by Dana Blankenhorn
  Volume VII, No. XXXIX

This Week's Clue: At Long Last, Have You Left No Sense Of Decency?

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This Week's Clue: At Long Last, Have You Left No Sense Of Decency?
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
SP (Shameless Promotion)
Veri-Gate
Moore's Law Of Spam
Always-On Progress
Clued-in, Clueless
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For the Week of September 29, 2003

Almost 50 years ago the Army-McCarthy hearings were the first "Must See TV." Senator Joe McCarthy was wielding his subpoena power to go after alleged Communist infiltration of the Armed Forces. But the hunt was not going well, his methods and motives were being openly questioned for the first time.

The quote that leads this is from Joseph Welch. . He was chief counsel for the Army. The line came at the end of a protracted argument, in which McCarthy was trying to label a Young Republican as a Communist for being in the Lawyers' Guild.

History calls this the beginning of the end for McCarthyism, the anti-Communist witch-hunt. In fact Joseph McCarthy did die a few years later. But it is also a fact that a compromise was reached by official Washington. McCarthy would be thrown overboard, but his anti-Communist obsession would become the policy of everyone. There's a straight line between the obsession and Vietnam. There's a straight line between Vietnam and Iraq.

Go back to 1886. Journalist Henry Grady became a hero, and made Atlanta a center of enlightenment, with something called his "New South" speech. But it, too, was a compromise. You may read it here but let me paraphrase. "We still hate niggers, but we're ready to do bidness." For this piece of bigotry Grady got his name on the University of Georgia journalism school, on my daughter's high school, and when he died a few years later a statue of him was placed downtown - it's still there. There's a straight line between Henry Grady and Jim Crow.

The point is that what can seem to be a turning point may in fact be merely an accommodation. We throw someone over the side and you get off our backs. We cede the point of Union and you accept the second-class status of black people. True change requires that the struggle be re-ignited, and its location shifted. That's what the Civil Rights struggle was about. Perhaps that is what this struggle over the Iraq War is about.

History's ghosts often murder us from the grave. Compromise can seem the best solution. So Richard Grasso is fired for his pay package , an honest man done in over the issue of greed. But what about the real thieves, the Worldcoms and Enrons and Tycos, Adelphias and so on? Grasso broke no law. Throwing him over means nothing. Shift the battleground, I say.

Let's bring this back to the subject you expected to hear about, the Internet. Today's ghost is the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, a "compromise" that gives private corporations the right to issue mass subpoenas in exchange for holding ISPs themselves immune from the abuses of their customers. This power is unprecedented. Its use by the recording industry has re-ignited the struggle on Capitol Hill. And the industry has friends on both sides of the aisle .

At last week's hearing Democrat Barbara Boxer echoed calls from Republican Orrin Hatch to go after anyone the music industry accuses, even 12-year old girls. Republican Sam Brownback joined Democrat Ron Wyden in saying the industry goes too far. The RIAA compared its struggle to that of DirecTv or cable operators who sue people for stealing their signals.

But the analogy is false, and the compromise is false. DirecTv and cable operators sue people who directly pirate their signals. The music industry, which has stolen the rights of musicians for generations and which still charges outrageous prices for discs whose use it then claims to control, is trying to ruin people who may well be engaged in fair use, while it refuses to negotiate directly with the market.

The industry's stand is that first, we give them absolute rights of control over what we have bought, and then maybe they will consider new ways of selling it. To me, this is as tyrannical as Jim Crow, as misguided as the anti-Communist obsession. This is a struggle for the market, not the government. The Civil Right of people to own the books they buy, as well as the music and movies they buy, must not take second place. The answer is to open up the catalog, to license it at prices so low and with quality so high no one would care to use Kazaa, and to spread the resulting money flood among artists, not just record producers and their lawyers.

Making that happen will require a new paradigm. The needs of technology producers and consumers must converge, and must break through this stalemate, in order for prosperity to return. Yet the political fault lines here are bipartisan in nature. There are good guys and bad guys on both sides of the aisle, in nearly equal measure.

Thus the battle line will quickly move again. The fact is there is a good, legitimate market for Digital Rights Management (DRM) . In business, it's the only way for corporate secrets to be worked on outside a locked room. The technology will advance, and it will be offered to the consumer market. But if it is offered only to one side, with benefits for only, say, record producers, then it will be rejected by consumers, and rightly so. It will be hacked, the hacks will be distributed, and we will be back to square one.

The best place to look for a compromise is with people who sit on both sides of the market fence. I'm talking about companies like Apple, Sony, and IBM with opportunities on both sides, companies with the market power and financial incentive to shape a solution both sides of the Copyright Wars will find acceptable. Rather than lobbying Senators and Congressmen to accommodate East Coast Law to the need for compromise, it's time for us to lobby Steve Jobs and Nobuyuki Idei to fit West Coast Law to the market's needs.

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Shameless Promotion

Your list is your most important asset. But what happens when someone forgets who you are and you get on a "spam" blacklist? Your asset becomes worthless.

Need a-clue on how to avoid that? Get your list audited, and managed professionally, by the fine folks at Whitehat , part of the American Computer Group , a long-term leader in database services for direct marketers.

