Big Brother goes freelance

[Updated 14th June and 15th June]

This week a young web professional in Manhattan has used the Internet to identify and – well – harrass an opportunist thief who picked up and failed to return a T-Mobile Sidekick, (which appears to be a rather cool web-enabled hand-held doo-dad) which a friend of his had lost in a NYC taxi-cab.

A few weeks ago in the UK, someone else used the internet to identify and – again – to harrass a young con man who sold him a broken laptop via e-bay.

The first thing that hit me as I explored these stories on-line is the high degree of illiteracy which seems to pervade them. The second thing is that it’s clear that in cyberspace everyone can hear you scream. It’s not so much that these are today’s viral memes, more that the bad guys in these stories – like most of us – have no idea of the extent to which we leave vapour-trails behind us when we use technology.

It is as if Evan and the Laptopguy have become freelance Big Brothers with a tight focus on the individuals they have information about.

I’m still trying to digest the implications of these tales, but I have vague thoughts about surveillance, the Patriot Act, GCHQ, cyber-stalking, date-rape, witch-burning, mobs with pitch-forks, ducking-stools, and other rather sinister stuff going around in my head.

One of the things I love about my life is that I am alive to experience the most influential technological development since the wheel. (I am happy to defend my hyperbole on that one any time). But, like most technology, the Internet merely enables us to be ourselves but more so. We are aggressive and intrusive buggers, aren’t we? Not to mention inventive and grudge-bearing.

I’m beginning to feel a little exposed.

Still, it is interesting – and I hope our e-vigilantes get their devices or their money returned, and I have to admire their inventiveness.

I just wish that more of those involved could spell.


14th June

Today I found this story: which is a classic con-the-conman bait and switch, and which does not require the internet to work. What I do find interesting the extent to which Evan (the Sidekick guy) and Jeff (this particular Powerbook guy) received peer-permission for their actions from discussion boards. Evan is now receiving some criticism for the speed with which he jumped to conclusions and his rather sanctimonious stance, but it’s clear that they both received a lot of on-line endorsement.

I find the whole thing fascinating.


15th June

I should have thought to check Wikipedia:

And their story of Korean Dog Poop Girl: where the Net’s contribution was to make the vilification friction-free, and which does seem to have prompted the sort of questions that I find myself asking about these subjects.



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