18th > April > 2004 Archive

The future of Weblogging

The rise of Weblogging has been a cold shower for the complacent mass communication industries. Although the Weblogging pioneers are due much praise, their own rhetoric deserves examination, and they could also raise their sights higher. Nico Macdonald reports, and concludes with a radical proposal for the future of Weblogging.
Nico Macdonald, 18 Apr 2004

Extortionists attack iBetX.com

iBetX, the UK-based online betting exchange, has become the latest online bookmaker to be targeted by cyber extortionists. The company's website was temporarily off line from Thursday evening (15 April) until early Friday morning (16 April) as a result of a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack which flooded the site with spurious requests. In recent weeks several major British bookmakers havecome under similar attacks: they include William Hill, Totalbet, UKbetting and Sporting Options. None are believed to have given in to demands. iBetX.com director Imraan Malik maintained this common front: "The bottom line is that we will not give into extortion and we will work with the UK National High-Tech Crime Unit to safe guard our business and help trace and track down the perpetrators." iBetX is assuring subscribers that their personal details remain safe despite the attack, which did not affect the integrity of its site. "Furthermore, there was no material loss to the business nor did any customer suffer any loss," it added. ® Related stories Extortionists take out UK gambling site Online extortionists target Cheltenham DDoS attacks go through the roof East European gangs in online protection racket DDoS protection racket targets online bookies
John Leyden, 18 Apr 2004

All hail the new TLD - .ax

The tiny province of the Aland Islands - located between old rivals Sweden and Finland - has become an official country with no fanfare whatsoever and is now entitled to its own, new, top-level Internet domain, .ax. The International Organisation for Standardization (ISO) actually granted the islands - given autonomy in 1951 and boasting 25,000 inhabitants - their official recognition on 13 February this year but somehow we only heard about it last week. The Aland Islands (although the Finnish will have it known they are the Ahvenanmaa Islands) are made up of 6,500 islands and outcrops, 65 miles east of Stockholm and cover 572 square miles. People only live on 65 of them, however, and 90 per cent live on the biggest island - Fasta Aland. Fasta only has one city where over half the population live. They have their own flag which is a Swedish flag with a strangely English-looking red cross stuck on the top. They have an assembly called the Landsting which decides its own laws, and a seat in the Finnish Parliament. The islands have jumped between Swedish and Finnish ownership over the centuries and while Swedish is the language and most influences the culture, the last people to own them were the Finns. A ruling by the League of Nations in 1921 gave the islands their own parliament and it has been independence all the way from there. What is interesting in terms of the Internet however is that the Aland Islands are now on the official ISO 3166-1 list which means they can have their own Internet domain. The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority IANA), the Internet body that decides such things, uses the list as a set-in-stone directory of domain names. At least sometimes. "IANA's policy is to create new ccTLDs (country code top level domains) only when they are listed on the ISO 3166-1 list," reads its site. "The selection of the ISO 3166-1 list as a basis for country code top-level domain names was made with the knowledge that ISO has a politically neutral procedure for determining which entities should be and should not be on that list." Of course, you need to ignore the existence of .uk rather than .gb for Great Britain and the inclusion of Ascension Island (.ac), Guernsey (.gg), Isle of Man (.im) and Jersey (.je), and the fact that the Soviet Union (.su) still exists on the Internet. And that the European Union is getting is own .eu domain. And that .yu for Yugoslavia is still on the Net, rather than .cs for Serbia and Montenegro. Plus of course, the Aland Islands have to actually apply for their own domain. And IANA doesn't like to rush these things. On 1 October 1999, the Occupied Palestinian Territory was included on 3166-1 with the two-letter code .ps. Ten days later, an application was made to IANA for a .ps domain. This was followed up on 2 February 2000 after IANA hadn't got around to do anything. It held a review and granted the domain on 22 March 2000. So, if the Aland islands applied this week, they could have their own domain by September. But don't count on it. East Timor became a country on 15 November 2002 but so far not a peep from IANA. Maybe that troubled country hasn't got around to applying yet. Of course the big question is: who's next? Well, sparing a huge political upheaval, bid for independence and successful war, there is a list of reserved country codes, believe it or not. You have to be a big country or international organisation to put your chips down, but these are them, and each has a fascinating history: CP for Clipperton Island - an atoll in the North Pacific Ocean, south-east of Mexico (reserved by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU)). DG for Diego Garcia - an American naval base which is already included in the virtually unused British Indian Ocean Territory (.io) domain (reserved by the ITU). EA for Ceuta and Melilla - which are actually two cities on the Moroccan coastline and are the last vestiges of the Spanish empire. Same sort of situation as with Gibraltar, especially the Spanish actually own them (reserved by the World Customs Organisation (WCO)). FX for Metropolitan France. This is, or rather was, recognised by IANA. IANA has received requests for it but is ignoring them. One posting by someone in the know explained: "It is difficult to escape the conclusion that this is a very special strange and unwarranted arrangement for exactly one purpose: to satisfy some odd uniquely French desire" (reserved by, yes, France). IC for Canary Islands - an autonomous group of islands owned by the Spanish and a popular holiday destination (reserved by WCO). TA for Tristan da Cunha - which claims to be the remotest island in the world and is British territory in the South Atlantic. Great for lobsters and stamps apparently (reserved by the Universal Postal Union (UPU)) Our vote for the next domain goes to the Canary Islands. ®
Kieren McCarthy, 18 Apr 2004

