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Snake Oil Lists, Blacklists, and Anonymity

At 4:16 PM 9/23/96, Mark Rogaski wrote:

>An entity claiming to be Lance Cottrell wrote:

>: I agree in principle, but for the foreseeable future I think the list will
>: be a "good thing".
>As long as the descriptions of the products are comprehensive.  Concern
>about legal issues has been expressed from the beginning.  But, I don't
>think that libel/slander laws will be a stumbling block, as long as
>the publication is similar in nature to "Consumer Reports" or somesuch.

I have to agree with Lance that the "ratings list" is more important and
more useful than the "FAQ." (My comments about the "Snake Oil FAQ" were
directed towards the _educational_ aspects of the FAQ, which I believe are
covering territory already well-covered by good books and existing FAQs. A
list of thumbs ups and thumbs downs, dynamically changing, is another
matter--it is _not_ something covered in published books, due to the time
factor, and would be a contribution.)

However, bear in mind that such a list of products could involve legal
battles. The mention of "Consumer Reports" is apropos of this. CR has been
sued many times, and has a staff of lawyers both reviewing all articles
they post for any hint of litigatable (?) reviews, and for dealing with the
corporate lawyers of companies whose products did not fare well in the CR
reviews. (Recall certain high-profile cases such as the sport utility
vehicle "roll-over" tests.)

Also, one of the audio magazines (or possibly even CR itself...my memory
has faded) was sued in the 1970s by Bose Corporation for an unflattering
review of Bose's flagship loudspeakers, the Bose 901s. The magazine
basically said Bose's "direct-reflecting" multipattern array of small cones
was "snake oil." (I don't know if the mag used this term, but this is what
they said. And "snake oil" is a term used a _lot_ in the audio community,
where snake oil salesmen sell things like the "Tice Clock," an ordinary LED
clock ($7 at Radio Shack) which has been "cryogenically processed" and
which, Tice claims, when plugged in to any wall outlet in the listening
room will improve the soundstage, improve the sound by interpolating bits
into the harsh digital stream, blah blah blah. Of course, Tice charges $200
for their special snake oil clock.)

Back to the list of products. It would be best to handle it through an
anonymous remailer...what others do with it, in terms of reposting it to
public newsgroups  (where Deja News, Yahoo, Alta Vista, etc. could find
it), is their business.

Reviews should be digitally-signed, probably by pseudonyms. The "anonymous
reviewers" would actually be pseudonymous, and reputations would develop
over time. (TANSTAAFL)

The BlackNet model (message pools) could be used to get responses (letters
to the editor?) back from customers, so that one might see messages like:

"My company bought 5 copies of the SnakeTronics ScrambleMatic product, and
found the key is stored in plaintext in the scramble.config file! Needless
to say, we have stopped using ScrambleMatic and have asked SnakeTronics for
our money back! signed, DisgruntledUser."

(In other words, a formal rating or evaluation, perhaps from A to F, or 10
to -10, etc., could be supplemented with "blurbs," both positive and
negative, from users.)

The reason I recommend anonymous remailer distribution, and pseudonyms, is
because of the litigation issue. Even if reviewers are not sued often, the
threat of a suit influences reviews, which is why most reviews in most mags
are puff pieces (glowing reviews, often strongly correlated with who is
advertising in the mag). One can imagine Matt Blaze, for example, choosing
to say _nothing_ about SnakeTronics' ScrambleMatic, for fear (justified)
that he might get letters from their lawyers, thus taking up his time and
even eventually landing him in court.

Also, this sort of "blacklist" paves the way for similar
anonymously-situated blacklists of doctors, lawyers, etc., and you can bet
your last dollar that a list of "bad doctors" would be aggressively pursued
in the courts of all major countries! Hence the use of remailers and
BlackNet-style message pools will be paramount for such things.

--Tim May

We got computers, we're tapping phone lines, I know that that ain't allowed.
Timothy C. May              | Crypto Anarchy: encryption, digital money,
[email protected]  408-728-0152 | anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero
W.A.S.T.E.: Corralitos, CA  | knowledge, reputations, information markets,
Higher Power: 2^1,257,787-1 | black markets, collapse of governments.
"National borders aren't even speed bumps on the information superhighway."