason by Google.

  72. Hi Dave,

    No that is not the correct way to look at it.

    Would you sumbit a list to a Directory that Google penalized and gave a PR0 to?

    99+% of people will not. So in this case and many cases what the PR meter says is very important. If I see a PR0 site I think “stay away” as almost everyone does. Also you must have not read my important article showing several specific examples of mistakes Google is currently making and how Google did penalize my site unfairly. I have the email proof of what I say in this article:

    Please read this article and you can then email me directly. My email address is on the article. I do not want to have Matts blog used when you can email me directly.

  73. It’s a free market. Bring it on. Bring it ALL on!

    The only way you can really go wrong on the internet, is if you hide stuff, or break promises. If google abides by the promises made, and fully discloses what they are going to do, then the only ones who will have problems are those who don’t read the TOS. 🙂

    I just can’t even imagine how much less my life would be without google, literally on every level.

  74. It’s not a ‘free market’ though. 90%+ internet users do not understand Google’s power and the way they monopolize search and track users, whilst running adwords. It is totally wrong and would not be accepted in other industries.

  75. I’m confused. The original blog article was about the lack of transparency of a specific survey’s takers and the tracking practices used by advertisers. Many of the comments are about SEO professional practices, or Google’s practices, or flaming another commenters’ intellect, typing skills or spelling. I have tried submitting comments that I feel are directly related to the question of if it matters who is asking the questions in this survey and what is it about tracking that is significant to the survey. However, both comments are awaiting moderation. So, not that anyone gives a whoie, but I posted the comments that I’d hoped would show up on Matt’s blog article, on my silly little blog: If you care at all about what I think. Thanks Matt.

  76. Tom, sounds like you have been obsessing over PR for the Directory so you can sell links based on PR.

    PageRank should men NOTHING when submitting to directories, if it does, it’s no wonder Google has penalized you.

    Sorry, I’m Googles side when sites are penalized and don’t for a minute believe Google has made a mistake. Been around the block too many times for that.

  77. Our government can’t get out of it’s own way. This is pathetic.


  78. Using the web/internet requires even still quite a bit of understanding about how things work.
    I met a guy who said he wouldn’t use email because he read an article about how Google scans his emails. It’s these kinds of things that many normal people just don’t understand.
    You need that native trust and map in your head of how the technology works, otherwise you become unsure of what you are actually giving away, to say, Google.

  79. A follow-up with a few not-so-random points of interest:

    1. From what I’ve gathered, Hoofnagle was associated with EPIC from 2000 to 2006. Currently he is affiliated with UC Berkeley and the Samuelson Law Clinic, as the study states. So, speaking contemporaneously, there does not seem to be a conflict or confluence of interests.

    2. Google lists this article as the #6 search result for “EPIC Chris Jay Hoofnagle”. Is this article really one of the most definitive sources of information on Chris and his association with EPIC? Hmm….

    3. In Matt’s defense, the title of the study is actually far, far more inflammatory than the New York Times reveals. “Americans Reject Tailored Advertising”. Really? Really??? I mean, it’s not like we’re talking about the Minority Report here.

    4. The report also claims that 55% of 18-24 year olds “do not want tailored advertising”…this would worry me if I were Google, but I suspect Google has better intelligence on its userbase than EPIC does–esp. given all the online tracking they do 😉

  80. Hey, isn’t he the guy who did the “pipes” diagram of the internet for George Bush?

  81. I don’t see any privacy issue with Google apps at all. All i see is the advanced and spot on useful tools anybody can use freely. To feel threaten by Google apps is the hilarious thing i’ve ever heard and i think most people would agree with this. Thanks

  82. Dave,

    You are 100% wrong.

    I give several very specific examples that prove my point completely, and you are the one person out of thousands that does not get it. 99% of people just see it as an embarrassment to Google. Furthermore many have filled in a Privacy complaint form to Google to investigate this. Dave you have just never been targeted by Google so you do not understand, however most people do. I really wonder if you even read my article???

