Hacking and Scraping through … Orwell’s Sensis

July 22, 2011 · Filed Under dLook Blog · Comment 

With the investment in competitive facilities provision now ceded to the new government monopoly of the NBN its frightening to look out a couple of years into the emerging content world and see what may become of the competitive content providers in the Australian internet market with Telstra and its resources now moving unfettered from the Google Schmoogle era to a content predator, preying on all the relative minnows in this growing internet on line advertising big pond. The Orwellian Telstra have announced they are going to take over the internet content space and build upon previously print focused Sensis all the bits they think will make it the online content world, a secret deal with Google, a deal with US Yelp for reviews and acquiring Quotify for SME quoting.

At dLook we also feel flattered by having the dubious honour of having our copyright content regularly hacked and scrapped directly by the Yellow Pages, Telstra Burwood IP and then more recently hacked again which led back to the same Telstra IP block at Sensis YP. We assume we are not alone in having this honour bestowed and usually one would be forgiven in thinking that it could have been just an error. Hardly as for over 3 months now Sensis has tried and tried again and this persistence moves the hacking from an aberration to what is a clear and focused management strategy for entering the market using the whatever it takes philosophy. It looks more like the reported old News International principles that are now under much question in other places. Now hacking and scraping is not new and we regularly endure the hacking of the truly dumb people doing the same thing in a smarter way, but for them we understand that is a way of life … like hacking phones.

For Telstra to announce it is now going to take over the fledgling market in March 2011 and immediately start by hacking and stealing the competitor’s databases points to a disregard for the law and to a bleak minnow future when facing such a dominant non law abiding monopoly. Telstra brings already well documented significant market power into the sector with Bigpond, Foxtel and a raft of other ventures including Google. Telstra recently announced that over half its data capacity is now tied up with Google along with its special relationships. It is, of course, the dominant underlying facilities carrier and holds a dominant position in both internet transit and internet content sectors to say nothing of being the publisher of the White and Yellow Pages and the contract operator of the numbering system. Now all of these activities already have more than 50% of the markets they participate in and some well over 90%.

Competing with a Monopolist

Ahh … you may say … but that’s just competition and sour grapes. Competition is OK if you do not have to deal with a competitor who knowingly sets out to break the law and last time I looked hacking copyright content is a breach. Telstra seems to be doing just that whilst at the same time bringing all its gaming tricks from the old pseudo monopoly business into the wild west but relatively naive online internet business sector.

Just how we did arrive here in a new market when Telstra holds a number of Government licences and is supposedly subject to the purview of the ACCC ? Well it would appear that the ACCC is just looking the other way. Surprising, given the changes on foot but given its record, not really unexpected.

I fear the minnows cannot rely on the ACCC to be even able to define these new markets let alone work at a pace that could actually set out a competitive playing field before the minnows are no more. The on balance abandonment strategy and the record they have is seriously not flash … just look at mobile prices here and overseas to see what can be done and what can’t be done when the regulator is gamed and humbled. Telstra is also on record for running policies of deliberate breach and paying fines as a commercial strategy regardless of the collateral damage it inflicts to its competitors. Go figure.

Hacking and scraping is really ugly for the target as it has the double problem of creating duplicate data which can severely impact the hacked party if the data is republished from an alternate and often hidden site. Given the Google Telstra relationship it is of some concern that this may be an underlying motive and the future dims when an unchecked predator like Telstra is free to do what it likes outside the law to whomever. It’s now down to working out who is Snowball and whether the licensor will ever act.