TOC Naughty Data, you so knotty Your Turn

September 04, 2007

Paradoxes are the best kind of puzzles. They do have a way to put truth at bay, although proponents of helicoidal history see them as a signal to spring to some higher truth.

Whether stabbed or nicked away by spam, my precious time ought to be mine and I have complained loudly about how modern lords dare take it for free. ePrio claims it has the perfect solution to spam. Let no sender send an email without having received the targeted receiver's permission. First time readers will detect a paradox here. How can a sender receive a permission without asking for it in the first place? Faithful readers know not to worry as such permission can be automatically granted or denied via a filter posted in advance by the target.

No doubt such filters are difficult to tune precisely to our own satisfaction. Too much of a filter and we miss on mail we would welcome, too little of it and we waste time on spam. But instead of relying on Big Brothers' benevolence to prevent spam from reaching us, we exercise our own responsibility and can blame no one but ourselves.

What if we choose to spam ourselves? No filter we oversee can protect us from ourselves. Far fetched? Not according to Kevin Allison, who reports that this recent phenomenon has even received a name, "bacn" (*). When I browse the site of a legal spammer (1), a company which tries to trick me into acquiescing to their undesirable marketing goo, I know that an ePrio filter would work like a charm, like a butler firmly declaring the master is not available to the endless stream of tradesmen who supply the house and come knocking for more business. But what if I do want to hear from my friends on one of those so-called social sites which sprout today like mushrooms after a shower?

It would be naive to think that social sites behave better than tradesmen. A lot of 'bacn' is nothing but legal spam. Yet for a higher truth I suggest to look at how cellphones are used by the younger generations. Between unwelcome calls, i.e. spam, and meaningful exchanges, isn't there something like desirable noise? Noise indeed as it hardly qualifies as a meaningful exchange, desirable nonetheless as its total absence would drive the user crazy, turning silence into torture. What we need is a filter to turn off spam, legal or not, but set to send us a minimum of interruptions to ensure we feel connected. A good butler knows when the master needs distraction.

Banishing naughty data can thus tie one in knots. Not just individuals, whole societies too. Those of us who think highly of markets know that good markets need the rule of the law. Good laws however are hard to make and enforce unless they express some moral ideal shared by society. But what if morality disagrees with markets in naughty goods? 'Tis a knot strong enough to strangle logic. Read Gary Rivlin's analysis of Internet gambling in the US (**). If gambling by Internet is bad for US citizens, it should be forbidden by law. But States' revenues and US gambling interests have too much at stake. So US citizens may legally gamble by Internet as long as their money does not flow to foreign operators. This of course violates international market rules and invites retaliation in kind, for instance massive copyright piracy. It's a nice world after all.

Truth is, global markets are unsustainable without some set of global values. Without them the Information Age conflicts with national interests.

Modern man needs a minimum of noise. Nations cannot confine information without hypocrisy. To resolve all paradoxes, let us rest on Labor Day.

Philippe Coueignoux

  • (*) ..... It's not spam, it's 'bacn', by Kevin Allison (Financial Times) - August 23, 2007
  • (**) ... Place Your Bet, by Gary Rivlin (New-York Times) - August 23, 2007
  • (1) see Notes on Spamming in my lectures on Liabilities and Vulnerabilies in the Information Age.
September 2007
Copyright © 2007 ePrio Inc. All rights reserved.