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Would Mark Zuckerberg be asked for the password to his Facebook account?

Here’s a trend that seems outright outrageous: asking for a job applicant’s social media passwords.

It’s been in the news for the past few years, off-and-on, especially during the past few weeks. Today, the Toronto Star has an article about a candidate for a law enforcement job who was asked to share his Facebook password with the recruiter. He wasn’t just asked to “friend” the recruiter, and when he offered to show his profile on the laptop in the interview room, the recruiter insisted on receiving the password.

The article in the Star came in reaction to a flurry of reports in the U.S. and U.K. about the occasional use of this distressing practice. Asking for an applicant’s password for a job with the police seems to be the most common – Bloomberg BusinessWeek cites examples from Virginia, Montana and Maryland – while The Telegraph writes about an online retail company employee in the U.K. who was asked to hand over his login details after his employer went trolling on Facebook and couldn’t find any personal details on the worker.

Facebook itself is up in arms about the practice. The Telegraph received a response from Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, who wrote:

In recent months, we’ve seen a distressing increase in reports of employers or others seeking to gain inappropriate access to people’s Facebook profiles or private information. This practice undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user’s friends. It also potentially exposes the employer who seeks this access to unanticipated legal liability.

The most alarming of these practices is the reported incidences of employers asking prospective or actual employees to reveal their passwords. If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your password, let anyone access your account, or do anything that might jeopardize the security of your account or violate the privacy of your friends. We have worked really hard at Facebook to give you the tools to control who sees your information. … That’s why we’ve made it a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to share or solicit a Facebook password.

The ACLU warns that employers or recruiters asking for social media passwords are entering a legal gray area that may potentially open them up to both privacy and discrimination lawsuits. And if the employer is the government, “they may be violating your Fourth Amendment rights,” Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the ACLU, told BusinessWeek.

Canadians may have it better than job seekers elsewhere. The Canadian publication TechVibes quotes Paul Cavaluzzo, a Toronto-based labor lawyer, who says that laws in Canada are more stringent than in the U.S. with regards to protecting private information. In an interview with CityTV he noted that, while there aren’t yet laws dealing specifically with social media, Canada has “always respected privacy rights.”

Cavaluzzo adds that “if an interviewer demands your password, feel free to call them out. Or just ask them for their house keys in exchange; the differences are negligible.”

A version of this article appeared yesterday on the AIM Group blog, a publication I write for regularly.


AIMGroup LogoLast week, I published 15 links to articles I wrote for about the the classified advertising business which I covered for five years. I chronicled hundreds of companies – from startups to established classified pure plays.

Here is part two of my list. And if you want to know more, visit for the latest headlines and analysis.

Atlanta newspaper: turn your computers off on Sundays and read us in print!

10 reasons you’ll miss print newspapers (parody).

Most people wouldn’t care if their local newspaper folded. Oy!

Tips from WSJ on how you can charge for content online.

Tweet your notes to the Western Wall.

YouTube is bleeding money – can it survive?

Survey: surfers don’t mind pop up ads…much.

Columbia University J-school head thumbs nose at social media.

Using social media when the news is bad.

Hearst sourcing content from Helium.

How to get people to pay for online? Black out all web news for a week.

Nine tips for alternative business models for struggling newspapers.

The future of the Internet in 2010 according to Pew.

How much time are you wasting online An irreverent new website tells you.

Car dealers upping Internet marketing spend as sales continue to drop.


AIMGroup LogoFor over five years, I covered the classified advertising business for I was the beat reporter for real estate and automotive, and I chronicled hundreds of companies – from startups such as Zillow and HotPads – to established classified pure plays including, and

We covered social media extensively, but the main story was how newspapers had let these online competitors, not the least of which was Craigslist, decimate their classified advertising business, (hence leading to the dire straights print papers are in today) and what they could do to recover.

