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The Almighty Buck

Verisign to Purchase Network Solutions 172

thor writes, "According to CNBC, Verisign (VRSN) will purchase Network Solutions (NSOL) for approx. $21B ($531/share). Looks like the story of the day for a lot of people on and off of Wall Street. Network Solutions closed at $360 5/8 yesterday is trading up $100 in early hours trading. " I've also found the story on CNNfn. Why does this merger scare me?
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Verisign to Purchase Network Solutions

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Now I'm really concerned. Since Network Solutions owns the DNS system, and VeriSign sticks its hands in every e-commerce transaction as part of the "secure" system, the two combined will have enough power to bring the system to its knees.

    Now you might say "It's just a company" but companies can be very dangerous (as my local LUG found out recently). What's to stop VeriSign from extracting a larger percent of the "e-commerce" tax that they already take out (which is how the authorization is run).

    Microsoft, AOL, and now VeriSol. Will the Internet ever be safe for dissenting voices?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I know this was a rhetorical question, but...

    Why does this merger scare me?

    Because it's unhealthy to have a few Big Ones determining the way the internet is used. We don't know the real purpose (if any) of letting everything converge into a big AOL-TimeWarner-Microsoft-Vodafone-Nokia-Verisign -combo, and as such being more or less paranoid is healthy.

    Let's take a fictious example. Before September of this year (maybe a little past it), a big weakness in the RSA algorithm is "found" (made public that is). As a result nobody wants to use the RSA algorithm anymore, although the patent is free. What then? RSA or some other *SA-affiliated company comes up with a new algorithm which is patented. Your friendly neighbourhood multinational supergiant company makes sure everyone HAS to use this new algorithm. So everyone is back in line 1.

    This is the real issue behind big companies. They can dominate "where we want to go today". And that is a bad thing.

    -"Mommy, there's FAPKC3 in my soup!"
    -"Be quiet and eat your finite automata like a good boy!"

  • by Anonymous Coward
    What is so bad about this? It's not like either of the companies provide a service that cannot be obtained elsewhere so there aren't even any monopolistic overtones.

    Okay, besides VeriSign, where would you get a Security Certificate. Thawte, right? Well, Verisign owns them, too. Besides that, there aren't really any certificate companies available. So VeriSign *DOES* have a monopoly on SSL certificates.

    But domain names, yeah, there is plenty of competition. Once the open market began, I stopped using NSI for domains. $35 a year for cruddy service? Ugh, no thanks. $25 a year for decent service is much better.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    It's an 8-5 world ya moron. BLOODY AMERICANS. The world is round, you know. Even the befrigged Classical Greeks knew that. (BTW your beloved Columbus was actually trying to prove the world was about half the size it really is.) We don't all live in your personal sodding timezone!! If you have a global market, you operate continuously or you lose it.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    No, our taxes subsidize the mail and it still remains one of the most effective means of communicating via paper

    Unless you have some info I don't, I don't think that's the case. From what I understand the USPS is pretty self-sufficient, though they use gov't funds for infrastructure (building new Post Offices, etc). People in cities subsidize people living in rural areas, AK, and HI just by buying stamps (as they cost the same no matter where you send from or to), since it's a lot easier to pick up a letter and deliver it within town and you could never do that from AK to HI for $0.33 without a subsidy.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    But they have barriers to entry which CAN'T be removed. The barrier is that only Thawte and Verisign have their certificates in the oldest SSL-enabled browsers, so if you want your certificate recognized by everyone, you have to go with them. This will become less relevant when everyone upgrades to newer browsers, but we all know that will never happen.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Damn, damn, damn...

    I turned down a job offer last month from NSOL that came with 4000 options that may have fully vested on the merger.

    Damn damn damn....
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Check those URLs! Don't forget the http://!

    Good advice. Please take it.

  • The biggest possible problem here could result from tying together services (which I think would be illegal in itself, but hey, it didn't stop Microsoft, did it?) As somebody pointed out, Verisign controls 99% of the certificate market because it purchased Thawte. Certificate providers such as Entrust often resell Thawte certs, so there aren't really as many alternatives as you might think. It wouldn't suprise me if Verisign/NSI started only issuing certificates to domains registered through NSI. You want a certificate recognized by most of the world, you have to buy an NSI domain. Verisign/NSI would probably say something like "We have to verify that you are licensed to use this domain before we issue a certificate. We can't do this if you used another registrar. Please transfer your domain to Verisign/NSI to get this certificate. Have a nice day."
  • Of all the companies that I've dealt with on the net, Verisign was the worst.

    I phoned them once asking why my certificate registration was taking weeks. They said there was a paperwork problem and they'd phoned me four times trying to get hold of me.

    Turns out that Verisign only phone during office hours. US office hours. And no, they never tried to use email.
  • On another note, I don't really see why we all think Verisign is so trustworthy that it can tell us who to trust. I don't know how certificates work and whatnot, but can't anybody get a certificate? The purpose of a certificate is just to tell you that information you get is really from where you think it is. If getting a certificate is only a matter of money, who cares?

    That is a common misconception. Verisign certificates only authenticate the identity of the author/provider of the supplied signed document/program/widget/whatever. They in no way indicate that the author/provider is of a benevolent sort who should be trusted.

    Yes, King ]=[ak3r himself can apply for and receive a Verisign certificate and prepare all of the Verisigned viruses he wants and distribute them.

    At least you'll have plenty of contact information about King ]=[ak3r so you can go beat the crap out of him if you install one of his viruses!

  • I agree and I think the important point is that neither of these is a unique service provider, one can always go elsewhere and if they provide a poor solution, people will go elsewhere.

    If what they provided was unobtainable elsewhere, that would be a bad thing (tm) as any monopoly is bad for consumers, irrespective of the company involved (no matter how 'nice' a company is, it's hard to be competitive with yourself :)

    So as far as I can see this is mainly news for shareholders in the respective company and people who already use their services........

    Hohum

    troc
  • My stepfather worked for UPS for 30 years; he claims they can't possibly deliver anything for rates competetive with the USPS.
  • What, so private citizens can start up their own company, which will go the way of everything else and be forcibly acquired by a behomoth company?

    I see it now: AOL/Time-Warner/USPS/Verisign/Network Solutions/[Your Private Company Here]

    I've been there, done that, been fucked, back to the cube job.

    If you beleive that, then you should probably take some drugs so that you can find reality.

