A Political Denial of Service (PDOS) attack on blogger.com?

Submitted by Danny Weitzner on Tue, 2008-07-01 19:31. ::

The original appearance of this entry was in Danny Weitzner - Open Internet Policy

A little transparency would go a long way toward helping keep online political discourse open, especially in the particular corner of the blogosphere run by Google (ie. blogger.com). The Herald Tribune (Bloggers take aim at Google - International Herald Tribune) reports on a controversy involving pro-Clinton blogs that might have been blocked as spam due to what we might call a PDOS (Political Denial of Service Attack) in a skirmish between Obama and Clinton partisans. The IHT asks:

Was Google’s network of online services manipulated to silence critics of Barack Obama? That was the question buzzing on a corner of the blogosphere over the past few days, after several anti-Obama bloggers were unable to update their sites, which are hosted on Googles Blogger service.

It is alleged that some pro-Clinton blogs were blocked after a number of pro-Obama users marked them as ’spam’ on blogger.com. A Google spokesperson explained:

“It appears that our anti-spam filters caused some Blogger accounts to be blocked from creating new posts,” a Google spokesman, Adam Kovacevich, said in a statement. “While we are still investigating, we believe this may have been caused by mass spam e-mails mentioning the ‘Just Say No Deal’ network of blogs, which in turn caused our system to classify the blog addresses mentioned in the e-mails as spam.”

Kovacevich said that Google had restored posting rights to the affected blogs and that it was “very important” to Google “that Blogger remain a tool for political debate and free expression.” He gave no further details about Google’s spam-monitoring techniques or how they relate to the Blogger service.

It certainly would be useful if Google could provide some transparency into what they block and why. That way, either Google or the possibly malicious spam-flaggers could be help accountable for their behavior. (In a recent CACM piece on Information Accountability we explain why accountability is so important on the Web and how we might have more of it through additions to the architecture of the Web.)

Google does a very good job of giving transparent explanations when their search results contain information that has been blocked for legal reasons such as copyright takedown notices. I hope they can find a way to bring similar transparency to their part of blogosphere.