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The Internet

Deja News Privacy Questioned 93

theGEEK writes "An internet 'watchdog' discovered that Deja News is actually logging their users e-mail traffic." Is this related to the recent thing about them tracking every click through redirector scripts? Personally I'm not threatened, but I'm not a privacy nut either. What do you think?
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Deja News Privacy Questioned

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Did you know that dejanews attaches your very own ip address to the message you sent to a newsgroup. This is in my opinion much more damaging than logging someone's e-mail (I would certainly log mail if I had my e-mail server). So forget sending
    anonymous posts into newsgroups with dejanews if you can be identified by the ip address..
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I believe this article was referring to traffic
    to accounts on my-dejanews.com, which provides
    web-based e-mail if I am not mistaken. They can
    track this, with a few scripts to track outgoing
    mail, and a Procmail recipe or some other method
    of storing incoming mail. This must make things
    hell of convenient for organizations like the FBI.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Sadly, if the direct links were stored on the pages as you suggest, unscrupulous spammers and bots would use them as a direct method of harvesting user email addresses. By having the level of indirection, it becomes trivial to spot such abuse.
    Worse, they could use the facilities of the Deja News search engine to target posts from people using key words and phrases. I get quite enough spam as it is and this is one of the problems with using Usenet directly.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 30, 1999 @12:17PM (#1908591)
    You know, I don't know too many people who would be even the slightest bit concerned about this. I know people who, when I try to talk about the P-III ID debacle, say, "So? How would that affect me?" Well, I personally don't give a flying f**k how it's going to affect you, but because you don't care, it's going to go on, and that will affect me and that's what bugs the $h!t out of me.

    Those of us who actually are concerned about their privacy are a dying breed. I feel like when I'm an old man, I'm going to be constantly saying things like "Back in my days, we didn't have browsers that tracked everything you did and uploaded your bookmark list to the software company so they could send us targeted advertising and to the FBI every night so they could make sure you're not looking at anything 'illegal' or 'obscene'! Our operating systems didn't take inventories of our hard drives and send them back to Microsoft and the SPA to make sure we're not using any software that we're not supposed to. We didn't have EMail clients that CC'd everything we sent to the software company so they could send targeted advertising to everyone we talk to and to the NSA so they could make sure you're not talking about doing anything 'wrong' to anyone in government. We didn't have tracer implants that the police track 24 hours a day 7 days a week to 'make sure we're safe', but you know, since nobody cared about privacy, when all those things happened and nobody complained, the rest of us were forced to comply and we didn't like it!"
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 30, 1999 @12:25PM (#1908592)
    I worked there and it doesn't surprise me. They have, in common I suspect with many "internet" companies a rather contemptuous attitude towards their customers. They regard them, at least some of the time, a only a resource to be exploited, like some sort of human strip mine. I don't think this was malicious, just careless and born of an attitude that doesn't care.
    • pri-vate (prI vet) adj. [[ME pryvat privatus, belonging to oneself, not to the state privare, to separate, deprive privus, separate, peculiar, prob. akin to OL pri: see PRIME]] 1 of, belonging to, or concerning a particular person or group; not common or general [private property, a private joke] 2 not open to, intended for, or controlled by the public [a private school] 3 for an individual person [a private room in a hospital] 4 not holding public office [a private citizen] 5 away from public view; secluded [a private dining room] 6 not publicly or generally known; confidential [...] 7 tending to keep one's personal matters to oneself [...] 8 carried out on an individual basis [...] 9 engaged in work independent of institutions, organizations, agencies, etc.
    Nope, I don't see your definition of "private" in there. I think your definition of that word is just an extension of anonymity.

    And how does DejaNews go out of it's way to find out who emails who when people are willingly using their service to send email to one-another? I mean, if you're that anal about it, I hope you don't ever send anyone mail via the postal service. How do you think some of the junk mail companies get your address, anyway? You think they don't have a deal with the post office to send random crap out to your own mailbox? (At least in the US, that's the case.) The only way to avoid that is to not get a mailbox in the first place or to just never use your mailbox. Pretty bloody likely, right?

    Think of DejaNews as a sort of post office and the 'net in general as just a carrier (which is a half-way decent, though not fully correct, analogy IMHO) and my rant will make a bit of sense.

  • by jacrawf ( 691 ) on Friday April 30, 1999 @05:18PM (#1908595)
    OK, now, assuming for argument's sake that Deja News runs on Unix, and since their whole business revolves around sent and received emails (that's sort of how one usually posts messages to USENET, right? With exceptions, of course.), I am not at all surprised at their logging what messages are sent and received, etc. My own system at home does that -- I use Unix. DUH.

    But now the bigger issue: Privacy. What no one seems to think of is that allowing extensive anonymity on one's system does not a privacy policy make. These are two almost totally separate things. If you want privacy, you should be using PGP or GPG or some other form of encryption technology. If you want anonymity, go to the Anonymizer [anonymizer.com] folks. (Although even they blur the line between the two.)

    Privacy is a good thing. If I only want one person to be able to read an email intended for them, I'll bug them into getting and using PGP or something similarly strong. I hope that such people would bug me in return. It's also pretty hard to abuse someone's privacy. Invade it, yes. But cracking a PGP-encrypted message tends to be quite difficult and as long as you have good password policies, it's just that much more difficult.