  • These companies sell "Nothing" and are worth billions. The only reason they are worth money is they have a monopolistic hold on services. (Well netsol still has 90% of domain names)

    Verisign sells the illusion of "Security".
    Network Solutions sells a 1 second database update.

    Only in America can companies that sell nothing, and have the worst customer support be worth billions.

    -Brook Harty
  • You know I own VRSN and as an investment this could be a good thing for the company... get that PE out of the 8k range (scary even for the new ecom)...
    As a user this scares the hell out of me. You want to talk about 500 pound gorrilas, this merger will make one. VRSN owns somthing like 90% (it could be less I could be wrong but it is still high) of the security certificates out there. I can only wonder what they are going to do with all that info(al la doubble click any one). Another post sugested a one stop shop for a secure domain name, and guess what it is alredy there. No more fuss muss and hassle... The thing that I find intersesting is that your site gets netsure protection, up to 250k of it. I wonder how or who is providing that insurance? I though that deploying and insuring a product was illegal, again I could be wrong. But the conditions (link follows) of this plan override any other terms and agreements that you may have...
    http://www.verisign.com/repo sitory/netsure/netsure2.html [verisign.com]
    read it youll want to cry or laugh
  • companies can be very dangerous (as my local LUG found out recently).

    Can you point us to more info about this. If a LUG is being terrorized by a company, that qualifies as "news for nerds. stuff that matters"

    Hooptie

  • I remember being very depressed when Verisign was going to buy Thawte because Thawte had always been so much better a company.

    When I read this about Verisign and Network Solutions, my first reaction was "they deserve each other."

    Now I suppose we can wait for AOL to buy the pair of them.... :)

    _Deirdre
  • Doh, that's what *I* get for not paying attention. I remembered the Thawte acquisition was on hold for a while. Bummer that it went through. :(

    I'm going to go be depressed for the rest of the day.

    _Deirdre
  • ``but then I come home and look through my mail to find I've received health insurance statements for someone who lived here three years ago.''

    I'm no fan of the bloated bureacracy that is the USPO but the problem you described can hardly be blamed on them. After all, it was the health insurance company that addressed the envelope. AFAIK, the Post Office doesn't verify who lives at a particular address.

    To get back on topic... It might be very appropriate for the PO to get involved in domain name management but for the U.S. only. It couldn't be any worse than when Network Solutions had their little monopoly. (Of course, having said that, I'll probably think of several nightmare scenarios.)
    --

  • [...] utter lack of modern computerization [...]

    Surely you're just testing if we're awake. Elsewise-- who do you think stamps all those bar-codes on our mail? Bloody elves???

    Anyway, the USPS uses Linux, according to Linux Journal issue 52 [linuxjournal.com]:

    "The United States Postal Service deployed over 900 Linux-based systems throughout the United States in 1997 to automatically recognize the destination addresses on mail pieces. Each system consists of five dual Pentium Pro 200MHz (PP200) computers and one single PP200, all running Linux.

    "One of the five Linux boxes has a monitor, keyboard, mouse, CD-ROM and floppy--the other four are headless. Each has 128MB RAM and a 2.5GB hard drive. The mail pieces are scanned at 212dpi at a rate of 12 per second. The binary image is sent to one of the Linux boxes via a custom cable and receiver board. The board packs the bits and uses DMA (direct memory access) to transfer the data over the PCI bus. The receiving computer runs a process that compresses the images and routes them via Ethernet to one of 10 identical processes, two for each CPU, that do the hand-print recognition and machine-print recognition. Those algorithms recognize the text from the image in less than a second and return the ASCII results to a database on a separate computer that looks up the zip code. The slave computers are connected on a subnet with the master which has a second Ethernet card connected to the rest of the computers associated with the scanner. The local network is 10Mbps Ethernet and handles the compressed binary images sent to the slaves and the ASCII results received from the slaves. "

  • No... That's the customers issue, not Network Solutions... THey can easily opt for a more stringent update policy.

    Scary though, how one company will now own 99% of the certificate market, as well as 99% of the domain market... At least they're not completely related, but it still looks like every hopeful e-commerce company is going to have to pay whatever toll that verisign decides to levy.
  • Actually, Network solutions trades at slightly saner levels (P/E wise) than Ebay, Yahoo, etc... I tried the other ecommerce companies, but what do you know, they have no earnings...

    Supposing NSOL has 2,000,000 names registered, that's 140 million/year...

    Pretty decent earnings, i'd say... ANd for most people they're still the 1st name and almost only name in domain registration
  • Yeah... the AOL/Time Warner thing really caught me off guard... But so far as Verisign/Netsol goes, yeah it'd be more logical if it went the other way around but the economics are much different.

    Netsol makes money only from domain holders. Verisign makes up for only earning money from secure sites by charging much more for their services. They have a much lower volume business with much higher margins. Also, a lot of people also have verisigns "personal certificates" installed..
  • Your arguments seem moot...

    1 - so long as they're accepting payment, why should they care if the person they sold something to gives real information or not... Kind of like radio shack, i hate getting things there because they insist on knowing who i am, so they can send me catalogs or anything.

    2 - Again, it's never been their stated policy to delete domains that spammers use... It's absurd to think they should. I mean, the napster argument goes, they only give the tools, they don't encourage piracy. Likewise, Netsol sells domains, they don't encourage spamming...

    3 - Again, the DNS changes, you can set whether you want to be notified before or after an update. It's in your hands, not theirs...

    With your gripes about spam, what good does it do the world if one registrar will delete a domain if someone spams from it, if the others don't? it's not like spammers have to use Domain Bank to get their names. Much as i don't like spam, it shouldn't be regulated by DNS policy... I don't know who what or how to stop spam, but deleting a spammers domain seems absurd. It's easy enough to block a domain from sending email to you.
  • Don't relegate me to flamebait or trolldom for this, but those sound like much better fundamentals than Redhat or VA Linux. Redhat sells a completely free product, with all their R&D also being done for all of their competitors as well... VA Linux just doesn't have the volume to *trully* compete with Dell, IBM, Gateway or Compaq, if and when they open their eyes and realize that there's a tremendous need for Linux system integrators.

