Al-Qaeda Uses Orkut

Yesterday, USA Today posted a story titled “Osama bin Laden fan clubs build online communities” which outlines how community sites such as MySpace and Orkut, powerful community-building tools, aren’t just for teenagers and business people seeking connections. The article claims, “one of the largest insurgency groups in Iraq”, the Islamic Army, has ties with the most popular Osama bin Laden community on Orkut.

The purpose of these communities appears to be similar to any other community with less detestable aims: to attract new members who agree with each other about certain ideas. It doesn’t concern me when people organize to worship George Lucas. It does worry me when people gather around the idea of killing me and everyone I know.

After the 2004 election, no one can be blind to the Internet being a powerful tool for political efforts. It’s obvious that in addition to organizing rallies, the Internet can also help organize acts of violence. The Internet is vast and uncontrolled, exactly as it was designed to be. We shouldn’t want it otherwise. But, as Spider-man would say, with great power comes great responsibility. In other words, the Internet, like life, allows you to be good or evil. Don’t be evil.

Unfortunately, Google appears to be looking the other way, probably out of neglect. I can imagine it’s a big problem to sift through all the activity going on. And service providers have traditionally avoided attacks from the government by claiming they do no editing. But Google does edit some material if it violates their terms of membership. And Google did remove some material after USA Today brought it to their attention. I’m sure they just aren’t willing to put the resources behind keeping the system free of this junk.

On the other hand, you can’t just wander into Orkut. You must be invited. The site itself claims this is a tactic for keeping traffic on the site low. Orkut is not the same as MySpace. It should be small enough for Google to manage.

Some argue that this is a free speech issue. It isn’t. Google isn’t the government. They have no obligation to protect free speech on their services, and spokeswoman Debbie Frost says as much.

Google ought to be halting any activity on their service that encourages their own destruction. I suspect there aren’t any Orkut communities dedicated to digging up dirt on Google employees, or discovering Google’s trade secrets, or organizing attacks on Google facilities. Yet they allow more general efforts to continue.

Google ought to be cooperating with law enforcement to hand over all the information in these communities to aid the effort in stopping these terrorists. Maybe they are and just don’t want to admit it. They famously cooperated with China in censoring part of the Internet for Chinese people, but just as famously fought our government on handing over aggregated search data. Since the second act seemed to be a PR move to counteract the first, I suspect if they are pushed on this issue, they will claim they are upholding freedom of speech and privacy.

News is Evil

Last year, I decided to try I bought David Allen’s Getting Things Done audiobook. I’d already read the printed book, but I figured the audiobook would be a good way to refresh the ideas. The download was was same cost as if I’d bought CDs. OK, but it’s immediately usuable, right? No, there’s crazy DRM on the downloads. My MP3 player (Creative Zen) doesn’t have the Microsoft PlaysForSure firmware, so the software wouldn’t let me copy the audio to the device. It would let me burn CDs, which I could turn around and rip into MP3s to put on my MP3 player. It’s a brilliant system. This is is why I think is stupid.

I recently decided is evil because they will not stop spamming me. On average, I think I get about one email a day from them. I got tired of that, so I logged in told them to stop sending email (unsubscribe). The emails kept coming. I used the “forgot password” (for surely I had forgotten it), and discovered there were now two accounts pointing to my email address. What?!? OK, so I got into each account and set the email address to something bogus. Guess what? The emails keep coming.
Of course, they have some message in the spam about how I should send send an email to to stop getting emails. Nothing suggests to me that it would be effective. Like other spammers, it would probably encourage them. Oh, well. I can always just filter them into the junk folder.

This is not the way to win friends and influence people…it is a way to make enemies and influence people. They have irritated me enough to share this story. I bet I’m not the only one.


Montserrat is spamming me!

This is weird. Suddenly, I started getting comment spam through the random generators. I understand comment spam coming from the WordPress install or from the Drupal install that runs Clear Night Sky. Both are well-known blogging platforms, and you can figure that a comment posted will appear on the site (except that I moderate all comments on this site). But the comment button from the random generators? They just generate emails to me. Every few months I pick the funniest ones and post them to the Random Generators Blog, but there’s no hope for these guys that somehow I’d mistake their comments for anything other than spam.

So, I tried changing the name of the action module, and I tried adding a hidden variable to the form. It’s not a simple hack that submits to the form action. It must be a real person or a relatively sophisticated robot that reads the form page and then submits. I think it’s real people, probably in some distant place where people get paid to paste spam into comment forms.

I looked at the HTTP headers coming from these submits and they all go through proxies, presumably to mask that they are coming from Montserrat, a tiny Caribbean island. But going through proxies means I get a very different set of HTTP headers which are somewhat mangled. So, I tweaked the code to look for one of the consistent differences. Those people now get a message that the comment went through, but email really gets sent. Plus, I added a 20 second delay.

I hope they don’t read this blog. ūüôā


WordPress Upgraded to 2.0

It seemed like a good idea, but it wasn’t a super smooth upgrade. I guess I’m experiencing a (somehwhat) known bug around permalinks that are three layers deep.

Creative Pursuits


I guess Google finally indexed the gigantic list of words you can download from the Random Generators. Either that, or playing Gogglewhack has become more popular. Anyway, I’ve been getting emails in the past few months about how my site is a Googlewhack.

It’s just that there are so many words in the list, there’s bound to be two in combination that don’t appear anywhere else in the Google index. However, I don’t think my site really does count. Rule number 3 is significant.

3. Google shows you an excerpt of the page you whacked. Look at that text. If it’s merely a list of words (such as a bibliography, concordance, encyclopedia, glossary, thesaurus, dictionary, domain names, or plain old machine-generated random garbage), No Whack For You!

Clearly, the page that dumps the entire dictionary of words is disqualified. Of course, any given random output from one of the generators could combine two words to form a transient Googlewhack. In the Google results, you’ll see something that qualifies. When you click to the site, it’s different.

Perhaps the Googlewhack masters should consider this vagueness in the rules. Perhaps they have already and I’m too lazy to figure that out.

Anyway, if you feel the need to tell me I’m a Googlewhack, you might as well note it as a comment to this post.