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News Editor

Wearing ‘Net blinders

Jul 12, 20044 mins

There is something about the Internet that blinds people when it comes to what should be rather simple matters of right and wrong.

Music “sharing” is the classic example, of course, but I had a curious conversation with a friend recently about NetFlix, the online movie rental company that lets you watch all the DVDs you can stand for a flat fee of $22 per month. This friend – as honest as the day is long, near as I can tell – told me he “shares” a subscription with his brother’s family down the street. Translation: Two families avail themselves of the NetFlix stock for the price of one subscription.

I was too polite (chicken maybe?) to suggest to the fellow that perhaps this sharing isn’t fair to the families who depend on the success of NetFlix to put food on their tables. I’d be astounded if the thought ever crossed his mind, and it sounds kind of preachy to bring it up . . . even here.

But what they’re doing is wrong, no? Not a big, fat, hairy wrong, but wrong.

Or take the woman quoted in a recent Boston Globe story who sees nothing wrong with wirelessly tapping into a neighbor’s unprotected broadband Internet connection.

“I don’t think of it as stealing,” she says. “They’ve left their network open. If they’re going to leave it open, then it’s there for the taking.”

No mention of the service provider or its interest in “the taking.”

By the way, the woman allowed the newspaper to use her name, which I won’t repeat here on the off chance that her parents work in the network industry. No need to add to their humiliation.

The woman’s sentiments can be found echoed in online forums where the Wi-Fi piggybacking matter is getting discussed with greater frequency as more and more individuals discover how easy it is to avoid paying for broadband wireless. What the service providers are doing to address this remains fuzzy, too, although there seems little doubt they are heading for their own Napster-like showdown with the freebie-loving ‘Net culture someday soon.

OK, I’ll get down from the soapbox now.

CAN-SPAM flim-flam

Not even the bill’s sponsors should be surprised, but evidence is beginning to pile high that last year’s much-ballyhooed CAN-SPAM legislation hasn’t been worth a tinker’s damn in terms of canning spam.

Vercom, a Montreal e-mail security company, recently churned through a half-million spams – hey, somebody’s got to do it – and found that only one of every 7,500 complied fully with CAN-SPAM.

Yes, indeed, we’re talking wanton disrespect for the law here. Now everyone raise a hand who expected anything different from your run-of-the-mill spammer.

Yet some of the details within the Vercom study were surprising and/or amusing.

  • About 40% of the sampled spam included mandatory opt-out instructions, which strikes me as high and might seem like a worthwhile accomplishment for the legislation were it not for the next finding.

  • Only 12% of the senders actually honored opt-out requests, which when you think about it is also a higher number than might be expected.

  • About 30% featured an honest subject line, with honest being defined as accurately reflecting the content of the message. Nothing should be presumed relative to the honesty of the offers inside.

But here’s my favorite finding from the report: Only 131 of the half-million spams included the required physical mailing address, proving once again that spammers may be unscrupulous, but they ain’t no fools.

You should write to me if for no other reason than to support my willingness to put an address out there for any spammer to see. It’s