Yesterday, someone played a rather pathetic penny stock trick on the tech market and the journalists who cover it. A fake press release appeared on PRWeb claiming that Google was acquiring a WiFi hotspot operator called ICOA for $400M. The AP and numerous tech blogs (including the usually more alert TechCrunch) picked up the story and ran with it until both Google and its supposed lunch vigorously denied any such thing had happened.
Regular readers will notice Ramblings was not among them. I don’t always cover WiFi deals, but I saw the PR also as it came through the Thunderbird feed reader I use to keep track of such things and I fired up a title and a first sentence. But I’m afraid I tossed it in the trash bin rather quickly after taking a simple look at ICOA’s finances and last week’s closing stock price of $0.0001. Those who were fooled were simply careless, and moreso than an engineer like myself who still shoots from the hip often enough to chuckle when he is called a journalist.
To an extent though, our appetite for immediate news and the penchant of Google and others to try to satisfy it is at fault here. Low latency is not just a big deal when it comes to bandwidth for traders, it has been having an uglier effect on the quality of what we see on the web. When you have to be first, you must write crap and knowingly not double-check anything. Low latency for journalists means skipping a whole lot of steps, and you simply can’t skip steps without eventually becoming prey for the hoaxers.
Fewer traders were fooled, but there were enough to see the stock price briefly quintuple to $0.0005. Presumably the hoaxer made a bundle off that move and has been training, because they’re surely running from the Feds by now.