    Anonymity is also pretty good, to an extent. There are some times when you need to say something that would get you in trouble. (I'm talking more than the kind of stuff that gets you flamed; I mean the kind of stuff that'll get you fired from your job or something equally undesirable.) There needs to be that option. It is also very easy to abuse anonymity as is seen every day, over and over again, by spammers and flamers and trolls and their ilk on USENET and many other public "forum"-ish places. That is what needs to be controlled and I don't blame companies like Deja News who need to cover their asses so they can avoid being sued for doing any sort of logging. (Now, if they wanted your private PGP key and password, that's something entirely different and I won't go into that. Key escrow sucks, bigtime. (Okay, so I lied. But I won't get into it any further than that. (Unless you provoke me.)))

    Get it straight, folks:

    • Privacy != Anonymity

      Anonymity != Privacy

    Mmmkay?
  • These aren't subscribers, the are users using a free service. Collecting metrics on your user base and selling them is quite legal.
  • by valis ( 947 ) on Friday April 30, 1999 @01:35PM (#1908597) Homepage
    If you choose to use DejaNews for anything, any information you provide to them is thiers. Accept it. You are responsible for your own privacy, they are prefectly justified in tracking every link you click on. It's a FREE SERVICE. If you don't like it, don't use it.

    (And I AM a privacy nut)
  • I could buy that if the url contained a reference number that the CGI looks up for you, but that's not the case. The poster's email address is shown in full, and is repeated in the href attribute of the 'a' tag. Address harvesting software will have no problem getting the address without sending the query.

  • Actually, they are violating privacy. Who I talk/email is my business, not theirs. Anonymity would mean the recipient doesn't know who I am. Privacy means only the recipient and I know that the email was sent. In practice, the privacy is reduced a bit by the fact that admins at my or the recipient's ISP could see that mail was sent, but I doubt they care.

    What we have with DejaNews is a third party who goes out of it's way to find out who emails who, and then claims to not be interested in that information. That's a bit hard to trust.

  • I'm not talking about using DejaNews's services to send the email. I'm talking about clicking the link to a poster's email address (say joebob@nowhere.com). Normally, such a link on a web page is href="mailto:jobob@nowhere.com". In that case, the fact that I emailed joebob will be known to me, my isp, joebob's ISP, and joebob.

    On DejaNews, however, the link is href="http://www.dejanews.com/[ST_m=qs]/jump/mailt o:joebob@nowhere.com". In this case, the fact that I emailed joebob is known to me, my ISP, joebob's ISP, joebob, and DejaNews. The email itself goes from my machine, to my isp, to joebob's isp, to joebob's machine. Since it doesn't touch a DejaNews server anywhere, why should they know about it.

    In short, I sent the mail with the expectation that a limited number of people would know about it. DejaNews went out of their way (by having their server redirect to mailto:joebob@nowhere.com rather than just putting that in the link) to quietly add themselves to the short list of entities who know that I emailed joebob.

    In your post office analogy, my ISP and joebob's ISP are like the post office, and DejaNews is a random third party that looked inside my mailbox to see who I am sending letters to. In the world of snail mail, that is a federal offense.

  • FedEx, UPS, USPS only know what they need to know to perform their service. What DejaNews is doing is more like the paper boy going through your mailbox.

  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Friday April 30, 1999 @03:12PM (#1908602) Homepage Journal

    Most of the comments here are about keeping logs of mail that goes through their servers. IMHO, that's normal and expected, nobody should have a complaint there. (If you do, use a remailer)

    The problem is that they have a link for the sender's email address. One might expect it to be a simple mailto: but it is not. It is a link to a CGI on their server which logs the information, and then redirects to an actual mailto.

    In other words, they go out of their way, and add load to their already busy server in order to log that you decided to email the user. That happens even if the email does NOT go through their servers.

    Personally, I doubt very much that they would add all that load to their server in order to NOT use the information gathered. I sure wouldn't.

    Unlike a mail log, this IS a violation of privacy for the simple reason that they are collecting user information beyond what is customary, and they are not informing the user. As a side note, most ISPs DO inform the customer that their email is not to be considered private and that it may (read will) be logged.

  • This is that whole accountability vs. anonymity thing. That is, complete anonymity == no accountability (whether that truth is exploited or not). Of course, this is all your basic food for thought in that mandatory CS Ethics class that they require now, so I'll just shut up. =)
  • There's a world of difference between can and does. Yes, the sysadmin can see who you're sending E-mail to. He can even read your mail if he wants to. However, he doesn't. Why? If he's a decent person (which he hopefully is), it's because he respects your privacy. If he isn't that decent, then it's because company policy forbids it and he would get fired if anyone found out -- and someone would eventually find out.

    Shoot, the sysadmin can even delete all your files if he wants to. "What was your username again? *clickety-click*". But he doesn't. Logfiles aren't necessarily a privacy invasion; it's only a privacy invasion if inappropriate use is made of those logfiles. Using them to track down a spammer would be appropriate use. Using them to sell info to advertising companies would be inappropriate use.