Myzones dies

The death of MyZones means that the "hotspot" way of providing wireless Internet for mobile users will be under some scrutiny over the next few months - but pessimism may be premature. We're still waiting to hear from Xtricate boss Clive Mayhew-Begg himself about what has happened to MyZones, after his Wi-Fi hotspot company stopped answering the phone this week. As far as we can tell, Xtricate continues, but MyZones doesn't. The company was due to make a big "onwards and upwards" announcement at last week's WLAN Event show at Olympia, London - but apparently, when they showed up, it was merely to announce that the company was being wound up. According to Unstrung, the founders don't feel that it was the business model that let them down: "We placed the company into administration last month," the news site quoted Mayhew-Begg saying. "For the last three months we knew we couldn't compete as a broadband service provider. We just didn't have the resources or the funding." That may well be the simple truth. In fact, nobody could deny that the founders were guilty of hype - but nonetheless, the concept behind MyZones is one which many have predicted will eventually drive wireless Internet businesses. It's a franchise operation, reminiscent of deals like Boingo and Sputnik or iPass and so on; and many believe it's an idea which should work. But it seems MyZones simply didn't have the resources to see if they could make the concept stick. The question which remains unanswered, of course, is why they couldn't get the resources, given the number of wealthy financiers on the MyZones board. Although Mayhew-Begg used the word "administration" - implying that the company would trade normally pending reconstruction - there's no sign of normal trading. The website still runs, yes; but the "call us!" flag, offering a free 0800 phone number will connect you to a phone company message saying that the service has been discontinued. There is a phone number for overseas customers (why?) which is given as an 0161 number (Manchester) but which rings through to a robot which tells of a new 0870 "local call" number. That number takes you through to RealPoptel, which is staffed by embarrassed executives who are permitted to say little other than insisting: "There is no relationship between MyZones and Poptel or RealPoptel." Founders of MyZones include the financial backers of Poptel, including Yoram Amiga of Sum International Holdings, and a (former?) director of Poptel, Dr Stuart Marsden, also of Sum International - both of whom we've attempted to contact. Neither had responded by publication time. Neither had Mayhew-Begg. Sources at RealPoptel said that Marsden was "still around" but refused to discuss whether he was still a director of that company. They were able to pass on the Xtricate email address for Mayhew-Begg, but no phone numbers. Until we hear to the contrary from any former MyZones staff directly, our advice to readers is to proceed as if MyZones was no longer a going concern. RealPoptel will probably offer you technical support if you signed up to the MyZones broadband deal - but it seems that it won't be a support deal covered by any payment you may have made to MyZones, and you may do better to look for quotes from several ISPs. Does the collapse of MyZones mean that the hotspot concept is doomed? Hardly. It certainly does mean that the nonsense of "we own all the prime sites" has been finally exposed as the newest of Emperor's clothes. But we knew that, and so do the prime purveyors of that imaginary idea, BT Openzone, which started off by claiming "all the key sites" but which has moved rapidly and powerfully into the franchise market, doing deals with other aggregators. The main problem with MyZones was that if you are buying into their central story, you're trying to set up a way of sharing Internet resources with your neighbours. That's a brilliant idea, but you can do it for roughly half the cost of what MyZones was asking, by going to LocustWorld or one of its installers, and getting MeshBoxes. © NewsWireless.Net Related stories Dabs touts MyZones home WLAN pack MyZones firms up co-op wireless launch Wireless will halve cost of broadband - MyZones
Guy Kewney, 18 Apr 2004

