There were two articles in the news yesterday that are not related in any detail except one. The first has to do with a notorious spammer and the second has to do with SCO.
First, the spam story. I had to clean it up a little bit, for Groklaw standards, so bear with me. Paul Sheehan, columnist at smh.com.au, writes about spam and how much he hates it. In the course of the article he writes about one spammer in particular:
"The liberating speed, convenience and cost-saving of the internet and its most popular tool, email, has been polluted by people like Shane Atkinson, a New Zealander who was outed last year as one of the principle generators of [redacted] enlargement ads, sending 100 million emails a day.
"Interviewed by a New Zealand newspaper, Atkinson said: 'If you don't want to receive spam, don't connect to the internet, or don't have an email address.'
"People wanted to kill him. There was online talk of leaving a horse's head on his bed. His telephone number and address were posted on the internet: [redacted]. I called the number. It turned out to be accurate. I got his answering machine, left my name, company, phone number and a question: Did he regard himself as a parasite?"
How do you feel about the columnist listing the spammer's home address and phone number? I redacted it, but he printed the entire address, including the house number. How do you feel about the columnist calling the spammer up and leaving a juvenile message on his answering machine and then writing a funny column about it? Is he a criminal and a thug? A cyberterrorist?
The very same day, there is another story about SCO's woes. It seems Blake Stowell and Darl are pitching the story about how some kids on Slashdot got his phone number and called his house. The article says they got dozens of malicious and obnoxious calls. One caller tried to call collect. They give one example. One left a message that said, "Sorry to say, but, you've been Slashdotted. Have a good Sunday."
Now I don't approve of that either. I genuinely don't. Whoever did that should be ashamed. But what is the difference? I mean what is the difference between the kids doing it and the antispammers and the columnist doing the same thing?
Now, I personally would never act that way. I don't even feel like that or talk like that. I don't make crank calls. I also don't get a lot of spam, so maybe if I was driven out of my mind, who knows? We're all just imperfect humans. But I can say I've never done anything like that. Well, not since I was a pre-teen, I haven't. Me and my girlfriends did go through a phase where we used to call people up and ask if their refrigerator was running, and then tell them they'd better go catch it. And then we'd hang up and giggle ourselves practically to death. I thought it was hilarious then, but now I have grown up, and I'm too busy dealing with SCO trolls on my website for any such childishness.
The Slashdot kids were wrong, but so is SCO. I'm sorry, but this has gotten out of all proportion, and in my opinion it seems part of a deliberate campaign to paint Linux users as thugs and criminals. Do criminals call your house collect? In an age of caller ID? Please.
May I remind everyone that all the experts I've seen recently say that MyDoom most likely came from professional spammers in Russia who want to steal your credit cards and spread Viagra spam by means of a worm written on Windows computers for your Windows email applications on your Windows computers to spread to other Windows computers? That doesn't sound like the Linux community to me. It probably doesn't to SCO either, so now it's a story about the Slashdot kids calling his house. I wish SCO would figure out a product to sell so they'd keep out of mischief. Their litigation business isn't keeping them sufficiently occupied.
The last time I visited Slashdot, it was jammed with Microsoft users, actually, many of them pretending to be Linux users and modding each other's comments up as "Insightful" every time they'd write something bad about Linux. That's why I stopped reading Slashdot every day. It got ruined by professional PR corporate shills pretending to be community members. And everybody else seemed to be 14. For all we know, the shills called SCO to give Linux a black eye. You think I'm kidding? I'm not.
The Linux community is not Slashdot, anyway. The Linux community encompasses a broad spectrum. May I please remind you that IBM is part of the Linux community? So is Amazon. So is Merrill Lynch. So is the Army, for crying out loud. I got an email the other day from a Congressional aide and he told me the DoD loves Linux. So does NASA. And entire countries. And the UN just told you Open Source is superior to proprietary software. Linux is mainstream now. It's not going away. And it's not a criminal gang. I'm a paralegal, for heaven's sake. I don't even speed on the highway.
Now, I can't prove that there isn't a single bad guy in the entire worldwide Linux community. But SCO can't prove there isn't a single criminal in the Windows and SCO world either, can they? Last I looked, Microsoft had been found guilty of violating the antitrust laws of the US, and the European Commission, they say, is about to declare Microsoft guilty again of violating some laws over in Europe. If we are going to talk about lawlessness, let's talk about it really. Lawlessness is lawlessness.
Do you remember the famous legal case where the government had placed a keylogger on New Jersey mobster Nicodemo S. Scarfo's computer? He was the alleged mastermind of a loan shark operation there. Guess what kind of computer that mobster liked to use? Yes, he was a Windows user. So was another bad guy you can read about in a PDF defense document available in the Wired story about Scarfo. He used an IBM Thinkpad. Now, ask yourself: would it be reasonable if Linus started calling up the press and telling them that the Windows community is made up of gangsters? What would you think of reporters who wrote such a story? Wait, you say, Scarfo *was* a gangster and he *did* use Windows.
See how stupid that sounds?
You can't blame the entire community of Windows computer users because one or two or even a hundred are criminals. In fact, there are more than a hundred and you don't blame Windows. "Why, I use Windows myself", you might may cry out in protest, "and I'm no criminal." That's right. You can't blame an entire group for the actions of an individual, just because of the computer operating system they choose. It wouldn't be fair and it wouldn't be accurate.
What if it really happened though? What if Linus did that? And every time there was a hint of wrongdoing and the finger pointed to someone using a Windows computer, there was Linus, on the phone again, telling you reporters all about it, with moral indignation too. And you reporters wrote up stories with headlines that said, "Another Windows Mobster Attacks Innocent Penguins at Play." And there you would read another unfair Linus quotation all about how the Windows community is getting out of control, and then I would pop up saying that the Windows community needs to police itself better or it will find it has lost all credibility with business. Maybe Bruce Perens then sends a letter to Congress, asking that something be done about Windows mobsters who are endangering our American way of life and our economy too with their loan-sharking activities.
Now, you're a Windows user, reading these stories calling you a member of a criminal group, and your mom uses Windows. (Actually, mine really does. Sigh.) How do you feel? Maybe after a while you get so sick of it, and frustrated from the injustice of it, you write a letter to the editor. Maybe he writes you back a form letter or a dear-John-get-lost letter. And the slanted stories just keep on showing up, as if you'd never pointed out the facts. After a while, do you think it might start to get to you? Would Linus be in the right to do that? Morally, I mean?
In that same sense, what SCO is doing with their FUD is immoral. It is. They need to back off and play fair.
A bunch of silly teenagers making crank calls just like you used to do when you were a stupid kid isn't in the same league as Russian mobsters, and SCO should be ashamed of itself for trying to make you think so.
That's not to say anyone approves of crank calls. I don't. My parents were mighty upset with me, and I learned my lesson. No doubt there are some parents out there dealing with some foolishness right about now in their homes. But let's keep this in proportion, shall we? Everybody needs to calm down and remember: we are all human beings here.