  83. Well, it boils down to believing a total stranger on the Web, or a reputable Company. I’ll choose the latter, thank. If that makes me “100% wrong”, I’ll live 🙂

    I HAVE been penalized by Google and I even posted about on Matt’s blog about a week ago. I tested Google’s ability to detect links sold for PR. Google took about 2 Months, then, all my rankings dropped. Used nofollow on the link and after about 3 weeks, ranking shot back up.

    Grinding an axe for Google will help you in anyway, go to your hardware store, buy some timber, build a bridge and get the hell over it 🙂

  84. Dave,

    Your comments are really stupid.

    You did not even read my article.

    How rude and stupid can you be?

    Apparently Adam is correct about you.

    Stupid ingorant people like you believe all shorts of garbage and do not even do any research before they make their stupid and ignorant comments.

  85. This is why I do not even bother with blog comments, every time I try I encounter people like you that just want to comment on every post and are totally wrong most of the time.

  86. Tom, a little word of advice, and take this however you will: there are all sorts of idiots out there spouting off without any idea of what they’re talking about, never mind what you’re talking about. And if you can present a reasonable, logical argument that they don’t want to hear, they’re going to say stupid things in response…the most effective counter to a reasonable, logical argument is an argument so ridiculous that there isn’t even a base point to reach a proposition with. That’s what Dave’s doing to you…he’s intentionally being so vague and obtuse that you can’t argue back. As Ron White says, “you can’t fix stupid”, and the best thing you can do is to develop a thick skin and treat people like that as carny sideshows or train wrecks.

    Now, as far as your post is concerned, I did read it and I did look at the site you talk about in the article. And I actually believe that you believe what you’re writing about. I also believe that Google probably did reset your TBPR to 0.

    However, in this case at least part of the foundation of your argument is supported by links to spin doctors (e.g. Michael Gray) who prey upon the vulnerable and downtrodden members of the SEO community. Unfortunately, given the quadruple whammies of Internet, marketing, get-rich-quick mentality, and anti-corporate philosophy, this forms the vast majority of the community. And because Google is a major corporation with a dominant market share, they provide the spin doctor with a protagonist that appears to be the antagonist due to its large, faceless nature. It’s the big, bad, evil corporation picking on the little guy, Goliath stomping on David, and people respond to that because they can relate to that…especially when they’re not multimillionaires and quite often struggling to make a living themselves. This puts them in a vulnerable position and makes them highly suggestible to such an argument.

    You seem to be in that boat, Tom. I don’t know you, I’ve never met you, but from the looks of the arguments you make, you’re in that boat. You’re not where you want to be in terms of a financial situation. You’re not making millions online. You’re not sitting at home in a La-Z-Boy in your underwear with your notebook on your lap and your favorite beverage of a refreshing nature in your hand “working” while watching TV. And you want to be. Hell, I think we all want to be.

    Sound about right? Maybe I have some of the finer details wrong (I probably do…you may not like sitting around in your jockey shorts), but I’ve probably at least got the overall picture…and if not you, Tom, then someone else reading this is in this position.

    Now, here’s what I see from the standpoint of someone who’s trying to look at it objectively and determine as close as I can to the truth. Unfortunately, truth in general has a tendency to be hard, ugly, calloused, and relatively unforgiving, and the truth in this case doesn’t appear to be an exception to the rule.

    The site in question in the blog post is a directory. If you want to know before spouting off at Tom, at least read what he’s written and go to the site so you can make an informed comment as opposed to just random rhetoric designed to enhance your own ego. At least give him that much.

    But I digress. It’s a shopping directory….which puts it into a pool of millions of other shopping directories, portals, vortals, or whatever else these sites choose to call themselves. And from the looks of it, a generic phpLD directory with very little (if any) customization and no distinguishing or unique characteristics. This alone may (and I personally suspect does) lower the credibility of a directory in big G’s eyes since far too many people take phpLD, set it up with a stock skin, either “list” or scrape a series of sites, throw Adsense on it and/or charge for listings, and try to make a fast buck.

    The sites within the directory in many cases are fairly obvious affiliate hyperlinks as well (the entire Catering section is just three Clickbank links). That by itself can give the appearance of “paid links”…someone’s making money off of them. Whether it’s Tom or not really doesn’t matter in this case; Tom’s providing the conduit.