    Network solutions, on the other hand, profits from every company and individual registering a domain name. Even if you register through one of their competitors, they still make money. There's a constant turnover on domains, with the two year leases, which turns into almost guarenteed income. That, plus with the immanent inclusion of more top level domains, which means that the market will be opened up to even more domain names and variants, and the fact that e-commerce is still in it's infancy, means that they have a VERY solid business for the foreseeable future.

    Much more solid than almost any other company in the computer industry, in my view. And i don't own any shares in netsol or verisign, either.
  • Looks like Verisign might become the Microsoft of the Internet. They've gobbled up Thawte which as far as I was aware the only competition with regards to digital certificates. It would have concerned me even more if ICANN had not allowed for other registrars to pop up for .com/.net/.org domain names. This could get nasty IMHO.
  • So, when will we be able to get both our domain names, as well as our SSL certificates, from slashdot [slashdot.org]?

  • What about all the other countries in the world?
  • I haven't enough data to understand why this is a disturbing development. I was under the impression that NS had nowhere to go but up.
  • (sarcasam) yeah, but look at the Good side of this: Now we can actually have an Internet Sysop to complain to! (/sarcasam)

    No, I don't think this is a good thing either.

  • our taxes subsidize the mail

    Wrong, the USPS is required by law to be self-sufficient. They do from time to time borrow money from the government to finance buildings and equipment, but since the '70s, the Post Office uses no tax money.

    Don
  • The bottom line is that it's dangerous when the consumer, me, has exactly one choice for who to go to for [pruduct].
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Network "Solutions" has already been pretty much worthless for a number of years in several areas relating to domain names.

    1). They make no attempt to verify the accuracy of information in a domain record (mailing addy, phone #, etc.)

    2). They do not delete said record if it can be proved that the domain owner is spamming, or allowing spamming, or producing other behavior that's counterproductive to a smoothly-running Internet (yeah, I know... "smoothly?"). Worse, they make NO attempt to get the record updated if it contains obviously bogus info.

    3). They don't (AFAIK) confirm DNS server change requests with the owner of a domain before implementing the change.

    Whether this merger is good, bad, or indifferent where the 'net is concerned remains to be seen. To my mind, it's academic because I have no plans to renew my registration with NSI. I've already chosen one of their competitors (Domain Bank) that has every security measure in place that NSI lacks.

    Perhaps best of all, their Terms of Service allow them to whack a domain if the owner spams with it. Now THAT I can live with! ;-)

    Caveat emptor...

  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...and the utter lack of modern computerization doesn't help too much (there's a computer system in place, but it's ancient by today's standards).

    You are sorely mistaken. Do you actually know anything about the USPS' computer systems? I think not. For starters, there is not one, but dozens of computer "systems" that the USPS uses (most of which are enormous, country-wide installations connected by very high-speed networks). Remember, the USPS is HUGE, and has immense amounts of data to manage.

    Secondly, they use some of the most sophisticated technology available. No, I will not (can not) give you details, except to say that it is a geek funhouse. Just because the USPS has been around a while and is a (quasi) governmental agency doesn't mean they're stodgy or not with the program.

  • but is it really worth worrying about? It doesn't cost us anything, and we have the most reliable, cheapest postal service on the planet. For the moment I'd rather use my time and energy into trying to change government and get worthwhile politicians in office.
    ----------------------------
  • I agree, smaller government is better. But truly, I have bigger fish to fry than to care about the USPS. The government has major issues to worry about before we start wasting our time over a minor issue which according to comparison to every single other postal service in the world, is already optimal.

    Sure, there's an opportunity cost, but when no other government or private industry on the planet has matched the current system for efficiency, I really have doubts as to how much improvement is possible.

    If you really think you could deliver mail for say... 25 cents a letter, as soon as I'm a multi-billionaire I'll give you an official offer from the SFDIA association. (the So Fucking Do It Already association. where we give you the funding you need, and you can attempt to patent respiration or vowels, or in your case, improve significantly on the USPS).
    ----------------------------
  • Because I'm up for renewing my registration for airwindows.com in May, and you know what? I'm scared to try taking it to any other registrar. If I was starting from scratch, no way would I go with NS. I'm not- and there's a guy who, in the process of changing his registrar _from_ NS, lost his domain for good. NS cleared it and then promptly sold it to someone else by mistake before the new registrar could get in. I may have the details wrong but that's what happened to him, and as it was NS he had no recourse at all, was totally hosed.

    So I feel like I'm held hostage, and don't feel safe doing anything but borrowing the use of a friend's credit card (and prepaying him) to update the registration online in the most unsurprising and normal manner possible- because I think that if I do _anything_ unexpected, I'm probably hosed. For one, I don't think I can pay them any other way anymore. And if I expect them to _do_ anything they'll probably get it wrong.

    If anybody has experience in successfully moving their domain name from NS please chime in here, as I don't feel I have a choice, and some horror stories I've heard seem like too much of a risk to take.

  • It's hardly anonymity since anyone, not just the Post Office can decode the Zip+4 code.
    --
  • 21 billion seems a bit much

    This is actually what bothers me most about this deal. What could possibly justify this sort of valuation for Network Solutions? It's even worse than the absurd overvaluation of Red Hat and VA Linux (which is slowly returning to a more realistic level). Yes, they have a large share of a market that's only going to expand, but do they really have enough earnings potential to justify such a huge market cap?

  • In wake of all the goofy megamergers lately (of which VA's purchase of Andover is one of the most notable), it's refreshing in a way to see one that makes business sense.

    People are learning that PKI's are primarily not about security and public keys, but mostly about dealing with the question of who owns the name. Once you've got that figured out, making a digitally signed certificate to prove it is relatively easy.

    One of the big problems that VeriSign faced is that, even though they issued the certificates, they really had no control over the ownership of the name. Now they do.

    It's extremely easy to imagine a "domain gold" service that includes both the domain name and the SSL certificate.

    There's another possibility which may be even more intriguing. DNS security is rolling out at a very slow pace, and generally only provides protection against passive attacks. What you need to fix this are the root certificates for the TLD's, plus have them issue certificates for the actual domain names. I asked the DNSSEC people when they thought this would happen and they rolled their eyes. VeriNic would be in a position to just do it, though.

    I think the main question is whether they smile upon DNSSEC or would prefer to push the X.509-based solutions (such as SSL) that make up their business now.

    Certainly all very interesting, although I am worried as much as anyone about the concentration of power it places in the hands of one company.
  • As nifty as it is, the DNS system is getting hopelessly screwed up by half-assed administration and bizarre legal meanderings.

