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May 28, 1998 ... By Jeff Schult (Thursday night update)

--> Surprise, surprise, surprise. CNet, The Village Voice and the rest of the world discover that giving personal information to AOL is akin to publishing it in Hacker's Quarterly (Great name for a mag, huh?) It's pathetic, but America has voted with its greenbacks. Mediocre service, arrogant management and slimeball marketing go a long way in this country. No one from AOL ever shows up here, anyway. For the best summary of the suckering of America, head over to www.aolwatch.org.

--> Bavaria convicted Felix Somm, 34, the former general manager of CompuServe Germany of disseminating pornography and other bad stuff (Nazi reading material is illegal in Germany.) Of course, Somm did no such thing personally -- he just happened to be in charge of CompuServe Germany at the wrong time. German geeks are aghast. Few in America really seems to care much, though Wired had the story today.

CompuServe had sworn to fight the case with all its resources. Of course, it got bought by AOL.

It's a shame the Bavarian prosecutors didn't have the balls to go after, say, Steve Case of AOL ... though I would have had mixed emotions about the trial. Somm, who faced up to five years in jail, got off with two years of probation. (Trial start reported here, see May 15 archive.)


May 26, 1998 ... By Jeff Schult

All Things Considered, Hooray for the ‘Net

The Galaxy IV satellite glitch that silenced an estimated 90 percent of the nation’s paging devices this week also knocked National Public Radio programming off the air – but not for long, thanks to the Internet and Real Audio.

The backup for many of NPR’s 600 affiliates nationwide was a web feed, direct to the nation's airwaves. "The Internet helped save us," said M. J. Bear, NPR’s director of new media. "All Things Considered," NPR’s signature program, had been delivered to affiliates almost exclusively by satellite.

NPR was one of the early adopters of streaming audio technology using the Internet in 1995.


NAACP, ADL register "hate" names

Network Solutions, the often embattled company responsible for assigning and administering Internet domain names, has allowed two civil rights groups to register a dozen names containing racial and anti-Semitic epithets.

The company had previously blocked attempts to register such names, and will not register names containing the seven words the Federal Communications Commission won’t allow on television.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People registered six names with the word "nigger," and the Anti-Defamation League another six with the word "kike." The NAACP intends to use its new domains to create Web sites for combating racism. The ADL bought its new names to prevent anti-Semites from getting them. It doesn't plan to use the names, according to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch report that criticized Network Solutions for first preventing the use of such slurs while allowing anti-gay domain sites, and then releasing them only to politically correct organizations. While bashing Network Solutions for censorship, the newspaper also refused to publish the domain names that were registered.

There is, as yet, no content at www.nigger.com, one of the sites registered by the NAACP.


Prudence, the spy …

A new software package was released last week that allegedly allows parents to secretly monitor their kids' Internet usage. Instead of blocking or censoring addresses on the ‘Net, "Prudence," designed by a company called Blue Wolf Network, tracks all online destinations visited by netsurfers, recording URLs, bookmarks, cache activity, graphics and cookies at intervals determined by the user. Prudence can be configured to simply log the information for parental perusal, or to download and encrypt all graphics, storing them in a hidden file on the user's hard drive for later scrutiny.

For the concerned parent who doesn't want to wait until the end of the work day to discover that little Ashley or Leo has been dropping into erotic.com, Aryan Nation, or gay.net, Prudence will email logs to a parent at the office, issuing an update every few minutes.

Though the product will be marketed to parents for use with younger children and teens, it presumably works fine for monitoring spouse or employees as well. As spycraft tools go, it’s a bargain, at $39.95 at online software stores everywhere.


Babylon 5 creator had it with Netkooks

J. Michael Straczynski, creator of BABYLON 5, says he's pulling back from the Internet after years of being one of the more available quasi-celebrities to mingle in cyberspace. The crazies have worn him down.

