Software "breaks Google's rules" disallowed


#1

DH announced:

[quote]All use of RSS Equalizer must stop immediately … please note that the
use of this software may be against Google’s rules and if so it
cannot be used on our servers at all.

[/quote]

Is there indeed anything in DHs TOS that says software that breaks Google’s “rules” cannot be used on DH servers? I can find none. And am baffled as to why DH would scare-monger so.

Chris


#2

This is the announcement that I received:

[quote]If you do not know what RSS Equalizer is you can probably skip this announcement. We have discovered some of you using RSS Equalizer, a tool to increase Google search engine rankings by including dynamic RSS feed information into your website. It appears that RSS Equalizer no longer works with our recent change of disallowing the use of fopen with URLs. The software breaks in a very serious way and causes an infinite loop and the resulting page loads in the browser forever getting larger and larger by the second. As you can probably imagine such behavior is extremely hard on our servers. All use of RSS Equalizer must stop immediately and it must remain off until the developers have fixed this serious bug. If there is already a newer version that does work correctly, please let us know so we can amend this information. Let us know if you have any questions about this.

Also, please note that the use of this software may be against Google’s rules and if so it cannot be used on our servers at all.[/quote]
Despite the last sentence, it appears that the major issue is, “The software breaks in a very serious way and causes an infinite loop and the resulting page loads in the browser forever getting larger and larger by the second.”


MacManX.com
I don’t work here. I’m just your typical support forum volunteer.


#3

I don’t have a clue what RSS Equalizer is, but if it causes trouble for Google’s system, or for anyone else’s, I can see why it would be disallowed by any host. It may violate Google’s or any other site’s terms of use, and since it can be proven, DH could run into some legal trouble if they facillitate(sp? must have more coffee this morning- lol!) its use.

~Chell


#4

DH can do whatever they wish with their services as long as it does not cause harm or damage to anyone/thing.
Heck if they wanted to disallow phpbb for example they could do it. We do not own the servers, they do. We might be extremely disapointed in the decision but this is their company to do with what they wish.


#5

I mispoke when I included that sentence in the announcement. We had previously discussed this and had decided it is not our place to enforce someone else’s rules, even if we might agree with them personally.

Still keep in mind that it’s a very bad idea to do anything ‘tricky’ to increase your Google rankings as Google may decide out of nowhere to de-list your sites.

  • Dallas
  • DreamHost Honcho

#6

Well said!


MacManX.com
I don’t work here. I’m just your typical support forum volunteer.


#7

[quote]All use of RSS Equalizer must stop immediately and it
must remain off until the developers have fixed this
serious bug.

[/quote]

DH really do have a cheek.


#8

[quote]We had previously discussed this and had decided it
is not our place to enforce someone else’s rules

[/quote]

Well thanks, but I’d sincerely hope what is and is not allowed by DH is deermined by the mutually agreed TOS, rather than any ad-hoc decision by DH.


#9

Our Terms of Service allows us to make changes when needed to preserve our network or level of service. In this case, the worry was that Google would start taking action against our entire network based on the actions of a few of our customers. In a situation like that we would be forced to disallow the activity. The Internet is a constantly changing thing and we have to adjust to keep up with it.

We do not make any decisions like this lightly and we always prefer to put the customer’s rights first as long as other customers are not affected.

  • Dallas
  • DreamHost Honcho

#10

[quote]We do not make any decisions like this lightly and we always prefer to put
the customer’s rights first as long as other customers are not affected.

[/quote]

That, and we also make a point to notify customers when policy changes occur (ie. the opt-in confirmation requirement that was added when we re-wrote our spam policy a couple of years back - we announced that a couple of times, not including a mention in the newsletter).

If a major policy change ever presents an insurmountable problem for you and you are ‘locked in’ to a contract you feel you won’t be able to utilize. let us know. We’re pretty flexible, ie. if you decide to switch to another host because of some major policy change we’ve made, we can probably work something out.

FWIW, most of us are of the opinion that a lot of (but not all!) “search engine optimization” tricks are unethical in nature, but given that it’s not really an active ‘exploit’ of Google, etc. (as nobody is forcing engines to index a given site - it’s sort of a passive exploitation of imperfect code on Google’s part) we have decided to leave the issue alone for the time being.

