Issue #33
4 November 1996
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Aardvark

Edition #33

COME ON XTRA - THAT'S DEVIOUS!
Hands up all those who dropped in and took a look at the met-service's Java-powered Weather Now applet on the Xtra site. Hands up those who thought it was neat enough to use it on a regular basis..

Well too bad... it's now only available if you're prepared to pay. So what? The Met service charges for this type of info already through it's 0900 number and I've got nothing against paying for something if it has a value - so why have several readers already sent letters of complaint to Aardvark?

Well the real rub comes from the way in which net-users are "tricked" (perhaps accidentally) into filling out a thinly disguised survey form.

An attempt to access the Weather Now service results in this screen asks for your Xtra ID and password, also saying that if you don't have one then "please click on the Register button and just fill in some simple details". Sounds safe enough eh? No mention of any charges or costs involved.

Clicking on the Register button will take you to another form which again, makes no mention of any charges associated with this service. It's headed "User Registration Form" and simply says that "some of the areas require user registration". The form asks for all sorts of info such as your name, physical address, your email address, your connection speed, your weekly internet usage, how long you've been using the web and how you came to hear about Xtra.

Remember - up to this point there still hasn't even been a hint that any form of charge is associated with accessing the Met Service information - 99.9% of all users will have simply assumed that this is just another of the many the registration processes you sometimes have to go through to gain access to a free service.

Another important thing to note... at the top of the page it is claimed that "The informat  ion [sic] gathered will be used to improve the site. All information will remain conf  idential [sic]". However, it then tells you that unless you take the extra step of expressing your desire not to be contacted (by sending an email to Sheila@xtra.co.nz), you'll will receive direct mailing (aka - unsolicited commercial email) about "offers from New Zealan  d [sic] Telecom".

Anyway... hit "Submit" and your details are safely stored away on Xtra's server. But... do you arrive at the Met Service site? No.. you are told "You do not have a payment method defined" and invited to give your credit-card details.

Now maybe all of this is simply an oversight on Xtra's part (I'm feeling charitable). Perhaps it's not a deliberate deception - after all, the "Registration Form" carries a "Copyright © 1995,1996" message and it asks for your State so maybe it's simply an old pre-packaged system that's been thrown into operation with minimal redesign or checking.

Regardless of the intent I have to say...

Boo-hiss Xtra! At no time up to this point was it even suggested that the service would require a payment of any kind. How many poor unsuspecting net users have been duped into filling out the "Registration Form" thinking that they would, in return, receive access to the Met Service site? Could this be a covert attempt to build up a list of email addresses for marketing purposes - surely not!

Boo-hiss Xtra! Why should respondants to your form have to go through the laborious task of emailing Sheila so as not to be bombed with unsolicited commercial email from Telecom when a simple check-box on the form would have achieved the same result? Could it be that Xtra are hoping that most people will simply be so pee'd off when the reach the "disappointment page" that they'll forget all about emailing Sheila and therefore be "willing victims" for inclusion in a direct-marketing list of email addresses - surely not!

Fix it quick!

ALTAVISTA VERSUS ALTAVISTA
You don't have to use the web very long to realise that AltaVista is one of the best search engines around. Most people quickly add its URL to their bookmark list - but what happens if you are using someone else's computer and they don't have it bookmarked? What's the URL for AltaVista? Try www.altavista.com and see what you get. It does look vaguely familiar - but what's that? ADVERTISING? You've never seen advertising on Alta Vista before have you? And where have the NZ Mountains gone? What's going on?

Well it seems that back in March, Digital purchased all rights to the name AltaVista from AltaVista Technology (who already had the domain name www.altavista.com). All rights that is except for AVT's right to continue using the domain name and its own company name.

The smart little crooks at AVT however have decided that it might be a good idea to "pass off" there service as the "real" AltaVista service operated by Digital - and to capitalise on the reputation of that site by selling advertising. Obviously Digital are not best pleased and they're suing for trademark infringement and breach of contract.

Yet another victory for the lawyers!

DON'T STEAL THAT IMAGE!
So you see a nice GIF or JPEG on a web page somewhere and think "that'd look neat on my page" so you do a quick "save as" and include it in your own glorious creation. With tens of millions of individual pages on the web, what's the chance that the owner of that image is going to find yours - and hey, you can always crop it or do some image crunching in Paintshop or the like so that it's not pixel-for-pixel identical to the original.

"Rrrrrrrr" look out - the cybercops are gonna knock on your door and it's all thanks to digital watermarks.

Digital watermarks? Yep - several companies either have, or are developing systems that allow images to be protected by imbedding extra "invisible" information. Some of this stuff is so smart that when a marked image is loaded into a compatible viewer, the URL of the original site's page is displayed!

Some of the companies working on this technology include Adobe, Corel, and Digimarc

So... if you'd like to "borrow" a picture from someone else's site I suggest that you ask permission first.

I SAID IT WOULD HAPPEN
Regular Aardvark readers will recall that some months ago I suggested that eventually advertising might become an omnipresent part of your web-browsing activities and that we might see more in the way of proprietary browser programs designed to "lock" the advertising messages onto your screen.

Well HyperNet in Japan seem to have done just that. Although it's not particularly obvious0 exactly how the system works, several facts are clear. You end up with a window on your screen which contains a constant stream of ads and you get to surf the web for free in return. On the Hypernet web site they state that the minimum specs are a Mac with 16MB but then the demo screens clearly show a Win'95 version of the system - go figure.

Anyway - they're looking to license the system into the USA and so I guess eventually we can expect to see it, or something similar down here.

VOYAGER'S BIG NET-TELEPHONY PUSH, WHERE DID IT GO?
Last week Voyager was promising us that we'd see something big in the area of internet telephony over the weekend but it can't of been that big because nobody saw anything. Perhaps it was because of the hassles over the go/no-go status of their 0800 service or maybe they thought that the "toll-free Monday" might have degraded system performance to the point where internet telephony may not have been practical. Anyway - talk is that we can expect to see something in this area from Voyager "Real Soon Now".

RIGHT OF REPLY
Anyone mentioned by Aardvark who feels that they have been misrepresented or who wish a "right of reply" are invited to send email to me at ror@aardvark.co.nz and the contents of that email will be printed verbatim for all to read.

RIGHT OF REPLY
Nothing this week

FROM THE "I CAN'T BELIEVE IT'S TRUE" DEPARTMENT:

So often people start out with good intent and create web pages that show potential. Unfortunately, as we all know, unless a page's content is constantly changing there's often very little chance that people will return regularly - if at all.

Here's an example - why not check it out for:

A trip back in time..

This is not only a waste of web space - but it also reflects badly on the business it purports to represent.

So You Don't Forget!
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The entire contents of this publication are copyright 1996 to Bruce Simpson, all rights reserved. Don't copy it without my permission - just ask, I'm unlikely to refuse any reasonable request.


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