    So, one obvious possible solution would be an alternate form of name resolution, crafted with quite a few years of experience and hindsight - a DNS2, if you will.

    Does anything like this exist? If not, is it being worked on? If so, how can we participate?

  • Contains no opinion? Funny, I thought I expressed my opinion. As for my being such a Karma whore as to actually have the +1, oh well.


    Chas - The one, the only.
    THANK GOD!!!
  • The problem is that Verisign (who recently paid a hefty sum for Thawte) now controls roughly 99% of certificate issuing. So, if you want to have an online commerce site, it will be just short of impossible to do it without involving Verisign to get a certificate issued. Something needs to be done about Verisign's monopoly on certificate issuing. I seriously do not trust one company controling 99% of anything security related.
  • The only way Verisign can possibly justify paying that is to find new ways to monopolize something.

    Isn't it clear to everyone that with control over commercial domains and secure transactions this merged entity plans to be positioned to control all of electronic commerce? "Sure," they're thinking, "there are other domain registrars and other trasaction vetters, but their names are so obscure they don't count."

    Imagine if the Post Office, Federal Express, Airborne, and UPS combined with Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express to decide who they would allow to conduct business and who they wouldn't. If you wanted to open a mail-order business, you'd only have two options: pay the POFEAUPSVMDAE consortium for the privilege of doing business, or go farm potatoes.

    Fortunately, the proposed Verisign/NetSol chimera wouldn't have it locked down as tight as the analogy above does, but as Animats astutely inferred, they wouldn't pay 21 Gigadollars if they didn't see a sure thing. Let's just hope they don't go Guido on us and impose some sort of "protection" fee on either the secure transactions or domain name regsitrations.

  • Um ... you don't know too many users, do you?

    Users aren't going to do anything like that unless they have a bloody good reason, and using your web site instead of someone else's isn't likely to be one.

    D

    ----
  • If you want to have your certificate recognized by most web browsers without pulling up a really, really ugly looking error message, I'd say Verisign and Thwate are the only games in town, because any other certificate signer will cause that to happen.

    Truth is that I really hate this wierd certificate business. All I want to be able to do is use SSL - why should I have to pay someone $800 a year just so I can do that without causing my users to panic? Ugh. It's almost like blackmail.

    Incidentally, an oddity: Although Thwate is now owned by Verisign, they have not yet done anything to their rates. So get your Thwate certificate before it's too late.

    D

    ----
  • Err...

    A single entity to control:

    • more than 50% of all certificates. Actually, about 90% if their pending merger with forgot the name will not bite the dust. It is under investigation at the moment
    • The domain name system for the 3 most popular top level domains

    Good???

    Are you kidding??? What are you smoking??? I want some too...

    And if you call M$ a set of arrogant bastards how do you call a company that is under investigation for monopoly practices doing an obvious monopoly merger?

    Next thing we see will be somoene "addressing" the existing insecurity of the DNS (which I admit exists) and requiring all nameservers to use sertificates. Actually this suggestion has already been done. And guess what will be the next thing to happen if Verising owns NS

  • Setting up a new "open-source" certificate authority really just requires an outlay of cash to AOL (in terms of Netscape) and Microsoft in order to get their root certificates into the shipping browsers. If nothing else, now that Mozilla can ship with crypto, there stands the possibility that the root certificates could at least ship in Moz.

    You have to remember that Versign does not issue secure certificates, they just sign them and for the more expensive ones, do a certain amount of investigation to be sure the person or company they're giving a certificate to is indeed the who they say they are.. Anyone can make a secure website, but browsers will pop up windows saying that the certificate is from an unknown source.

    Ultimately an "open source" CA would need to take some steps to assure the public that they do some checking up on company's... Verisign basically puts their neck on the line everytime you enter a secure website, in that if the certificate has been forged it will all come down on them. They're a tangible company which can take a fall and have finghers pointed at them... That's quite different from the loose banded linux community. Not that the linux community is what it is in a bad way, but it does lack some of the accountability that brick and mortar companies have.
  • In the past technology was universal supported by the users before it was considered standard. Now the game isn't universal support but universal deployment.
    With universal deployment you get your technology so widely used that anyone NOT supporting it is issolated.. cutoff..

    This is a bad situation... and with Verisign/Network Solutions it could get even worse.

    In the past the best free solution survived and non-free solutions died.

    If the protocal was free thats good... if it's free and documented thats better, free documented and implemented in free (as in beer) software .. better... free documnted and open sourced.. even better... but best of all ... documented, open sourced, and public domain... no clame of ownership whatsoever...
    Documenation in source is more imortent than documenation in text.. documentation in both is even better...

    Today you just make sure anyone who dosn't support you gets issolated. In this way you force your way in the market.

    There is no boycott of a company that controls a market...

    If this dose happen this may spell the end of an open Internet.
    No new operating systems may join... You must use Linux, Windows, MacOs or Unix. Even if it's not narrowed down to one os.. thats not a good thing.
  • I'd have thought people would welcome any change in Network Solutions. Judging by almost any previous story on them, it can only improve them, can't it?
  • The key difference is that the phone and power networks can be locally managed. A private mail system will have to be very integrated between regions. I don't think the result would be better than what we've got now. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

    Regarding 60 Minutes, do you think private corporations don't have theives and psycopaths working for them?

    You, like many other people in here, seem to think that all of society's fundamental transactions are government regulated. Take a visit to your bank sometime and ask them if their wire transfers are government regulated (which is the most important type of "email" there is).

    Dude, I write banking software. :) Every wire transfer is reported to the Federal Reserve. Heck, if I remember correctly, every wire goes through a Fed mainframe. The ACH network (aka direct deposit) is run by an independant organization, but the Fed has influence there as well. Most regulation is by a consortium of banks, but led by the Fed, whose leaders are appointed by the government. Besides, Congress has passed banking regulation. Laws to detect fraud and tax cheats, and fair lending come to mind.

    Speaking of the Fed, there's another public institution that is effective and self suffucient. More evidence to the contrary that anything and everything "government" or "public" is wasteful and stupid.

  • Actually, the government does have it's hands all over the power grid and the phone network. True, it's all run by private companies now, but they are government granted monopolies, or at least have been through most of their history. There are price controls and regulation out the wazoo for that stuff, and for good reason, because both require a great deal of infrastructure that would be wasteful to duplicate, and both are critical systems that our entire nation depends on.

