The Bush-Cheney and Kerry-Edwards presidential campaigns plan to let loose quite a campaign advertising blitz on TV watchers this August, but those who think they can escape to a more peaceful online sanctuary have another thing coming.
Web sites like washingtonpost.com, NYTimes.com and MSNBC.com are mounting their strongest push yet into the political advertising business, hoping that they can get their share of the $1.25 billion total that political groups are expected to spend this year, as post.com's Brian Krebsreported in a story that debuted late last week.
Krebs discovered that online newsrooms are eager to get a piece of the pie, but want to do it without opening themselves up to accusations of bias. As a result, they have developed policies on what kinds of ads to accept, where to place them on the site and how to disclose who paid for them. What's most interesting, however, is that out of the 15 news sites interviewed for the story, few of them had identical policies. Some sites take it up on themselves to vet an ad's veracity; others refuse to run political ads on the same page as political news; still others run them wherever they can.
Representatives of online news trade groups said that Internet Web sites are capable of determining their own ad policies to guard their reputations as objective information sources, but several lawmakers, including Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) want to change that. Wyden and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are sponsoring legislation that would force Web sites to obey the "Stand by Your Ad" requirement that applies to television and radio. The rule requires candidates to say or write that they "approved of this ad" in order for it to qualify for the lowest advertising rates that media outlets offer.
Phisher for President?
Here's one group of political aspirants who won't stand by their ads. Online security firm SurfControl Inc. reported that it received two e-mails soliciting donations for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry's (D) presidential campaign. Upon closer examination, the e-mails provide links to a Web site based in India -- since shut down -- that has absolutely nothing to do with the Kerry campaign. The site, SurfControl said, is run by Internet "phishing" scammers who develop Web sites designed to look like legitimate sites that try to trick people into handing over their credit cards and other personal data. SurfControl said it has received only two of the e-mails so far, both of which arrived on Sunday, shortly after the close of the Democratic National Convention. The Kerry campaign told Reuters that it has asked the Justice Department to investigate.
Washington Post Leslie Walker wrote her most recent ".com" column about the growing menace of phishing, citing a Gartner Inc. study from May that estimates that 57 million U.S. adults have received a phishing e-mail, and that 1.8 million of them had actually handed over personal information. Check out washingtonpost.com's primer for tips on how to avoid phishing scams and online fraud.
Microsoft Shakes It Up
Microsoft Corp. has made a ritual out of releasing monthly bundles of patches that fix software flaws in its software, especially versions of its Windows operating system. The patches, of course, are designed primarily to keep hackers and online thieves from using those weaknesses to spy on what people do on their PCs. Microsoft didn't wait around until its usual time (the second Tuesday of every month) to release the latest bundle, all of which repair "critical" flaws in its Internet Explorer Web browser. Stephen Toulouse, Microsoft's security manager, said the threat was severe enough that the company couldn't wait almost two more weeks for the normal release date. Windows users, you know what that means: Go to Microsoft's security site or the Windows Update Web site and download and install those patches.
Iraqi Mission: Accomplished
The Web site for Iraq's mission to the United Nations is back online. The site was up and running for the beginning of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, but went down after being overloaded by visitors and exceeding its bandwidth capacity. The site is pretty sparse right now, promising to offer links to sites related to Iraq as well as news about the country. It also features a graphic of a decidedly European woman busy at her Macintosh. The site also encourages people to register for a username and password, but then denies access to parts of the site that appear to be worth visiting.
The Uruklink.net Web site, formerly run by Saddam Hussein's State Company for Information Services, is back online. It used to be available in English and Arabic, but is now almost entirely in Arabic.
– Robert MacMillan, washingtonpost.com Tech Policy Editor
Piracy and Privacy, Minnesota-Style
Music industry lawyers and free speech advocates are keeping their eyes on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel is expected to rule as soon as this month on whether the Recording Industry of America can use a controversial 1998 copyright law to subpoena Internet service provider Charter Communications for the names of subscribers suspected of illegally trading copyrighted music on its network.
A D.C. appeals court last December ruled that the RIAA could not take similar action against telecommunications giant Verizon because the company could not be held responsible for all the material that subscribers pass through its network. If the 8th Circuit panel rules in the RIAA's favor, legal experts say, the Verizon case is more likely to wind up going to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The subpoenas were a powerful tool in the music industry's fight against piracy. The RIAA previously presented ISPs with unique Internet protocol (IP) numbers linked to their customers and demand that they turn over the names corresponding to those addresses. After the D.C. circuit ruling, the RIAA was forced take the more expensive approach of filing "John Doe" lawsuits and asking a judge to order that the names be released.
– David McGuire, washingtonpost.com Staff Writer