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Mark Grossman

Tech Vocabulary

5 November 2004

The vocabulary of the tech world is ever evolving and there's always something new to learn. Writing a column like this in the mid '90s, I can remember defining the "Internet" and "bandwidth." ("Bandwidth" is the thing I lack when my kids call me at the office with a homework question.) Now we have new words and maybe we need to create some new crimes to go with them.

Let's start with "phishing." It's pronounced like the thing you do with a pole. The word derives its meaning from the idea of "phishing" for information.

"Phishing" is what's happening when you receive an official looking e-mail from a Citibank, BestBuy or other reputable company, but it's not from that company. The e-mail will typically say something like "you urgently need to update your account information."

The way it works is that the e-mail asks you to click a link which takes you to a legitimate looking Web site. Once there, it asks you for information like your credit card number, your mother's maiden name (this one seems like it's life's master password) and other personal information so that can update your file.

Guess what. . . . You've been scammed. You just gave valuable private information to thieves.

While there are laws against things like wire fraud, computer fraud and credit card fraud, our laws are a beat behind the bad guys. We need legislation aimed squarely at "phishing." You can find more information at

"Spim" is relatively new and a growing problem. "Spim" is to instant messaging as "spam" is to e-mail. A "spim" is an unsolicited commercial instant message. It just pops up during an instant messenger conversation with someone.

Experts estimate that 70 percent of spim is pornography-related. It's yet another example of unwelcome outsiders invading our desktops.

If you're a regular reader of my columns, you know that one of my regular themes is that new legislation is always behind new technology. That's inevitable because first we have to have the technology, then we need to experience the problems that arise from that technology and then, and only then, can we pass new laws.

What "spam," "spim" and "phishing" all share is that they are all about uninvited guests on our desktop. Conceptually, it's not too different from the front door to your house. However, since even cavemen had front doors, we've had about a zillion years to develop an elaborate set of laws about whom and under what conditions somebody can pass through your house door.

What we need to thoughtfully do is develop better laws on who may legally pass through your computer's front door. As I sit here typing this column in my home, I happen to think that the law should offer me protection over who can talk to my computer without my consent.

As to those who say that my view will lead to First Amendment violations, I say that First Amendment freedom of speech has little to do with Viagra e-mails, phishing and spimming. It's my computer and I have a right to say that I don't want you talking to it or me.

Tech Vocabulary is republished from
Mark Grossman
Mark Grossman