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4/30/2004
08:47 PM
John Soat
John Soat
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IT Confidential: Spam Loot, Patents, And Candid Camera

Charles Chase, a retiree who lives in Berryville, Va., last week won a 2002 Porsche Boxster S Cabriolet two-door convertible that was confiscated from a spammer as a result of a lawsuit filed by American Online a year ago. AOL is headquartered in Dulles, Va., and Virginia's anti-spam statute, which went into effect on July 1, gives the state's law-enforcement agencies the right to seize spammers' assets. In March, AOL decided to use the seized sports car to tout its success in fighting spam, and launched a sweepstakes, open only to AOL subscribers who completed an online entry form. AOL collected nearly 1.1 million entries. "I find spam and spammers to be a routine irritation," winner Chase said in a statement. "I don't want to read their messages, and I always click on the 'Report Spam' button, and that makes me feel good. It's the most wonderful feeling [to] actually do something to the spam and the spammers."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation launched what it calls a "patent-busting campaign" last week to target "growing concerns about illegitimate software and Internet patents." EFF says it will file re-examination requests with the Patent and Trademark Office, asking it to revoke patents that have negative effects on public use of the Internet. "More and more, people are using software and Internet technology to express themselves," Wendy Seltzer, an EFF attorney, said in a statement. "Patent owners who threaten this expression are creating a chilling effect on free speech." The EFF points to examples of what it considers overly broad and inclusive patents related to Internet business processes, such as "one-click online shopping" (patent No. 5,960,411), "online shopping carts" (patent No. 5,713,314), and "paying with a credit card online" (patent No. 6,289,319).

One of the wealthiest towns in the country will soon have cameras and computers running background checks on every car and driver that passes through, according to an Associated Press story. The town council of Manalapan, Fla., a tony enclave in Palm Beach County, authorized $60,000 in security upgrades last week, largely in response to three burglaries last winter that robbed residents of $400,000 in jewelry, according to the AP story. Police chief Clay Walker said cameras will take infrared photos recording a car's tag number, then software will run the number through law-enforcement databases. Next to the tag number, police will have a picture of the driver, taken with another set of cameras, upgraded versions of the standard surveillance cameras already in place. "Courts have ruled that in a public area, you have no expectation of privacy," Walker said. He said Manalapan's data will be destroyed every three months.

My photo will be blurred, no doubt, due to the excessive gesturing and shouting I normally do while driving. Nothing obscene, I hope. Not that I'm planning on being in Manalapan, Fla., anytime soon. But I am planning on an industry tip, to jsoat@cmp.com or phone 516-562-5326. If you want to talk spam, Internet patents, or privacy, meet me at InformationWeek.com's Listening Post.


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit John Soat's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about John Soat, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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