Do you believe it when websites tell you they do not sell or share the personal information we are required to hand over when we register?
I don't. I mean, how would I know? How would anyone without subpoena power know unless they have dozens of email addresses and meticulously track which ones spawn spam?
But that's only one small and, probably, least important part of the issue in this post today.
In the past couple of months, there has been an increasing number of unsubscribes from Time Goes By. People unsubscribe for all kinds of reasons and certainly it can be that some don't like TGB, find me boring or have other things to do with their time. That's legitimate.
But with the uptick, several recent unsubscribers have emailed to tell me that a “reputation website” called MyWOT (Web of Trust) has given TGB its lowest rating, “very poor,” and they don't feel safe visiting my blog anymore. Here's a screen grab. (Click here to see a larger image.)
Investigating this site, I discovered that “they” didn't rate my blog at all; one or more anonymous people rated it. Who and how many did so is impossible to know without registering which I don't want to do because I don't trust them. More about that later.
MyWOT rating is in four categories:
Trustworthiness: I suppose that's subjective based on what someone thinks of my honesty and integrity.
Vendor Reliability: I don't sell anything so there is nothing to rate and it's hard to know why TGB would be given a poor rating for that unless someone just hates me.
Privacy: The only privacy issue at TGB are the email addresses of commenters. Those are never disclosed to readers and I don't share them with anyone. You can believe me or not, but I dare anyone to show that I have ever given an email address to another person.
Child Safety: There is no nudity, no pornography, no violence. Okay, once in a blue moon, I or a commenter uses the F or S word. So I guess they've got me there.
I poked around on the web to see what other people think of WOT. Firefox and other browsers supply an add-on toolbar that makes it easy to add a WOT rating for any site you visit. At Firefox, there are pages and pages and pages of complaints about WOT ratings, as there are at other places around the web. Some examples:
“I'm a developer myself and after deinstallation and something weird I noticed as I revisited the MyWot website, I discovered that the Addon 'seemed' to be uninstalled, but in fact the functionality to talk to the MyWot website was still in effect!“
“WoT is used to 'blackball' many political, special interest, cultural, and religious websites with false accusations of malware distribution, spamming, child porn, etc. in the service of opposing religious and political beliefs.“
“This seems to be a dangerous program allowing anyone to anonymously 'rate' any website they dislike or may wish to harm for whatever reason by clicking on one star, since it is not even required to give any reason for one's negative opinion.“
“Ratings are so inaccurate as to be worthless. If you use this as a sole guide as to whether or not a site is safe to view you are bound to get virus/trojan infections.“
Many others give MyWOT five stars but they are almost universally of the “this is awesome” type with no explanation or reason.
I believe I run a nice, little shop here so I was confused - and disturbed - enough to write the CEO of MyWOT to complain and got (in part) this reply, identical to what many other low-rated website owners have quoted around the web (this email arrived on the same miserable morning of which I wrote yesterday):
“Write your own comment on the scorecard and be sure to rate the site. If you own the site or work for it please state that in your comment
“Ask your friends and customers to rate the site.
“You may also want to consider opening a WOT forum thread and ask our active members to rate the site and give feedback about it. If you are an employee of the site or own it please state this in your post.”
So all those critics are correct – it's a popularity contest that is designed to be gamed, where you are encouraged to do so, and anyone who doesn't like you can malign your site or blog.
Hmmmm. I wonder if my "very poor" rating has anything to do with the fact that in the past couple of months I've blocked three or four readers from commenting for violating TGB rules of conduct.
And now, suspiciously, one day after that CEO replied to my complaint, the rating for Time Goes By has been upgraded from “very poor” to “unsatisfactory” which you can see here unless it has changed again.
It's bad enough that this little blog, where mostly elders chat about what it's like to get old, is rated so low it will scare away people who may not be web savvy enough to figure out MyWOT is a scam.
Site owners like me are left open to the libel of others without any recourse but to register to post self-serving ratings and to continue visiting to monitor changes in the site's reputation, thereby jacking up MyWOT's membership base and boosting their page view stats.
Except that I won't do that and neither should you.
While not trivial, reputation and readership of a personal blog are not life threatening. What's deeply disturbing and much more insidious about MyWOT, especially in these economic times, is that people who supplement their income or make their living from small, legitimate websites can lose a great deal of revenue when unscrupulous competitors trash their businesses on MyWOT.
And they might never know the reason.
PLEASE NOTE: This post is NOT, NOT, NOT asking you to vote up Time Goes By at MyWOT. There are enough complaints of sticky installations and other violations of best practices plus the possibility of using MyWOT ratings to land on a site with malware, spyware or worse that I don't want to be responsible for that happening to you.
However, do be warned that if you use MyWOT to choose websites to visit, the ratings can be false, misleading and useless at best, and they may or may not sell your personal information if you register. There is no way to know, but why take a chance on more spam from a website whose value is so questionable.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ralph Lymburner: The Training Program