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Cingular and Verizon Are Full of It

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You would think that questions about linking to a website, or more specifically, what you’re allowed to say when linking, would have been put to rest. But that’s not true for Cingular or for Verizon Wireless, who think they have a right to control your hyperlink anchor text and where you link on their public sites.

Chalk this one up to lawyers trying to justify their billable hours as major corporations try to control everything you say, see, and do. It may be time for a virtual Bill of Rights beginning with the same freedom of speech (freedom of linking) protections the original gave us.

The Founding Fathers couldn’t have fathomed such technology, but you can bet they’d be appalled at the limits on freedom in which the government-corporate cabal is regularly engaged.   

This text appears on Cingular’s website:

 Links to the Sites. You are granted a limited, nonexclusive right to create a hypertext link to the homepage of the Sites, provided such link does not portray Cingular Wireless or any of its products and services in a false, misleading, derogatory, or otherwise defamatory manner… This limited right may be revoked at any time.

So in effect, Cingular asserts that you can’t say anything bad about them and link to their site. If you wanted to say Cingular charges too much for their services (which is an opinion and protected speech) and wanted to link to them, that would be in violation of how you are allowed to talk about them.

The arbitrary nature of the word "derogatory" leaves quite a bit of room for interpretation. For example, if I said Cingular’s parent company AT&T had monopolistic practices and is blowing smoke about their support of Net Neutrality, is that derogatory, my opinion, or both? It shouldn’t matter. I should be (am) allowed to say it and point to any public forum.

The language that follows in that legal statement just aggravates the egregiousness of it through blatant not-good-for-the-gander hypocrisy:

Cingular Wireless makes no claim or representation regarding, and accepts no responsibility for, the quality, content, nature, or reliability of third-party Web sites or services accessible by hyperlink from the Sites, or third-party Web sites linking to the Sites.

In other words, you’re responsible for your linking, but Cingular is not responsible for its own. If Cingular links to a site with malicious code and you get a virus that destroys your computer, you’re on your own. But if you say Cingular sucks and link to them, they say that’s not allowed.

While those are some pretty bold assertions, Verizon Wireless takes it to another level of audacity. Verizon’s requirements for linking include:

  • You must link only to our homepage, and not to pages within the site itself.
  • The Verizon Wireless name must not be associated with unfair, deceptive or libelous advertising or commentary or used in any way that will tend to injure or compromise our professional reputation and corporate identity and policies.
  • Your text hyperlink must include the following company name: Verizon Wireless. No stylization is permitted.

There aren’t many options for linking to anything but the homepage, as, even if you want general information you have to enter some personal details to access other pages. That could be construed perhaps as a non-public page.

But again, a word like "unfair" is a bit arbitrary, and by that language, it’s unclear if "commentary" is linked with the preceding adjectives or stands on its own.

Can I say Verizon damages its own reputation by overcharging for text messaging? Is that unfair commentary? What if I think Verizon damages its own reputation by trying to tell everybody what can be said about them?

Can I say Verizon’s full of it? Would I have to prove it in a court of law?

The way I see it, anything published on the World Wide Web in plain view (without any type of access control) is in public. That doesn’t apply to copyrighted content, it applies to what you can point out.

If, on the street, someone was asked for directions to Maggie’s Irish Restaurant, could Maggies require, or, if you use some of the above language, allow that person to point down the road to the restaurant’s location only if they say "Maggie’s is at 111 St. Patrick Street and Irish food isn’t as bad as it sounds"?

Now we’re just getting persnickety.

Limits on to whom you can link and what you can say about the entity to whom you are linking are violations of fundamental rights. It’s too bad that this day in age, that free speech still has to be spelled out.

Some additional sources on linking:

DMOZ

Don’t Link To Us
 

Cingular and Verizon Are Full of It
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  • Andy

    Google and Yahoo better take them out of their index now :)

  • Bill McCrory

    Go to the Kootenai County (Idaho) Assessor’s website and read the Liability and Use Statement. The information in the Kootenai County Parcel Information database is all public record. You wouldn’t know it by reading the Liability and Use Statement though.

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