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-- H. L. Mencken
Advertising industry is warned to shore up its house
You know the topic of privacy has arrived on the public agenda when the New York Times writes about the issue's nuanced implications for electoral politics  and CNN reports that the latest hot corporate title is Chief Privacy Officer .
Law.com / New York surveyed  the kinds of advice lawyers are now giving their corporate clients about privacy in light of these recent developments:
The Internet advertising industry is justifiably nervous about the public's rising concern over online privacy. Wired reports  on a meeting last week of the Internet Advertising Bureau at which a TRUSTe spokesman warned attendees that a "perfect privacy storm" is brewing. He noted that Al Gore had recently gone on record as favoring opt-in solutions to Net privacy concerns, and that George W. Bush had soon hopped onboard that bandwagon. Opt-in is anathema to the Net advertising crowd.
Now the rest of the world is catching up fast. Herewith a sampling from the outer limits of boneheaded lawmaking around the world.
France: unintended consequences
In the wake of the ILOVEYOU virus, France moved to stamp out online anonymity within its borders , . (The French distaste for anonymity predates the Internet by at least 150 years, as the note at  explains.) Now it appears that open-source development may suffer as a result of the proposed law. John Fremlin was quoted in a Freshmeat article :
Open Source projects never have such information about all of their far-flung contributors, and gathering it would be next to impossible. Under the proposed law, open-source projects currently hosted on French servers would have to move outside the country's borders.
This unintended consequence is particularly twisted given France's expressed preference  for open-source software over that from Microsoft.
Australia: streaming content = broadcasting?
The Australian government is playing silly buggers with the country's nascent online video and audio industry . Recently passed legislation calls for a review of streaming content on the Australian Internet by Jan. 1, 2001. The betting is that streaming content will end up equated with over-the-air broadcasting, forcing site operators to scramble for licenses -- which won't come available until 2006. The minister responsible for reviewing the industry, Richard Alston, had said he planned to make no decision until next January, leaving a potential multi-billion dollar industry twisting slowly in the wind. An Internet Industry Association spokesman declared that the government had "defined the medium's commercial promise out of existence." But yesterday Alston appeared to back down , signalling that he didn't want to ban the internet industry from streaming video into Australian homes.
Thanks to TBTF Irregular  Eric Scheid for the story.
Germany: taxing Internet use at work
Industry representatives are in a rage about the proposed decree for a number of reasons like unjustified administrative effort, cost of logging all access, and tax revenues bearing no relation to expenses. They are now trying to get private Internet access declared a 'convenience' (like free coffee), so that it is not subject to taxes.
Reasonable men may disagreeYou probably won't see this story on mainstream news sites, because the details are just too propeller-headed and the facts too difficult to come by.
A long-running and bitter dispute between two spam-fighting organizations broke out into the open after one of them suspended operations. ORBS  (the Open Relay Behaviour-modification System) shut down its list of spam-friendly "open relays" earlier this week because it claims the other organization, MAPS (the Mail Abuse Prevention System) , had influenced a major ISP to drop ORBS into an Internet black hole.
The upshot: because ORBS was (a) loved by many because it probed everywhere, and (b) hated by many because it probed everywhere, some folks are crying, some are dancing.
This forum on Kuro5hin  first brought the dispute to the notice of those outside the community of the newsgroup news.admin.net-abuse.email (called NANAE). (Note an error in the leadoff post in this forum: the proprietor of ORBS is Alan Brown, not Alan Cox.)
The feud between ORBS and MAPS has been simmering for over a year on NANAE, reminiscent of the underground coal fire burning for the past 38 years in Centralia, PA . The following historical summary, courtesy of deja.com, suggests why it is so difficult to plumb the facts of this dispute. Most readers of the newsgroup have long since tuned it out, and many of those remaining are partisans for one side or the other.
Number of postings in news.admin.net-abuse.email containing "ORBS in MAPS":
99q1 99q2 99q3 99q4 00q1 00q2 00july 0 190 324 128 165 500+ 1300+
Sometime more recently -- I have not been able to pin down when -- Above.net, a tier-1 ISP upstream of both MAPS and ORBS, blocked ORBS's open-relay probes. Now, the principals of MAPS are both executives at Above.net. ORBS claims that Above.net has gone farther and is now discarding all traffic intended for ORBS at exchange points in London and Austria -- a practice which would be illegal in those locales, according to ORBS . Paul Vixie has confirmed  that his MAPS partner Dave Rand, also CTO of Above.net, indeed blocked ORBS from inside the ISP. In consequence ORBS has taken offline its DNS zone file, the resource by which ISPs identify spam to block.
