Adam Rice

My life and the world around me

Category: net stuff (page 4 of 9)

Communications vs Telephony

There’s an interesting case brewing right now between voice-over-IP (VoIP) services that provide something like telephony without necessarily using phone service, and state regulators that want to tax these services.

There’s a fundamental old-world/new-world divide here.

In the old world, if you wanted to communicate, you got a phone and talked with people. In the new world, if you want to communicate, you can get some form of Internet access–which could be over a plain-old phone line, a DSL line (which almost invariably comes with phone service attached), cable modem, or the wifi signal at your neighborhood coffee shop (if you want to get exotic, there are more options)–and then you use some kind of communications service (AKA the application layer)–email, ICQ, web-based forums, and now, VoIP. So where the service and the access used to be tied together and inherent in the technology, today, voice is just another service on a layer that is more or less independent, on top of the medium transporting it.

The old-world regulatory regime can’t keep up with that, so it needs to change. The proposed taxes on VoIP are already somewhat arbitrary in that they really don’t cover all VoIP applications. Anyone can download a video chat program (like iChat AV). This gives service that’s an awful lot like the services that regulators want to tax, but is completely outside their control. Regulators are only concerned with services that act like general-purpose telephony, and can interact with the public phone network. In the short term, one might argue that it’s OK to treat services that act as gateways between the traditional phone network and the Internet as telephony providers; in the long term, that won’t work, because more and more communications will move onto the Internet.

Some of those taxes are specifically for the common good–the charge for 911 service, taxes to subsidize phones for poor people and provide Internet access to libraries. Others just go into the pot. But let’s assume that they’re all necessary. How would they get divvied up under a new-world regulatory regime? By taxing the VoIP at the application layer? This is a huge can of worms that I would hate to open up, as it would mandate spyware on your computer to keep track of whether you use it for voice services. This would be even worse than the broadcast flag. Taxing the physical layer? This strikes me as closer to what we have now, and less problematic in some ways, but moreso in others. Open wifi nodes are already prevalent, and are becoming moreso. In fact, some cities are installing them in public places for public access, making it easy for people nearby to get a free ride. This is for the good, but if the node’s connection carries all the tax, it will tend to increase the number of free riders and decrease the number of nodes, which is bad.

I really don’t have the answers to this, but it’s an interesting question. One thing I am sure of is that we need to recognize the application/connection separation and allow VoIP to grow.

Tim Bray on spam

Tim Bray comes up with a plan for spam that is similar to my previous idea–paying to send e-mail–but doesn’t require any architectural changes to the Internet.

His idea can be taken a step further: once you’ve established friendly communications with someone, you could set up your mail filters to accept unpaid e-mail from that person.

ICQ spam

Got my first piece of ICQ spam this morning. Sheesh.

Let’s beat on Verisign

Chip has been doing a good job of beating the drum on Verisign’s offensive “typojacking” (great word) of all unassigned domain names on the Internet. Meaning, for example, if you accidentally type “” into your browser, you are taken to a Verisign page that tell you “perhaps you meant one of these pages.” Prima facie, that actually sounds helpful, but there are serious problems with it. The architecture of the Internet depends on the ability to check whether a domain name is valid or not. This trick stymies that ability. It’s also sleazy, because Verisign can monetize your typos: rather than pointing you to the most likely correct spelling, they can suggest you visit sponsoring sites that seem like likely hits.

And finally, simply by visiting Verisign’s website, you are agreeing to their terms of service. There may have been a tattered fig leaf of respectability for that stunt when you had to intentionally go to their site, but that fig leaf is completely gone now. One harassment tactic that geeks could take would be to write them, saying “I came to your site completely by accident, and I do not agree to your terms of service. Please make it so that I can no longer accidentally violate your TOS.”

In fact, now that I think about it, I wonder if we can write up a sort of “reverse-TOS”–that is, we could file a TOS (hidden in a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard) reading something like “responding to any HTTP GET or POST requests originating from my computer constitutes acceptance of these terms of service,” which might include terms like free ice cream delivered daily for the next year.

Spam report

I haven’t been monitoring the amount of spam that gets nailed by spamassassin (it’s a lot), but in the past two weeks, 114 pieces of spam have slipped past it. Of those, I find it amusing that 10 are offering anti-spam software.

Yet another social network

Friendsurfer. How many of these things are there–excluding the numerous parody sites?

This one caught my eye because it shows a fire-twirler in its banner graphic. Friendster has been notably popular among my fire-freak friends–I wonder if there’s any connection.

Fighting back at spam

Paul Graham suggests that when your spam filter identifies a message as probable spam that it automatically ping any URLs mentioned in the message–perhaps repeatedly–to drive up the spammer’s web-hosting bandwidth costs. If lots of people do it, spam suddenly gets much more expensive to send. I like this–it fights fire with fire.

Speedy service

I posted a lazyweb request concerning the creation of foaf files a couple days ago. One of the guys who appears to be the prime movers in the world of foaf, Jim Ley, whipped together a little converter that takes tabbed data and spits out the “knows” portion of a foaf file. You’ll probably want to use the foafamatic to create a shell foaf file with your own data and maybe one friend , then export your contact data from whatever dark cave you store it in into tabular form and run it through Jim’s widget, and finally merge the two. A little clunky, yes, but a big improvement over what we had before.

Once your done, check out your handiwork in the foaf explorer.

Lazyweb: a better foaf-file maker

Making good FOAF files is a pain. There’s the foaf-a-matic web page, that lets you type stuff in and formats it for you, but who wants to re-type all that data? There’s a Java-based successor, but that’s overkill, and still doesn’t have any way to import data, as far as I can tell.

Thanks to Address Book Exporter, it’s easy for me to extract data from my address book in a tabular form. I suspect that most people interested in using FOAF probably already have their data typed in somewhere, and would be able to extract it in this form if needed. From there, it would be pretty easy to use GREP to mark up the file into a usable FOAF file, except for the sha1 e-mail address encoding (which is not required, but is the responsible thing to do). And not everyone would be comfortable writing a GREP pattern, for that matter.

What we need is a little web utility that ingests tab-delimited text files and spits out FOAF files. I know it can be done–it’s just out of my reach.

Spam in my name and challenge-response

I recently discovered that some spam was being sent with my address as the return address–the bounces were coming to me.

Other than pissing me off, I wasn’t sure what those smegma-sucking spamming scumbags hoped to accomplish by doing this. Now I have an idea: it may be to undermine challenge-response spam-blocking systems.

These challenge-response systems are a klunky way of dealing with spam: if Alice sends Bob an e-mail, and she’s not on Bob’s whitelist, the system sends Alice an automated response asking her to visit a web page and prove that she’s a real human being worthy of Bob’s valuable attention. This usually involves looking at a graphic showing distorted text, and typing the text into a box.

Even if this all works according to plan (and there are plenty of reasons why it might not), it’s very annoying. But as soon as spammers start sending out e-mail purporting to come from real people, it really goes to hell:

  • If I am already whitelisted with a C/R service, the spam gets a free pass.
  • If I am not already whitelisted with a C/R service, the challenge comes to me. Maybe I’ll respond correctly, in which case the spam gets a free pass
  • Or maybe I won’t respond, or (acting mischievously or perversely) respond incorrectly, in which case the spam is blocked, but so is any e-mail I might want to send to any person using that system in the future.
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