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November 30, 2004

Our New Search Engine

Last week, I received a complaint from one of our readers about offensive ads showing up in our Google site searches. I contacted Google. I was not happy with their response. We now have a new search engine from SiteLevel, and I like it. If you are interested in my correspondence with Google, read on.

This was my original email to Google:

Dear Google,

I was very disturbed to receive the following message from one of my blog's readers. Can you do anything about this? Or should I remove Google search from my blog?


>Subject: Offensive Google ads via your website

>Dear Prof. Smith,

>I came across your blog while searching the Internet (using Google) to
>find information comparing women's participation in entrepreneurship
>and business around the world. When I got to your site
>I skimmed some of the articles there and saw they didn't cover the
>information I was interested in.  I then entered "women" in your
>search box, which generated a google search of your site. However,
>I couldn't help noticing that ALL the Google-generated ads on the
>right of the "hits" were for either pornographic or blatantly sexist content.

>I find this situation extremely disturbing and downright offensive.
>Of course, it is no fault of your own, and one might argue it is no
>fault of Google's either - since they use some kind of blind algorithm
>to generate such ads.  I use Google on virtually a daily basis,
>and most of the time, with some discomfort, I just ignore this "noise"
>generated by any of my searches online. One could argue
>that freedom of expression allows such ads to show up regardless
>of one's personal preference for them. However, someone (Google,
>for a start) is making money off of this practice, and I would like
>to register my protest in the hope that you will consider
>suspending the use of Google, or complaining to them about such
>blind keyword-generated ads wholly antithetical to the spirit of the
>search, or using a search engine on your site that does not feed ads
>to your website's visitors. Much as I admire its strong search capabilities
>to find material of interest to me, I myself am considering boycotting
>Google, with its increasingly hard-to-ignore, irrelevant and inappropriate

>In any case, I thought I should let you (and your research advisor)
>know what this visitors' experience was like.

This was Google's response:

Hello Gordon,

Thank you for your email. I understand that you saw an inappropriate
advertisement on a Google results page.

The advertisement you saw was generated through the AdWords program, which is designed to give thousands of small business owners the power to quickly and efficiently generate traffic to their sites. The ads they create run on our site immediately. Our editorial staff reviews all ads to make sure that they are appropriate for our site. Since we show ads immediately, there is often a short period of time when the ad is running before being reviewed and approved by Google AdWords Specialists. Please note that we try to keep this lag as short as possible. Unfortunately, it seems you saw the advertisement before we had a chance to review it.

Please accept our apologies. We thank you for your patience and continuing support. (emphasis added)

Well, that is just silly. If you search for "women" using Google, you get ads for "sexsearch," "see photos of hot women," "sexy adult personals," "date someone's wife today," etc. I told Google: "This is offensive. If these ads are 'appropriate for our site,' then your site is not appropriate for me. I have taken Google search down."

The SiteLevel search engine is just as easy and seems to do just as well in terms of results as Google. The results display ads, but I didn't see anything like those from Google.

Posted by Gordon Smith at 08:38 PM in Administration | Permalink | TrackBack

How To Make Your Small Business A Great Business

The USA Today has a great article explaining how transforming your small business into a "great" business takes more than just a goal of making money. Entrepreneurs must think on a much deeper level for their business to become great. Click the link to read the entire article.

Posted by Nick Infusino at 01:52 PM in Small Businesses | Permalink | TrackBack

US Economy Grows By 3.9% In 3rd Quarter

The US economy grew by 3.9% annual pace in the 3rd quarter, exceeding initial estimates of 3.7%. This was an increase from the 2nd quarter growth rate of 3.3%.

Highlights from the Commerce Department's report show that final sales were up 4.9%, Consumer spending was up 5.1% and business investments were up 12.9% higher. This figures were all higher than the 2nd quarters figures, once again indicating that the economy is on an upswing.

Posted by Nick Infusino at 01:41 PM in Small Businesses | Permalink | TrackBack

5 Tax Moves to Make by Year-End

Money Magazine is offering 5 financial moves to make by December 31st to trim your taxes for 2004 and help prepare for the 2005 tax year. Money  suggests to: 1) Tally up your purchases for the year; 2) Spend down your flexible spending account (FSA); 3) Perform an alternative minimum tax (AMT) check; 4) Be charitable; and 5) Dump your loser stocks.