Former anti-piracy 'bag man' turns on DirecTV

A one-time enforcer in DirecTV's anti-piracy campaign is suing his ex-employer for wrongful discharge, after he allegedly resigned rather than continue to prosecute the company's controversial war against buyers of hacker-friendly smart card equipment. John Fisher, a former police officer, alleges in a complaint filed in Los Angeles County Court late last month that he joined DirecTV as a senior investigator in July, 2002, expecting to serve a legitimate investigative role tracking signal pirates. He wound up instead "as little better than a 'bag man for the mob,'" the lawsuit claims. He's seeking unspecified damages, and an end to DirecTV's tactics. At issue is DirecTV's end-user campaign, aimed at shutting down and collecting money from TV watchers who use smart card programmers and other equipment to get free or expanded satellite TV service. Because there's no way to trace people who are passively receiving DirecTV's signal, the company turned to a strategy of physically raiding equipment sellers that cater to pirates, using the authority of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The company then sends out threatening letters to everyone on the seized customer lists. The letters accuse the recipients of violating anti-piracy laws by purchasing equipment like customizable smart card programmers, and demand a cash settlement beginning at $3,500, or face litigation and possible damages of $100,000 or more. Since last year the company has sent out tens of thousands of such letters and filed lawsuits against over 9,000 people who've ignored them or refused to settle. None of those lawsuits has yet gone to trial. DirecTV began facing criticism over the campaign after it targeted some innocent techies who had perfectly legal uses for the equipment they purchased. The company says the number of non-pirates swept into its dragnet is minuscule, but advocacy groups and lawyers have received enough consumer complaints to prompt the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Stanford Center for Internet and Society to launch a website apprising crackdown targets of their legal rights. EFF says innocent people are settling with DirecTV for no other purpose than to avoid costly litigation. Fisher's lawsuit provides a rare glimpse at the inner workings of the end user campaign, which, from his description, resembles nothing so much as a high-stakes boiler room operation. Fisher and his colleagues spent their days fielding calls from worried recipients of the threatening letters, confronting the targets with evidence of their "illegal" purchases, and persuading them - with tough talk and black-and-white assertions about what is, in reality, a largely unsettled area of law - to surrender the equipment and cough up the settlement money. Fisher "a Good Cop" The office culture rewarded workers who made collections in marginal cases - one investigator allegedly tried to win a settlement from someone who had purchased nothing but a leather case. "It was a very competitive environment and the investigator who generated the most revenue was not only praised but also given a nice dinner or similar gift," wrote Fisher. A tote board on the wall charted the total amount brought in by the office, and when it logged its first million of the year, a congratulatory email went out. The lawsuit claims the company knew that between five and ten percent of their targets were innocent. After a time, Fisher "fully realized the end user campaign was an elaborate extortion racket," the lawsuit alleges. "The letters were full of lies or misrepresentations and the investigators were required to coerce people into paying money for stealing services when we had no proof whether they had done so or not." Fisher resigned in October. Though Fisher quit the job, the lawsuit argues that DirecTV effectively fired him by instructing him to behave unethically. "Mr. Fisher was forced to resign because of intolerable working conditions," says his attorney, Jeffrey Wilens. "Normally a lawsuit of that nature is based upon harassment, racial or sexual harassment, but sometime it's based on working conditions that require an employee to break the law or engage in unethical practices." DirecTV confirmed that Fisher worked for the company on its end user campaign, but would not comment on the circumstances of his departure. The company denies asking Fisher to do anything unethical or illegal. "We certainly can say that Mr. Fisher's allegations are baseless," says company spokesman Robert Mercer. The Maywood, California police department confirmed that Fisher worked there as a patrol officer and detective until 1998, when a shoulder injury sustained in the line of duty forced his retirement. "I worked with him myself, and I can tell you he was regarded as a good cop, and somebody who could be counted on to help out, and he was a very moral and ethical person," said Sergeant Robert Leach. Multiple Lawsuits Jeffrey Wilens, Fisher's lawyer, is a tenacious opponent of DirecTV's ongoing crackdown. In 2002, he sued the company for extortion on behalf of seven clients who claimed to have ordered smart card programmers and other equipment for legitimate purposes, and subsequently received DirecTV's threatening letter. But last year a county judge ruled that DirecTV's mailings were connected with litigation, and were therefore privileged; he dismissed the case and awarded DirecTV nearly $100,000 in attorney's fees. Undeterred, Wilens filed a federal lawsuit in Los Angeles under the mob-busting Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) organized crime statute, again claiming extortion. A federal judge dismissed that case as well, using similar reasoning as the county judge. Both cases are under appeal. In March, Wilens filed another, nearly-identical RICO suit in Colorado, where he says case law is more favorable. He followed that up with the Fisher suit, and a separate lawsuit accusing the company of violating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act by coercing the Canadian operator of the Pirates Den online forum into handing over users' private communications. (The forum operator, also a defendant, has claimed the messages were seized and given to DirecTV by a Canadian court). All three cases are now pending. "He seems to keep trying to shoehorn some of these legal theories into another kind of case," says DirecTV's Mercer. "What did Albert Einstein say about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?" "I don't hate DirecTV," says Wilens. "You don't hate the sinner, you hate the sin. I regard their conduct to be outrageous. I wouldn't be spending my time in these cases if money were the primary focus." Copyright © 2004, Related stories RIAA and DirecTV file more suits Jury convicts DirecTV pirate on DMCA charges Racketeering suit filed against DirecTV DirecTV dragnet snares innocent techies DirecTV mole to plead guilty
Kevin Poulsen, 18 Apr 2004