Your Comments Worth A Million (And You Don’t Know It!)

This is a wake up call to all bloggers. Somebody – or many people – out there, is/are listening, or to be precise, reading, whatever you say everywhere in the virtual world. It doesn’t matter whether it’s trashy, unintelligent, boring, or lame. It doesn’t matter whether you pour your heart out in your own blog, in a discussion forum, or in social networking websites a.k.a Facebook or MyScape. They will scoop it out, put it together with other comments on the same subject and… (here’s the annoying-slash-scary part), sell it to whoever wants it!!

No, it’s not the “big brother” up up in the sky. It’s not our government. It’s not the internet provider. It’s not Al Qaeda. And it’s definitely not Google or Microsoft.

It’s web scraper companies.

Basically, what they do, is extracting data from various websites, and then processing and analyzing it. The result will be used to predict, or determine, consumers’ sentiments, which will help the marketers to anticipate the customers’ needs and refine their marketing strategy.

Why? Why do our opinions count and are very powerful?

Because the new generation of consumer (like you and me) cannot be easily fooled by traditional mass media and turns to internet as a guide of reference. For example, you want to buy a mascara advertised in some magazine which claims the result will be explosively voluminous. You read the magazine’s review, but you know that the magazine gets paid to promote such mascara. You want unbiased opinion. What do you do? You go online, do a little research, to find what people say about it. Right?

Imagine there are thousands of people saying that turns out they prefer mascara A rather than mascara B. The company now knows they have to boost the advertising campaign for mascara A and finds out how to tackle the problem with mascara B.

Now replace a mascara with something more serious, like mortgage. One customer can worth ?350,000 (or Rp 7billions!!) or even much more. Losing twenty of them will probably cause the company its reputation and its future plan.

That’s why the companies really want to know what their consumers say about their products, and they are willing to pay to tap into consumer’s mind. No wonder whatever you say in virtual world worth some money for web scraper companies. They monitor what you and I say about everything, put it into nice chart or score cards, and sell it back to the companies.

Lots of companies now realize how powerful the internet generation is. Certain company like Nike tries to facilitate and monitor a direct dialog between customers. If you go to Nike+ forum, you will read what people say about a certain product, like running shoes, for example (see here). For you and me, it’s only an outlet to tell them whether we like it or are disappointed by it, or probably share what we feel about Nike’s running shoes. But for Nike, our opinion is priceless: it will determine their next marketing strategy, their technology development, and of course, their next product (money, money, and money). But even that, there are thousands, if not millions, peer-to-peer forums which discuss such thing. Hence the web scraper.

My opinion about Lauren Weisberger’s Chasing Harry Winston has probably been copied and pasted and sent to a company which is interested to turn the book into a movie. If there are other millions of people saying how lame the book is, there will be no movie in sight.

Now here are the questions, and I need some answers from all of you.

  • Do you know that web scraper companies exist? Do you know that somewhere out there, some people will copy and paste your comments and sell them?
  • You know the general rule, that once you publish everything on the internet, it becomes public property, and can be used by anyone. But knowing that someone uses your comments for their benefits (a.k.a money), do you find it disturbing, or is it alright?
  • Do you think this is ethical? Should they ask your permission first before using your opinion?

It would be interesting to know what you think about this issue!



  1. Great but disturbing information. Good to know though.

    Answers to your questions:
    1. No. But on the other hand, yes. I knew that the marketeer mafia keeps our track records because we use credit cards for instance. So I should not be amazed if the big brother bastards check on our public information on www.
    2. Yes, it’s disturbing. But what can be done about it – it’s our own free choice to present the information to the world, isn’t it?
    3. Well, ethics… Of course decent people should ask permission. But then, decency is a babe lost in the woods when it comes to commercial purposes.

    I guess we have no choice but being careful about what to publish and to be fatalistic about what happens with our information.

  2. rimafauzi says:

    1. no
    2. there should be some kind of law protecting ‘le fruit de nos reflections’ or our thoughts.
    3. nedver mind ethics. they should pay up.