    BTW, by using the pronoun "he" for sysadmins I do not mean to imply that all sysadmins are male. It's just more convenient to use the generic "he".
    -----

  • Yeah, DejaNews and just about every other mail
    server on the planet does this. How is this news?
    Logging source address/ip and dest address is
    common practice and pretty requisite for running
    a mail server.
    --
    Kevin Doherty
    kdoherty+slashdot@jurai.net
  • | Why is nobody up in arms with UPS/USPS/FedEx?
    | They can also track your packages. They know
    | your address. They know what you have sent and
    | where it is going.

    | Its amazing how in one light, this tracking is
    | a paid for feature, while in another light..
    | its an invasion of privacy.

    The only issue of merit here is consent, really. Nobody's up in arms over UPS and Fed Ex because their tracking *is* a feature. We pay for it because it does something useful for us - namely, allowing us to know if package Y we sent to customer X was delivered. We know about this tracking up front, and - as you say - it's an advertised feature.

    It's people tracking covertly that gets privacy advocates up in arms - especially if they lie about it (which is what the ZD article seems to be implying - whether it's true or not I have no idea, as I don't use Deja for anything other than searching usenet). If it's upfront, well, that's just the price of the service.

    Just so long as Deja doesn't start selling "1000000 GOOD EMAIL ADDRESSES" ...
  • > If you choose to use DejaNews for anything, any information you provide to them is thiers. Accept it.

    Yes, but there is a world of difference between the right to gather personal information on your users (obstensibly to serve them better), and selling that information to other people. I don't have any problem with DejaNews keeping a log of my activities, as long as they do not give this information out without my consent.

    I'm not a lawyer, but I think that there is already legal precedent for ISPs being sued for giving out personal information on their subscribers.

  • just wanted to say that this comment is mine and I somehow got logged out.

    grrrrr
    ---------------------------------------
    The art of flying is throwing yourself at the ground...
    ... and missing.
  • and that is why I use an earlier version of NS
    ---------------------------------------
    The art of flying is throwing yourself at the ground...
    ... and missing.


  • And these reasons are what? To track how much usage from what hosts are coming throught the server? Oh my... thats sounds just like what they are doing with the email things.. just keeping track of how much people actually use their system.

    The whole thing (still) boils down to WHAT they plan on doing with this data. If they make pretty graphs to make management happy.. that good. If they make pretty lists of e-mail addys to make mass mailers happy.. thats bad.

    I still see no problem with collecting this data IF they use it for internal use only.


    ---------------------------------------
    The art of flying is throwing yourself at the ground...
    ... and missing.
  • I just thought of something.

    If people had all the privacy that they aparently so desire, we would be reduced to anarchy.

    There would be no logs of who did what. No records of finger prints. Nothing.

    Keeping records is what people do. Must be some DNA thing or something (which we are also trying to record) HEY ROB... You better delete all the comments 1.342 seconds after they are posted or you may be keeping illegal logs!

    ::sigh:: Tiz a sad society when we have children shooting each other, and all some worry about is that an IP was logged with an e-mail.

    (i dont feel like previewing.. hope this looks good)
    ---------------------------------------
    The art of flying is throwing yourself at the ground...
    ... and missing.
  • by MentlFlos ( 7345 ) on Friday April 30, 1999 @12:36PM (#1908612) Homepage
    log files have been around since the dawn of computers. The e-mail tracking does not surprise or even worry me. This is how it was and how it will be.

    Why is nobody up in arms with UPS/USPS/FedEx? They can also track your packages. They know your address. They know what you have sent and where it is going.

    Its amazing how in one light, this tracking is a paid for feature, while in another light.. its an invasion of privacy.


    As for taking an inventory of ones computer and sending it without said uses authorization, that is an invasion of privacy.

    WWW tracking... hmmm, thats an interesting one. If the tracking is done from the server side (which would be practically impossable), I dont believe this is a problem. But if its a client side 'feature' that is enabled without the user knowing, that is where the problem starts.

    Its not that I dont value my privacy, I just do not see it threatened by this. If netscape starts tracking url's... I'll switch browsers. If MS starts keeping track of my HD, I'll switch OS's (well, bad example for me, I run linux :)

    0 1 --- just my 2 bits
    paul

    ---------------------------------------
    The art of flying is throwing yourself at the ground...
    ... and missing.
  • by MentlFlos ( 7345 ) on Friday April 30, 1999 @12:25PM (#1908613) Homepage
    This is so stupid. According to everything I read on that ZD page,they know what email was sent and to whom AND they (oh my gosh) know the IP's too!

    Lets see, I am currently in charge of the e-mail server at work. I can go into /var/log/maillog and tell you the EXACT same info. Hell, I can even tell you when people are checking their mail.

    Does this mean I'm collecting email addresses because I keep a log file of the traffic on my server? I even back up the server to tape so I must be archiving this info for my evil plan to send e-mail to everyone on the planet.

    The bottom line is... Who gives a shit. Its a log file. People are becoming WAY to sensitive about this kind of stuff.

    The smallest company to the largest corperation should have backups of their data. If this includes log files of when email was sent.. so-be it.

    Hmmm, I also have root on the mail server which gives me the ability to read the email too. Why havent I seen a news-flash on the admins ability to read e-mail that is not their own?

    I'll just file this one under FUD
    ---------------------------------------
    The art of flying is throwing yourself at the ground...
    ... and missing.
  • Is there some reason why DejaNews would want to help out the FBI in this way?

