Google in brouhaha with anti-Obama bloggers

Spam filters of Blogger subsidiary erase posts by accident, stirring up a political uproar

Google has found itself immersed in a blogger brouhaha after its Blogger subsidiary shut down the postings of several political bloggers opposing the election of Senator Barack Obama for president.

At least seven bloggers said that use the Google self-publishing blog service noted that their sites were shut down last week. The blogs were reinstated by Monday, and some of the bloggers posted an e-mail apology from Google.

Carissa Snedeker, who blogs about her support for Senator Hillary Clinton for president at a site called Blue Lyon, posted the e-mail apology sent to her by Google. In the note, Google said that the Blogger spam filters caused some accounts "to mistakenly be blocked from creating new posts."

Google went on to note that the company believes that the mistake may have been caused by mass spam e-mails mentioning the Just Say No Deal network of [anti-Obama] blogs, which caused Blogger's system to classify the blog addresses mentioned in the emails to as spam.

"Well, don't you think your system should be able to tell a blog with nearly 700 posts and that's been around for oh, say, three years, from a 'spam' blog?" Snedeker noted in her post, which she moved from Blogger to competitor WordPress after the incident. "And in the absence of that sort of flagging on your end, how's about a little benefit of the doubt for the next set of bloggers that get caught in your 'automated spam detection' maze?"

Snedeker went on to note that whenever the Just Say No Deal group sends out e-mail it doesn't list all of the blogs, but merely directs people to the Web site where all the blogs are listed.

In a statement sent to Computerworld, Google echoed the reasons noted above for shutting down the blogs, noting that the spam e-mails from the Just Say No Deal network of blogs caused its system to classify the blog addresses mentioned in the e-mails as spam.

"We think blog spam is a serious problem and we have spam detection software to try to eliminate it," the statement said. "We have restored posting rights to the affected blogs, and it is very important to us that Blogger remain a tool for political debate and free expression."

Other political blogs using the Google service that were shut down and subsequently restored include Hillary Or Bust, McCain Democrats, No Obama and Come a Long Way.

Danny Sullivan, editor in chief of blog Search Engine Land, which follows Google, said that the incident shows that Google probably needs to do more to ensure its Blogger spam reporting tools are not being abused, "especially given how it says these can't be manipulated by angry mobs. Right now it looks like they can."

He went on to note that it is unusual that seven different sites on the anti-Obama topic were frozen. However, because Google's e-mails did not say that the blogs were shut down for their political bent, there is no "smoking gun" linking the move to political motivation, Sullivan noted.

However, he added that the company likely would not make these same types of mistakes with its search tools.

"In part, Google has more signals to help keep it straight on the Web search side," he noted. "Plus, you've got different teams looking into different spam reports. Just because Blogger's spam tool might be messed up doesn't mean the Web search tools are. But still, a valid point to raise."

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Heather Havenstein

Computerworld
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