When your list is truly opt-in, not only do you become a white hat yourself, but your e-mails are read, even anticipated, by your audience. That means higher conversions and more money in your pocket.

If you're serious about Internet Commerce, you need Whitehat Interactive . Get it today.

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Takes on the News

Veri-Gate

Verisign's Sitefinder "service" has quickly evolved into an Internet version of the Watergate scandal.

Without notice, the company began re-routing mis-typed HTTP requests to its own server, where it featured Overture ads and a choice of alternate locations. It thought it was turning a 404 error into a 411. What it was doing was turning other peoples' mistakes into its own profit.

Consider what happened. Verisign unilaterally imposed a "tax" of 17 Kbytes of bandwidth against every missed HTTP connection on the Internet. (That's the difference in size between the code that processes a "file not found" error and a new HTTP connection.) It signed a secret deal with Overture (soon to be part of Yahoo) to profit from this traffic. It also made every spam "wildcard" into a valid message, since it would now "hit" a valid server name - even if it's only validity is Verisign's Sitefinder.

"If you let them get away with this, there will be chaos on the Net, with anyone getting away with anything." If I said it, this would be no big deal. When you get that kind of reaction from Dave Farber, one of the Great Lions of the Internet, you have a major scandal.

The reaction to the scandal (so far there has been none) also betrayed the overly cozy relationship between ICANN, which is supposed to regulate the Domain Name Service (DNS), and the companies it regulates, most notably Verisign. Its silence spoke volumes, especially coming after it eliminated the democracy promised in its charter. The Department of Commerce, meanwhile, had just extended ICANN's rule for three years. Connecting the dots between all this and any political contributions Verisign (or its executives) may have made will not be difficult.

In the case of most scandals for our time there would be little people could do about it. When the same party controls the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government there are few levers one can press. But the Internet is a global network. Other nations, seeing the DNS structure perverted for a single private interest, are not going to sit idly by. And they will have plenty of leverage, given the Bush Administration's desperate need for support in its foreign policy.

The next few months should be very interesting indeed.

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Moore's Law Of Spam

Moore's Law is like the Roman God Janus, the one with two heads each facing a different direction.

Moore's Law has good and bad aspects. It creates jobs and destroys them. It promotes both sharing and stealing. When problems arise in the fabric of computing, Moore's Law guarantees they will grow exponentially in size, until they are dealt with or destroy us all.

So it is with spam. We've talked about it often. But Moore's Law applies to spam, just as it does to other things. I am now getting upwards of 300 spam messages per day, up from 100 per day just some months ago. The load being placed on bandwidth by spam is growing exponentially, clogging its arteries. The SoBig virus, which used spam tactics (like spoofing "from" addresses, and grabbing addresses from both cache and address books) to propagate, accelerated the process.

I have said this for many years now. Spam is any mass mailing I didn't give permission for. The key is permission. Requiring a permission audit for any mass mailing is the key to separating the crooks from the marketers. Fail the audit and you lose your access. Run from the audit and you go to jail.

The Direct Marketing Association thought permission audits burdensome. Its resistance has allowed the spam problem to grow in arguments over definition.

But Moore's Law guarantees that no problem remains ignored forever. The present efforts to regulate spam based on "opt-out" will fail to reduce the flood. So far, only Australia has passed any law mandating opt-in . The proof of the pudding is in the eating, they say, and only a law that reduces the spam flood is worth considering. At this point that means mandating permission audits, and heavy jail time for spam gangs, on a worldwide basis.

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Always-On Progress

Under the surface progress continues toward The World Of Always-On.

As I have explained here before, in the World Of Always-On the network is wireless, the network is the computer, and all kinds of sensors provide data that, when processed, leads to new consumer benefits.

RFID, which is promoted as a way for businesses to track inventory, is an example of an Always-On technology. IBM has now made a major play in this area , but it's when consumers see benefits that RFID will become accepted as something more than another way for "big business" to violate your privacy.

Cameras can be a great Always-On technology, although the huge bandwidth load, and the time it takes to process the information, are both problematic. Sensors, not cameras, are the secret to security, and the sooner businesses recognize this, the faster the ubiquitous camera movement becomes a consumer benefit, not a consumer threat.

Software-defined radios will let you make use of whatever network is within reach, in the World Of Always-On. Things like Intel's Personal Server will give you remote control of a host of Always-On applications. Grid computing will eliminate one of the chief problems in these applications - a shortage of processing power.

So much remains to be sorted out and that is just the point. Opportunity lies in areas that are messy and unfocused. When they come into focus you get a boom, but by that time it may be too late for you to find your part in it. So many different strains of technology are coming together in Always-On - grids, mobile devices, wireless networking, sensors, cameras - the result can only be the Biggest Boom Ever.

The big difference between the World Of Always-On and the last boom, the Internet boom, is that the legal implications of the Internet could only be dealt with after-the-fact, while the legal implications here must be dealt with now, or progress will be resisted by the market. But that, too, is an opportunity, for anyone with vision.

Make sure that's you.

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Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is the move by newspapers to bring back links , although so far the change is very weak.

Clueless is the move of Gawker editor Elizabeth Spiers to New York Magazine at the same time it's being auctioned. I've been inside those kinds of deals and they are no fun for anyone. But maybe I'm being churlish.

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