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ongoing web column  by Brunella Longo

This column deals with some aspects of change management processes experienced almost in any industry impacted by the digital revolution: how to select, create, gather, manage, interpret, share data and information either because of internal and usually incremental scope - such learning, educational and re-engineering processes - or because of external forces, like mergers and acquisitions, restructuring goals, new regulations or disruptive technologies.

The title - I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything - is a tribute to authors and scientists from different disciplinary fields that have illuminated my understanding of intentional change and decision making processes during the last thirty years, explaining how we think - or how we think about the way we think. The logo is a bit of a divertissement, from the latin divertere that means turn in separate ways.

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Those Brunellas are Google's delusions. Get over it!

About politics of misrepresentation and defamation of character by search engines

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2013). Those Brunellas are Google's delusions. Get over it! About politics of misrepresentation and defamation of character by search engines. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Print)], 2.5 (November).

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2013). Those Brunellas are Google's delusions. Get over it! About politics of misrepresentation and defamation of character by search engines. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Online)], 2.5 (November).

November, 30 2013 - Like many other consultants and freelance, I do not have an advertising budget for search engine optimisation (keywords advertising) at present. For the last 18 years, I have been investing some time - and occasionally some money too - for ordinary maintenance of my web presence, using W3 languages, metadata and other common internet standards, so that my web pages could be reasonably discovered by search engines’ crawlers, properly indexed and returned with less possible risks of confusion when somebody searches my name, my business, my products. In fact, one of the first lessons of any web marketing course, is that there is no point in having a website if you do not advertise its existence - I think I am literally quoting myself here (1) - but… I have been forced to change my mind.

The cyber crime threats require today to review this quite obvious internet marketing advice, especially in consideration of the risks coming from wearable technologies (like Google Glasses) and the explosion of mobile computing (2) that can offer a sort of... parasites deluge to fraudsters.

Misrepresentation and libel by search engine indexes is a problem that requires us to rethink the visibility and popularity imperative, if not freedom of speech in its entirety, in that:

  1. first of all, never give up your cyber existence! That, no matter its extension and scope, is a fundamental part of your learning, professional, business or simply social life in the digital age, it is part of your fundamental human right to have a life and it is for the cyber criminals and stalkers to be punished, banned and free your cyber air from their smell - not for you to give up your digital existence, but….
  2. secondly, consider that law enforcement in digital environments is still almosy impossible, or non existent, so that it is entirely up to you to keep your web presence away from connections, places and people where your identity can be systematically misrepresented and bullied, for the sake of the visibility and convenience of others. It is partly your responsibility not to have your name associated with non pertinent, nor relevant or non existent people and businesses for the time being. And it is also up to you, to a certain extent, to prevent your name and trademarks from being abused for click frauds - to say the least.

It is not a surprise then why I withdrew myself from blog platforms I used for educational projects (until 2005) and from social media platforms where my accounts were repeatedly hacked and bombarded with all sort of behavioural advertising experiments and spam. I am sorry I also moved away my papers from the Social Sciences Research Network Repository (SSRN.com) and I closed down some experimental blogs.

Was such reduction of exposure and number of web connections the right thing to do?

I feel time may have come to review some agency theory assumptions in the context of cyberspace as well as the web visibility imperative. I believe nobody has the right to exploit my work for their own commercial or social purposes without contracting me. And as far as my documents are concerned, I do not want my products to be exposed to keywords advertising that publicise brands, products or ideas I have nothing to do with, or I have not agreed any collaboration for. I do not want my work to be seen as a commodity.

Let's go for the orchard

To me, it seems that the first to adopt new rules and new information governance processes must be the media - that surely include social media, search engines and all sorts of open access repositories that collect and syndicate advertising revenues. In fact, at the moment, such new media (quite… grown up by the way) show an unbelievable tolerance for mingling and manipulating the algorithms used by indexers and query handlers (that are the software components that make up the results pages of any search engine, like the fuel pump and the clutch make your car moving).

Several experts in search engine optimisation justify the obscenities with exoteric, hermetical or technical references to ranking criteria that exclude sites or pages on the grounds of mathematical formulas because they are not linked by anybody and they have no social media connections. These are most of the time very partial views or pathetic excuses and fig leaves. Search engines are often deliberately omitting the most pertinent pages that should have been ranked about an abused subject, person, product or brand, and show pages that are obsoleted, not existent or created on purpose for mocking reasons not just because of some unintentional fault in the ranking criteria but because of a deliberate alteration of the query handlers, the cached databases and the metadata. This I would say is what politics of misrepresentation consists of.

If they really wanted it, Google policy and legal affairs officers could identify and prosecute the authors of such braveries in a matter of days if not hours.

Another very pervasive way in which search engines seem profiting from serving your audiences with a distorted and defamatory representation of your products, personality, activities, work, history and so on consists in associating your name and domain (or products and contents) with unwanted and not pertinent or openly defamatory keyword ads.

This can also be done through keyword suggestions, in such a way that the first ten seconds of the attention you put into your task (choosing the words, scanning the first results page), the false association is offered to you as perfectly credible but for being completely laughable among circles of people that know you. These false links misrepresent people, companies and products. They are damaging and even devastating when internet marketing is particularly important, such as internationalisation of small businesses, versioning of successful products and services for other local markets and the like. The faked contents can also feed stigmatisation, smear and hate campaigns against a designated target for political purposes or unfair competition.

Finally, the wrong links may also include a fraudulent element (click frauds) when they lead the user to pages or domains not pertinent at all or when the search engines propose ad words associated with links to your web pages (organic results) that have been genuinely bought by an advertiser for purposes other than showing off a faked association with your own stuff - so that both yours and the advertiser's communication are being damaged at the same time.

Get over it!

Shared responsibility and accountability for informational behaviours can lead to successfully review of the existing law, to put in place effective policies in any context and make the digital world that real safe place where we all want to have social relations and do businesses.

But in the meantime, the only way to make people aware that something wrong may be going on around a web presence consists in nudging them and pushing them towards the uncomfortable boundaries of their 'unknown unknown' zone or metacognition and critical thinking skills.

Simply put, you really need to make people thinking what they do not know they may need to know - before thinking of really knowing anything about you - that is what I am attempting to do here.

All in all, time has come for search engines to show they are really committed to the long term success of their business model. They should become accountable for any of the consequences of the huge share of advertising expenditure they collect, and not hiding behind the excuses of net neutrality and people ignorance.

Outdated, wrong and false associations and fraudulent links that deprive the long tail of self employed people and small businesses of their fundamental rights to have their identity respected over the internet are a true damage for the economy and the society.

Search engines and other big tech platforms can afford the organisational, technical and forensic endeavours useful to detect corporate crime, to prevent harmful data behaviours and network exploitations, to report and engage with police authorities about what is going on through their servers.

Until the engines are fixed, lot of “Brunellas” that show up through your newfangled screens may be just Google's delusions.

(1) Brunella Longo, La progettazione dei siti. In: La nuova editoria, Editrice Bibliografica, 2001.
(2) Brunella Longo, Learning on the wires: BYOD, Embedded Systems, Wireless Technologies and Cybercrime, in 'Legal Information Management', 13 (2013), n. 2, p. 119-123.