    As another poster noted, DejaNews accounts are not anonymous - at minimum, they are always tied to an ISP-based email address.

    At any rate, the real problem for privacy advocates is rather different - it's as I state above, and is entirely unrelated to the DejaNews mail or posting accounts. After all, by their very nature, you have to send the text of mail sent or messages posted to DejaNews through their service.

    D

    ----
  • by daviddennis ( 10926 ) <david@amazing.com> on Friday April 30, 1999 @12:08PM (#1908615) Homepage
    They put redirects on the email addresses, but they can't track the actual mail being sent - that's between you and your mail server, not DejaNews.

    I'm not clear on what commercially valid use could be made of this information - I can see how they want to know, in the aggregate, what URLs their users visit, but I can't see any commercial merit in knowing who I write to. Perhaps someone from DejaNews can respond to this.

    Of course if you're concerned about this, there is an easy fix - don't click on the email link. The email address is easily visible in the message headers, and you can bring up a new email window and cut/paste or type in the address yourself. The link is just a convenience for lazy people - such as myself, and - probably - most of us.

    D

    ----
  • Why is nobody up in arms with UPS/USPS/FedEx? They can also track your packages. They know your address. They know what you have sent and where it is going.

    There is a WORLD of difference between what FedEx does with packages, and what commercial entities do with personal information. First and foremost, it's a recognized BENEFIT to YOU, the CUSTOMER, to be able to know where your package is. This is FAR different than companies who COLLECT information based on what you do, whether you know it or not, and then use it to THEIR advantage.
  • The company owns the mail equipment and your "work product" while you're sitting there, so your complaint wouldn't really stand up. Many companies do have a policy of randomly reading people's e-mail (especially contractors'). If you refused to work for every company that had this policy, work would be hard to come by.

    Of course you could get Yahoo mail or something, but even those messages could be logged by a proxy server.

    As a mail administrator, there's been a few times I've had to access mail files for administrative reasons. Management has needed access for legal or counter-espionoge reasons a few times too. I can tell you though, there's nothing more boring than people's personal e-mail. Aside from professional ethical considerations, reading personal e-mail is just about the biggest waste of time there is (especially when I could be reading /.!)
    --

  • Yea, but even your 486 might have an ethernet card or PPP account or something.

    --Posted by an Apple II on FidoNet.


    --
  • "We didn't have tracer implants that the police track 24 hours a day 7 days a week to 'make sure we're safe'"

    I like my tracer implant, but sometimes it kind of aches in wet weather, and sometimes it tells me to do things I don't want to do.

    Is there a bug fix I can download for this?
  • Thanks for being the voice of reason. You're right that DejaNews is going out of their way to generate this log. It's not just a matter of standard mail server procedures.

    My concern is how issues like this are handled. The best solution to this is don't use DejaNews. But the article hints that congressional bills may address the issue.

    DejaNews has crossed the line! What do we do!?! Somebody call Strom Thurmond or Ted Kennedy! Maybe Al "Alpha Geek" Gore could help.

    Everyone has a hard-on for the DOJ to slap Microsoft, but once government steps into the ring, they become the only true player. The internet (and the computer industry in general) has been blissfully free of congressional interference. Don't encourage the alterantive.
  • The privacy concern isn't about my-dejanews e-mail accounts (which are logged, as you note, through sendmail or Exchange or whatever they're using, and would be expected to do so).

    This is about clicking on e-mail addresses on a dejanews Usenet post, which would normally be between you and your browser. They redirect this mailto link, presumably to track it. Perhaps they're just counting how often this happens, but one has to wonder why they need the information. Particularly since they don't disclose it -- you have to notice it, and most people wouldn't have any idea that it was different from a normal mailto: link.
  • Since I have been doing this crazy online thing (1982) it has been absolutely positively known, and I believe impossible for a company to assert otherwise, that electronic mail is viewable by the administrator of the system. Now perhaps outgoing mail might be less available to a particular admin but the fact is that the information is sitting on someones computer... FURTHERMORE since folks don't seem to get it, I will repeat something I used to say on IRC back in 1993... EVERYTHING I SAY IS EASILY MONITORED BY ANYONE WHO GIVES A DAMN. There are too many access points to monitor any given persons communications. Thats why we needed PGP and why the battle for encryption is so important. The issue of merely logging sendmail or otherwise is trivial. It is my mailserver. I definately want to know what is going on with it. Personally I don't read my users mail, but sometimes they ASK me to check something that is wrong with their mail. Sometimes they DON'T want that 6meg file that some idiot sent them which is beating on their poor windows ppp session. So as an administrator, the fact is that I got ROOT for a reason. How I USE the information I have access to is what is important. If Dejanews is doing something with the info they are collecting that is counter to the wellbeing of those who are using their services then by all means make a fuss, and tell people. But if what they are doing is collecting data to analyze for the purposes generally suspected, that of usage monitoring, security, optimization, well who the hell cares.

    The fact is that one cannot technically prove anything based on logs. Those logs can be forged, or tampered with. There is no verification that the person who sent the email was represented appropriately, or that the person recieving the email ever truly did. Email is still a format that has not been defined well officially. Until we see official signatures and other methods, we are in a zone where the legality of an email message is dependent on many things that can't be controled by the user or admin...