An often told if somewhat apocryphal story is how the Boston Globe once had the opportunity to buy recruiting powerhouse but declined, saying in essence “hey, we’re the big bad Boston Globe, we don’t need that little pitzkele site.”

If watching the classified advertising shake down is of interest, I recommend you visit In the meantime, I present you here with links to some of my more evergreen blog posts for the site over the last couple of years.

There are a lot of links, so I’ll publish these in two posts – here’s part one.

Thanks for permission to post these from my erstwhile editor Jim Townsend and publisher Peter Zollman.

If the NYTimes dropped print and distribution and gave all its subscribers e-Readers, it would actually save money!

Short attention span theater: new data – 10 percent of viewers leave an online video within 10 seconds.

85% of Gen Y-ers participate in social networking. Do you?

“Digital immigrants” vs. “digital natives” – with Facebook, you’ll never have to “get back in touch” again.

Google to newspapers: “grow up” (it’s not that hard to block Google indexing).

Profile of 2 Israeli startups shaking up writing and news: Iamnews and WeBook.

10 tips on how to make hyperlocal work.

If you want to trash your ex online, do it in Texas, not Colorado.

Teens don’t tweet. How come? Here’s what a teenage analyst has to say.

Consumers will pay 62% of what they pay for a print newspaper to access online news sites.

Why international users are draining Facebook’s coffers.

Creepy hookups – Google Maps and Craigslist personal mashup.

Social networks trump email for content sharing.

It’s not the newspapers, it’s their owners for print’s problems.

The first all-tweet newspaper – social media vanity press? Meanwhile, blog-to-print newspaper fails.

More next week…


Ginipic: Image Search on Steroids

by Brian Blum on December 24, 2009

in Entrepreneurs,Home,Israel,Products

GinipicIt’s happened to all of us at least once or twice in our careers. We’re writing a school paper or updating a website and we need a photo or graphic image to illustrate a point.

That usually entails searching a number of different photo sharing sites such as Google Images, Flickr, TwitPic, PhotoBucket, and others. Once you’ve found the picture you want, you have to click through to see the full size image, right click to download it, then choose Import to paste it into your Word document. And that’s assuming you’ve received the copyright clearance to use it.

What if you could do all this in 2 steps? That’s the idea behind Ginipic, a small Israeli startup with a big idea. Enter a search term and the Ginipic application crawls 15 different web-based photo sharing application. The software then presents the results on a single screen.

That’s already a big improvement from Google’s image search, which only displays a maximum of 25 photos on a page, requiring users to click the “Next Page” button repeatedly.

Ginipic will even search your own computer.

Once you find the image you want, simply drag and drop it into the application you’re using – whether that’s Word, PowerPoint or an email program. The Ginipic application is designed to work “side by side” with other programs to help eliminate switching back and forth between screens.

Ginipic shows copyright details and a photo’s Creative Commons status to keep you from inadvertently infringing (a dollar sign and a large “Buy Now” button appear when an image isn’t free).

Other goodies include the ability to instantly share images on social networks, set an image as your desktop background, and save it to a built-in “lightbox” that contains only those pictures you’ve selected to view.

The service is the brainchild of three young Israeli entrepreneurs and childhood friends from Even Yehuda: Lior Weinstein, Noam Finger and Orr Sellah (who, not coincidentally, are also the only employees in the company). Ginipic has taken on no investment to date but is currently looking.

Ginipic is entirely free right now and, unlike other web services that pitch a paid premium version, the company’s business model is to cut “white label” deals that will give an existing photo sharing site Ginipic’s functionality but with the partner’s branding. Ginipic is also in talks with several advertising agencies to update their aging interfaces for image search.

CEO Weinstein told me that Ginipic is looking for deals in the $10-30,000 range rather than with big players who might pay in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. We asked him why. “We wanted to bring the product to market as fast as possible,” he said. “With a $100,000 deal, there are endless meetings. And for that price, a big company will always consider building it in-house. At $10,000, it’s not a problem.”

