Truth in Media Global Watch Bulletins

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TiM GW Bulletin 98/1-14

Jan. 28, 1998

Customer Presumed Guilty

Big Blue's Kremlin Justice

IBM Uses "Fire, Fire, Fire... Aim"-Strategy to Fight Internet "Spam;" Freedom of Speech Constitutional Right Versus Right to (e-mail) Privacy

PHOENIX, ARIZONA                Topic: NORTH AMERICAN AFFAIRS


Click Here to Go Straight to Survey Results

PHOENIX, Jan. 28, 1998 - Would you ever use a shotgun to kill an ant, especially if the ant just happened to be on an American flag carried by a valued customer?  Most Americans wouldn't.  If not because of the ant, or because of the wasted buck shot, or because of the risk of death or injury to the customer, then because of the flag.  And because doing it just wouldn't make common sense.

Common sense?  In which Procedures Manual does one find it in large companies?   Guess they still haven't learned the lesson that the last dying gasp of an organization is the issuance of yet another, LARGER, Procedures Manual.  :-)

But first let us take you through some hypothetical common sense scenarios to help you appreciate the real one which follows...

COMMON SENSE SCENARIO 1: Suppose you're a state trooper.  You see a car parked on the side of a highway with a man inside.  As you pull behind it, another car slows down alongside of you.  The driver rolls down the window on the passenger side and shouts to you: "Hey, officer, see the man sitting in that car over there?  He just shot at my car a while back.  Will you return fire for me, please?"

So, if you're that state trooper, what would you do:

               (A) Radio for reinforcements and then approach the parked car with caution;

               (B) Radio for reinforcements and stay in the patrol car until they arrived;

               (C) Get the hell out of there;

               (D) Get out and empty your gun at the SOB behind the wheel of the parked car without warning or hesitation;

Well, if you've chosen (D) above, you should consider applying for a management job in the IBM Internet Group (the Big Blue's Internet Service Provider [ISP] unit).  Of course, in years past, there might have been other global employment opportunities for such state troopers - on Soviet highways patrolled by the KGB, for example.  Or in China even today.

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COMMON SENSE SCENARIO 2: Suppose you're a local telephone company manager.  You get a call from a customer complaining about another person's phone calls - not obscene or aggressive or anything like that; just unwanted. 

So, what would you do as that telephone company manager:

               (A) Inform the accused caller of a complaint about it and hear what he/she has to say;

               (B) Ignore the complaint;

               (C) Cut off the accused person's telephone service without notice;Well, if you've chosen (C) above, you might be a good candidate for a management job in the IBM ISP Group.

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COMMON SENSE SCENARIO 3: Suppose you're a local U.S. Post Office (USPS) manager.  An angry customer stomps into your office and hands you an envelope.  "See!" he yells.  "See the kind of junk mail you have been delivering.  I don't want it.  I want it to stop.   I want you to cancel this outfit's postal service."

So what would you do as that USPS manager:

               (A) Point out to the irate customer that the postal service is a PUBLIC service available to all citizens who buy and stick (or legally imprint) a stamp on an envelope - meaning it is the USPS' contractual obligation to its customers to deliver ALL mailed items as best and as fast as it knows how;

               (B) Plead that it's lunch time, and you're a federal government (overworked) worker, and thus side-step the complaint;

               (C) Suspend all USPS mail pick-ups or deliveries of the accused mailer without notice;

Well, if you've chosen (C) above, you might be a good candidate for a management job of the IBM ISP Group.

Oh, one more thing... The "junk mail" which the complainer found to be so offensive?  It was the unsolicited political campaign fund-raising mailings from Bill Clinton's Democratic Party, as well as from Bob Dole's Republicans.

Now shutting down such "junk mail" operations might be worth a second thought... Just kidding, of course.  :-)

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With that as a preamble, let us return to a real world story which happened on Jan. 27, 1998:

For the fourth time in less than a month, and for the third time in 24 hours, this writer had trouble logging into the Internet.  Some IBM tech reps spent several hours trying to figure out what the problem was, assuming it was some technical malfunction.  As it turned out, however, someone in IBM's Internet Group deliberately cut off this writer's e-mail service - WITHOUT NOTICE - evidently not even to IBM's own tech reps.  Never mind that our contract requires this ISP to give the customer 90 day's prior written notice before terminating the Internet service.

So what was all this about?  "We've decided in December to get aggressive in fighting spam," an IBM ISP manager said after we had finally tracked down the cause of the problem.

"Good for you," this writer replied, "but what does that have to do with us?  Why would that be a reason for you to pull the plug on our service without notice."

"Because we've received six e-mail messages complaining that you've sent them unsolicited commercial messages."

Then the penny dropped.  It must have been an act of malice. Not just because we have NEVER sent any commercial messages, nor rented any mass mailing lists.  But because any reader who did not want to receive our ARTICLES could have simply asked to be removed from our list.  And that would have been the end of story.

You see, when one considers the pass-along on the Internet, our reports are possibly read by tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands of people around the world.  Judging by the hundreds of complimentary messages which we have received in the last 12 months, most readers seem to like what we have to say (see the "Reader Testimonials" section of our Web page - http://www.beograd.com/truth - or over 160 of such messages in the "Some Reader Testimonials", which we will send you but only upon request, since it is a fairly large file [46K]).

But the world wouldn't be what it is if everybody agreed on everything, especially when it comes to controversial issues about which we often write.  So six people out of all that mass of humanity didn't like our opinions, and decided to be mean to us by going behind out backs to complain to our ISP.  That, too, was their right, however contemptuous a practice it may be.  But what IBM did in response to such an act of malice was even worse.

