Saturday August 18, 2007
We’re all getting together later—in secret.
Friday August 03, 2007
Growing criticism of Dateline NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” franchise has finally culminated in an Esquire expose. It details how the sloppy alliance between NBC, Perverted Justice, and law enforcement led to one suicide—by a man who didn’t even show up at the decoy house—and to the dismissal of several other cases. If you needed any additional evidence that Chris Hansen and company are more interested in ratings than justice (or even common sense), look no further than Wednesday night’s ridiculous investigation, “To Catch an i-Jacker.” You can watch the whole sorry thing online. (Also note, while you’re there, that the show’s tagline is “News stories about crime, celebrity and health,” which sums it all up nicely.)
This time, the problem isn’t predators, it’s iPods. People steal them. If somebody steals yours, can you get it back? The short answer is no. The hour-looong answer is, “No, but shouldn’t Apple at least try to find your iPod for you? Because they could if they wanted to, right?” Apple wouldn’t help Hansen answer this question, although they probably should have—out of gratitude—since he must have said the word “iPod” 15,000 times during the broadcast, but nevermind. (And nevermind that “iJacking” commonly refers, not to stealing iPods, but to identity theft and to the theft of laptop computers. I’ll let that slide.)
To prove that Apple could probably find your stolen iPod if they wanted to, Dateline used the following methodology. They paid a software hack $40,000 (!) to create a disk that would prompt someone to manually enter their personal information, which would then be forwarded to Dateline. Then they bought 20 iPods and packaged them up with this sinister spy disk. And then they left those iPods laying around in malls and on park benches until people picked them up. Oh, what evil lurks in the hearts of men.
Later, after these hardened perps had used Dateline’s fake disk to “register” the apparently pristine iPods, Hansen packed up the gang in an RV and confronted the villains (most of them teenagers) in their homes—boasting about how ridiculously easy it had been to track them down. Yes, it is easy to track someone down when they send you their address. (Where’s my $40,000?) Unfortunately, all that proves is that when you register an iPod with Apple, they have the registration information that you provided to them. So, in the event that you have a new iPod stolen before you’ve opened it, you know the serial number, and the person who stole it decides to register it with an accurate accounting of his or her whereabouts, then—yes—Apple should be able to tell you where it is.
If, on the other hand, you leave it somewhere or it’s stolen after you’ve been using it for awhile, the perp seems unlikely to register it again, which means at best Apple might be able to track the IP address the next time someone plugs your iPod into iTunes. And then what? And then nothing. Even Hansen’s star witness, the founder of unlose.it, can do no more than allow you to delete items from the device when and if it’s connected to the Internet again. Unlose.it’s basic service, however, is printing labels (for between $5 to $10) that will send anyone who finds your iPod to their site—and you could do that yourself for free. And if Apple could pinpoint the exact location of every iPod everytime it was plugged in, that would raise concerns of its own, now wouldn’t it? We’d be reading about that on Boing Boing.
So, 40 minutes and (at least) $40,000 later, what have we learned? Don’t leave your stuff laying around or somebody might take it. And your mom probably told you that.
Wednesday August 01, 2007
When I arrived in New York in October 2000, the dot-com bubble had already burst. Pseudo.com, the much-hyped webcasting site, had tanked a few months earlier, although its founder, Josh Harris, was still making news. Stories of his millennial bash floated around, his “We Live in Public” experiment was yet to come, and his claim that Pseudo would put CBS out of business was regularly cited as the ultimate in Silicon Alley hubris. Of course, six years later—after Google threw down $1.65 billion for YouTube—Harris’s claim suddenly sounded a lot less nutty, and I wondered where he’d gone.
It turns out he’s been laying low on an apple farm in Livingston, N.Y., although he recently emerged to launch a new “social television network” called Operator 11. For the rest of the story, read my update on Harris at Radar Online.