Friday, June 16, 2006

Illegal Linking

I just heard about this article in The Seattle Times on Slashdot. It is very scary. Washington state is going after sites that link to, contain discussion promoting, and/or advertisements for online gambling.

Going after places that promote online gambling, which is illegal in the United States doesn't sound like a bad idea, you aren't allowed to promote other illegal activities. But the quotes in the article imply that just linking to gambling sites may be illegal. The director of the state's gambling commission suggested that The Seattle Times stop publishing a poker how-to column which lists the URL of the column's author which is an online casino run offshore.

Just linking to something that is illegal is certainly pushing it too far and can't possibly be actually illegal. If just linking to a gambling site is illegal Microsoft would be in trouble since they are in Washington, they run MSN Search which not only links to online gambling sites in the results, but it displays advertisements for online casinos. That certainly looks like promoting to me.

It seems Microsoft might already be aware of this and attempting to work around it since they don't display any ads when you search for "" though some of the top results of that search are are online casinos. But assuming they are trying, they missed "" which displays ads for lots of gambling sites:

MSN illegally promoting gambling

In related news, not long ago Washington passed a law to make online gambling "a Class C felony, equivalent under the law to possessing child pornography, threatening the governor or torturing an animal." Of course there is an exception for wagering on horse racing online through certain companies. How is one form of gambling online ok, but not others?

Of course, this isn't the first time linking to something illegal has come up. Chilling Effects has a FAQ about linking.

"The question remains: Why would anybody bother to spam wikis when he has no relation to the spamvertized web site(s)?"

To set them up? You think a spammer won't hesitate to 'set up' a competitor in order to try and get their clients?
Spammers do a lot of stupid things, but setting up their competition doesn't make sense. Spammers main competition are other spammers, not legitimate sites. Adding more links for your competition who is already spamming is only helping them.

It is usually easy to tell the difference from a spammer site and a legitimate business. On the rare occasion a less shady business (or their affiliate) spams websites, we attempt to contact them before adding them to our blacklist.

Here are two recent examples of other ways we have dealt with spammers: Scamfly forum and an affiliate spammer.

And one example of spammers spamming for someone else's site: Disney Spam. But not for setting them up, just because they didn't want to use their own domain for testing.
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