Weinstein said the idea for Ginipic actually came to him in a dream. “I was working on a big paper in a classical studies course” at Tel Aviv University, he said and needed pictures of ancient Greek and Roman statues.

Exhausted, he fell asleep one night and dreamed of dragging pictures directly from the photo sharing websites he visited into a Word document. Two weeks later, a mock up was done and the company was on the fast track to development.

Ginipic is not a web application but a download and it works on Windows only (bad news for all the creative types and increasing numbers of students who use Macs). Why the download? we asked Weinstein, aware that this is often a barrier to usability for many wary web denizens.

That was the only way to enable the drag and drop functionality. You can’t go direct from web to Word, nor can you search your own computer, Weinstein explained. Fortunately, the software itself is small – only 4 MB – making for a relatively painless installation.

I asked Weinstein about Ginipic’s product management process. There wasn’t much, he said. The team just jumped in and started coding. After about a month, “we did a proper product plan,” Weinstein said, with a feature roadmap and competitive analysis.

As with many self-funded startups, the “go for it” approach can be effective. Weinstein warned against “feature freeze” where you plan too much and never get the product out the door because there’s always one more feature to add.

Ginipic also used an interesting tool for soliciting customer feedback. UserVoice puts a small tab on the left side of every screen on the site. Clicking allows users to vote on which features they’d most like to see (a Mac version leads the list). The service is free for 100 votes per month. It ramps up rapidly from there to a max of $589/month for all the bells and whistles.

Weinstein said that after all the feedback was in, the team was pleased that there were no additional features they hadn’t originally thought of. UserVoice helped mainly in ranking what functionality should be rolled out first.

Ginipic is not without competitors. Meta-search services like Copernic have been around for years, and Microsoft Office’s Clip Art tool is already built into Word (“although no one uses it,” Weinstein mused). Other sites, such as CoolIris, are more about enjoying images online than searching them, Weinstein pointed out.

So far, in the 9 months since Ginipic launched, it’s signed up over 100,000 users “on $0 advertising,” Weinstein said. Approximately 25 percent of those are active users.

Among the services with which Ginipic works are DeviantArt, Flickr, Picasa, Google, Fotolia, Bing, PhotoBucket, SmugMug, Yahoo, Dreamstime and Crestock.

I use a Mac, so I personally won’t be able to give Ginipic a spin anytime soon but I’ll recommend it to my PC-using friends.

A version of this story originally appeared on Israel21c.


StarsOutbrain is a company I like a lot. It has a seemingly simple product that provides some very useful functionality: content rating and recommendations for blogs.

Follow the easy installation instructions and Outbrain will allow your readers to give your latest post a 1-5 score. Then, based on Outbrain’s massive database of reader tastes and web content, the Outbrain widget that displays on your blog will point visitors to related articles that Outbrain has determined they might find interesting.

Yes, it directs visitors away from your blog, but it also has the potential to turn your site a mini-destination site. (You can see Outbrain at work on this blog – scroll to the end of any post.)

When the company raised a sizable second round of financing earlier this year, a lot of brows were furrowed: $12 million for a blog plug-in? Investors must have had a sneak preview of the company’s latest feature, launched earlier this month: an enhancement that allows publishers to pay for premium placement of their content.

The new goodie is called OutLoud and it costs $10 per URL. Featured content appears at the top of the Outbrain recommendations list and is clearly labeled. Without OutLoud, Outbrain uses its own algorithms to suggest content.

OutLoud can be used in two ways. A publisher can let Outbrain control which sponsored recommendations appear; Outbrain will then split revenue with the blog publisher.

Alternatively, a publisher can set up the OutLoud service to work as an internal referral engine: only URLs from the publisher will appear. This can be used to generate more traffic within a single property or on a network of sites owned by the same publisher.

At first glance, $10 might seem like a no brainer for a small to medium sized online publisher, but it quickly adds up. And the $10 fee per URL is only for a month. You have to pay up if you want the sponsored link to keep going.