    Besides, would you really trust someone like UPS or FedEx with official mail? I wouldn't trust UPS with anything critical based on the condition of the boxes I get from them. And do you really think they're going to charge the same rates to those in poor, rural areas as they do in cities? It will have to be subsidized, and/or highly regulated, just like phone and power. Is that what you really want?

    Now think of it this way, based on the way they've handled the DNS system, would you trust someone like Network Solutions as your official guranteed delivery e-mail service and as your official certification authority? Both these services are need for legally binding electronic contracts, and they (as Verisign) are now well positioned to provide those services. To be legally binding, these services will be highly regulated, so the government will be invovled, whether you like it or not. Now, who do you trust more, Network Solutions, or the Post Office?
  • Why not, the government's got a monopoly on national defense. That's the biggest and most wasteful racket there ever was.

    Besides, the NSA has its hands in the certification authorities anyways, so what difference does it make? At least as a public organization, we citizens have a right to oversight. As private companies, all we can do is threaten to switch to a competitor when find that their security is not up to par. Now, how do you find out when their security is not up to par?

    (Interesting, with UCITA, it might become illegal to even test their security practices. Forge a certificate or find a security flaw, and you get sued off your ass or go to jail!)
  • Exactly. FBI, NSA, CIA, Verisign, Network Solutions, U.S. Postal Service. Which one of these has the most trustworthy reputation?

    Who funds these audits? As a Verisign customer, am I authorized to conduct a security audit over their entire certificate operation? Even if I get every one of their customers to participate, short of a class action lawsuit, is there any way I can demand they comply?

    Remember, the Mindcraft guys know more that most of us about web server benchmarking, but they still screwed up and there are still questions of conflict of interest. I can at least run their tests myself. I can't lobby my congressman for an independant audit of Verisign.

    Of course, now that digital certificates have some legal weight behind them, they will be regulated. The government is already involved. I'd much rather such an essential public service be run by a public institution that is efficient and self-sufficient, and yet still accountable to the citizens, than by a corporation, accountable only to tort law and the short-term profit motive of its shareholders, that still has a quasi-monopoly and government backing.
  • The history of the NIC and NetSol is a prime example.

    You are refering to InterNIC and Network Solutions, right? Thanks for supporting my argument. ;)

    There's a more recent article about Network Solutions, and everyone's favorite autocratic government band-aid, ICANN: http://slashdot.org /article.pl?sid=00/03/07/0713200&mode=nested [slashdot.org]

  • . For example, the company plans to use Network Solutions' massive subscriber lists to help supply buyer and supplier credentials for B2B exchanges and to complement VeriSign's various service-oriented businesses.

  • by / ( 33804 )
    A single entity to control: more than 50% of all certificates. Actually, about 90% if their pending merger with forgot the name will not bite the dust. It is under investigation at the moment

    The company is Thawte [thawte.com], and unless I'm mistaken, the combined company would control something more like 98% or 99% of the market. The scary thing is, I know some of the folks at various securities corporations down near wallstreet who are in favor of the merger, since having no choice means less hassle for them. I hate that mindset.
  • That said what is so wrong with the merger? NSI provides domain names and Verisign provides e-commerce services and security.

    The problem is that they're both so horribly bad at customer service. Anyone who has dealt with either company has a horror story to tell. I can't imagine what they'll be like when they're both one .

    • we've all heard about how the Post Office wants to make themselves relevant in the 21st century. why don't they become an offical key authenticator. they are already used to dealing with huge numbers of people and are recognized as a trusted authority with special legal rights. tampering with the mail is a federal offense. becoming a key signer is a much better way to stay relevant than by giving everyone an email address. and their trusted status would lend creedence to the internet way of doing business.

    This is a really good idea, except for one small thing -- the US Post Office holds no international authority. Why should (for example) France treat the USPO any differently than any other random organization? In fact, other countries might trust the USPO less than another random organization because it is affiliated with the US government.

    But I like where you're going with this -- it makes a lot of sense. Perhaps if there was some sort of an international group, of which the USPO was one member, this would work. I don't forsee this happening, however, with the differences in crypto laws throughout the world.


    Cthulhu for President! [cthulhu.org]
  • The great thing about this is that you could have more than one number, so you could give one to your friends and another to companies. When you start getting junk mail, you just cancel the number.

    The USPS's profit, mentioned in other posts to this thread, comes directly from bulk advertising mail. That business subsidizes mail delivery to rural areas. It is junk mail that keeps postal rates so low. I can't believe that the USPS would provide a service that would directly cut in on thier profits, unless the money to be made on that system would offset the lost bulk mail business.
  • The USPS would be an ideal place to base a public key infrastructure. They've got offices everywhere and are already set up to establish your identity for the other official things they do, so they could set up a key server infrastructure and allow users to add keys to it for a minimal fee (Say, $10 a year) and it wouldn't be too hard to guarantee that key as authentic, so you can know for sure that the guy you're talking to is the guy you want to be talking to. No one else already has everything in place to set this up so well nor are they likely to ever have a setup as well suited for stuff like this.
  • Yahoo News [yahoo.com] version of the story.
  • Remember that the big reason that the establishment of the post office was so important as to warrant inclusion in the U.S. Constitution was that it was seen as critical to the growth of the country. The framers wanted to make sure that the citizens could rely on the mail, and I'm glad they did. Although it may seem trivial, the federal laws that make it illegal to, for example, use my mailbox for anything other than U.S. Mail are critical.

    Read some of the history of the postal laws and you'll see that the gov't has handled the oost office pretty well. (See page 235 of this PDF from senate.gov [gpo.gov])

    I'm not sure how the U.S. gov't can carry forward this responsibility in the world of global email...

  • A non-conspiracy, non-Marxist web site on the 1929 crash eludes me at present.
    There are a few:
  • The merger will have Verisign issue 2.15 of its shares for each share of Network Solutions stock prior to the upcoming 2-for-1 split. Looks like Verisign stockholders are going to make a killing.

    On the down side, dealing with NS was bad enough, having new management at the helm of the registration ship makes me dread the inevitable upcoming changes. I doubt that Verisigns interests are for the good of the internet.

  • The government uses the sum of the squares of the percentage of the market each company has to determine if there is a monopoly.

    As well as product tying and predatory pricing, none of which exist here. Even reading newsclippings on the MS case would have told you this much.

