20
Nov/06

Popularity-Distortion Field


digg effect.png
Digg.com is a news-site that uses ‘social bookmarking.’ Readers submit third-party stories and the most popular stories are displayed on the home page. According to this article, one of the most popular posts last week was a laudatory story about a company named InventionLand, an inventor-submission firm (every patent lawyer in the audience just groaned). If you’re familiar with that genre, you are not surprised when I tell you that it is now claimed that the high placement of the article on Digg was due to a form of ‘spamming,’ in this case a concerted attempt by someone to deliberately promote the company.
People try to ‘game’ the algorithms of web services all the time. Word-stuffing, link farms, splogs and Digg-spamming are attempts to manipulate the results of various web processes.
Without referring to the specific news item mentioned above, might such attempts constitute torts? Two potential theories include (1) some species of false advertising, and (2) tortious interference with prospective advantage.
Might competitors have an unfair competition action against the ‘gamer’? When web services erroneously over-report ‘popularity’ or ‘relevancy’ of a webpage, is that a material misrepresentation of a quality of the gamer’s product?
Does the ‘gamed’ web service have a cause of action against the gamer (apart from breach of contract, if a contract existed)? Assume that a website such as Digg or Google base their reputation on the quality of their ‘popularity’ or ‘relevancy’ opinions. If the gamer, with knowledge of a web service’s algorithms, takes acts to manipulate those opinions, which manipulation may result in damage to the web service’s reputation, might this constitute some form of tortious interference with prospective advantage?
The above chart is a representation of the ‘Digg Effect,’ the onslaught of traffic caused by being ‘dugg,’ discussed here.

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