Permission to Link Considered Harmful

The nature of the Internet is decentralization and an attendant lack of control. I think this is one of the reasons why it has become as popular as it is—even though CompuServe, AOL, and Minitel all had tread similar ground prior to the Internet boom. The fact that it was built with precisely this nature is fascinating and amazing at the same time, especially given that it originated as a military and government project. (Side note: its purpose, however, was not to reroute around damage caused by a nuclear war as is commonly thought.)

Since the Web has exploded in popularity, many entities and individuals have bristled at this systemic lack of control. They don’t like the unbridled power of the free Web, just as they didn’t like the power of the free press in previous era. They send out cease and desist orders to have content removed, they try to stifle free speech by subjecting bloggers to the same onerous restrictions as campaigns, and they attempt to control how other Web sites link to them. The latter is the matter I’d like to focus on.

The recent case in Texas is only the latest example of the phenomenon. For years, many companies have been trying to stifle linking entirely. This is a ludicrous notion that is antithetical to both the nature of the Web as well as the actual self-interest of the companies. Linking brings traffic, recognition, and influence—there’s a whole industry built up around soliticiting linkage. To be sure, there are problems with linking but they fall under the leeching of bandwidth, which is an actionable property rights infringement.

Lately, though, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend among people where they don’t want links to their blogs because they don’t want people reading their sites. They think that their employers, their friends, or their family won’t find their site if they keep a low profile or use a fake name. Security through obscurity (or, in this case, privacy through obscurity) is a chimera: if it’s on a public site without password protection, you can consider that everyone you know has or will read your writing. If Google can find it, I can find it via Google. Promise. Operating under assumption will save you a lot of grief and embarrasment.

Anyone or anything that seeks to require permission to link to their site is a fool. In my capacity as a link blogger, I never consider whether or not I should ask about linking to a site. My rule of thumb is that if it’s something I can see then it’s something I can link. If you don’t want me doing that, then make your blog or site private—there’s plenty of tools that allow you to do just that. Otherwise, suck it up and enjoy the traffic.

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