"It's netstalking. It's a genuine mental aberration," Straczynski said, referring, in a publicly posted message, to a small mumber of fans who harass him. "It’s a sickness, an obsession … these are the cyber equivilents of those who stab Theresa Saldana, or shoot John Lennon...the person who threw a cup of warm vomit in the face of an SF writer at a convention, the person who fills in fake magazine subscriptions to another SF writer, or stakes out their house, or eggs their house ... only the weapon of choice varies. Here it is the computer, the lie, the net."


Tupperware turns off sales staff

Tupperware has apparently threatened some of its top sales consultants with lawsuits if they refuse to disdmantle web sites offering the company’s merchandise for sale, according to a news release last week from some disgruntled Tupperware entrepreneurs.

Lynn Vogt, Tupperware Tupperware Executive Manager in the rural ranching community of Kremmling, Col., and her husband Ken, accused the company of trying to destroy its top producers.

"After eight months of contacting our customers via the Internet, Tupperware sends us a certified letter and demands that we shut down our website by May 31," said the Vogts. "We provide an excellent service to disenfranchised groups that Tupperware does a poor job serving: orphaned past customers, rural Americans, upper income women, and men. We get email and calls on our tollfree line seven days a week. These folks tell us that they can't find a Tupperware consultant, they don’t have time for home parties, or that, well, they are men and they won’t go to home parties. But they still want to buy lots of Tupperware!"


Microsoft/JOD Editorial Cartoons On-Line

For those who can’t quite take Bill Gates OR the federal Department of Justice seriously, there is http://www.cagle.com/microsoft, a site updated daily with the newest Microsoft cartoons from more than fifty award winning cartoonists including Pulitzer Prize winners Jim Borgman, Mike Peters, Jeff MacNelly, Mike Luckovich and Signe Wilkinson. The cartoons depict Bill Gates as "Gateszilla," Darth Vader, and an octopus, among other things.

"We will post new Microsoft cartoons daily, as they appear in the newspapers," said Daryl Cagle, a Hawaiian editorial cartoonist who put together the Microsoft site as part of a massive web site called "The Professional Cartoonists Index" (http://www.cagle.com.)

The site for professional cartoonists was started initially to catalogue the body of cartoon work on the White House sex scandals. All cartoons are printed with the artists’ permissions.


More clueless legislation

A bill passed by the House last week makes it illegal to extract information from a database and make it available elsewhere -- if such an act would "harm" the database company's current or potential business.

The bill would apply to information "that has been collected and has been organized for the purpose of bringing discrete items of information together in one place or through one source so that users may access them."

The bill defines information as "facts, data, works of authorship, or any other intangible material."

Violators could be fined up to $250,000 or imprisoned for a maximum of five years if they are found to cause a database company "losses or damages aggregating $10,000 or more in any one-year period."

Amendments to the bill outline some exemptions for educational and scientific research, along with news gathering, and the bill does not apply to databases behind the Internet addressing system or telecommunications systems, for example. Still, some worry the legislation gives database owners indefinite control over the information they harness and how it can be packaged and sold.

Moreover, opponents argue the prices of such services could skyrocket because existing database companies could have a long-term hold on the market if the bill is passed by the Senate and signed into law.

"The bill is so sweeping, and goes so far, we haven't even begun imagining all the problems it could cause," said Jonathan Band, an attorney for Morrison & Foerster who represented the Online Banking Association during congressional hearings on the bill.

"This has a negative impact on all businesses because it really gives the big database companies a huge amount of control over downstream uses of their information," he added. "For example, if a bank gets its financial information

But database owners counter that the proliferation of CD-ROMs and the explosion in Net use make it easier for their products to be duplicated. Although these companies don't own the copyrights on the material they catalog, the success of their businesses relies on delivering the most current information in an easy-to-search format.

Jeff Schult and Nicole Chardenet can be reached at jeffbot at this domain. They won’t have you arrested for accessing their data at www.tftb.com.