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Impressions of a self-publicist, and Blinkx

ShareSoc has covered the case of Blinkx in previous reports. Yesterday Prof. Edelman spoke at the UK Investor Show. He was given a 45 minute session, but spent a lot of it establishing his credentials by going over some of the common past abuses in internet advertising. For example he asked “why is the internet a wild west?” and answered it by saying “because nobody is paying attention”, although he later talked about FTC (Federal Trade Commission) action in that area. He also said the system is the best yet created for swindling people. He then talked about his involvement in a very large class action lawsuit in this area – but he lost it apparently.

It became apparent after just a few minutes that Prof Edelman is not a man of modesty. Indeed he came across as a self-publicist of the first order and how he had revealed the abuses that go on. For example, type “Dell” into some search engines and you might find listed first an advert paid for by Dell, rather than a “free” listing. Is that a surprising disclosure? No.

He also discussed “pop-up” adverts which he said nobody wants. But many respected web sites use them (for example ADVFN, Investegate in the financial world), and it’s easy now to block pop-ups in your browser if you don’t want to see them.

He discussed “adware” companies, and how they had all given zero returns and mostly gone out of business (adware is software installed on your PC that displays adverts that may be relevant, or not, to you). Edelman talked about the Weather App which he had previously alleged (erroneously) was owned or controlled by Blinkx, and about adverts for the very popular FlappyBirds game on Windows (where it is not available). It certainly appears that some folks are misleading people to install unwanted Adware by only stating what the user is committed to in the small print of the license which hardly anyone reads in breach of regulations. But how is Blinkx responsible for this? That he did not prove.

At best he showed that some folks, who might be using the Blinkx advertising platform, might not be adhering to either Blinkx contract terms or FTC regulations, but they have so many customers of their platforms it is unlikely they can monitor all of the activities of third parties all the time. What did Blinkx have to say about this in their rebuttal of Edelman’s blog? This was their comment:

“Blinkx Response: Ad supported and “freemium” options are valid, recognized and accepted alternatives for packaging and distributing premium content, including desktop and mobile applications, as is the development, use, packaging and distribution of freely distributed and open source software. A majority of the freely available online tools are ad-supported, including toolbars and browser plug-ins, for example. Youdownloaders is a third party distributor and is neither blinkx nor a blinkx affiliate. Rather, the Company appears to be distributing the Weather application (further referenced below), among others noted in the blog via a separate agreement with an approved distributor. Distributors of the Weather application are bound by specific Terms & Conditions of multiple parties, including blinkx, its distributor and publishers of the applications being distributed. blinkx internally monitors distribution partners to ensure Terms and Conditions are being met and if noncompliance is reported or discovered, any such violation of the distribution relationship is reviewed, cured or terminated.

In summary, he spent only a few minutes discussing Blinkx in detail, and there was nothing really new in his latest revelations (despite him saying there was). There was little time remaining for questions, even though this was the last session of the day. Regrettably he had to dash off to catch a plane it seems.  I have of course attended other seminars where the presenters from companies have “talked out” the allotted time leaving no opportunity for significant debate, so this did not impress either.

But there was one of the few questions asked that was significant. In response to a question on the contract Edelman had with investors, Edelman said that the terms contained a clause that said “if I find nothing then there will be a discount“. In other words, the research was not just paid for by investors who were possibly considering, or were already, shorting the stock, but that he was incentivised to report something they could use. In essence, his work was not independent academic research at all.

Roger Lawson

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