This sort of thing does have the potential to impact other customers, though, so if someone’s entire business is built on the premise of using things like hidden links, doorway pages and other tricks to artificially inflate rankings, we can’t guarantee that this non-policy will remain as such forever (and we’re definitely not interested in facilitating such activities, ie. by providing unique IPs in certain configurations that hide network infrastructure from search engines).

  • Jeff @ DreamHost
  • DH Discussion Forum Admin

#11

[quote]As always, since the “rules” aren’t clear, there’s a large grey area…

[/quote]

True enough. There’s a lot of ambiguity to this particular issue. For example, you could consider the simple act of not designing your site entirely in Flash, using quality XHTML mark-up, etc. a form of “search engine optimization” - and there’s nothing unethical about that.

I suppose you could define this as “actions which intentionally harm the usability of search engine services”, but even that would be rather ambiguous. Somewhere out there, there’s a guy who runs a search for gardening tools but hopes to find erectile enhancement pills. :>

I suppose it probably doesn’t pay a lot to get hung up on technicalities. Everyone knows these dirty little tricks when they see them, and no amount of wink-wink-nudge-nudge’ing makes them any less devious or annoying. As it is we haven’t seen any proof that they impact DreamHost customers (though I do think they severely impact the Internet using world as a whole to some degree), but…

[quote]anyway, think you’ve got troubles? How about these click cheaters? :slight_smile:

[/quote]

All success and geek-love aside, I’d hate to be in Google’s shoes on stuff like this.

They’ve got all eyes on them, and a heck of a lot of people who depend on their ranking algorithms and advertising. That, plus their stated “don’t be evil” philosophy, means that no matter what decision they make on anything it’s bound to be posted to Slashdot, make the natives restless, etc. Must be a real balancing act.

I also have to wonder how many people they require just to respond to DMCA notifications alone

  • Jeff @ DreamHost
  • DH Discussion Forum Admin

#12

[quote]Our Terms of Service allows us to make changes when needed to
preserve our network or level of service.

[/quote]

I can see no such provision. (Perhaps I’m not looking at the correct TOS - certainly I can find no link from the DH home page or panel. Is there one?)

Can you direct me to it? Thanks.


#13

[quote]Google’s … stated “don’t be evil” philosophy…
I also have to wonder how many people they require just to respond to DMCA notifications alone…

[/quote]

Hey, that’s a small price to pay for being the biggest © infringer on the net. :wink:


#14

It’s located right at the bottom on the About Us page.

http://www.dreamhost.com/tos.html


MacManX.com
I don’t work here. I’m just your typical support forum volunteer.


#15

[quote]I can see no such provision. (Perhaps I’m not looking at the correct
TOS - certainly I can find no link from the DH home page or panel. Is
there one?)

[/quote]

http://www.dreamhost.com/tos.html

#8 under ‘Material Products’ is the applicable clause. Basically, material that is not considered by us to be ‘server ready’ can be disallowed at any time at our discretion. Obviously this isn’t something we try to make a habit of invoking, but if someone is running a script or process or something that is bringing down the server or otherwise causing problems, we need a way to deal with that.

Of course, if someone signed up under the honest impression that something would be allowed or if we change a policy down the road, we will make allowances for that (ie. refunds for unused portions of plans).

  • Jeff @ DreamHost
  • DH Discussion Forum Admin

#16

Is this an argument for not being able to use RSS Equalizer or an argument for not being able to use a product that breaks Google’s rules?

If it’s the prior, that’s easy. Here’s the announcement, bolded for emphesis, as to why RSS Equalizer isn’t allowed anymore:

If it’s the latter, why is there an argument? A webhost is not allowing software that’s directed towards Google and breaks Google’s own rules to be ran on their servers. Sounds like you classic case of allowing/disallowing Warez (to an extent).


#17

Out of curiosity, does this software go out and try to reach Google to do dastardly things or does it merely react to Google’s spider visiting a site? Is it being banned because Google doesn’t like it? Is it illegal?

If it goes outside of the site to wreak havoc everything’s a-ok and ban 'em all the way, but it awfully lot sounds like this is not the case.

That wouldn’t be too good because that’d basically amount to Google prancing around the Internet willy-nilly and laying down their own private law law, telling what they think should be acceptable and what shouldn’t. And DH being a lapdog to Google.

That wouldn’t be good because whether it be a repressive regimen or even the mighty Google, they should not be able to force legitimate material to be removed just because they don’t like what they’re seeing. Illegal things are one thing – that’s not what I’m concerned about – I’m concerned that someone out there could achieve what China or North Korea haven’t managed to do: kill inconvenient content off the Internet.