    On top of that, the only way to get into the directory is to pay for the privilege. That means that every link has the appearance of being “for sale”, and there’s not much to suggest that a real review process takes place other perhaps than a summary review to make sure that it’s not a porn site.

    There are plenty of other things, both current and in the past (check the Internet Wayback Machine for more information) that cast the directory in what appears to be a negative light. I don’t want to spend any more time writing about the things that don’t make this site original…but suffice it to say, the site isn’t original.

    Tom: your other problem is the argument itself, specifically the fact that it has been made repeatedly and will continue to be made repeatedly by webmasters long after you’ve either given up or somehow found restitution. The problem is that the same argument is also being made by webmasters who are blatantly trying to screw with Google for selfish reasons, and there is no way to distinguish which arguments are legitimate and which aren’t. Since such a high percentage aren’t (as is the case with most search-engine-related issues webmasters have, including myself at one time), the only thing Google can do is to adopt the even-handed brutality approach and either acknowledge them (which opens the door up to spammers in a big way) or summarily ignore/dismiss them all (which shuts the door and is really the only thing that makes sense).

    The other angle behind this is what Google stands to gain. Tom, let’s say you’re right. Let’s say you have been penalized. What are you doing for them that would be sufficient to remove said penalty? Keep in mind that the only thing you can do as a webmaster that Google will accept (sometimes) is to provide quality, original content and play by the rules that they’ve defined. Unique sites help them provide better search results to their end users, which is all they really give a damn about anyway from the search point of view.

    On top of that, you’re focusing on a useless metric. Toolbar PageRank is in no way a quality indicator, contrary to published opinion and even Google documentation (they really should look at rewording this entire section, and hopefully a lot of the problem would be solved). It’s an infrequently-updated logarithmic value that almost no one outside of the SEO community could care less about. The real PageRank is calculated internally and we don’t get to see that (because let’s face it, if we did, we’d try to manipulate the value past the point of ridiculousness).

    Tom: you’re either a really good online character actor, or you’ve been strongly misled by the so-called experts in the SEO community. I wouldn’t be surprised by the former, but I strongly suspect it’s the latter (and if not you, there’s someone out there reading this who has been.) But the short version of what I’ve said is that your own site needs an overhaul from a logical point of view. If you want to run a shopping directory, fine…but if you forget the search engine implications, you need to find a way to make it something unique and useful in what is already an oversaturated, hypercompetitive marketplace. Right now, you’re not even close to that.

    Another thing to remember is that, if you’re reading online points of view, try to understand the writer’s tack and see if it makes sense for the greater good. We’ve all got our biases, but good advice will reveal itself pretty easily.

    Oh yeah…and if you end up taking my advice and you make the world’s greatest shopping portal, I get 25% of the gross profit. 😉

  87. Hi Adam,

    Thank you for at least reading my post. Most of what you say is interesting and we were / are in the process of upgrading the site. However that is not the issue and you mention many things that are interesting, however also are not the issue. Google gave me very specific reasons, that I mention and that are wrong. So that is why Google made a mistake in this case. Not for any vague unmentioned reasons like you suggest.

    Also what about

    Why is this okay and picknbuy is bad?

    Please remember we are talking about a very specific issue of paid links here. Please explain to me why would not be penalized?

    How many paid links do you see on the home page of picknbuy?

    How many paid links do you see on the home page of

    Thank you.

  88. Hi Adam,

    Also if Google applied all the criteria you mention above, no start up site could make it past Google, and Google unfairly penalizing them would kill them off before they could even improve their site. Many more people know what the little green bar means, than you think. I ask kids all the time, and I am surprised at how often they say ” That site must suck, it is only a PR1″.

    Also the reason I am on this post is because it is related to Privacy, and I think Google is violating peoples privacy like the other articles also discuss (I link to these articles) .
    How many articles about Google unfairly profiling people have to be written before anyone starts to believe us?

    Well if it is 50 articles that I see 4-6, maybe more already written. Also if this has happened to others they need to stand up and ask to be treated fairly and not have their privacy rights violated by being unfairly profiled.

