Techdirt points to an effort by Slate’s Paul Boutin to Make Website Annotation Cool Again. As Techdirt points out, this idea — where surfers can add their comments to websites so that others who use the same annotation software can view them, and add their own comments — is not new. (The semi-official term is Web Annotation.)
I went back through my old columns and saw that it was exactly five years ago that I wrote about ThirdVoice, which (according to c2) stopped offering its service, in part because of complaints, a year later.
Others were uTok, Instant Rendezvous and Gooey, all of which seem to no longer be operating.
Here’s a new kind of cellphone scam (via Mike Masnick of Techdirt, writing in TheFeature): WAPjacking (well that’s what he calls it, and I like it):
Taking a page from the still popular redialer scam on PCs – where a secretive trojan tries to disconnect your modem (assuming you’re using dialup) and reconnect you secretly to a premium rate phone number in some distant country – the WAPjacking scam basically does the same thing. It involves an SMS message that overwrites the WAP settings on your phone, replaces the standard WAP home page with something else – and then switches the call to a premium rate number.
The original article on NewMediaAge in the UK says ”the issue is considered so severe that operators have raised the prospect of banning all third party binary, or data, SMS messages, which would kill the content industry”. The article points to these dialers making calls to 0700 numbers, which in the UK are about 40p ($1 or thereabouts) a minute. But I imagine the real threat would only occur if the numbers being dialled were offshore, otherwise these kind of locally-based scams could be shut down quite quickly.
In his article Mike compares the scam to to Bluejacking and Bluesnarfing, which, he says “both seemed to be hyped well beyond any real threat”. While I’d agree there’s been some overkill in the British press, I don’t agree that neither represent “any real threat”. The point is always about stealing data and compromising communications, something the two processes do quite well. It’s not up to us to decide whether this represents a threat: If someone stands to lose valuable, sensitive or private data this way, it’s a threat for them.
Similarly, I wouldn’t put WAPjacking in the same category, at least for now. Diverting someone’s phone so the user loses money is not the same thing as losing the combination to your office safe, or a competitor grabbing all your contacts. But I think what all these cases have in common is that we’re just beginning to understand the vulnerability of holding in our hand an object that contains so much information, an object that can be hijacked to connect with anyone or anything without our knowledge. As Mike puts it: “It’s safe to assume that the wireless data industry has lost its innocence.”
Newsweek takes a look (via TechDirt) at a future Internet controlled by corporations and governments through Digital Rights Management, secure chips and micropayments. It’s an interesting article, and makes me ponder some interesting supplementary questions:
Are spammers, for example, the enemy of ordinary Internet folk, or virtual Robin Hoods eluding corporate control of the web? We all hate them now, true, but may we look back on them — at some future point when corporate and governmental control dominates the web — as tolerable evidence of the Internet’s chaotic freedom? By trying to push them off the Internet through legal means, are we just tying our own future in knots?
Another thought: are micropayments the saviour of small business on the Internet, or just a trick by big corporates to tie us into their trickling subscription model? Living in Indonesia — banned by PayPal and many smaller online sellers, which won’t accept any payments from such a lawless country — I know a little of what it feels like to hostage to the bigger e-commerce sites, because they’re the only ones to accept my dollar. In the future, will it only be the big companies who have the risk models and infrastructure to do online business in a world of online IDs, DRMs and micropayments?
I’m confident that the anarchic tendencies of the Internet will undermine many corporate efforts to lock in customers: The online music site that thrives will be the one with the broadest range of file formats and the smallest limitation on how those files are used, stored and copied. Methods to cripple or limit use of software will always be cracked. Indignation will limit the advance of chip-based IDs — in your computer, around your neck, in your handphone.
But I think those of us calling for regulation, standardisation and crackdowns on the Internet to make it safe for the ordinary user need to think harder about other threats to its future, in particular anything that punishes or banishes anonymity, anything that discriminates against the user accessing the web based on his/her point of entry (country, state, neighbourhood) and, in particular, any corporate which tries to set up tollbooths to grab a nickel every time we do something we used to be able to do for free.
Sometimes things change, and it’s hard to stay on top of them. Plaxo is supposed to help with this — an Outlook plug-in (i.e. a little piece of software that attaches itself to Outlook) which will update your contacts with other Plaxo users you know, and vice versa. Nice idea, and on the whole they did a good job of executing it. But now things are changing in PlaxoLand, and I’m not sure I’m on top of them anymore.
There are privacy issues: who exactly gets to see your data? And then there’s the money issue: how is Plaxo going to make money out of it? These sort of things worry folk: David Coursey, a columnist like myself but with more readers, trashes Plaxo, as does Mike in his excellent TechDirt blog. Plaxo was fine when people you knew added themselves and shared their info, but what happens, as Mike points out, when complete strangers do it?
I started to get peeved when I noticed that insurance salesmen started adding their contacts to my Plaxo setup. Surely that couldn’t happen? I thought folk needed permission to do that? I asked Plaxo about this a few weeks back and was told: “If you are a Plaxo user and someone sends you a Plaxo card, there is a link in the notification to add them to your address book. They are only added if you explicitly click on this link.” But I’m not sure that’s true. I’m a journalist so I’ve got a lot of people in my address book I couldn’t identify in a police line-up, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t let some of this pondlife into my Outlook.
Bottom line: Plaxo need to address this and other issues before folk believe them. Sure, 800,000 people are using it in over 200 countries (how many countries are there? I thought it wasn’t much more than that) but they’ll leave in droves if they feel their privacy is being compromised.