    Verisign is not a monopoly.

    I can start up a competing certificate facility anytime I like.

  • i suggest, perhaps, that you get a dictionary and stop being so emotional.

    I only get emotional when people fail to grasp that being deemed a "monopolist" in a court of law and somehow matching Webster's definition are two entirely different things. Try the law review instead of dictionary.com.

    a monopoly is a company which employs such practices as simply buying their competition when their competition is ripe enough snip

    Blah blah blah blah...this drivel in no way resembles what the courts determine as constituting a monopoly.

    All you've told me so far is that a monopolist is any company that acquires their competition.

    openSRS which is sponsoring domain registrars which are, in turn, selling domains for as low as $10 per year -- no kidding, they exist

    Newsflash - you can get domain names for free through namezero. today.

  • I won't bring up the tired Dutch Tulip analogy, but conditions right up to the 60's and 70's are being mirrored today. Your analogy isn't "Marxist" or "conspiracy" in any way - numerous others have offered the same analogy and argued it congently.

    Some points have changed though - firstly, the obvious automatic triggers to halt trading in case of catastrophe.

    In other ways, things are worse - the public is much more involved in the investing process today, and most of them are following the herd in the worst possible, thus influencing institutional investors who might otherwise act in a more rational manner.

    Even "value" managers are being forced to chase the "easy" money on NASDAQ by cusomters who demand to see high returns come hell or high water. The general public appears to have fundamentally misunderstood risk.

    Added to which, as you mention, the preponderonce of consumer debt. This is indeed troubling, particularly when most Americans now have the capability to become debt-free. There isn't much you can do here - just try not to get burned when these basket-cases flame out.

  • Huh? There is a merger going on that seems to rub you the wrong way (although I'm assuming like most folks here, you're just chiming in with the prevailing group-thought that forms after the first five or six posts), so you want the US government to come in and run a monopoly racket for you.

    We do not need Uncle Sam holding a monopoly on net security.

  • You just change the address that a number is redirected to.

    Of course, none of this will ever happen. Just let snail mail die off folks, that leopard isn't going to change its spots.

    The best change in mail delivery of course would be competition - let Fedex and UPS deliver daily mail (it is illegal for them to do so now), and maybe you would see some changes.

  • but is it really worth worrying about? It doesn't cost us anything

    It costs us something - we are depriving private citizens a crack at running the business themselves. This is an opportunity costs, which is not insignifcant.

    If postal service can be provided reliably at a profit, let private citizens have a crack at it.

    Smaller government is better.

  • Actually, the government does have it's hands all over the power grid and the phone network. True, it's all run by private companies now, but they are government granted monopolies

    It is true that many of these privatized industries had public roots - but since this process was succesfully carried out with power and phone grids, I see no reason why mail cannot make the transition.

    Besides, would you really trust someone like UPS or FedEx with official mail?

    Hmmm....people here seem to have some exalted opinion of the USPS. Perhaps you missed the 60 minutes where spycams highlighted USPS workers opening mail looking for checks.

    The term "going postal" didn't fall out of the sky - its a dysfunctional organization.

    To be legally binding, these services will be highly regulated

    You, like many other people in here, seem to think that all of society's fundamental transactions are government regulated. Take a visit to your bank sometime and ask them if their wire transfers are government regulated (which is the most important type of "email" there is).

    I love reading slashdot - if the topic is privacy, you want to hang the government out to dry and go private. If its mergers and acquisitions, you all decide you want to move to North Korea.

    The government is just another corporation. It forces collections of fees and in return offers second rate security and educational services.

  • Verisign+NSOL are looking at this from the ecommerce standpoint - names + security = ecommerce real estate.

    They will certainly have string competition in this field. AOL will soon be an official registrar with almost limitless cash. They also own Netscape, so inserting their preferred certificate support into Netscape commerce servers is automatic. I would almost venture to say that Verisign is so outgunned by AOL/Netscape that their success is by no means assured.

    There will be others. Register.com will certainly find a willing partner such as Sun or IBM who is willing to implement the missing pieces of the security puzzle - both comapnies market ecommerce servers that can be rigged to support their certificates as well.

    Then of course, there is Microsoft. They can easily buy any of the blessed registrars outside of AOL, and their ownership of the mid-range server market assures them a huge audience.

    With all of this probably competition, it amazes me how anyone can conclude that Verisign is somehow a threat or even a monopolist.

  • Speaking of the Fed, there's another public institution that is effective and self suffucient. More evidence to the contrary that anything and everything "government" or "public" is wasteful and stupid.

    The Fed is an example of what government should be doing - regulating private commerce, not engaging in it.

    I have no problem with federal regulation - I don't believe that corporations are inherently noble - but I do have an issue with the opportunity costs imposed by government competing in spaces where private citizens can capably meet the federally regulated standards of service.

  • What, so private citizens can start up their own company, which will go the way of everything else and be forcibly acquired by a behomoth company?

    You take tonight's award for most ill-conceived counter-argument. Basically you are telling me that privatization is bad because the company may one day be aquired, grow, shrink, change, or all those other things dynamic private organizations do to optimize their ability to serve customers.

    Next boat for North Korea leaves in ten minutes. Be on it.

  • AOL, Register.com, NSI and others will be "blessed" registers. Consumers will have choice.

    As for the certificate market, AOL will be able to easily incorporate certificates into the Netscape servers they control. Microsoft could easily purchase one of the other registrars, or do a deal with them to incorporate certificates into IIS. IBM, Sun, and HP all have the market presence to make deals to compete with Verisign.

    In fact, I don't even see Verisign coming out number one in this fight - I see the deep-pockets of AOL using their ownership of Netscape's commerce server to muscle them out over time.

  • Once again, Verisign does not engage in product tying, predatory pricing, and they do not constitute a barrier to entry.

    The fact that digital certificates are a standard means that anyone can implement a certificate authority.

    I suspect that AOL will do just that and incorporate it into Netscape commerce servers. Oh, by the way, AOL will also be a "blessed" registrar just like NSI.

  • the federal laws that make it illegal to, for example, use my mailbox for anything other than U.S. Mail are critical.

    To who??? There is no reason why the federal government needs to be running a delivery service in our modern era, where private industry can easily fill this role.

    Government should not be in any industry that could be competitively or profitably serviced by private organizations.