  3. accordingtod says:

    it’s called research.
    i use wikipedia a lot for more detailed info for my blog.
    other than that, i googled other people’s blog before writing just to see what others think about a particular subject i was about to write.
    and by posting it out in my blog for the world to read, i think it’s kind of ‘selling’ it too.

    does that make me a web scraper?

    and now to answer your questions:
    1. i do not know any web scraper companies
    2. i do not know that someone out there will copy and paste my comment and sell it.
    my question now: do they plainly copy and paste it with all my info as far as username, url, etc?
    3. in the spirit of ‘research’, i do not find it disturbing as long as they just ‘steal’ the comment and not my identity. but again as colson mentioned: it’s out there, it’s public property.
    4. i do not think it’s unethical to ‘steal’ comments, in my humble opinion. but it is unethical to steal an opinion from a [whole] posting.

  4. 1. No, I do not know such companies existed, but thanks for telling me now, Anita. More paranoid thoughts for the day lol.

    2. I’m not totally obsessed about money. Perhaps people have used some of the stuff I’ve written on the net for money and perhaps that’s their ways of providing food on the tables, but if someone stole my illustrations and resell them, I’d be very pissed off.

    3. It’s ethical provided that they link us back so that we can get credits too. That’s the general ethic about using information on the net and that is how I was taught during high school – back up evidences and show where you got your evidences from, don’t just generalise things without any factual support, which was what some people do and can still get away from it.

  5. Web-scraping has been around for a long time, there’s nothing illegal about it, it falls under ‘fair use’ laws, provided that they are only taking snippets of text and not the whole body of text.

    And the reason it’s done is to make pages for search engine positioning and ranking purposes, nothing much to do with the value of your opinions or whatever, it’s automated and random (but keyword based), the people who scrape are not actually reading the stuff, they’re just using software to, well, scrape, make millions of pages, get them indexed by google, put ads on them, and make money. It’s random.

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  7. Jakartass says:

    On November 21st 2005 I wrote as follows:

    What A Tangled Web We Weave

    I’m somewhat bemused, not to say pissed off, to discover that I’m one of those who’ve offered Worldwide Acclaim Success and Good Testimonials on Transjakarta Busway Projects. PT Pamintoro Cipta, ‘Engineering and Management Consultants’, based here in Jakarta, have linked to a whole host of my posts rather than the one which says I like the busway but ….

    It would have been nice to have been asked first if it was OK to quote me.

    It is true that bloggers’ efforts are in the public domain and I don’t begrudge other bloggers or, as occasionally happens, journalists using my thoughts as pegs for their own perspectives. The blogosphere is essentially an exchange of news, ideas and opinions. Free speech is essential. What I do object to is the use of what I dribble forth for commercial use.

    Given that I rarely offer endorsements to products and services and that I don’t have Google ads on Jakartass, then all that can be ‘scraped’ from me are my opinions. I’m more than pleased if they’re collated and used to argue for a saner world than the shallow consumerism which is now touted as a quality lifestyle.

    If you’re really worried, Anita, then perhaps you can organise a campaign your fellow bloggers can support.

  8. Rob Baiton says:

    Once you put it online you lose much of the control you have over the use or even fair use of your material.

    I guess those that are blogging for the purposes of makig money then they will need to explore how best to do that…

    I notice some people have code embedded in their blog regarding copyright issues…

  9. This is an interesting post and opens all kinds of possibilities.

    You could always have a pay-to-enter website if you wanted to make sure that your opinions were being properly valued. Doing so may kill your readership though.

    Its interesting that companies are using websites and discussion groups for market research. Problem is marketing departments also employ people to comment favorably on their product on those very sites and forums. Given that, how valuable is the information trawled and how does the market researcher make a meaningfull predictions based on a pool of murky data?

    Ethically I have no issue with someone using web-based information for research. It becomes an issue when people are taking you words(or drawings in therry’s case) directly and using them in am marketing campaign.

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