September 27, 2003

SiteFinder II?

Versign's SiteFinder appears to be based on the idea that anything on the internet that is not explicitly prohibited is thereby permissible.

For the moment let's put aside Verisign's monopoly position and the special responsibilities and limitations on behavior that derive from that position.  And let's also put aside any patents that may be lurking out there that might cover SiteFinder.

If we assume, for the sake of discussion, that Versign's has correctly asserted that there are few bounds on what it can do on the internet, then where could Verisign go with something that I'll call SiteFinder II?

It would be quite easy for Versign to modify its existing SiteFinder service so that instead of returning the true and unmodified URL's that lead directly to the web sites that a user selects, SiteFinder II could return URL's that lead to Verisign operated proxy servers that themselves obtain the desired materials and then present them to the user.

This is arguably similar to explicit proxying through tools such as Squid or implicit proxying through any number of so-called "transparent" web caches.  However it would be of a much greater scope - once a user made a typo in name, all subsequent web access could be mediated this still hypothetical SiteFinder II.

With that mechanism, Verisign could then do even more intensive data mining of user's web activities than it does in SiteFinder I with its simple web-bug and activity logs.  SiteFinder II could read every word presented to millions of unsuspecting users and view every picture seen by those users.  The revenue that SiteFinder II could produce could dwarf the already significant potential revenues of SiteFinder I.  And such a system would deserve to be named BigBrother rather than SiteFinder.

The technology for this hypothetical SiteFinder II is easy to create, or buy, using already existing commercial off-the-shelf products.  If Verisign is right in its assertion that it has the free right to deploy SiteFinder I, there is really nothing to prevent it from going further with even more invasive "products" such as the hypothetical SiteFinder II that I have described.

Posted by karl at September 27, 2003 2:43 AM