"Can you send us those six e-mails so we can see who the accusers are, and remove them from our list, IF they had indeed received the e-mail from us?" this writer asked.  After all, it's common knowledge that someone could have bounced their message off our e-mail ID without us knowing it - thus making a false accusation.  Such smear campaigns have been used before on the Internet against individuals and ISPs alike.  Or the complainer could have received our reports from third parties - again without our knowledge.

But the IBM manager said he could not forward those messages to us citing privacy concerns.

So let's summarize.  Some third parties with no business relationship with IBM (the IBM manager said the six messages came from outside the IBM network) accuse an IBM customer of something which the customer may or may not have done.  And what does IBM do?  Pulls the plug on the customer without notice, while refusing to identify the accuser(s)!   Wonder how many customers IBM Internet Group will have left after such business practices become known?

"We don't want to be the judge," the IBM manager explained when confronted with the ludicrousness of the above case.   "We can't afford the costs of investigating who is right and who is wrong.  We just want to fight spam aggressively.  And there can be no exceptions."

But isn't pulling the plug on a customer's service actually making a judgment?  The IBM Internet Group PRESUMED ITS CUSTOMER'S GUILT without investigation or trial!  Never mind that they also breached our (and therefore also IBM's) contract, and/or violated our constitutional rights of free speech, a right to fair trial, and caused a temporary injury to our business, since we could not communicate with our clients and readers for a period of time. 

More importantly perhaps from a businessman's perspective, IBM violated the common sense "ABCs" of customer relations.  It chose expedience over fairness and customer goodwill.  It used a shotgun to kill an ant (the ALLEGED spam) on an American flag (our constitutional rights) carried by a customer (yours truly). 

We also pointed to the IBM Internet manager that we are all for expedience.  And are also subjects of unsolicited commercial messages.  This writer, for example, gets over 100, sometimes over 200 messages, per day.  Many of them could be classified as "spam," by IBM's standards.  Yet we've NEVER EVER complained to any sender's ISP provider, and only on rare occasions request to be removed from senders' lists.  Not only because we value other people's right to speak out and voice their opinions, as guaranteed by the First Amendment.  But because it doesn't make COMMON SENSE to complain. 

You see, it takes only one key-stroke to erase an unwanted message, versus many more to write back to the sender and ask to be removed from his list.  And it takes even more time and trouble to complain to the ISP provider. 

Besides, going behind peoples' backs is just not our style.  When our children were small, we used to punish the tattle-taler, not the subject of his complaint.

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Anyway, that's it.  That's our "real world" story of Jan. 27, along with our "editorial."  Plus a footnote - since you're getting this report from our usual e-mail ID, our Internet service has been evidently restored.  Perhaps some of our "common sense" comments finally penetrated the heads of IBM's Internet Group managers. 

But now, we'd like to move on from this specific case to some bigger issues which arise from it.  And we'd like to hear what you think.  We'd appreciate it if you would take a moment to reply to this brief questionnaire:

1. DO YOU AGREE WITH HOW IBM (ACTING AS AN ISP) HANDLED THIS SITUATION?

               ________ (Yes)                _________ (No)

1-A. (Optional) If, "no," what would you have done differently?  (please elaborate below):

_________________________________________________________________

_________________________________________________________________

2. DO YOU FEEL IT IS IMPORTANT TO LEAVE THE PUBLIC NETWORKS LIKE THE INTERNET UNCONTROLLED BY GOVERNMENTS OR PROVIDERS?

               ________ (Yes)                _________ (No)

2-A. (Optional) If "no," what if any, parts of the Internet would you like to see regulated? (please elaborate below):

_________________________________________________________________

_________________________________________________________________

3. GIVEN A CONFLICT BETWEEN THE TWO, WHAT RIGHT IS MORE IMPORTANT?

               Right to e-mail privacy? ___________

               Freedom of speech and of the press? _________

Feel free to add any other salient comments.  Thank you.  Just be sure to let us know if you do NOT wish to have you name and e-mail address shown should we decide to publish the results of this little survey.   Thank you.

Bob Djurdjevic

Your TiM editor


SURVEY RESULTS

TiM GW Bulletin 98/2-1, Feb. 1, 1998

TiM READERS' FEEDBACK RE. "BIG BLUE'S KREMLIN JUSTICE"

One Hundred Percent of Responders Condemned IBM's Practices!!!

PHOENIX, Feb. 1, 1998 - We wish to thank all of you who have taken the time and trouble to respond to our call for your comments regarding IBM's handling of our Internet e-mail (see "Big Blue's 'Kremlin Justice:' Customer Presumed Guilty" - TiM GW Bulletin 98/1-14, 1/28/98).  For the sake of those who wrote back to us, but also as an educational lesson for other Internet users, here's what YOU've told us:

1. DO YOU AGREE WITH HOW IBM (ACTING AS AN ISP) HANDLED THIS SITUATION?

       0% percent of you responded as "Yes."

       100% percent of you responded as "No."

2. DO YOU FEEL IT IS IMPORTANT TO LEAVE THE PUBLIC NETWORKS LIKE THE INTERNET UNCONTROLLED BY GOVERNMENTS OR PROVIDERS?

       88% of you responded as "Yes." (i.e., NO controls or regulations needed).

       12% of you wanted to see some, if limited forms of control (e.g., porn).

3. GIVEN A CONFLICT BETWEEN THE TWO, WHAT RIGHT IS MORE IMPORTANT: RIGHT TO E-MAIL PRIVACY? FREEDOM OF SPEECH OR OF THE PRESS?

       23% of you responded that PRIVACY was more important.

       77% of you responded that FREEDOM OF SPEECH was more important.

THANK YOU TO ALL RESPONDENTS FOR SHARING YOUR COMMENTS WITH US!

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