If you live in Britain and tried to read the New York Times story on what evidence the terror investigation turned up, you probably got a nasty little surprise. The New York Times chose to use its advertising software that targets ads to where someone lives for a new – and positively chilling – purpose.
NEW YORK – The New York Times' Web site is blocking British readers from a news article detailing the investigation into the recent airline terror plot, turning its Internet ad-targeting technology into a means of complying with U.K. laws.
"We had clear legal advice that publication in the U.K. might run afoul of their law," Times spokeswoman Diane McNulty said Tuesday. "It's a country that doesn't have the First Amendment, but it does have the free press. We felt we should respect their country's law."
Visitors who click on a link to the article, published Monday, instead got a notice explaining that British law "prohibits publication of prejudicial information about the defendants prior to trial." The blocked article reveals evidence authorities have in the alleged plot to use liquid explosives to down U.S. airliners over the Atlantic.
The Times site already targets ads based on a visitor's location, but McNulty said this was the first time the technology was used in an editorial capacity. The Times also blocked U.K. access to an audio summary of the top Times stories, which included the article in question.
Other news organizations have blocked content before, mostly for financial reasons, said Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa.
For example, the British Broadcasting Corp. has been testing online access to landmark television reports of major world events from the past half-century. But it said it cannot make the video available for free outside of Britain because it is funded through an annual levy on British TV owners.
The BBC and other organizations also have blocked audio and video of Olympics competition because they bought licenses only for specific geographic regions. Likewise, to protect broadcast contracts, Major League Baseball has used similar technology to prevent live online access to games involving hometown teams.
The underlying blocking technology, known as geotargeting or geolocation, checks the numeric Internet address of a visitor's computer against databases showing the company or service provider to which that address was assigned.
The technique is not foolproof.
A British computer modem could, for instance, make an international call to make the visitor appear to be coming from, say, the United States.
I have no idea why an American newspaper would suddenly try to comply with another country's laws first of all. More importantly, this is supposed to be the mighty defender of the free press and the right of the people to know. And this is what they are doing? Blacking out news based on where you come from? Anyone else see the deadly danger this presents?
The New York Times has the potential to turn the whole world into China. Think about it. This is a particularly bad move on the part of the Times.
Folks in Britain better be thinking of ways to spoof this technology. So had we all.
UPDATE: Don't miss this beautiful irony. It seems the Times of London has no problem publishing the same information the NYT did and even credits the NYT as the source! The NYT can't even get the legal facts straight.
Many thanks to those who have linked this post.