    I have spoken to friends about this, people who handle the email of law firms and security traders... The lawfirms try to clear the email off the systems because of discovery (if they deleted the message then a subpoena doesn't matter). The ones with the brokerages have to back up every email sent in or out, because THEY are required to have all communications documented by the the SEC...

    So go figure. And truly, free email accounts cost you nothing and while they don't cost MUCH for the server, they do cost something. It is easy enough for a person to get a tcp/ip connection, and hook up a linux box to have their own mail server. Then log all you want or don't want...


    Blah...

    ------
    This message is under surveilance by the NSA. If you are reading this message you will be contacted by the NSA. The code word is 'excuse me'... If someone contacts you with this information, you submit immediately to a fullcavity strip search...
    Thank you for your cooperation.

  • Since "mailto" is a "special purpose" type of tag that may have new features added to its specification at some point in the future, the programmer may have provided the redirection link as a modular layer of abstraction that would allow for changing the way addresses are handled.

    For instance, if the user is a DejaMail customer, it might load the DejaNews "compose" page instead of telling your browser to send mail. Or perhaps it could add a Refers-To-Article: header or something to the email, but only if the browser could handle it.

    Who cares, really? I went to DejaNews and wanted to email someone. I just copy-and-pasted their email address after I looked at my browser's status line and realized it wasn't a mailto: link.
  • by humphrm ( 18130 )
    I've read all the arguments: everyone does this, people can get the information other ways, the information isn't useful anyway.

    Not with my Deja account, they don't.

    I just deleted my Deja Community, and sent Deja instructions to delete my email account and my profile.

    Deja needs to be slapped.
  • I know that this is now 12 days later and I never saw this reply, but for the record: What I don't want Deja collecting is what the article says they are collecting: surf habits, article postings, news groups you belong to, etc. That's far more valuable consumer data than my personal web page offers, which is all basically public record anyway.
  • Uhh, the first sentence of that last paragraph should've been, "Realistically, I DON'T think it's that big of a deal."
  • The email address is encoded in the link and even if it wasn't, it's still the text of the link. Here the html from DejaNews (I've replaced all less-thans with '{' because I can't figure out how to get slashdot to escape it)...



    {A HREF="http://www.dejanews.com/[ST_rn=qs]/jump/mail to:foo@bar.com">foo@bar.com{/a>



    Bots can parse this no problem. Their redirect does not stop bots!

    Randy Weems
    rweems@nospam.hotmail.com
  • The other two replys to this are right on the money. Realistically, I don't think it's all that big of a deal, but let's all be clear here on
    • exactly
    what's going on.

    Go to DejaNews and look at a Usenet posting. Next to the Author's name, you'll see that DejaNews was nice enough to provide a link with the authors email address so that with a simple click you can email the author. Fair enough, that's helpful (and something I expect). The problem is, it's NOT a simple mailto:foo@bar.com link. It links back to DejaNews. DejaNews sees this, and says to itself, "Hey, Joe Blow just clicked on a link to email foo@bar.com." Then it redirects to something link mailto:foo@bar.com, which causes your mail client to pop up, all ready to email to foo@bar.com. At this point, DejaNews is out of the picture (you're sending email to foo@ on your PC using your mail client and your IPS' SMTP server). But DejaNews has already made a note that you at least clicked on the link to email them (you could change your mind and cancel and DejaNews wouldn't know the difference). The point here is that DejaNews doesn't have to do it this way. They could've simply put the link to the person's email directly on the page (which would've been much simpler), in which case they would have no way of knowing if you clicked it. They're specifically going out of their way to make note of the fact that you clicked on the link to email someone. Someone, somewhere, made a deliberate, conscious decision to go to the extra trouble of logging this. It's not some incidental log.

    Randy Weems
    rweems@home.com
  • by geoGIF ( 19699 ) on Friday April 30, 1999 @02:25PM (#1908630)
    There seem to be a lot of people out there (especially sys admins), who are saying, "This is no big deal. Everyone store logs, etc." Hello. Excuse me...you're not getting it. Lets all be clear here on exactly what's going on.

    Go to DejaNews and look at a Usenet posting. Next to the Author's name, you'll see that DejaNews was nice enough to provide a link with the authors email address so that with a simple click you can email the author. Fair enough, that's helpful (and something I expect). The problem is, it's NOT a simple mailto:foo@bar.com link. It links back to DejaNews. DejaNews sees this, and says to itself, "Hey, Joe Blow just clicked on a link to email foo@bar.com." Then it redirects to something link mailto:foo@bar.com, which causes your mail client to pop up, all ready to email to foo@bar.com. At this point, DejaNews is out of the picture (you're sending email to foo@ on your PC using your mail client and your IPS' SMTP server). But DejaNews has already made a note that you at least clicked on the link to email them (you could change your mind and cancel and DejaNews wouldn't know the difference). The point here is that DejaNews doesn't have to do it this way. They could've simply put the link to the person's email directly on the page (which would've been much simpler), in which case they would have no way of knowing if you clicked it. They're specifically going out of their way to make note of the fact that you clicked on the link to email someone. Someone, somewhere, made a deliberate, conscious decision to go to the extra trouble of logging this. It's not some incidental log.

    Realistically, I do think it's that big of deal. But this is not the simple sendmail log that all the I-love-to-jump-to-conclusions idiots who've only skimmed the story without actually understanding it are claiming it is.

