More on E-Mail Bugs

Wired News: Follow Your E-Mail Everywhere .“Any time such information is passed back to a sender without the recipients’ knowledge and permission, it is a violation of their privacy,” said Lauren Weinstein, co-founder of the People for Internet Responsibility. “The whole thing is predicated on people not knowing what’s going on.”

“Web bugs” are tags placed in HTML code. You can’t see them when reading your e-mail, but they send a message back to the sender to say you’ve opened the mail.

This is a huge invasion of privacy, of course. But there’s an even worse possibility, if you consider the security issues this raises in other ways.

The only way to prevent this is to use a mail reader that only reads plain text. Unfortunately, the popular mail readers don’t allow you to turn off the HTML reading function, as far as I can tell. Why not?

I’ve asked Microsoft this question, given how many of us use Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express for e-mail. I’m also going to call Netscape and Qualcomm (Eurora). I’ll let you know what they say..

Amazon’s New Surveillance Potential

I spent some time yesterday looking into’s latest business move — its so-called Honor System, a way to create online tip jars and payments. In its current incarnation, privacy fears may be somewhat overblown.

But I don’t really trust Amazon. Part of this is my continuing disgust with the company’s unrepentant abuse of the patent system. But Amazon’s privacy record also leaves something to be desired.

More in my Wednesday column.


  • Amazon tried to persuade me that it had answered the concerns raised by Jason Catlett of JunkBusters, a pro-privacy organization. I asked Catlett if that was true. He said no, and referred me to this page on this Website (which was not responding when I tried it this morning).
  • At Dave Winer’s suggestion, I’ve also asked Amazon’s PR folks twice now whether they’re trying to obtain a patent on the Honor System. They haven’t responded to that question, even though they’ve answered other ones. I’ll let you know if and when they do respond. If they don’t, I’ll take the answer to be yes, that they are seeking a patent on the Honor System.

    Amazon’s Business Troubles

    Wall Street Journal: Amazon to charge publishers to promote books by e-mail. The Seattle-based Internet retailer recently notified publishers that it will begin to charge them as much as $10,000 per title in exchange for a better shot at having Amazon recommend their books in special e-mail promotions sent to customers.

    The sour odor of panic is beginning to waft from Amazon. The company is showing that it will consider any tactic, however ethically challenged, in order to make money.

    Amazon claims it’ll reject books from this program if it feels they’re unworthy. Maybe at first, but there will be an inescapable urge to find worthiness when the money is right.

    The company is under enormous pressure to show a profit, and soon. That’s the way things work now that Wall Street’s manic-depressive traders have stopped persuading investors to throw money at startups without considering if or when they’ll make a nickel.

    But in making a deal like this, Amazon is risking more trouble than the move is worth.


  • Gretchen Morgenson (New York Times –registration required): A No-Nonsense Portrait of Amazon. And unless the company can raise money from investors or get a loan from a bank, Mr. Suria stated that Amazon’s working capital would turn negative in the third quarter

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