By tallying up your purchases, the article says, a taxpayer could save a lot in taxes due to new legislation in effect for 2004 and 2005 that lets the taxpayer choose between deducting state income taxes or sales taxes. Spending down your FSA is a tax benefit because these accounts allow a taxpayer to set aside pretax dollars for out-of-pocket medical costs and are a use it or lose it proposition (meaning a taxpayer will have to pay taxes on any unused amount left in the account. A taxpayer  should use an online calculator provided by H & R Block to check whether he/she will owe an AMT.

Next, a taxpayer should donate money to a charitable organization to reduce their taxable income amount and if donating a car to write off, the taxpayer should act this year since the IRS will limit the deductions on cars valued over $500 to the proceeds above that amount that the organization receives. Finally, a taxpayer should consider selling the underperforming stocks in his/her portfolio that have a weak slim recovery chance to offset any gains they might encounter from sale of profitable stocks.

Posted by Gerry Torres at 09:47 AM in Taxation | Permalink | TrackBack

November 29, 2004

On the web, out of a job

The tale of a fired flight attendant illustrates how the content of a personal blog can lead to serious consequences.

The New York Times and The Times of London detail how Delta Air Lines fired Ellen Simonetti after she posted mildly provocative photos of herself on her blog, Diary of a Flight Attendant. (She has since added “Fired” to the title.) The photos showed Simonetti in her Delta uniform inside an airliner cabin.

Delta isn’t talking, but Simonetti told the New York Times that her supervisor said she was being terminated for "inappropriate photos in a Delta uniform." Simonetti filed a sex-discrimination complaint against Delta with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and is threatening to sue Delta for $10 million, claiming male employees aren’t fired for similar behavior, the Times reports.

Simonetti shouldn’t expect a remedy from employment or privacy law, said J. H. Verkerke, professor of law and director of the Program for Employment and Labor Law Studies at the University of Virginia. "Nonunion employees enjoy very little legal protection for their off-duty activities," Verkerke told the Times. He added that Simonetti gave up privacy claims by posting the photos on the Web.

Airlines are changing their corporate cultures in response to the earlier era of overt sexualization of flight attendants, Verkerke and an author of a career guide for flight attendants told the Times.

Simonetti, for her part, said she would have removed the photos or stopped blogging entirely if Delta had asked her to. ''I feel like if they had a problem with it they should have said something to me,'' she told the Times.

Posted by Alec Dobson at 09:28 PM in Media | Permalink | TrackBack

More, but less

With the election over, a Tennessee newspaper examines the future of blogs. The Knoxville News-Sentinel quotes Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds’ prediction that blogs will multiply but lose some of their individual impact.

"They'll grow more significant because more people will be reading them, and -- at least as important -- more people will be writing them. That will expand their impact considerably,” Reynolds predicts. "On the other hand, they'll grow less significant, in a way, because they'll grow more ordinary. Like other communications media, from newspapers to e-mail, they'll just become part of the background, and their particular thread of impact will be less noticeable."

Posted by Alec Dobson at 09:14 PM in Media | Permalink | TrackBack

Companies Join in the Fight Against a US Appeal Court Tax Ruling

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that business groups and state governments are joining in an appeal of a ruling that a key part of of a tax break plan that states put forth to induce companies to keep plants, corporate headquarter, etc, in those particular states is unconstitutional.

DaimlerChrysler sought to shut a Toledo plant that once produced the original Willys Jeep back in 1998. In order to keep the plant open Ohio, the state offered the auto maker a $280 million tax break in exchange for a plan to expand the plant. A group headed by Ralph Nader filed a lawsuit against the auto maker and the state challenging these types of tax breaks and lost at the District Court level. The US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit reversed, holding that that part of the plan violated the Constitution because it interfered with the free flow of trade among the states.