  89. That’s just it, Tom. They gave you “a” set of reasons. What you and I don’t know is whether or not that it’s “the” set of reasons (and I strongly suspect it isn’t). Google does not, and cannot, reveal every possible piece of information they have pertaining to a site to webmasters due to the myriad of ways in which webmasters will manipulate and/or misinterpret the information. In other words, they don’t have to tell you any or all of the reasons you’ve been penalized, and they usually don’t.

    The very nature of Toolbar PageRank shows us this. TBPR values are infrequently updated (usually 3-4 times per year), believed to be logarithmic, based on links and any penalties Google might impose, and rendered on a scale of 0-10. The real PageRank isn’t ever shown to us, nor should it be.

    To put it bluntly:

    Toolbar PageRank is not reflective of the overall quality of a web page. It never has been, and it never will be.

    It’s why pages with seemingly no PR show up in SERPs ahead of pages with seemingly high PR. Think about it…a new blog post or news article or other piece of topical content would generally have relatively few external inbound links and would primarily generate its IBLs internally. If PR was the determining factor, established content with lots of links would always outrank new content that may be more relevant to the topic at hand. That’s clearly not the case.

    Inbound links themselves show us this as well. It’s long been documented that Google presents an altered picture of inbound links to a page/site, and again with good reason…webmasters screwed with big G, so big G fought back.

    Many more people know what the little green bar means, than you think. I ask kids all the time, and I am surprised at how often they say ” That site must suck, it is only a PR1″.

    Then those kids are also misinformed, and yes, Google is partly to blame for this. I’ve long been an advocate of a more thorough explanation of exactly what TBPR is and how relevant it is (or isn’t).

    By the way, what kids are you talking to? Most kids I know would rather hyperextend my finger with a size 4 soccer ball (side note: goalie gloves when running 11-year-olds through kick drills are your best friend…spend the $20) than pay any attention to a Google toolbar.

    Also what about

    Why is this okay and picknbuy is bad?

    Please remember we are talking about a very specific issue of paid links here. Please explain to me why would not be penalized?

    Who says it’s not? It might be a PR8-10 normally…there’s no way to know that.

    Who’s got the horizontal control in this case? Google.
    Who’s got the vertical control in this case? Google.

    This particular site creates a bit of a grey area, although I’d tend to side with you…they’re selling sponsorships, but the benefits are exclusively online. I’d suggest that “sponsorships” are a euphemism for a paid link sell, although I think the word may be what’s throwing Google off…at least from a purely algorithmic standpoint (since most sponsorships encompass more than just a hyperlink, and most sponsorship sellers are distanced from the SEO game.)

    Also if Google applied all the criteria you mention above, no start up site could make it past Google, and Google unfairly penalizing them would kill them off before they could even improve their site.

    Sure it could. It’s been done many, many times over. Ask any webmaster who’s forgotten to put a robots.txt file on a website under construction and seen Google send it traffic before it’s ready about that. I’ve personally had that happen to me at least half a dozen times before I smartened up.

    As far as the articles go, Tom…again, this comes back to “why did the author write the article”? In most cases, the author writes the article either to win over a disenfranchised audience or because (s)he is a member of the disenfranchised audience. You’re in the latter category, and you’ve been targeted and influenced by those in the former category, who basically treat you as a mark.

    Google penalized (or appears to have penalized) you.
    Google isn’t fully open about what it did and why.
    You want more answers and they’re not forthcoming, partly because Google doesn’t have the labor resource to handle your request and partly because they’re not sure who’s screwing with them and have to err on the side of paranoia.
    You’re angry about it, because you don’t like not being told all the reasons you’re being penalized and/or because you’ve received information about the penalty that you don’t believe to be correct. You’ve got a point, but unfortunately others around you have ruined the opportunity for full information disclosure to you.
    Pseudo-smart article writers sense your plight and write articles and blog posts that appear to be sympathetic to your cause.
    Because you’re angry with Google and therefore suggestible to the idea that you are getting screwed with, the article writers make you their mark.

    In other words, they’re not really siding with you…they’re using your own frustration to get you to buy into their message. And right now, you’re buying. You’re their mark. It sucks, but it’s also true.

