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Third Voice slammed for ‘defacing’ Web sites

Webmasters up in arms over site comment software

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US software developer Third Voice has provoked the ire of Internet users and Webmasters by releasing software that allows Web surfers to share comments about Web sites. The problem is not necessarily that the Third Voice system is invasive, but that it allows anyone to add comments -- such as spam -- to a Web site without the permission of the site's owner. Third Voice is a Windows-only browser plug-in that allows users to select text on a Web page and attach a comment, in the form of a pop-up note, to it. Other Third Voice users visiting the site see one or more icons on the page which signal the presence of comments. It's unlikely that the Third Voice software actually modifies a page's code directly -- it's more likely that Third Voice itself maintains a database of URLs and connected comments. That said, the effect -- at least for other Third Voice users -- is much the same: and it's not necessarily what the page designer intended. That's the issue for Webmasters, and some have argued that it's a violation of copyright (a difficult point to argue since apparently no copyright material is reproduced without authorisation). One Web site has even been set up to promote that idea that Third Voice's software should be banned. The site is full of example of comments obscuring original Web sites, though this isn't what a Third Voice user would initially see on loading the site. It's also interesting that the Say No To Third Voice site is provided by an ISP that throws up a window containing unwanted advertising -- so the campaigners are to a degree guilty of the very crime they accuse Third Voice of. However, the site does at least provide a JavaScript for Webmasters keen to make some attempt to prevent Third Voice 'tampering'. Webmasters have a right to protect their property, but then users have a right to comment on those sites. Third Voice is unlikely to go away, but the real test will be how it is used. If users don't want to see the extra comments, they don't need to download the plug-in. And if, as seems likely, the service becomes dominated by spammers, many users may choose simply to throw away the plug-in. ®

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