ORBS claims that MAPS simply wants to shut down its (competing) free service, and hints that MAPS plans to begin charging for its own currently free services. Paul Vixie denies this .
Fighting spam and dangling lawyer-baitThis is the MAPS story the media has picked up . MAPS sports an explicit strategy of attracting lawsuits from the spamming industry. The idea is to establish judicial precedent against spam through a lengthy appeal process all the way to the Supreme Court. This restrained taunt appears on their "How to Sue MAPS" page :
Over the weekend, news leaked out  that Yesmail had become the first email marketer to take them up on the offer. In fact Yesmail had won a temporary restraining order in Illinois federal court (most probably with no MAPS lawyer in attendance) preventing MAPS from adding Yesmail to the Realtime Blackhole List. Slashdot discussed the case  on Saturday. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for 25 July.
Yesmail claims to be a "good guy" marketer that only deals in opt-in mailing lists. What got them on the wrong side of MAPS is that subscribing to their lists does not require a confirmation by email. That is, Yesmail could very well load up a mailing list with thousands of Web-harvested email addresses from a spammer's CD-ROM and claim that each of those individuals had opted in. They must have, they're on the list, right?
The fact that MAPS is now blackholing email lists that don't offer a double opt-in process is indicative of how far they have expanded their anti-spam crusade beyond the initial elegance of the MAPS RBL. My guess is that this "mission creep" is part of a deliberate escalation strategy intended to insure that, eventually, some spammer will sue them. It's a dangerous strategy. Judges are conservative; courts can take decades to catch up with the changes that new technologies bring. I just hope that MAPS hasn't become so provocative that the courts hand down a spam-friendly ruling under which we will all suffer for a generation.
Is this what ICANN means by "not unreasonably restraining competition?"Network Solutions has announced plans  to keep control over domain names for which it has not been paid and to auction them off on its site. Competitors and customers are crying foul. On the plus side, the move means that thousands of hoarded names will come back onto the market. But critics say that NSI should simply return them to the pool of available names when their grace period expires, so that other registrars have a fair chance at signing them up.
NSI insists it simply wants to get paid for services that have never been compensated. Much of the outcry  that greeted NSI's action missed or overlooked NSI's promise to cap all such auctions at $35, which is the price the registrar ordinarily charges per year.
Of course the whole issue would never have arisen -- and cybersquatting would not have gotten so quickly out of hand -- had NSI simply required payment before registering a name in the first place.
No one knows for sure how many names are involved. An NSI spokesman refers vaguely to "thousands," while other registrars guesstimate as high as half a million .
Note added 2000-09-27: TBTF Irregular Stephen Heise writes:
c/o Begzudin Omerovic Ul. Hazima Fazlica 9 Srebrenik, 75350 BAwho now offers "Would you like to RENT this SITE?" proudly across their diba.com. (The new holders of diba.com apparently intend to open a site called Direct Internet BosniA.)
French pot to examine Anglo-American kettle
A French prosecutor announced  he has launched a preliminary investigation into the workings of Echelon, the rumored worldwide spy system run by intelligence agencies in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. (The announcement came on July 4th, the American Independence Day holiday -- that must have been intentional.) The French probe will focus on allegations that the members of the UKUSA Alliance have used Echelon's intercept capabilities for economic espionage. Both the US and Britain have denied this charge without admitting officially that Echelon exists.
Those inclined to cheer the French for their courageous probe into UKUSA snooping ought to cast an eye over this excellent ZDNet collection of new Echelon material . It includes details on France's copycat system, unfortunately dubbed "Frenchelon" .
Separately, the European Union voted to empanel an investigation into Echelon . But to the consternation of this probe's supporters, the panel was denied any investigatory powers. (It was set up as a temporary committee rather than as an inquiry committee.) A member of Germany's Green Party, possibly with help from the Babelfish, called the resulting body a "toothless talkingshop."
Now that's a virus
Security experts were not much surprised when the Morris worm  dragged down 10% of the Internet overnight in 1988. Security experts in recent days have been unsurprised by Melissa, ILOVEYOU, DDoS attacks, and the thousands of other manmade ills to which the Net is heir. And I doubt they will be overly surprised when a truly nasty and devious piece of malware slouches toward Bethlehem to be born.
Remember the Central Park scene in Crocodile Dundee ? Mick and his love interest are accosted by a gang of punks, one of whom whips out a switchblade. The girl shouts, "Mick, watch out! He's got a knife!" Mick examines the switchblade with pursed lips then says dismissively, "Naah. That's not a knife." Reaching behind his back, he withdraws and displays his 12-by-4-inch blade. "That's a knife."
Melissa? ILOVEYOU? That's not a virus.
