WhenU Addresses Its Image Problem

The whole WhenU story gets weirder and weirder.

Last week Ben Edelman, the privacy hound, pointed out that the besieged pop-up provider WhenU was ‘cloaking’ itself. This means, in Ben’s words, ”using prohibited ‘cloaking’ methods to make search engines think certain WhenU servers offer content of interest to readers seeking certain search terms, when in fact the servers merely redirect readers to articles favorable to WhenU.” The result: ”WhenU elevates the visibility of sites it selects, while pushing critics’ sites lower in search engine rankings.”

Google and Yahoo have since removed from their listing all WhenU sites involved in the scheme. WhenU, for their part, have blamed an outside company for the move: “WhenU hired an outside Search Engine Optimization firm to legitimately enhance our search engine rankings. These issues were brought to our attention today, and we immediately addressed the situation and instructed the outside firm to reverse their actions. We anticipate being relisted at the major search engines shortly,” says Avi Naider of WhenU.

Now Ben has spotted something that WhenU may find harder to explain away: WhenU has, he says, stacked copies of more than two dozen news articles on at least 12 of its websites in an apparent attempt to create a “boost in visibility of this pro-WhenU content, at the expense of content critical to WhenU”. These websites include a dizzying smorgasbord of names, including whenubuild.com, whenuchat.com, whenyoucook.com, whenudecorate.com, whenulearn.com, whenumail.com, whenuretire.com, whenusleuth.com, whenusurf.com, whenyouinvest.com, and whereuinvest.net.

Of course there’s nothing wrong in itself with doing this, although the intention seems to be clearly the same as the earlier the move — to improve search results for webpages referring positively to WhenU. But as Ben points out: “Research has yet to determine whether WhenU has authorization to make these article copies, but the articles mention no such authorization. The articles also lack ordinary statements of copyright by their respective publications.”

I’ve sought comment from WhenU on this, and will post anything once I receive it. At first glance it does appear that WhenU are taking desperate measures in the face of public criticism and legal challenges. It will be interesting

17. May 2004 by jeremy
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