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John Soat
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IT Confidential: What E-Mail Says About You, And Bill

Enron, a nasty, brutish company? i'm shocked! Last week, at a conference called Inbox East in Atlanta, Audiotrieve, an anti-spam vendor, released the findings of a study the company conducted on a database of E-mail correspondence compiled by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as part of its investigation of Enron. FERC made public the E-mails after removing about 8% of the database that contained personal information, such as Social Security numbers and salary charts. Still, Audiotrieve's study revealed that 4% of all the available E-mails (tens of thousands, according to the company) contained inappropriate material, including pornography, disparaging racial comments, and offensive jokes. Also, 8% of the E-mails studied included references to personal information such as health-care data like medications, ailments, etc., which, in the HIPAA era, is a total no-no. "E-mail is not confidential, poses a liability risk, and can cause considerable damage to a company's reputation if not handled correctly," the company said in a statement.

Honey, whatever happened to that junk grandfather left me? Speaking of offensive language, online-auction powerhouse eBay was forced last week to update its policy concerning how "racially or ethnically offensive [language] may be used on the site." It seems that some sellers were going a little overboard in describing their, uh, historically significant items. "When selling potentially offensive yet true historical pieces, sellers must ensure that the language in their listings shows appropriate sensitivity to those in the Community that might view it," the company said in a statement. "Use of terms that are racially or ethnically offensive to describe items have no place in the eBay marketplace and eBay will not tolerate such material." EBay had a special footnote concerning America's cultural heritage. "Sellers may use such words and phrases in the title and description of their listings within media categories such as Books, Movies and Music, provided that the offensive words are actually part of the title of the listed item."

I know Steve Jobs is charismatic, but... If you're in New York City next week, don't forget to drop by a book publishing party for The Cult Of Mac (No Starch Press, November 2004), a coffee-table tome by Wired writer Leander Kahney, who writes a blog by the same name. The party's at a club called APT (419 W. 13th St.). The book (subtitled: "The Handbook Of The Insanely Insane," or "Arrows In Bill Gates' Heart"--just kidding!) is a chronicle of the Apple underground that, according to a description on, will let readers "explore the little-publicized underbelly of Mac culture, including erotic fiction featuring Steve Jobs and the influence of mind-altering drugs on the Mac's famous interface."

File under: dubious distinctions. Bill Gates gets more spam than anyone, according to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. As quoted by The Associated Press, Ballmer told a conference in Singapore last week that Gates gets 4 million E-mails a day, most of them spam. Thanks to Microsoft technology, Ballmer said, only about 10 get through.

Oh, yeah! Well, ALL of my E-mails are spam--except for your industry tips, of course, so send them to or phone 516-562-5326. If you want to talk about Enron, eBay, or insane Mac users, meet me at'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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