    So it’s really up to you…you can either continue to be the mark, or you can stand back, look at the situation logically and reasonably, and try to find any and all possible holes in your own site and logic before you go on the offensive. If you’re serious..really serious…about overhauling your site and improving it as you say you are, then you will probably discover a lot more of these holes than even I could. I’m curious to see what you come up with.

    Understand that I’m sympathetic to your plight, Tom…not getting full information is a pain in the ass. But I’m also trying to look at the situation logically and from the standpoint of someone who’s distanced from it (using three-sided coin logic). And to be totally frank, there are a lot of holes in your thinking (holes that have been planted there in most cases, but holes nonetheless.)

  90. No.

    You are wrong.

    Google does give a reason why they penalize you. Then you can fix it and be reincluded, this is how it works and I have helped over 20 companies that were penalized and deserved to be penalized to fix the problems to have Google take the penalty off. Please read this from Matt Cutts:

    Now if Google made a mistake, which they did in my case, Google needs to correct their mistake it is that simple. Or the Google guidelines are just a joke and do not mean anything.
    Or the Google guidelines apply to some people and not to others. The only good solution is for Google to correct the mistakes they make and treat all people fairly and not to unfairly target SEO companies like they have been doing.

  91. Not always true, Tom. Sometimes it’s true, and I’ve gotten the explanation when I was the innocent victim (e.g. when my old WordPress blog got hacked). But sometimes there has been no explanation. I’ve dealt with a few sites that have received penalties for things such as link exchanges, penalties that were almost instantly removed when I removed these things and requested reinclusion. You may have gotten an explanation in the 20 cases you’ve mentioned, but I’ve seen at least 10 where there has been no explanation whatsoever, and with good reason.

    I have also never received any explanation whatsoever as to the removal of the SEFL site to this day. It happened. It sucked. I had nowhere to turn. But in letting it go, it was resolved exactly 14 days later.

    Google simply doesn’t have the resource to contact everyone about every issue, and in some cases the issue is so blatant that Google mentioning knowledge of it merely furthers blackhat attempts to screw with the engine.

  92. I (personally) don’t see what all the fuss is about if Google is seeing where I go or what my browsing habits are. They don’t know who I am, my shoe size, or what colour my hair is… Google gives so much in terms of benefits by having the best search engine around bar none – but I also make a living by helping others ranks well in there – I have no problem in giving a little back if it helps them make their products better!

    The governments do a lot more with our personal information that Google every could, that we don’t know about – we dont lobby to get them shut down!

  93. You should be called Multi-Worded LAST WORD ADAM.

    I am sorry you are not correct.

  94. Alright, Tom. I’ll bite. And just to be clear, this isn’t a rhetorical question, nor am I trying to make a point. I really don’t understand where you’re coming from.

    I mentioned one case where I personally wasn’t informed of a site removal and subsequent reinstatement. To this day, I still haven’t been (and to be totally honest, it doesn’t matter to me).
    I have personally seen ten cases where sites have not been informed of a penalty for things such as link exchanges, keyword stuffing, and hidden text. Things get fixed, the penalties get removed.
    I’ve seen the penalty removed in as little as 15 minutes from the time I made changes and requested reinclusion (I’ve only seen that once, and I’m inclined to chalk it up to happy coincidence, but I have seen it.)

    Now, you may not have seen any cases like this. I’m prepared to accept that. But how can you tell me I’m wrong based on my having seen what I’ve seen, and something you wouldn’t have been privy to?

    Another thing you may want to look at is right here (bolding added by me):

    That’s an example of a legitimate site. On the other hand, if the webspam team detects a spammer that is creating dozens or hundreds of sites with doorway pages followed by a sneaky redirect, there’s no reason that we’d want the spammer to realize that we’d caught those pages. So Google clearly shouldn’t contact every site that is penalized–it would tip off spammers that they’d been caught, and then the spammers would start over and try to be sneakier next time.

    They obviously contacted you, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they told you (or are going to tell you) everything.

    I’m not looking for the last word here, either. I really am trying to help you out here. But right now, I’m not even sure where you’re coming from.

  95. There is something in your post that I cannot and will not ever agree with

    “Most people know that the choice of questions in an study can make a huge difference to the outcome.”

    Since when does “an” proceed a word that does not start with a vowel? 😉