Internet startup AllThis drew fire recently after it was discovered (by writers like Rob Beschizza at Boing Boing) that the site scraped content (including profile photos) from the social media profiles of prominent tech pros and created profiles for them in its service.
The service seeks to sell ten-minute chunks of “time” with individuals that are bid on in an auction by other users. The implication is that the time of these experts is available for sale to the highest bidder (though they would have to claim their profiles in order for the transaction to actually take place). It’s tantamount to defamation for any tech writer considered to be a journalist who needs to appear to be impartial because it implies their attention (read: coverage) can be bought (David Pogue of the New York Times was disciplined for a similar practice – offering PR pros a chance to learn how to pitch him at a seminar).
Another implication nurtured by the way the company handled its launch is that these tech figures endorse the service … which is similarly problematic.
It’s pretty hard to imagine that AllThis didn’t intend for either of those implications to manifest, or that the structure of their service wouldn’t nurture them.
For its part, AllThis claims that it didn’t intend for either of those things to be the case and that the profiles were created when other users expressed interest in the time of the figures (who include some of my favorite tech figures like Tom Merritt and Leo Laporte). That isn’t necessarily problematic in and of itself – but the execution is where the problem lies.
As Joel Housman extensively documents on his blog – AllThis scraped his profile details and images (which is copyrighted content) and used that to sell its service. It’s the equivalent of me cutting-and-pasting content from someone else’s blog and hosting it on my site, siphoning away some of the traffic from their site to raise awareness of my own – only removing it when they object.
It will be interesting to watch this story to see if the adage “any press is good press” holds true for AllThis.