SPUG: Chip Salzenberg Defense Fund

Ken Meyer kmeyer at blarg.net
Thu Aug 4 16:06:36 PDT 2005

My desire to understand this has trumped my desire to conceal my lack of
geeky sophistication.

Is an "open proxy" used simply to evade an attempt by sites to specifically
block this company's bots and not others?

What about robots.txt; seems to me that this file implements no more than a
"gentlemen's agreement", rather than a legal barrier, such as a password to
access a computer on a network that is not intended for public access, such
as a web server?

Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia:

"Because proxies are implicated in abuse, system administrators have
developed a number of ways to refuse service to open proxies. IRC networks
such as the Blitzed network automatically test client systems for known
types of open proxy. [1] Likewise, a mail server may be configured to
automatically test mail senders for open proxies, using software such as
Michael Tokarev's proxycheck. [2]"

So why have these techniques not been effective against the subject
"scraping" in point (by the way, I thought that "scraping" referred to
getting text off a screen shot that is in raster format, i.e. OCR, not
actually snarfing the ASCII)?

So, when is one hacking into a system and when is one simple accessing
material that is exposed and fair game, whether that is desirable or not?

What sort of material was this company harvesting?  Does it bear on privacy,
which is a very tight subject in the case of medical information -- HIPAA
philosophy is highly prevalent.

Where are Mr. Salzenberg's computers now?  Are there contents intact?  Who
has control of any files copied from them?

It is unwise to address this problem via an organization called
"geeksunite", which is certainly off-putting to the majority of the
population, which if they are not actually repelled by the geek image, will
presume that the subject will be beyond their comprehension.  If there are
truly illegal acts going on, isn't a counterattack possible?  If civil
liberties have been violated, certainly  the usual organizations will be
alarmed and will provide support.  What about the ACLU and the EFF to defend
Mr. Salzenberg?  I would rather support a well-known champion of the
individual than directly to an individual who has not defined the problem or
his approach to addressing it in other than vague terms -- or is the
vagueness simply a product of my lack of understanding of the technical
details of what is going on here.

By the way, I don't consider this to be "OT" at all, as subjects that bear
on the livelihoods of the computing technical community are subsumed by any
and all more specific technical discussions -- IMHO.

Ken Meyer

-----Original Message-----

From: spug-list-bounces at pm.org [mailto:spug-list-bounces at pm.org]
On Behalf Of Bill Campbell
Sent: Thursday, August 04, 2005 11:15 AM
To: SPUG Members

Subject: Re: SPUG: Chip Salzenberg Defense Fund

On Thu, Aug 04, 2005, Ken Meyer wrote:

>Thanks, Bill.  I sort of got the drift of that, but the question remains in
>my mind: what are these "dubious practices".  Scraping what?  Can it be
>downloading pages?  Highly unlikely to be a problem, as that is what the
>is about and magnitude of the process, while perhaps questionable, doesn't
>appear to me to be illegal.  Burrowing into the web server to retrieve
>information that is on the server but not displayed?  Well, kind of the
>inverse of spyware, but spyware is endemic, albeit loathsome, and as far as
>I can tell, not really illegal at this point.  It's still not clear whether
>Chip has not been excessively sanctimonious about this practice, whatever
>is, not to mention naive about corporate prerogatives.

I read the PDF of the letter that Chip wrote which claimed that the company
was doing things like ignoring the ROBOTS.TXT files (and documentation in
the code the company wrote referenced the appropriate documents about
ROBOTS.TXT, so they can't claim ignorance), ignored complaints from
webmasters about their activities -- including the Washington State
Government sites, took steps to circumvent attempts to block their scraping,
including use of open proxies, etc.  In the letter, Chip said that he had
met with the corporate management, explaining the legal and ethical issues.

INTERNET:   bill at Celestial.COM  Bill Campbell; Celestial Software LLC
UUCP:               camco!bill  PO Box 820; 6641 E. Mercer Way
FAX:            (206) 232-9186  Mercer Island, WA 98040-0820; (206) 236-1676
URL: http://www.celestial.com/

``My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results
from too much government.'' --Thomas Jefferson.
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