Dec 14, 2000

Slashdot - MAPS RBL Is Now Censorware
12/14/2000; 3:00:33 PM

'I don't like spam any more than the next person. But I also don't like censorship, and I take a content-neutral view of these things. If someone delivers a product to be used by Alice to block Bob from seeing website because she doesn't like its content, that product is censorware.'

Hey, somebody at Slashdot took off the rose-colored glasses. Of course MAPS is censorware! It's a pity they had to wait until one of their pet sites (, a site full of useful info but exudes a bit too much teenaged-angst sometimes) was hit to see that. There may yet be hope for Slashdot...

Of course, the really interesting question is the inverse-censorship question: Are internet providers required to carry spam, or can they voluntarily use any techniques they want to block whatever they want?  If it's illegal to censor anything, then that means the network must carry everything given to it, there's no way around that, and that's why a certain balance must be obtained.

I think that balance lies in ignoring the content of the messages. We would then speak of the "Spamming behavior" of the sender, rather then the "Spam content" of the message. This isn't perfect, though, because there are some very legitimate e-mails sent out that look like spamming behavior but are actually useful content (, so it takes more tuning then that.

Dec 14, 2000

Anti-WalMart domain win falsely claimed as sea-change
Free Speech
12/14/2000; 2:52:44 PM

'WIPO has ruled against a huge conglomerate! We know, unbelievable as it may seem, it's true. Kenneth J. Harvey is officially entitled not to have his taken off him and given to a faceless organisation.... This decision was immediately claimed as an enormous victory... Unfortunately, it is nothing of the sort.

'You'll note that Ken kept the URL - that's "wall" with two "l"s - i.e. it has nothing whatsoever to do with Wal-Mart's trademark.... The reason why even WIPO couldn't decide in Wal-Mart's favour is because if it had, it would effectively be saying that any site that criticised any trademark company should be handed over to the company in question.'

All hail The Corporation!

Dec 13, 2000

Banned Artists Move Online
Free Speech
12/13/2000; 1:27:52 PM

'Literature and artworks snipped and banned by Singapore's censors may soon be archived online in their full glory by a group of local artists....

'Singapore typically censors publications, films and art work deemed to have excessive amounts of sex and violence, references to drug use and subjects which could cause religious or racial intolerance between the Chinese, Malay and Indian communities.

'Local artists renewed mutterings of discontent after "Talaq," a play about violence in an Indian Muslim marriage, was banned in October on the grounds it would offend religious sensitivities.'

Dec 13, 2000

Records of subpoenaed in privacy probe
Privacy from Companies
12/13/2000; 11:40:49 AM 'Records from Toys ''R'' Us Inc.'s Internet division have been subpoenaed in an investigation of its privacy practices, a spokeswoman for the toy retailer said yesterday.

'The inquiry by New Jersey's Division of Consumer Affairs, which is overseen by the state attorney general's office, partially stems from lawsuits that accuse of illegally sharing personal information about its Internet customers with market researchers, spokeswoman Jeanne Meyer said.'

This is worth keeping an eye on... Attorney General activism could become privacy-violator's worst nightmare over the next couple of years.  The Federal government doesn't really seem too ethusiastic about Internet privacy issues, but there are a lot of state AG's out to make a name for themselves.  There's one here in Michigan named Granholm that's already made life uncomfortable for a few... I bet she liked how her name got into the national news for those, and I hope she's developed a taste for it

Dec 13, 2000

Google tracker raises privacy issues - sorta
Privacy from Companies
12/13/2000; 11:03:05 AM

'"By using the Advanced Features version of the Google Toolbar, you may be sending information about the sites you visit to Google," the company warns during the Toolbar installation process. "In order to show you more information about a site, the Google Toolbar has to tell us what site you're visiting which it does by sending us the URL."

'Google launched its new toolbar Monday just as privacy advocates were calling attention to the potential hazard of free software extensions, some of which collect more personal information than people who download them may realize.'

I'm all for privacy, but I think Google's done the right stuff here. If you want to see the rank of a page, making a request to the Google servers is the only way to do it. If you don't want to let Google know what pages you're visiting, shut the feature off and Google's toolbar won't make any requests. It's refreshing to see such technical honesty from Google in light of the services from other companies, where even if they don't ever need to know anything from the browser to function, there's still no way to stop the communication. This clearly isn't an attempt to trick the user into giving away trackable information, as so many of those other services are. (No advertising on the toolbar either.)

I think Google was a very model of privacy clarity in it's warning to the consumer... but decide for yourself: Here's the dialog box that everybody sees before downloading the toolbar.

By the way, I'm finding the toolbar immensely useful. Not only does it have a search box like you'd expect (which incidentally uses the best engine currently on the net), it also adds a few other features, including an "up" button (automatically takes you up one subdirectory), and a "highlight" button that highlights the words matching your search query.  An excellent addition to the browser and I recommend it. I don't say those words easily.

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