cr> Usenet indexing (clipping)


Sender: John Whiting <•••@••.•••>

Do we know who else is doing this?

---------- Forwarded Message ----------

From:   Larry or Lynn Tunstall, INTERNET:•••@••.•••
TO:     John Whiting, 100707,731
        Hulda Nystrom, INTERNET:•••@••.•••
        Reed Derleth, INTERNET:•••@••.•••
        Paul Nordstrand at Edgewood, INTERNET:•••@••.•••
        Dinah Sanders, INTERNET:•••@••.•••
        Ken Bergman, INTERNET:•••@••.•••
        (unknown), INTERNET:•••@••.•••
        (unknown), INTERNET:•••@••.•••
        (unknown), INTERNET:•••@••.•••
DATE:   06/03/96 18:10

RE:     Usenet indexing (clipping)

>>From the San Jose Mercury News, Mar. 4, 1996:

On-line archivists addressing cyberspace privacy concerns

by Elizabeth Weise, AP Cyberspace Writer

SAN FRANCISCO - John Kaufman didn't know he was being followed.
  No dark sedans tailed his car, no mysterious clicks interrupted his 
phone calls.  But every word he typed in the deepest corners of the 
Internet was being downloaded by an obsessive stalker.
  Kaufman was well aware that his posts and ruminations were considered 
public on Usenet, a global bulletin board made up of more than 15,000 
discussion groups on every topic imaginable.  He meant to reach a 
worldwide audience, after all.
  But what surprised him was the ease with which someone who'd taken 
such an overwhelming interest in his life was able to track down 
everything he'd ever said on-line.
  It's a realization many people are having, now that the rules of the 
game have changed.  In the past year, a new and powerful generation of 
search programs has begun to systematically index the entire Internet -- 
making it possible for the first time to find just about anything if a 
request is sufficiently precise.
  The story Kaufman relates started innocently enough: He had posted a 
note on a local computer bulletin board in December about a program he 
wanted to sell.  A woman e-mailed that she was interested, they agreed 
on a price and, a few days later, she stopped by his apartment to pick 
it up.
  Everything seemed normal, he said, until the next day.
  "She sent me e-mail saying she'd conducted a search of Usenet, looking 
at the posts I'd made, and she was very interested in me and the things 
I'd done," Kaufman said.
  Words by Kaufman, a San Francisco-based writer, have appeared in 
numerous national magazines.  They also appear in far-flung corners of 
the Internet, where he takes part in many of the free-floating 
conversations on Usenet.
  It was those words that came back to haunt him when his admirer began 
sending him daily e-mail messages, often commenting on things he'd 
posted in newsgroups on topics ranging from Latin American politics to 
the weather in the Shetland Islands.
  Finally, in January, she sent a message that shook him badly -- a 
three-page letter that basically was a dossier of his entire life.
  "She's pieced together the puzzle of my life from Usenet.  She knows 
my mother was a concert pianist.  She knows what I wanted to be when I 
was growing up -- all because of Usenet, from postings and discussions 
I've had there," Kaufman said.
  "When this thing flashed on the screen, my mouth dropped open," he 
said.  "Here was a total stranger who knew my cat's name."
  The problem with the Internet had always been that while the wisdom of 
the world might be contained within it, there was no way to figure out 
exactly what was there.  It was like the Library of Congress without a 
card catalog.
  Where once it would have been almost impossible to read through the 
millions of messages posted daily to the various newsgroups to find one 
by a particular person, services such as Deja News now sift through that 
580 megabytes of data in seconds and supply an author profile of anyone.
  These profiles list the number of original posts authors have made 
(called articles on Usenet), their percentage of follow-up posts and a 
complete listing of every newsgroup they've taken part in.  Simply 
clicking on a listing brings their original post to your screen.
  "I think this is a situation where there has been a great step forward 
in technology, but how we absorb it into society and use it responsibly 
hasn't quite been defined yet," said Lori Fena, director of the 
Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based on-line rights 

Rules have changed

  "The rules have changed, but people's actions haven't changed.  
Before," she said of posting, "it was a public act in a private room.  
These new search engines are going back into those private rooms, 
listening to the recordings and making everything said there available 
to everyone else."
  Legally, there doesn't appear to be a problem with these new search 
tools and archives.
  Someone writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper gives an implied 
license that it be published.  Someone posting to the most assuredly 
public forum of Usenet would have every reason to believe his or her 
words would be re-sent around the globe.
  "The courts will probably find some kind of implied license.  As you 
posted it for thousands of people to read, it would be hard to convince 
the court that it was private," said Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor 
specializing in on-line issues.

Different stances

  However, different services take different stands on just how public 
those old posts were.
  Usenet began in 1979, but the services that index it started up only 
in the past year or so.  Digital Equipment Corp.'s Alta Vista search 
program keeps only the last month or so of Usenet live on-line.
  "We think Usenet is like a conversation," said Louis Monier, lead 
scientist of the Alta Vista project, based in Palo Alto.  "It's not 
something that should be kept forever to haunt you.  Say some student 
posts something about Microsoft being the big evil empire and then, two 
years later in a suit and a tie, they're applying for a job there."
  But down in Austin, Texas, Deja News is trying hard to be the memory 
of Usenet.  Since last May, the tiny start-up company has been offering 
an ever-growing full text index of Usenet.
  If you said something about iguanas in 1986 in the rec.pets newsgroup, 
Deja News wants the rest of the world to be able to find it.  By the end 
of this year, Deja News plans to have a complete index dating to 1979.

The way it was

  Normally, Usenet postings last only a few days or weeks, depending on 
how busy a particular newsgroup is.  As new messages come in, old ones 
are purged from the system.  It used to be that if you didn't read a 
message when it first was posted, you were out of luck.
  Back-up tapes on computer systems around the country contain older 
chunks of Usenet, however, just like stacks of newspapers sitting in 
someone's basement.  By piecing together various backups, Deja News 
plans to have an archive of every newsgroup since its inception.
  That can come as something of a shock to people who thought their 
words were gone forever.
  "I've certainly gotten some irate mail," said George D. Nicas, the 
service's user liaison.
  To deal with the problem, Deja News will delete the contents of old 
posts at the request of the person who wrote them.  In addition, the 
service is putting together a feature that will allow Usenet users to 
keep their messages out of the index by including the words "no-archive" 
in the addressing information at the beginning of their post.

 Posted by Andrew Oram  - •••@••.••• - Moderator: CYBER-RIGHTS (CPSR)
   CyberJournal:  (WWW or FTP) -->
 Materials may be reposted in their _entirety_ for non-commercial use.