Surprising though it may be, Google is not king of the Internet.


#18

[quote]Out of curiosity, does this software go out and try to
reach Google to do dastardly things or does it merely
react to Google’s spider visiting a site? Is it being
banned because Google doesn’t like it? Is it illegal?

[/quote]

Actually, the software in question is banned because it causes stability/performance problems on the server - the “google rules” thing was thrown in there by mistake. This is explained earlier in this thread.

[quote]That wouldn’t be too good because that’d basically
amount to Google prancing around the Internet willy-nilly
and laying down their own private law law, telling what
they think should be acceptable and what shouldn’t. And
DH being a lapdog to Google.

[/quote]

Well, Google hasn’t ever said anything to us about it, so while they may be prancing around in a willy-nilly fashion they haven’t invited us to join along. :>

As for being a “lapdog”, our concerns about this sort of thing stem less out of a concern for Google and more out of a concern for its users (and those of other search engines).

It’s becoming increasingly more difficult in my experience at least to find stuff without having to scroll past a lot of obvious search engine optimization fluff. While this isn’t the end of the world, it does essentially “pollute” an extremely useful Internet resource. We can debate whether web hosts should have a role in fixing this problem, but I hope we can all at least agree that it’s a problem in the first place and that certain people are profiting from this activity at the expense of the rest of us.

[quote]I’m concerned that someone out there could achieve
what China or North Korea haven’t managed to do: kill
inconvenient content off the Internet.

[/quote]

It’s a bit of a stretch to compare a dislike for the “inconvenient” content Joe-Bob-The-SEO-Guy creates to that which is disliked by China or North Korea (ie. critical political speech). The problem with the blatant SEO stuff is largely that it’s not really content at all, or at the most content that pretends to be something it really isn’t - and is thus pretty useless to those who run across it.

Again, this shouldn’t be seen as some sort of policy announcement by DreamHost - we haven’t banned the use of underhanded search engine tricks, and have no plans to do so. However, I think it’s safe to say that most of the people working here take a somewhat dim viw on intentional attempts to game the system in a way that lessens the usefulness of the tools Internet users use every day.

  • Jeff @ DreamHost
  • DH Discussion Forum Admin

#19

[quote]Actually, the software in question is banned because it causes stability/performance problems on the server - the “google rules” thing was thrown in there by mistake. This is explained earlier in this thread.
[/quote]
Ya know what, I did miss that part. I think I may have misread the part where you said that “we have decided to leave the issue alone for the time being” to meaning that you might ban the stuff anyway.

Aaaanyway. Your position is pretty clear on this stuff and it pretty much jives with my own: I hate spam, spim, SEO 'sploits, spyware/adware/whateveryouwannacallit, (D)DoS, h4x0rZ1nG 1337 k1dS, and stuff like that. I will, however, fight for the SEO 'sploiters right to ignore Google rules about what legal content Google thinks they can post on a website. I will also fight for Google’s right to ban these SEO 'sploiters, by the way. My world is a funny place; it ain’t black and white, and “us” and “them” aren’t so clearly defined all the time. See, once you start deciding whose content is ok and whose isn’t, you’re that much closer to authoritarian Internet where every website must be approved by a censor.

So, anyway, Jeff, don’t take what I write below as in any way questioning your character or integrity. I’m writing this stuff because there really are people out there who think that all Internet content should be controlled by a single entity like Google.

There’s a difference in scope and ramifications, sure. But is there really such a difference in concept? The fun part about Internet is that you’re free to say pretty much anything you like as long as it’s legal and you’re not slamming anyone. And if you live somewhere where your freedom is oppressed, Internet’s a great media to get your word out. If you’re a dissident in China you can publish stuff on a server hosted in the United States, and your government can’t shut the server down. If you’re someone living in a small town somewhere in the Midwest U.S.A. where all published media is controlled by BigHugeMedia Inc. who doesn’t like criticism, you can still get your criticism out to the public via the Internet because what you’re saying isn’t illegal. Are you saying that if that company had a rule that anyone critisizing them should be shut down, Dreamhost would gladly kill of their site if they hosted it? Or does that just apply to Google? Remember that Google is a company, not a service although it sometimes looks like one.

Let’s say that you browse to a website whose operator expresses views that are completely legal and ordinary but which you do not agree with. You have a rule against such content because you’re obviously the center of the universe, so you tell their webhost about your rule and ask them to pull the site. Should the webhost pull the site?