    Randy Weems
    reems@nospam.hotmail.com
  • I too think this is a good thing. They relaized that Mindcraft was Microsoft-sponsored using the ip address in deja news. Otherwise. it would become a completely anonymous news poster. And usenet is already anarchical enough...

    maan
  • It's true, they go out of their way to do this. But I really don't think it's against spammers. If a spammer is intelligent enough, he'll cut and paste the address from the page without going through the server.

    The reason I think they're doing it is to show people who advertise that people are using their service. It's in addition to the web access log. Remember that dejanews is free, and they need to get their money somehow. Put yourself in the place of the advertiser looking for a popular web site. If you find out that many people use the service and e-mail people from it, it's a good argument...

    Maan
  • by maan ( 21073 ) on Friday April 30, 1999 @12:30PM (#1908633)
    Alright, so dejanews knows which ip address sent an e-mail to whom. Well, Rob right here on slashdot can know precisely at what time of the day i visited his site. Microsoft can have a detailed log of their visitors. Logging is something that any sensible sysadmin does. Someone who manages a service as important as dejanews' or any other site needs some info. It could be to improve performance in certain areas, or to show some people who work with ties (people with big salaries who decide where the money goes) that the thing they're paying for is worth it. They need to show advertisers (their main source of revenue) that their investment is not worthless.

    It is true however that such info could have some use. But such things should remain confidential to the company and not be publiczed such as on zdnet. This stuff has been going on for more than a yer now, and it didn't bother anyone, even if they didn't know it. Why should they start today?

    True. Maybe Dejanews should have said somewhere in the fine print that they were doing this (and actually, maybe they do). But don't say that because they log who you e-mail to infringes your privacy. Please...

    Maan
    bsat@iprolink.ch

    (I hope you don't mind that I log the e-mails I receive. Do you really wanna see this kind of disclaimers on sites...)
  • Of course sendmail does logging but this is something entirely different. DejaNews isn't logging mail that's going through their server, they're keeping track of email addresses that users click on in Usenet posts. This clearly is not something that they need to track for system admin purposes. It's snooping. The article quotes DejaNews reps as saying that "the logging is incidental" and "they have no intention of keeping the records for any purpose at all." Then why do it?
  • I have to wonder... . This has nothing to do with running a mail server. This has nothing to do with loging for sys admin purposes. One more time: When a user clicks on an email address in a Usenet post, Dejanews records that address. What your SMTP server does is not the issue here.
  • Nobody can have complete freedom in a large society. For example, I give up the "right" to drive my car anywhere I want to. Instead, I am forced to follow specific rules like staying on the right side of the road, stopping at red lights, etc...

    Driving a car is not a right, it's a privilige. Privacy OTOH is a basic human right. And the reason driving a car is so regulated, is that the risk is so great that when done improperly, you violate some-one else's human rights (such as the right to live, the right to integrity of the human body, etc.)

    Also, what I personally find really funny is how the Slashdot "community" is vehemently opposed to patents and copyrights on music but when it comes to their personal stuff, they scream bloody murder.

    If you copy something, the owner of the work still has it. If you take some-one's privacy away then, like material property, it's gone.

    Of course one could argue that when you copy a work, you take away some-one's copyright, but copyright, as oposed to the right to privacy, is more or less an 'invented' right. It can hardly be called a birthright - copyright comes in to existance only after a work has been created, while the right to privacy exists as soon as the individual itself is born. It's a fine distinction, and one of personal preference, but this is the distinction I think most people who argue for privacy and against copyright make.
    (Also, all individuals, and no corporations have a right to privacy, while most artists have to transfer their copyrights to big faceless corporations. And corporations really shouldn't deal in human rights, for the same reasons corporations do not have the vote...)

  • Um, hello... netscape already does track all the URLs you visit (or at least they have added the capability to Navigator to do so.)

    Which just goes to show that original poster was correct. People will ignore the problem until it's too late.

    http://www.interhack.net/pubs/whatsrelated/whats related.html
  • They could be doing it for all the big brother reasons people are suggesting, but they are probably also doing it for accountability reasons. We run a free email provider, and we keep the typical sendmail logs that everyone else does. Why? Because we have a responsibility to the Internet public to stop abuse of our systems (and subsequently other systems). The most common use here is spam. In the rare event that someone sends out a "spam" (which by many supposed anti-spam activists has been expanded to the mean email from anyone you don't know), we need to do what we can to stop that person. The only way we can do this is by checking the IP they sent the mail from. If someone is doing someing illegal, like child pornography, law enforcement will request logs. These are really the only reason for having them. We dont have reports on all our users, we dont use logs for demographic targetting, but keeping this information is essential to keeping the Internet a usable environment. My personal opinion is that the anonyminity the Internet used to provide was an anomaly, not a right. You should be willing to accept the consequences of your actions.
  • Note in particular that Mr.Y never had any expectation of anonymity; he only expected that his correspondence would not be exposed to traffic analysis by third parties.

    He expected wrong. His mail passed through dozens of routes, and at any one of them information could be collected and processed. Should've used anonymous E-mail service & PGP.

    Also note, that boss could as easily be running WWW proxy software or traffic sniffer and see what user was browsing and what information he submitted.

