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Jonathan Zittrain on Reputation - Dictionary of Arguments

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Reputation/internet/web search/Zittrain: […] a final piece of the Privacy 2.0 mosaic: the impact of emerging reputation systems. This is both because such systems can greatly impact our privacy and because this book has suggested reputational tools as a way to solve the generative sifting problem at other layers. Search is central to a functioning Web (1), and reputation has
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become central to search. If people already know exactly what they are looking for, a network needs only a way of registering and indexing specific sites. […]site. But much of the time we want help in finding something without knowing the exact online destination. Search engines help us navigate the petabytes of publicly posted information online, and for them to work well they must do more than simply identify all pages containing the search terms that we specify. They must rank them in relevance. There are many ways to identify what sites are most relevant. A handful of search engines auction off the top-ranked slots in search results on given terms and determine relevance on the basis of how much the site operators would pay to put their sites in front of searchers. (2) These search engines are not widely used. Most have instead turned to some proxy for reputation. As mentioned earlier, a site popular with others—with lots of inbound links—is considered worthier of a high rank than an unpopular one, and thus search engines can draw upon the behavior of millions of other Web sites as they sort their search results. (3) Sites like Amazon deploy a different
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form of ranking, using the “mouse droppings” of customer purchasing and browsing behavior to make recommendations—so they can tell customers that “people who like the Beatles also like the Rolling Stones.” Search engines can also more explicitly invite the public to express its views on the items it ranks, so that users can decide what to view or buy on the basis of others’ opinions. Amazon users can rate and review the items for sale, and subsequent users then rate the first users’ reviews. Sites like Digg and Reddit invite users to vote for stories and articles they like, and tech news site Slashdot employs a rating system so complex that it attracts much academic attention. (4)
[…]These reputation systems now stand to expand beyond evaluating people’s behavior in discrete transactions or making recommendations on products or content, into rating people more generally. This could happen as an extension of current services—as one’s eBay rating is used to determine
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trustworthiness on, say, another peer-to-peer service.
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The Harvard Kennedy School’s Joseph Nye has suggested that a site like urban legend debunker be instituted for reputation, a place that people would know to check to get the full story when they see something scandalous but decontextu-alized online. (5)

1. Urs Gasser, Regulating Search Engines: Taking Stock and Looking Ahead, 8 YALE J.L. & TECH. 201, 202 (2006) (“Since the creation of the first pre-Web Internet search engines in the early 1990s, search engines have become almost as important as e-mail as a primary online activity. Arguably, search engines are among the most important gatekeepers in today’s digitally networked environment.”); Stephen E. Arnold, Google: Search Becomes an Application Platform 1 (2005) (unpublished position paper), available at (“Just as calculations were one of the reasons for mainframes, search is one of the reasons why distributed, parallel, commodity-based network systems are the next computing platforms. The smartphone, the desktop computer, the Xbox game machine, and even the mainframe gain greater utility when linked to a computer similar to one built, owned, and operated by Google.”); Memorandum from Deborah Fallows et al., Pew Internet & Am. Life Project, on The Popularity and Importance of Search Engines 3 (2004), available at (“The availability of reliable, easy-to-use search engines has transformed people’s connection to information. For some, search engines are indispensable. Many people deeply rely on search engines to deliver vitally important information to them: 44% of searchers say that all or most of the searches they conduct are for information they absolutely need to find.”).
2. 85. Pay-for-placement has existed from the first days of the Web’s commercialization. See Jeff Pelline, Pay-for-Placement Gets Another Shot, CNET NEWS.COM, Feb. 19, 1998, Until early 2007, Yahoo’s search engine placed the highest bidders’ ads before the most relevant ads. Yahoo, however, switched to ranking based on relevance only, a change driven by significant competitive pressures. See Sara Kehaulani Goo, Yahoo Retools Ad Technology; Ranking System Ends Pay-for-Placement Ads in Search Results, WASH. POST, Feb. 6, 2007, at D2 (“The whole notion that I can buy my way to the top [of sponsored links] is something we do want to move beyond” (quoting Tim Cadogan, Vice President, Yahoo Search Marketing)). Of course, advertisers routinely pay for placement among sets of sponsored links included alongside search results in search engines like Yahoo and Google.
4. Id. at 76—80.
5. Posting of Joseph Nye to The Huffington Post, Davos Day 3: Internet Privacy and Reputational Repair Sites, (Jan. 26, 2007, 18:14 EST).

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Zittrain I
Jonathan Zittrain
The Future of the Internet--And How to Stop It New Haven 2009

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