Where do you draw the line? Whose content is acceptable and whose isn’t?

Yeah, SEO stuff is useless crap. The problem is that most of the Internet is useless crap. I bet you’ve been around the 'Net long enough to notice this. How many useless sites have you found? How many blogs are there that really are a waste of perfectly good bandwidth? How many sites are there with the theme “Hi all my name is Jared and I’m 15 and I like chocolate and I’m 1337?” I’d wager a bet that most of Dreamhost’s $10/year accounts are full of totally useless content – if you can call it content to begin with.

Ya know what, that content is still out there. It has the right to be out there. Passive SEO stuff, ultimately, has the right to be out there too. If Google’s system can be exploited, then it’s Google who should fix their system instead of everyone else adjusting their content to suit Google’s whims. For crying out loud, it’s Google’s spider that comes to YOUR site uninvited not the other way around. If the SEO stuff would go and actively try to game search engines, it’d be different. If the website contains illegal or truly harmful stuff like virii and trojans, it’d be different. But passive SEO stuff is showing harmless text to a spider that comes to the site out of its own volition. That kind of SEO stuff just disappears in the sea of other useless crap out there.

I agree. SEO stuff sucks monkey b***s, there’s no question about that. Spam does, too, while we’re at it. Just be sure that if you ban something, you ban it because of the right reasons. Just because you or Google doesn’t like the passive content of any site should that content be banned. There’s a place and purpose for bannage, but this isn’t necessarily it.


#20

[quote]I think I may have misread the part where you said that “we have decided to
leave the issue alone for the time being” to meaning that you might ban the
stuff anyway.

[/quote]

I can understand the confusion. Mainly, all I meant is that we reserve the right to revisit any decision we make at a future date. As-is, I don’t see us changing this rule any time soon. The debate on it here is interesting, though, for sure.

[quote]So, anyway, Jeff, don’t take what I write below as in any way questioning
your character or integrity.

[/quote]

Not a problem. I’m always up for discussion, esp. as it applies to discussions about this matter we’ve had internally. :>

[quote]Are you saying that if that company had a rule that anyone critisizing them
should be shut down, Dreamhost would gladly kill of their site if they hosted
it? Or does that just apply to Google?

[/quote]

I guess the main point I was making is that it’s not even really an issue of content (ie. someone saying something negative about company XYZ), it’s an issue of exploiting an algorithm by using data which is intended solely for consumption by robots - data that is often specifically hidden from regular viewers - in order to attain greater rankings at the detriment of other users of that system.

The gray area, for us, is solely in the fact that these people are only changing textual data under their own accounts, which is somewhat different than them actively submitting faulty data to a 3rd party server in order to do something nefarious. Basically, they’re getting off on a technicality at this point - but that doesn’t mean we’re not aware of the problem.

FWIW, I think our record on free speech has been a pretty good one. We’ve gone so far as to be sued in order to protect a client’s right to speak their mind when we felt that they were unfairly targeted (and have been threatened with suits on a regular basis - comes with the territory in this industry). I’m not saying this so much to toot our own horn as to say that we aren’t ones to roll over when company XYZ has a spurious complaint.

[quote]The problem is that most of the Internet is useless crap. I bet you’ve been
around the 'Net long enough to notice this. How many useless sites have you
found?

[/quote]

I’d agree with this assertion. :>

However, it’s one thing to have useless content, it’s quite another to devise content (and I use the term loosely - when you get down to it, such ‘content’ is really just a type of ‘code’ that people are feeding into a somewhat opaque algorithm) with the specific intent to change the behavior - and output - of that algorithm. The only difference between this and, say, weblog comment spam (which we do take action against, if we find customers doing it) is that they’re doing it under their own account. That’s the only reason these types of accounts are left alone.

[quote]For crying out loud, it’s Google’s spider that comes to YOUR site
uninvited not the other way around.

[/quote]

That’s essentially the reason that we don’t take action against this sort of thing. The ‘loophole’, if you will.

This does put an interesting twist on things, though: What if Google were to come to us with absolute and independently verifiable proof that someone specifically submitted such a web site to the engine for indexing, here?:

http://www.google.com/addurl/?continue=/addurl

Would you consider that an active, intentional exploit of Google’s system?

  • Jeff @ DreamHost
  • DH Discussion Forum Admin