    1) DejaNews' logs serve no useful security function, and they are redundant with a user's own system's mail logs.

    Oh ? Well. Then, let's purpose that we turn off all logging on all systems that are not original source and final destination. Especially on all routers, gateways, proxying software, mail relays etc, since all that data is redundant wih user's own system mail logs (oh, we might as well turn it off at remote end, since originating end will keep logs).

    Any Sysadmin worth its name keeps logs of any data that might prove useful.

    2) DejaNews does not inform its users that these logs are being kept, and logging by the referring agent is not the usual behavior for clicking on a link in a web browser.

    They do need to. Any privacy-concerned user should assume by default that anything not specifically protected by HIM is open for whole world to see. Especially looking at those E-mail redirectors.

    3) Unlike a sysadmin for an organization with which a user has a usage agreement DejaNews has no restrictions on how it uses the logs it keeps.

    Which is exactly they say on their usage agreement, eh ? You don't like the service, don't use the service. It is as easy as that.

    My conclusion is if you want privacy, YOU need to take care of that. There is no way anyone else is going to keep your privacy for you _at no cost_.

    Anyway, is everybody in such privacy-frenzy that they have not noticed that such info could be usufull for anything other but creating hughe SPAM list ?

    Things that cross my mind at the moment are for example scoring of articles by Dejanews and for advanced search alghoritm (like, that message was read that and that many times, followed up that times, and replied to that many times).

  • Not planning on using open-source software when
    you're an old man?
  • They have to make their money somehow, and
    if tracking your habits gives them a valid
    excuse to give you a free email account, stop
    complaining.

    This is only true if you are informed up front of that aspect of the deal. Since they did not -- since in fact their privacy policy said otherwise -- your admonition is way out of line.
    --

  • You know, there was a day once when you would pay money for a regular old email account...

    ...or am I the only one who remembers two years ago?

    They have to make their money somehow, and if tracking your habits gives them a valid excuse to give you a free email account, stop complaining.

    -gonzo
    --
    Gonzo Granzeau

  • by scotto ( 38747 ) on Friday April 30, 1999 @12:29PM (#1908643)
    Although I do worry about online privacy, I think
    it is unfair to single out DejaNews like this. By
    default Sendmail logs the sender and recipient of
    every piece of email it handles, and Sendmail is on
    something like 90% of all computers that handle
    Internet email. This information has valid uses,
    such as tracking down spammers, and identifying
    misconfigured mail servers and clients.
  • I find it highly unlikely that a company could be so naive as to allow a programmer to do something like that just on technical grounds.

    I am an engineer with a Dutch search engine, and I had this discussion with my colleagues once: whether or not we should add link-redirection. We had a very good technical reason to do so, since the poularity of links can be used to improve the relevance ranking of the engine big time (cf. DirectHit [directhit.com]). Now, this is a much better reason than just "adding another layer of abstraction". However, the proposal was immediately discarded by my superiors, on privacy grounds. They felt people were much too itchy about this stuff and we'd better leave it alone.

    I am positive that Dejanews knew exactly what they were doing, and what the risks involved were.

    It is not coincedence that a problem like this pops up at a company like Dejanews. Dejanews' core business has always been on the verge of privacy violation. We all love Dejanews because it helps us tame the mind boggling amount of information that flows through usenet every day. And DejaNews' value will only continue to increase as the years go by. Imagine what a valuable research tool it will be to the future anthropologist trying to trace the evolution of certain memes through the history of internet.

    However, there is a darker side. The same power that we have all come to love allows us to trace individuals just as easy as those interesting memes. And you don't need a subpoena to do so. Imagine the amount of information you can find about yourself on DejaNews in fifty years! Even if you are a mildly active usenet personality, your whole life will be out there, ready to get datamined by any dirt-digger, biographer, stalker or power-hungry megacorporation.

    Sure, it's possible to "trick" DejaNews by using different aliases or email addresses. But that is a major pain in the *ss (try teaching your mum just how to do that), and forces you to actively defend your privacy instead of being able to trust yourself to remain reasonably anonymous. (And besides that, you can pretty sure that within a couple of years there will be plenty computing power to recognize a poster just by her verbal fingerprint instead of her email address. Think spelling errors here: how many people know how to spell "potatoe"?)

    Dejanews has been a mixed blessing right from the start. It feeds on semi-private information and offers us a great tool in return. What we witness with the mail-click thing, is that people are irritated at the fact that they don't get anything in return for this information, not at the bare fact that their privacy is violated. Their privacy has been systematically violated by Dejanews all along, and they didn't really care.

    Maybe we should have something like robots.txt for usenet. That would help, at least a little bit.
    --

  • Well, there is no log of most of my activities this morning, nor are my fingerprints on file anywhere. Have we started our slide down to anarchy yet?

    In fact, this information is collected only when there is a compelling reason to do so. Similarly, when websites collect some information on us, for instance their httpd logs, nobody complains because there are good reasons for the sites to keep these logs. However, DejaNews has no good reason to keep logs of links selected by users of their service. Now, I won't dispute thatthey are within their rights to collect this information, but to do so without warning their users is unconscionable.

  • ComputerWorld [computerworld.com] and Wired [wired.com] report that DejaNews is discontinuing its policy of tracking click throughs on mailto: links. Click throughs on http: links will apparently still be monitored, but DejaNews is revising its privacy policy statement to clarify just what data is being kept.


