Why I hate Google alerts

February 26, 2009, 2:57 PM UTC

zogSo yesterday Ted calls me. He’s upset. Why? “I’m looking at this story on the internet and it says that our company has been taken over by aliens and I’m actually a warlord from the planet Zox who is siphoning off public funds and sending it back to my boss back home. I don’t think I like that very much. I hope it doesn’t go viral.” 

“Where in the world did you even see such a thing?” I ask him. 

“I’m sending you the link,” he says. I wait a second and there comes the link in my inbox. It’s to something called lyingbuttheadnews.com. And no, don’t try to go there. I’m making up the name, but not the kind of destination we’re talking about. There are a ton of them. In fact, you probably read a bunch of them every day. They don’t report stories. They just talk about stuff. The way I’m doing with you right now. They don’t research. They don’t check. They just say whatever. Whatever is what the Internet is all about. 

Sure enough, there’s the story on the site. It’s quite long. It has pictures of a lot of people I know, and there’s a big headline and the whole thing is full of it, of course, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I just imagine the number of sites – financial, political, opinion, gossip – that would love to link to this kind of nonsense. 

“So Ted, tell me,” I say, “how does a guy who types with one finger figure out how to get to lyingbuttheadnews.com. I never even heard of the site. Nobody reads it. The posting itself has exactly zero comments attached to it. Why do you know about it?”

“Google alerts,” says Ted proudly. “See, Bing,” he says, “I have everything related to our company on Google (GOOG) alert. When any news at all comes out about us, anything on the entire Internet, I get an alert and I can see it.”

“But why, Ted,” I ask him. And I really want to know. “Why do you need to see every lie, every piece of whimsy, every nasty turd that somebody with no accountability wants to throw at you, at us? How are our lives enhanced by this?”

“I gotta go,” says Ted. And I can tell he’s looking at his screen again. I’m hoping we get lucky this time and it’s something nasty about one of our competitors. I read the other day that they’re the descendants of Nazi clone babies.  So far they haven’t denied it, either.