Outbrain says that the service is aimed at a number of target clients:

  • Marketers who want to drive word-of-mouth by amplifying positive reviews about their company.
  • Individual bloggers who want to promote their most brilliant posts.
  • Public relations professionals looking for new ways to distribute releases
  • Social media gurus who can push out articles from a corporate blog to drive traffic.

With such a cool product, I wondered what product management is like at Outbrain. Amit Elisha, who directs the process, says that the days of long and involved specs with accompanying Photoshop images are long gone. “We were work on a very fast 3-4 week release cycle,” Elisha said. “We prefer UI (user interface) mock ups over technical documentation, which we keep very brief.”

Elisha’s tool of choice is Balsamiq Mockups which makes it incredibly easy to create a wireframe. I tried it out and it lives up to the hype with a truly drag and drop interface. Thanks Amit for the tip!

Elisha has been with the company since August of last year and moved from Israel, where Outbrain started, to New York for the job. I asked him my favorite question about what parts of product management could be outsourced. None, he said. Outsourced people don’t have the same stake in the company. “We hire people with a certain DNA,” he added.

For publishers looking to generate additional revenue, OutLoud certainly looks promising, although it will take some time before the service has the critical mass to add up to more than just some extra change. On the other hand, it’s free to install and Outbrain doesn’t add its own branding or links back to the Outbrain site.

Outbrain was founded by Yaron Galai and Ori Lahav. The 25-person company has headquarters in New York with R&D in Israel. The latest round was led by Carmel Ventures with previous investors Gemini, Lightspeed and GlenRock Israel filling out the round. Total raised to date: just over $18 million.

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BullseyeFollowing up on my previous post, it appears that consumers are not so happy with behavioral tracking on the Internet. According to a new survey from professors at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California at Berkeley, two-thirds of Americans object to being tracked by advertisers. And if those consumers learn exactly how they’re being followed, the percentage increases even more.

The study, reported today in The New York Times, was conducted by telephone not via the web and included 1,000 adult Internet users. Some of the highlights:

  • Tailored ads in general did not appeal to 66 percent of respondents. More important: 55 percent of those in the 18-24 group were opposed to being tracked (somewhat of a surprise given that anecdotal evidence says that Facebook users don’t mind handing over personal information).
  • When the respondents were told that part of that tailoring was tracking what they were doing on specific websites, an additional 7 percent said those ads were not OK.
  • And when they learned that tracking was also being done on additional websites, another 18 percent were upset.
  • The worst: when respondents learned that advertisers could track them offline, the percent of disgruntled consumers jumped an additional 20 percent.
  • On the other hand, 51 percent said it was OK to follow them if it meant customized discounts and 58 percent didn’t mind getting tailored news.

The survey is bound to fuel the legal ambitions of lawmakers looking to score points with privacy ravaged Americans. Representative Rick Boucher of Virginia and David Vladeck, head of consumer protection for the FTC, say they both are looking at data privacy issues closely.

On the question of laws, the survey found that:

  • 69 percent of American adults feel there should be a law that gives people the right to know everything that a website knows about them.
  • 92 percent agree there should be a law that requires “websites and advertising companies to delete all stored information about an individual, if requested to do so.”
  • 63 percent believe advertisers should be required by law to immediately delete information about their Internet activity.

Marketers of course argue that, without advertising, free content couldn’t exist online. There’s no debating that. The issue, as I posed in my previous post, is that consumers have a right to know – and to opt out – of being followed without their knowledge during their travels on the net.

Would that there was such a backlash at the casinos.

You can download the full 27-page report from The Times website.


Mark Potts, co-founder of the defunct hyperlocal citizen-journalism experiment BackFence, shared some thoughts on lessons he learned during his tenure at the company. While “some of BackFence’s problems were internal and self-inflicted,” Potts is still “very optimistic that a similar model can and will succeed.

