Goodies to Go(tm)
January 17, 2000-- Newsletter #64

By Joe Burns

Goodies to Go(tm)
January 17, 2000--Newsletter #64
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Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors,

You know what I'm having fun watching these days? I love the people who have purchased the extremely small cell phones. It's a blast to watch them try to have a conversation with this two-inch long device. It's so small that they cannot hear and talk at the same time. One guy I watched held it like a walkie-talkie when speaking and then lifted it to his ear to listen. It was hilarious! Every other sentence started with "What? I didn't get that."

Did you hear...

Are going to buy Windows2000? If so, the first virus written specifically for the operating system has come about. The virus, called Win2K.Inta or Win2000.Install, is not "in the wild" yet and is quite easily killed by current anti-virus software, but it's an omen that virus makers are now writing specifically for Windows2000. By the way, the virus is so specific that if you put it on W98 or W95, it would do nothing.

Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. International Data Corporation (IDC) is arguing that Microsoft should be broken up as a result of anti-trust findings. They suggest the company be split along the lines of operating system, application, and tools and database systems. I'll go with the same joke I used when I first wrote about the findings. Can we call the three new companies "Baby-Bills"? I'm not a fan of the suggestion as I see these three sections themselves becoming three monopolies in the fields. for less! Two companies, and were just given the go-ahead to register domain names. Upon getting the nod, they announced domains at low, low discount prices!! Get one year for ten bucks and ten years for $100! That's 70% less than competitors. I hate to say "told-you-so", but I said this would be the case about 20 newsletters ago.

After being so wrong about the Y2K bug, I'm redeeming myself by pointing out my being right about some things. ;->

Now onto today's topic...

This past week I sat with a friend and talked about privacy. It wasn't specifically Internet privacy, but privacy nonetheless. She went into a laundry list of all of the places that have and sell personal information. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and grocery stores were her main targets. She was not happy that she had to present a card each time she wanted ten cents off of a can of snow peas.

I agreed that driver's license records should not be sold. I wasn't so willing to fight over my "price-cutter" card. When we started talking about the Web, we got into the discussion I'd like to put to you today. What do you think of this statement:

On the Web, absolute privacy is impossible. In fact, it's dangerous.

Case in point, Kathleen O'Connor, a judge for Spokane [WA] Country Superior Court has ruled that it is legal to record email and private online chats without the people involved knowing it.

Right now, someone is losing their mind over that paragraph and proclaiming an invasion of privacy. But wait. There's more.

The reason for the recording was to catch 26-year-old Donald Townsend in the act of posing as a 13-year-old girl in order to lure young girls to meet with him. The judge's ruling came after Townsend's lawyers tried to get the records suppressed claiming privacy rights.

When I put that scenario to my friend, she replied that it was great that they caught the guy, but that doesn't mean they have to invade her own privacy.

Wait, how could anyone possibly do that? How do I know you're not out to do harm, yet another person is out to do harm?

Shouldn't we all realize that a measure of privacy must be given up in order to allow for the recognition of people like Townsend?

As Catholic University of America law professor Clifford Fishman states, why can't we handle email and chat rooms with the same rules as answering machines? The person has to know by now that everything typed to an email or to the Web is made a permanent record.

The irony of knowing that everything is recorded may actually have an appeal for Townsend. Logically, if anyone knew they were being recorded, they wouldn't make such advances on children. Defense: I was just joking.

Remember the young man who made a false terrorist threat to a Columbine High student? His defense is that he was caught up playing a part in a chat room. Bottom line: he was just joking. Luckily this time he was. What if the next person isn't?

Let's go one step farther. If I stay with the premise that those who use email and chat rooms know they are entering information into a permanent record, then aren't they, in effect, offering permission to record their information?

When you enter K-Mart, there is a sign proclaiming that video cameras are in use. By going in, you are basically giving the store permission to videotape your actions. You know a record is kept of email, so using email is giving permission to use those records in court.

Yes? No? Am I leaping a bit too far here?

So let me ask you once again. Is trading off some of your privacy worth it if it means giving authorities the ability to catch people like Townsend? I would suggest that it is. I know this will anger someone, but there's no way to know that you are a law-abiding citizen and Townsend is not.

Please don't answer that there is - we wait for him to act. I don't want to wait that long. I want someone like him stopped before he acts. That's what happened thanks to a small loss of privacy.

At this point in my conversation, my friend informed me that I had set up a situation simply to prove my point and that in the real world, that lack of privacy goes much further. It becomes spam emails and cookies. It becomes tracking abilities.

I cannot argue that there are people out there that will use this privacy loss to send spam email. I hate the thought of a ten-year-old boy receiving an email asking him to come to a porn site. I hate the thought of a person using fancy coding to post cookies if you don't want them.

I also hate the thought of Townsend succeeding because we refused to allow even the slightest invasion of your Web privacy.

In the February issue of PCWeek, Scott McNealy writes "You have zero privacy now. Get over it." I'm nowhere near that level, but I do think those who want complete privacy on the Web should stop and think about what cover that complete privacy provides.

Is it worth a few spams (which you quickly delete anyway) and policing your child's email account, to disallow another Townsend to work in complete privacy?

Think about it before you answer.


That's that. Thanks for reading. I really enjoy writing this week after week.

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And Remember: Here's a couple about wigs this week. The term "bigwig" came from men in England and America's forefathers wearing large white wigs. The bigger the wig, the more important you were. At least that was the thinking. Those same wigs allowed criminals to ambush and temporarily blind a man by pulling the wool wig down over his face. Thus, "pulling the wool over his eyes".

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