Friday, November 7, 2008

Predatory Chutzpah

Now that Barack Obama has won the election, we may start to see a few signs of promising audacity again. One of these may take place through his effort to provide more transparency in government operations by using the Internet as a window on those operations. Under the philosophy that transparency begins at home, the Obama team has set up a Web site through which the public may monitor (and possibly participate in) the transition processes. Here is how BBC NEWS has reported this move:

Barack Obama is turning to the web as he prepares to become US president.

Via a website called, the Obama campaign plans to provide a guide to the transition process.

The site also solicits suggestions from US citizens about their vision for America, and lets them apply for a post with the new administration.

This is definitely a first step in a good direction, at least as long as it is not mistaken for the entire journey (honoring the spirit of Lao Tzu). Having visited the site, my first observation is that, while there are opportunities for input (such as the contribution of "vision statements" and job applications), there are not (yet?) opportunities for conversation (the most salient example being a blog site that does not accept comments). I can understand not jumping into conversation feet first. The new Administration will be playing to a rather large population of Web-savvy readers; and that population may well involve conversation management on a scale beyond what one encounters on Truthdig or The Huffington Post.

There is also the problem that any invitation to participation usually also constitutes an invitation to predation. As I documented last March, even writing about predation seemed to be enough to trigger a comment that, itself, was predatory in nature. Thus, the BBC is to be credited for using the concluding paragraphs of their report to address this new breed of predatory risks:

It is not just Barack Obama who is using the net to get his message across. Hi-tech criminals are also capitalising on his victory in an attempt to trick web users into handing over valuable information.

F-Secure found a booby-trapped page claiming to host a copy of Obama's acceptance speech that prompted visitors to update their Flash video player before viewing the video clip. Anyone downloading and installing the supposed update would fall victim to a virus that stole bank login details.

"E-mail users who are eager to get the latest scoop on Obama's monumental presidential win should be careful that they are not being tricked by conniving cybercriminals," said Graham Cluley from Sophos.

The security firm also came across junk mail messages claiming that either Barack Obama or John McCain had died. Those following the links in these junk messages would find themselves on the website of a Canadian pharmacist.

In the run up to the US election, security firm Symantec said it had found junk mail messages that posed as a survey of voter attitudes that tried to gather and steal personal data.

Another spam message offered a free "Barackumentary" on DVD, that users could get by providing credit card and other personal details.

If this is a new breed of predation, I also see it as a new breed of chutzpah, deliberately capitalizing on those who will see the Internet as a gateway for their own participation of the "new day" of the new Administration. Thus, in the spirit of my giving a Chutzpah of the Week award to the predator who had exploited my "Predatory Practices on the Internet," post, this week's award will be assigned to the new generation of anonymous predators determined to turn the audacity of hope into the audacity of victimization.

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