Follow the bouncing distortion:
It starts on CNET, with a story that quotes anonymous “sources” saying Microsoft is “in discussions to buy controversial adware maker Claria.” (The New York Times runs a similar story later the same day, with a few more details, including a quote from its unnamed source saying, “Those in favor of the deal … believe Microsoft could help clean up the adware field,” but that the talks are falling apart.)
Then the story goes to Slashdot, where the reference to “sources” is dropped.
A week later, another Slashdot story begins “A week after word leaked out that Microsoft was negotiating an acquisition deal with Claria…” Leaked out? All of a sudden the anonymous sources are confirmed?
Boing Boing, consistently rated in the Top 10 among sites in Technorati, picks up the ball and spikes it in the end zone in the Ultimate Fantasy Bowl:
MSFT acquires spyware firm, changes antispyware app to ignore its products
Microsoft recently acquired a spyware company called Claria (known for its spyware product, Gator). They have since updated Windows’ antispyware app so that it advises users to ignore Gator spyware.
So the rumor became a confirmed story and now it’s a done deal. Not to mention that the change in the status of Claria’s products happened as much as four months ago. Back in the reality-based community, the whole story’s still just a rumor based on a pair of stories from unnamed sources, but science fiction writer Cory Doctorow, who authored the Boing Boing piece, apparently has a news feed from a parallel universe.
And to compound the error, Prof. Brad DeLong picks it up and calls Microsoft a “company behaving very badly,” because if you read it on the Internets, it must be true.
As the good Professor might say, “Why oh why can’t we have a better blogger corps?”
Update, 7/9: Boing Boing has printed a “correction” that strikes out the words
recently acquired and replaces them with is rumored to be acquiring. The headline now reads MSFT acquiring spyware firm. That’s wrong. The CNET and NY Times stories say that Microsoft is “in talks” to acquire Claria and that the deal is far from a sure thing.
Even worse, Boing Boing has left the original story up, uncorrected. See the original here, and the changed version here. If I use a search engine, I have a 50-50 chance of getting the original, bollixed-up version. Sloppy, sloppy.
And the sentence that follows the “corrected” one now makes no sense at all: Boing Boing says “[Microsoft has] since updated Windows’ antispyware app so that it advises users to ignore Gator spyware.” Since when? The implication is that this was a quid pro quo, but the change in detection status for Claria’s applications was made earlier this year (as Donna Buenaventura reported), and it affected other adware companies as well. The New York Times story says the talks between Claria and Microsoft started a few weeks ago. If there’s a quid pro quo, the timeline doesn’t support it.
The real story is that Microsoft has decided that high-profile adware makers who achieve a minimum threshold of disclosure (including Claria and WhenU) will be able to get an “Ignore” rating. Reasonable people can argue that that’s a bad decision, but the Boing Boing story doesn’t do that. It tries to create a story of corruption where none exists.
Update 7/10: The uncorrected Boing Boing story is still there. Meanwhile, if you want to know more about Microsoft’s decision to change the classification of Claria’s adware, see my follow-up: Dear Microsoft: Why should we trust you to detect spyware?
Update 7/12 6:00 a.m.: As of this morning, the original, uncorrected post appears to have been deleted from Boing Boing’s servers. The “corrected” version is still online and still wrong.
Update 7/12, 6:00 p.m. PDT: No deal. Boing Boing still says “MSFT acquiring spyware firm…”
Update 11/13/2006: The original story has never been corrected.