    In his writeup in Risks 20.36 [ncl.ac.uk] Richard Smith (one of the folks that reported the tracking policy) points out that keeping too much information poses a risk to the Website or ISP collecting the information as well as to the users who are being monitored. To summarize his argument, the more information these sites collect, the more likely they are to get dragged into a legal dispute that doesn't really involve them directly. So, an argument can be made that respecting users' privacy is beneficial for users and ISPs alike.


    -r

  • These logs have nothing to do with accountability, since my own mail server's logs provide all the accountability necessary. Indeed, DejaNews' logging is trivial to defeat if you know it is there, so it is useless for providing accountability.


    Note, also, that anonymity is not at issue here. To see why, let's set up a scenario. Mr. Y is tired of his old job and is looking for a new one. He doesn't want his current employer to know, in case he doesn't find a new job, so he avoids using the company email server for any job searching. Instead he uses his personal account with foo.net to manage all of his correspondence. As part of his search he looks up some Usenet posts on DejaNews, and he responds to several companies and head hunters by clicking their mailto: links.



    Now, our hero's employer suspects something is up. (Perhaps he looks bright and cheerful at his new prospects--something unheard of at his company.) He (the employer) checks the company's email logs (within his rights at many companies) and finds nothing unusual. He goes to foo.net and asks to see their mail logs, but they tell him to go scratch; that's against their usage agreement. So, Mr. Y's employer decides to follow up a long shot and contact DejaNews.


    Unlike foo.net, DejaNews has no usage agreement with Mr. Y (other than the standard "usage of this site leaves you at our mercy" boilerplate), so they could release this information, and if Mr. Y's employer is willing to pay handsomely they might well do so. Certainly Mr. Y has no guarantee that they won't, and (here's the kicker) DejaNews never warned him that this information was being kept. In fact, they have gone to some pains to hide the fact.


    Note in particular that Mr.Y never had any expectation of anonymity; he only expected that his correspondence would not be exposed to traffic analysis by third parties.


    So, as I see it, the differences between DejaNews' logging and legitimate system logs are:

    1) DejaNews' logs serve no useful security function, and they are redundant with a user's own system's mail logs.

    2) DejaNews does not inform its users that these logs are being kept, and logging by the referring agent is not the usual behavior for clicking on a link in a web browser.

    3) Unlike a sysadmin for an organization with which a user has a usage agreement DejaNews has no restrictions on how it uses the logs it keeps.

    So, in light of these differences, I still maintain that any comparison between these logs and legitimate server logs is specious, and that what DejaNews is doing is an unwarranted invasion of its users' privacy.


    -r

  • by Robert Link ( 42853 ) on Friday April 30, 1999 @02:24PM (#1908648) Homepage
    Gonzo writes:

    You know, there was a day once when you would pay money for a regular old email
    account...

    ...or am I the only one who remembers two years ago?

    They have to make their money somehow, and if tracking your habits gives them a valid
    excuse to give you a free email account, stop complaining.


    The problem is that the information is collected regardless of whether the user has an email account with DejaNews or not. The idea is that if you click on a link in an article you retrieved from DejaNews, you are not sent to the link you see on the screen. Instead you are sent to a script on the DejaNews site that records whatever statistics they keep and then redirects you to the link you thought you were following. So, in other words, if the highlighted link reads:


    http://mailto:rlink@indiana.edu


    The actual link is:


    http://x12.dejanews.com/jump/mailto:rlink@indian a.edu


    Now, this is easy enough to avoid by simply cutting and pasting the displayed URL into your browser's location field, but the point is that most users would not think to do this because there is no indication that the link is anything other than what it appears to be. Regardless of what you think about privacy, collecting this information covertly is, at best, underhanded.



    While we're on the topic, several other people have replied comparing this practice to sendmail's logging. I think this analogy is flawed. Sendmail records logs of local activity; these logs are necessary to administer the local mail server. DejaNews, on the other hand has no legitimate reason to keep this information, since the mail is not going through their server. Moreover, if my local administrator misuses the information in the system logs he is accountable under the terms of service that I agreed to when I got my account. No such accountability exists with DejaNews, since I have never made any formal agreement. I find this troubling.


    Finally, some people have said that they don't really need privacy, since they don't care if people know who they send mail to. They are welcome to make that choice, but many people do have legitimate reasons for wanting to keep their correspondence private. The burden should not be on them to prove their need for privacy; instead let those who want us to waive our privacy show some compelling reason why we should.


    -r

  • Well a quick look at the TRUSTe approved privacy statement reveals the following:

    "When you visit a Web site displaying the TRUSTe mark, you can expect to be notified of:

    What information this site gathers/tracks about you,
    What this site does with the information it gathers/tracks,
    With whom this site shares the information it gathers/tracks,
    This site's opt-out policy,
    This site's policy on correcting and updating personally identifiable information, and
    This site's policy on deleting or deactivating your name from our database."

    And I see no mention anywhere in the privacy statement that e-mail senders and receivers are being recorded.

    This seems to me that there is a bit of a violation of the TRUSTe agreement.
  • If you read the article... it says that anyone cane actually search this info...
    -

On a clear disk you can seek forever.

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