We’ll summarize Potts’s main points here, but the full article, published in 2007, has timeless advice.

Potts, by the way, has already moved on and started an ad-services group aimed at helping hyper-local and vertical/niche sites generate more revenue. GrowthSpur, which includes an impressive team of ex-newspaper execs, is focusing on technology, training and ad-networking to improve ad sales.

— Engage the community. “ It’s not about technology, it’s not about journalism, it’s not about whizbang Web 2.0 features. It’s about bringing community members together to share what they know about what’s going on around town,” Potts says. “A top-down, ‘if you build it, they will come’ strategy absolutely does not work.”

— It’s not journalism – it’s a conversation. “The magic of hyperlocal sites is that they provide a forum for community members to share and discuss what’s going on around town.”

— Hyper-local content is really mundane – at least to outsiders looking in. “But for residents of a particular community, it’s very relevant. Mundane is a competitive advantage.”

— Trust the audience. BackFence never became a nasty free-for-all due to a number of tools – required registration to post comments, profanity filters, “report misconduct” buttons on every page. As a result, the need for BackFence to take down content “happened just a handful of times over two plus years.”

— Focus on strong, well-defined communities. “We chose them because they had a strong, well-focused sense of place and community pride—I live here, I don’t live over there.” Don’t try to cover too large a geographic area.

— Leverage social networking. “The rise of MySpace, Flickr, YouTube and the commercial version of Facebook—virtually all of which have happened since Backfence launched more than two years ago—demonstrates the power of social media.” Backfence, Potts says, never took proper advantage of social media.

— Local advertising is robust. “Local advertisers are eager for new online advertising vehicles. We sold ads to more than 400 advertisers, more than any other similarly sized hyper-local effort that I’m aware of.”

— Keep costs down. “The BackFence formula averaged about one staffer per community site, and in retrospect, that probably was too rich.”

— Piggyback on a print or broadcast partner’s existing community relationships and marketing power. “It’s very, very difficult to start from scratch in a community and get to critical mass without help.”

— Hyperlocal is really hard. “ Anybody who’s run a hyper-local site will tell you that it takes a couple of years just to get to a point where you’ve truly got a vibrant online community. It takes even longer to turn that into a viable business.” Backfence failed essentially because, although it raised $3 million, it couldn’t sustain itself long enough.

Ultimately, Potts says that he believes that at the core, “user-generated hyper-local citizens’ media is sound. If there’s anything I’ve learned from BackFence, it’s that the power and potential of local communities still is waiting to be tapped.”

For more articles on newspapers and classified advertising, visit the industry experts:


Charging for Content: Editor Weighs In

by Brian Blum on July 20, 2009

in Home

The U.K. Financial Times’ editor Lionel Barber said during a public speech last week that he confidently predicts “that within the next 12 months, almost all news organizations will be charging for content.”

“News organizations with specialist skills and knowledge have the opportunity to thrive. The mediocre middle is much more at risk,” he continued.

What would make a news organization more distinctive? “It could be sports or celebrity coverage or simply a long-standing reputation for standing up for the common man – or woman,” Barber said. Once the niche is determined, it will be critical “to establish an online platform capable of charging for content, whether on a payment per article basis or a package subscription.”

Barber lauded’s frequency model, “whereby a limited number of articles on the web are offered as free ‘tasters’ before users are asked to subscribe.”

He ended with a cautionary note: “Without new revenue streams, quality journalism will wither.”

You can read the full transcript of Barber’s speech here.

For more articles on newspapers and classified advertising, visit the industry experts:


How to Block Google From Indexing Your Site

July 19, 2009

As newspaper chains and agencies like the Associated Press complain that Google News has been aggregating their content thereby hurting monetization opportunities, a Google exec says: “grow up.” Josh Cohen, senior business product manager for Google, writing on Google’s public policy blog, explained that if you don’t want your content to show in search results […]

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