    You'll note that the government also doesn't generate your power or run the phone network.

    The UPSP must go.

  • Verisign is a monopoly

    No they aren't. You're confusing the fact that they are the only major certificate vendor with monopoly status.

    There is nothing stopping you from starting your own ceritificate business (there is an open standard for certificates) and competing against Verisign.

  • You can start up a competing certificate facility, but could you succeed at it? Could anyone?

    Of course - starting a certificate facility requires that you implement that standard - which is a easy feat for most large tech companies - and that you incorporate your support into web servers.

    Both AOL (through Netscape) and Microsoft (through IIS) have large market shares in commerce servers, so they could easily do this.

    Added to which, AOL is to be one of the "blessed" registrars, so they could easily counter every "threat" posed by Verisign....and in fact have much deeper pockets. Not only is Verisign not a monopoly, but their success is by no means assured against AOL.

  • Yes, the USPS makes a profit - profit a federal agency has no mandate to make. If power generation can be handled by private companies (regulated by the govt), then there is absolutely no reason why mail cannot be handled in the same way.

  • Your arguments aren't convincing. Power generation and distribution are handled by private companies that are regulated by the feds. Same with phone service. Both of these are far far more crucial than mail service, and there are requirements in place to see that rural areas are serviced. If these services can be privatized, than mail certainly can be privatized.
  • Digital Certificates are an open standard. Verisign cannot stop you from opening your own certificate facility.

    The fact that no one has done this is not an issue of Verisign being a monopolist.

    They have not engaged in product tying or predatory pricing.

  • The barrier is that only Thawte and Verisign have their certificates in the oldest SSL-enabled browsers,

    Then by the same token Honda and Mazda are monopolists because they have an existing dealer and service network, and newcomers don't.

    Sorry, being first doesn't make someone a monopolist.

  • At At least as a public organization, we citizens have a right to oversight.

    How can I type a belly laugh??

    You mean accountability? Like the FBI, CIA, or even less nefarious organizations that simply drown in lobbying dollars and inefficiency?

    Your point may be valid, but not on planet earth.

    As private companies, all we can do is threaten to switch to a competitor when find that their security is not up to par. Now, how do you find out when their security is not up to par?

    Uh, maybe because the certificate system is based on an open standard, or the fact that these businesses are audited often by people who know more about security than you? Read the auditor reports for the skinny.

  • Exactly. FBI, NSA, CIA, Verisign, Network Solutions, U.S. Postal Service. Which one of these has the most trustworthy reputation?

    Verisign, without a doubt. Its not even close.

    Name one major security breach due to Verisign negligence. As for the FBI, NSA, CIA and the Post Office - if you really believe you have some sort of voice in how these institutions are run, I'm sure the fine journalists at 60 minutes could show you some fine footage of government corruption exposed.

    Once again, digital certificates are based on an open standard.

    Whether you trust the firms that audit Verisign is your own issue - unlike the government, they can and have been sued for misrepresentating audit reports when this has been found. You have much greater recourse available to you then trying to take on, say, the CIA, which will most likely disavow any knowlege and send you on your way (and then "keep an eye on you").

  • I worry that today's markets faithfully mirror the 1929 boom. Then, stocks bought on margin were used as collateral to buy more stocks. Investors were buying with fake money.

    Today, corporations are buying corporations with stocks with infinite price to earnings ratios - using fake money to make more fake money. If Amazon bought GM for all-stock, say, would that provoke a crunch where real value has to be produced to cover multiplied value?

    A non-conspiracy, non-Marxist web site on the 1929 crash eludes me at present. For the simple history, see the Britt anica [britannica.com] article on the origins of WWII. That suggests a contraction of international credit - a crunch to produce real money, to pay all the margin. That's more useful than the actual article on the Stock Market Crash.

    The Dismal Scientist [dismalscience.com] looks like an interesting site to explore.

  • by mosch ( 204 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2000 @08:24AM (#1220748) Homepage
    Actually, our taxes n longer subsidize the USPS. It's actually profitable on its own, though I don't believe it pays taxes, which probably helps a bit. According to the financials on www.usps.gov, they made $600 million in 98 and in fact it appears they've turned a profit every year since 1995.
    ----------------------------
  • by Millennium ( 2451 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2000 @07:59AM (#1220749) Homepage
    The USPS going? Surely not. I think you're underestimating its importance.

    Among other things, did you know that, for ordinary letters (and most other stuff too), the USPS is just about the cheapest major delivery service in the world? It's true. Yes, it's a bit slower than many other delivery services, and the utter lack of modern computerization doesn't help too much (there's a computer system in place, but it's ancient by today's standards). You certainly can't beat its price/performance; show me any other company that can deliver, say, a phone bill in three days for less than a buck, or even less than fifty cents. The last time I tried to send a letter via one of the private services, it cost me fifteen times what it would have cost via USPS, and it didn't even get there.

    Private services do have their place. I use them regularly for larger packages. And I don't think snail-mail will be dying anytime soon...
    • When's the last time you successfully send a physical object via e-mail? Or the last time the credit-card company actually e-mailed your new card to you?
    • Echelon doesn't reach into the physical realm, for obvious reasons.
    • There are times when hand-written letters are far more appropriate than anything typed. And let's not forget things like wedding invitations; they're just not the same when e-mailed.

    For all its problems, snail-mail is going to stick around for a very long time indeed. I do wish the USPS could get its computer systems modernized (there was some talk about them doing a WebObjecdts-based intranet a while back; what ever happened to that?) But I don't see them dying, and I'm glad about that.
  • by djweis ( 4792 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2000 @05:01AM (#1220750) Homepage
    Now I can deal with one large, slow, incompetent company instead of two! Imagine the productivity improvements!
  • by Romen ( 10819 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2000 @05:07AM (#1220751) Homepage
    As the various articles have mentioned, in order to merge, the two companies first need approval from federal regulators. This may be our chance to force Network Solutions to live up to their legal obligations. As anyone who has followed the various stories about ICANN [slashdot.org] knows, NSI has been most uncooperative, even defying orders from the government. This has allowed them to maintain their monopoly, and keeps domain registration prices artifically high. However, in the approval process, companies under scrutiny often are willing to make concessions in order to be allowed to complete the deal. While I realize that this would require that there be some basis for suspicion of these two companies, perhaps the FTC could impose as a condition of the buyout that Verisign was required to cooperate with ICANN. This might not help much, but it could be one of our few chances to force NSI to open up their government-granted monopoly to the world.

