Monday, 14 January 2013

Battling Against Institutionalised Intimidation


Prosecutorial Overreach
Reading of Aaron Swartz this weekend left me mournful of the way as people have suggested of what might have led to his suicide. The tribute from his family [Published within an article on CNET] included a line that read thus: “Aaron's death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach.”
Intimidation and prosecutorial overreach are the key words there, the young man was only 26, he was involved in creating the RSS 1.0 Specification, at 15, he was at the launch party of Creative Commons and one of the co-owners of Reddit – all his life he worked to make freely accessible information and data that apparently was collected at public expense and then charged for.
Beyond that, he could have become atrociously rich for all his talents and exploits but did not tread that path.
Queen bee parasitism
Another interesting development in social media is so well articulated by Max Keiser in Keiser Report: Lunatics & Lubricants (E392) [YouTube] where he used the term “Insectual” that explained as Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook being the queen bee and the 1 billion or so users of Facebook being the drones – the work of the drones creates the honey that the queen bee apparently creams off to make eye-watering profits. You need to watch the video to get the full context.
However after the Instagram [A Facebook acquisition] Terms of Use debacle and I will use Wikipedia’s words here – “The controversial policy changes were widely interpreted to allow for businesses or other entities to pay Instagram to display users' photos and other details in connection with sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation or notification to the user that posted the photo. There was no apparent option to opt out of the changed terms of use.” – We can safely assume that there is a parasitic culture developing where institutions arrogate rights to use your data without compensation and are ready to intimidate, persecute, prosecute or harass you if you seek any recognition.
My own run-in
I recently had such a situation, since the 8th of December, 2010, my blog was cited by Accredited Online Colleges (AOC) as one of 40 Best Blogs for African Studies Students, mine appearing at 12, I wrote about this at the time and then on a page called Blogging Trophies.
Just over a week ago, I got an email from a Compliance Officer working for AOC suggesting I remove links to their website because they might be in breach of some “red herring” Google webmaster guidelines to do with linking building practices for which they might be penalised.
I replied explaining why there were links to AOC, then I reviewed Google’s link building terms before suggesting I might consider taking a capture of the page to signify I was once cited (That is a PDF already, just in case I need it.) but I thought I had appealed to the reasonableness of the compliance apparatchik, I hadn’t. Her reply promptly asked me to remove the links whilst I was been patronised as cooperative, at which point I decided to sweat it out.
This is harassment
A week after, I got an slightly more tersely worded email with the same body of text as the first, to which I responded almost too cross for words but my push-back paid off, I received an apologise and undertaking never to be bothered again.
Besides, the citation remains but the situation remains people are out there using our data for their advantage and they are ready to bully, intimidate, harass, persecute or even prosecute you for exercising your fair usage rights.
My basic premise
As you will note from this blog, I have included no links to the said citations apart from the pre-existing ones referenced on the blog and the page, it has also made me aware of issues to do with maintaining context when linking to other sites.
I am not trying to build following through unscrupulous methods, the growth in readership of my blog has come from content I have posted, mostly my opinion on issues and where necessary I have provided links to help make my writing or the context better understood.
In my original response to AOC, I intimated I will write about this and publish on my blog, I received no direct request not to do so. Enjoy!
AOC to me
Dear Akin Akintayo,
It has come to our attention that our website AccreditedOnlineColleges.com has been penalized by Google for some link building practices undertaken in the past. In an effort to improve our site, we are focusing on adhering to Google's webmaster guidelines and improving the quality of our site's content and design.
As part of these efforts, we respectfully request that you remove all links to our site including the links located here: [Two links provided as I indicated in my blog.]
These links may violate Google's webmaster guidelines and could harm both of our sites. We understand that this requires extra effort on your end, but we sincerely appreciate your help as we try to improve our website. We hope to keep in touch with you as we unveil our new and improved website.
Best,
Signed for the Compliance Team
My first response
Dear …,
Thank you for your email.
I don't know if you took time to recognise why my blog which also happens to be hosted by Google was linking to your website.
On the 8th of December 2010 your organisation cited my blog at No. 12 in the 40 Best Blogs for African Studies Students.
I have myself studied the Google Link Building guidelines and cannot see how this particular relationship has violated the guidelines in that you as part of your academic referencing and information service have cited websites your students might find useful and I in turn have simply acknowledged your citation on my blog on pages that are relevant and related to the issue.
However, if you still do insist without cause for negotiation that I remove the links, I will at least capture the page and still put up a blog that I was once cited by Accredited Online Colleges along with the email you sent me to remove the links.
Thank you for your understanding.
With the kindest regards,
The response from AOC
Mr. Akintayo, [Note that the dear is missing.]
You can go ahead and remove the link as you suggested while leaving a screenshot to the article up on your blog. Please let us know once the link has been removed, and thank you so much for your prompt reply and cooperation!
[Signed personally, this time.]
AOC’s Second attempt to intimidate me [Slightly reworded]
The subject: Second Attempt to Reach You with Regards to Your Site
Dear Akin Akintayo,
We reached out to you about a week ago, and this is our second attempt.
It has come to our attention that our website AccreditedOnlineColleges.com has been penalized by Google for some link building practices undertaken in the past. In an effort to improve our site, we are focusing on adhering to Google's webmaster guidelines and improving the quality of our site's content and design.
As part of these efforts, we respectfully request that you remove all links to our site including the links located here: [Links provided]
These links may violate Google's webmaster guidelines and could harm both of our sites. We understand that this requires extra effort on your end, but we sincerely appreciate your help as we try to improve our website. We hope to keep in touch with you as we unveil our new and improved website.
Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.
Best,
My response
Dear …,
When you first sent me a notice, I took the time to send you a well-reasoned response as to why on earth any link to your site will appear on my blog.
From the way your response to my email appeared to me, you took no consideration of the reasons why we have the situation we have which has been in place for over 2 years.
Honestly, I acted in good faith, without prejudice, I have broken no rules and for all intents and purposes I am under no obligation to give your pestering via email any consideration than to ignore it or have your correspondence blacklisted as spam.
In due course, I will act on this, if you cannot find more likeable ways of persuasion to meet whatever quotas you need to with the pseudo-legal stuff you are sending about - that is unfortunate.
Have a good weekend.
Yours sincerely,
Akin Akintayo
An apology from AOC
Dear Akin,
I sincerely apologize. The prior message was sent to you in error. You will not receive correspondence from us in the future, and I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience our email messages have caused you.
Best,
Probably, the end of that story.

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