Affects of the court of appeals decision have been felt recently by the Kmart Holding Co.'s takeover of Sears, Roebuck & Co. Prior to the announcement of the takeover, Michigan had been negotiation with Kmart about replacing the headquarters in Detriot with similar tax-credit deals planned. However, several weeks ago, the retailer announced it wasn't ready to complete the tax-credit deal as a result of the ruling.

DaimlerChrysler is currently appealing to the full court of appeals and if that fails, it plans to appeal to the US Supreme Court.

Posted by Gerry Torres at 01:22 PM in Taxation | Permalink | TrackBack

Whistleblower complaints up under Sarbanes-Oxley

The Associated Press is reporting that the number of whistleblowers reporting employer misconduct rose to 181 in the twelve months ending September 30.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which was signed into law in 2002, created whistleblower protections for employees reporting possible financial fraud committed by their employer.  The Act makes it illegal for employers to terminate or retaliate against employees who report what they reasonably believe to be fraudulent activity taking place.  For example, Ammar Halloum reported that Intel was purposely delaying payment for factory parts in order to raise short-term earnings. 

Congress designated the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as the agency to administer the Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblower protection.  The Occupational Safety and Health Act provides some whistleblower protection for workers reporting unsafe working conditions to OSHA or seeking an OSHA inspection.

OSHA maintains a page with information about the various whistleblower programs it administers.

Posted by Matt White at 10:49 AM in Employees | Permalink | TrackBack

Congress Aids Women's Business Centers

The Chicago Tribune (11/29/04) reports that Congress approved an initiative that protects Women's Business Centers as part of the 2005 omnibus spending package.  The bill increases the amount of funding reserved for sustainability centers, the most experienced women's business centers, to 48 percent.

The SBA's Women's Business Center goal is to promote the growth of women-owned businesses through programs that address business training and technical assistance, and provide access to credit and capital, federal contracts, and international trade opportunities. The national network reached over 122,000 clients in the last year, up from 8,000 clients in 1999. For more information on Women's Business Centers please see my post on 9/18/04.

Posted by Nick Infusino at 09:53 AM in Small Businesses | Permalink | TrackBack

November 28, 2004

Digital Angels for Christmas?

Thanksgiving weekend's traditional "Bondathon" gives way to controversy in the news over a real world digital identification device implanted into the human arm that can give anyone with an appropriate reader access to an individuals medical and/or financial records.  VeriChip Corporation, a subsidiary of Applied Digital Solutions (ADS) and Digital Angel Corp., has been battling for FDA approval to market the VeriChip as a medical device for the past two years.   Despite claims that the VeriChip can act as "a reverse bullet" when used in conjunction with an MRI machine, and concerns of privacy advocates about "scanable humans,"  the FDA approved the device in October and ADS has launched an aggressive marketing campaign describing the VeriChip as a potentially life saving medical device that can gives doctors access to medical records in the event of an emergency. 

About the size of a large grain of rice, the VeriChip is a radio frequency identification device similar to those currently used for inventory tracking, on wholesale pharmaceuticals, and in herds of livestock.  Human installation involves an outpatient procedure using local anesthetic and a syringe to insert the chip into the right arm just above the elbow.  When a scanner is passed over the chip, it emits a radio frequency which transmits the identification number of the chip which enables doctors, bankers or  in some cases, bar-keepers to access the chipped individuals information which is stored on the VeriCorps servers.

Marketing of the VeriChip for medical purposes is regulated by the FDA.  But, the device is also marketed as a security device, a financial management device, and a personal safety device are not regulated.  In addition to medical uses, ADS believes the VeriChip would be valuable as a tool to identify the location of employees in high security buildings.  According to Kris Hundley of the St. Petersberg Times, the VeriChip has gained popularity among Spanish club-hoppers who use it to pay for drinks, and the Mexico City Attorney General who uses the chip to access documents in drug investigations.

Although ADS Chief Executive Chris Silverman doesn't expect the chip to reach record levels of popularity among the American public over the next decade, VeriChip Corp will soon announce the December Schedule of the "Chip Mobile" for those who have $200.00 to spare and want a digital angel for Christmas!

Posted by Marjorie Sterne at 06:27 PM in Patents & Technology | Permalink | TrackBack