    Sam TH
  • This scares you (as it should everybody here) because the company in charge of telling us who we can trust and who we can't is going to purchase what is arguably the most corrupt, fucked up, and untrustworthy large player in the Internet world. And if this merger goes they way mergers usually go, higher-ups from NSI will become higher-ups at Verisign. Since the problem with NSI is really its attitude and way of doing things -- things determined by these very higher-ups and not lowly programmers -- this is bad. I wonder how long before Verisign turns to crap.

    Of course, the possiblity does exist that Verisign (of whose corporate practices I know very little) will revamp NSI and make it into a company that doesn't suck, I don't think they are doing this to better humanity or anything like that. I'm sure they will make some changes to optimize NSI as a money tree, but few companies acquire others with the hope of making the customers of the acquired corp happy.

    On another note, I don't really see why we all think Verisign is so trustworthy that it can tell us who to trust. I don't know how certificates work and whatnot, but can't anybody get a certificate? The purpose of a certificate is just to tell you that information you get is really from where you think it is. If getting a certificate is only a matter of money, who cares?

    (note that this is not a troll, but an honest question)

    _________________

  • by Carnage4Life ( 106069 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2000 @04:59AM (#1220753) Homepage Journal
    As much as I hate "me too" posts.
    So do I especially when they use a +1 bonus and contain no content or opinion.

    That said what is so wrong with the merger? NSI provides domain names and Verisign provides e-commerce services and security. So it seems that the purpose of the merger is to create some sort of one stop shop for businesses to buy a domain, create an online (probably e-commerce) presence and secure it. What is so bad about this? It's not like either of the companies provide a service that cannot be obtained elsewhere so there aren't even any monopolistic overtones.
    Personally I feel that the jack-of-all trades approach to doing business is very difficutlt to excel in...just ask the McAfee corporation [yahoo.com] who attempted to become such a one stop e-commerce shop only to start taking significant losses instead of focusing on their core competencies.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2000 @09:14AM (#1220754) Homepage
    The only way Verisign can possibly justify paying that is to find new ways to monopolize something. That's a concern. It seems late for Network Solutions to do much in that area, now that there's competition in name registration, but they've been trying. The latest scheme is to make it difficult to make changes using their basic service, while making it easier if you buy their unnecessary "value-added" services. But that's a short-term revenue-enhancing strategy. Domain name pricing is headed down, and in fact, I suspect we'll see a lot of names go inactive in the next year or two, as it becomes clear that bulk domain hoarding is a marginal business.

    Think about how much money 21 billion is. You could replicate the entire US Internet backbone for less. You could replicate AOL's entire system for less. And Network Solutions provides what, after all, is a minor piece of the system. It's like a steering wheel manufacturer selling for more than a car company.

    We're seeing a frantic effort by Internet bubble companies to acquire before their idiotic market caps go away. And they are going away. VA Linux [stockmaster.com], for example, continues its screaming dive down from 320. It's at 110 right now, about 1/3 of the peak last fall. They got down to 101 a few days ago. It used to be that you didn't see drops like that for anything short of a bankruptcy.

  • by rambone ( 135825 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2000 @03:15PM (#1220755)
    Firstly, no one in here even remotely grasps what the legal definition of monopoly is. Hint - its not one sentence, and it is open to judicial interpretation.

    Some of the points of this definition are barriers to entry, predatory pricing, and product tying. Verisign does none of these.

    Added to which, they implement an open standard for certificates that you are free to implement yourself and compete with them. Hence there is no reasonable barrier to entry - in fact - most of the hard work has been done for you by the standards authors. If Thawte did it, so can you.

  • by rambone ( 135825 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2000 @05:21AM (#1220756)
    Why the ongoing anti-merger mindset in /. ??? Last time I checked, /. has gone through two mergers this year alone. Actions speak louder than words kids.

    As it stands, NSI will soon have to compete directly against AOL once deregulation of registrars is complete. The motivation to bulk up is obvious.

    Get used to more consolidation folks - most segments of the web market now have one clear leader (Schwab, Yahoo, Ebay, Amazon, Verisign) and these companies are going to use their currency to bulk up like crazy. Its a one-time process that happens in any market to weed out the players who really have no long-term growth prospects.

    Change happens folks.

  • by DocJohn ( 81319 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2000 @05:19AM (#1220757) Homepage
    Verisign is already a monopoly, with their recent acquisition of Thawte [verisign.com], the only real alternative for signed digital server certificates.

    Network Solutions is not an equal player in the domain registration business, since they are the maintainers of the database itself.

    Combine the two and you have a company which is responsible for keeping key pieces of the infrastructure of a great deal of the Internet running (DNS and SSL usefulness).

    That's the reason to be scared. Show me another company which comes close to this powerhouse; you can't, because one simply doesn't exist today.
  • by joshy ( 9772 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2000 @04:45AM (#1220758) Homepage
    21 billion seems a bit much, but i suppose it's imaginary money anyway. i am a little disturbed by the way verisign has been gobbling companies up. presuambly they weant to become the premier trusted agency on the web. you register your domain and your keys with them and they serve as the authority on such matters. there is probably only one agency that could stop them: The United States Post Office.

    now think about it for a second. we've all heard about how the Post Office wants to make themselves relevant in the 21st century [slashdot.org]. why don't they become an offical key authenticator. they are already used to dealing with huge numbers of people and are recognized as a trusted authority with special legal rights. tampering with the mail is a federal offense. becoming a key signer is a much better way to stay relevant than by giving everyone an email address. and their trusted status would lend creedence to the internet way of doing business.

  • by ballestra ( 118297 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2000 @05:07AM (#1220759) Homepage
    Forgive me, I know this is way off-topic, but I've been thinking alot about what the USPS could do to modernize.

    I think they should start a new service where citizens can register a coded numerical address for a small fee. Then you wouldn't need to give ANYONE your home address. You could just give them the number and the post office would be able to figure out how to deliver to your home. The great thing about this is that you could have more than one number, so you could give one to your friends and another to companies. When you start getting junk mail, you just cancel the number. This would be the biggest increase to personal privacy I can imagine, and I can't think of any reason why it couldn't be done today. USPS--are you listening?!

Just go with the flow control, roll with the crunches, and, when you get a prompt, type like hell.

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