For a glimpse of how bad it could be, scan these two thought experiments , . The first is a conceptual design for the most elusive and versatile trojan horse the author could think up. It's bad enough. The second describes an actual project to design and build a worm of truly staggering stealthiness and damage potential.
Michal Zalewski and a few friends prototyped a worm the team called Samhain. It was designed to:
Its payload would be a plug-in module. The wormnet would discover new exploits and spread them immediately. The worm's code would morph constantly to defeat anti-virus signature checks. It would employ active countermeasures against debuggers and other nosy processes that might be capable of uncovering it.
If such a worm were competently developed and released into the world, the fate of the Internet would be in the hands of those who controlled it.
To discuss these or other proposed uber-viruses, please visit this Quick Topic forum .
Lots more features and still preposterously easy
Steve Yost has relaunched Take It Offline -- the discussion service first announced in TBTF for 1999-10-05  -- under the new name Quick Topic . ( The old name no longer exists, so any links to www.takeitoffline.com will take you to a typo spammer's site.) The new moniker reflects QT's widespread general use beyond the original idea of diverting off-topic or controversial subjects from existing email discussions.
You'll find new features based on the original TBTF reader feedback  and user comments, including user login, a My Topics page, message editing and deletion, and sorting preferences. Amazingly, Steve has incorporated all these new goodies while keeping the interface dead simple. There is also an XML-RPC interface  for developers wanting to do deeper integrations.
Disclosure: Steve is a friend of mine and a TBTF Irregular. I've offered advice on the Quick Topic service but have no stake in Steve's company, Internicity.
Forget the hype, this is where it's really at
Suddenly the TBTF contributors are returning, as if they had all just flown in from their various distant winter feeding grounds. First Lloyd Wood  turned in a profile of Richard Stallman. Then Ted Byfield, the roving_reporter , started up something like a blog here on TBTF. And now Rick Treitman sends along a new number of The View from Softpro. (Here are previous columns from 1998 , .)
In this feature Rick looks at the industry through the lens of sales patterns at an established bookstore for computer professionals. Rick and his brother Bob run Softpro  in Burlington and Marlboro, Massachusetts. A third brother, Jim, manages Softpro in Denver, Colorado. Rick writes:
When good personalized marketers get desperate
How will the direct-target-marketing crowd react when privacy fears really kick in and Americans begin to choke off their flood of personal data? This satire at SegFault  had me rolling on the floor laughing and scaring the cats.
"We've gone to great lengths to accommodate that small but vocal minority of the American public which wants both personal privacy and freedom from grievous bodily harm."
However, critics allege that the STIC opt-out provisions unfairly exclude those without access to electron microscopes and sophisticated atom-manipulation technology.
Someone else who invented (part of) the Internet
Any number of people have a legitimate claim to inventing the Internet. Here's a modest and graceful claim  to something less grandiose: in 1989 Spike Illaqua wrote the software that enabled the operation of the first commercial ISP. That was The World, at Software Tool & Die (where I became customer number 128 or so early in 1990). Spike's account of the origins of The World is engaging and readable, filled with helpful analogies for the benefit of those who were busy watching Saturday morning cartoons in those pioneering days.
So off we went to the BitBucket to buy six 2400bps modems (with MNP 5 and maybe Retsyn). Then came a number of sleepless nights while I wrote account-creation software, installed all the software our UNIX-hungry future customers might want, made modem cables (really) to connect up those modems to a Sun (like they made Toy Story with only much bigger and much slower and, well, only one)..
I had the serendipitous honor of attending Spike's going-away party at The World in 1994 -- happened to be there for something Kibo was filming about Usenet -- and I still have the tee shirt, though it's not good for much these days except mowing the lawn in. So to Spike, thanks for the memories. And to Jon Callas, thanks for the forward.
That was a long hiatus. I hope never again to let so much time elapse between issues of TBTF. I've gone and gotten my life so entangled with this newsletter that producing it is now essential to my happiness. To the roughly 2,600 new subscribers who have signed up since the previous issue came out: thanks for your patience, and I hope you find it worth the wait.
I've continued posting regularly to the TBTF Log . The collected Log items are mailed weekly to subscribers on a separate list, email@example.com . To subscribe, send the message "subscribe" to firstname.lastname@example.org ; lose the quotes.
TBTF home and archive at http://tbtf.com/ . To (un)subscribe send the message "(un)subscribe" to email@example.com. TBTF is Copy- right 1994-1999 by Keith Dawson, <dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com>. Commercial use prohibited. For non-commercial purposes please forward, post, and link as you see fit. _______________________________________________ Keith Dawson dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.
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Most recently updated 2000-09-27