Eightball and Thundercloud's RANT

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Our Little Rant by Eightball & Thundercloud
From InfoAve Premium Issue #99 - September 9, 2005
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Reading 101
By Thundercloud, Doctor of Sophistry

Good Morning, Class. My name is professor Thundercloud and I want to welcome you to Reading 101 - Understanding Sophistry". You might wonder what my qualifications are for teaching this class. A relevant topic- so let me jump right on that.

I am a graduate of UHK (University of Hard Knocks) and did my post graduate studies at TLL University (Tough Lessons Learned). I have a doctorate in Sophistry. Therefore, by virtue of my superb qualifications, I proclaim myself competent to teach this class. Indeed, I am a master of Sophistry.

I can recognize and understand Sophistry better than the average Joe :) And, trust me, class, there is no finer sophistry to be found than that in the twisted text of the EULA, Terms of Service, and Terms of Use belonging to spyware/adware (or other things that fall into a category we call "underware") programs produced and distributed by some of the most gifted Sophistrists that ever lived.

Indeed, some of my fellow PhDs in Sophistry have gone on to greater heights by honing their Sophocratic skills to absolute perfection. By adding law degrees to their PhDs in Sophistry they have gone on to become paragons in the wildly expanding field of Sophocratic writing. And, as we will see, class, Sophocratic writing is much in demand in the underware industry. In short, they're making big bucks in the underware industry whilst I make a teacher's salary. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

But fear not, students, for in this class I will teach you how to recognize and even understand Sophocratic writing. I will turn your skull full of mush into a lean, mean thinking machine - able to dissect any convoluted, twisted mass of prose that the underware people can throw at you. Hopefully, after you successfully complete this class, you will be able to serve and assist your fellows; educating them and enabling them to ferret out the truth in even the most ludicrous of Sophocratic documents. An educated consumer, is, after all, the underware industry's biggest fear. So, let us begin!

Part One - Obfuscation by Diffusion

In order to misdirect the perspective consumer and increase their comfort level, most underware companies begin with a phrase similar to: "Your privacy is important to us!" (That's Sophistry for "Getting you to download our software is important to us - We need the money!")

Here's an example:

"...Hotbar is committed to your privacy! Hotbar.com, Inc. ("Hotbar") is a licensee of the TRUSTe Privacy Program.  TRUSTe is an independent, non-profit organization whose mission is to build users' trust and confidence in the Internet by promoting the principles of fair information practices. This privacy statement covers the site (link removed to prevent censorship). Because this website wants to demonstrate its commitment to your privacy, it has agreed to disclose its information practices and have its privacy practices reviewed for compliance by TRUSTe. The TRUSTe program covers only information that is collected through this web site, and does not cover information that may be collected through software downloaded from the site. ..."  (You can read Hotbar's masterpiece of sophistry by visiting their site and clicking on "Privacy Policy" fairly well hidden at the bottom of the page).

Here we go. Now this little phrase is supposed to make feel comfortable, grab a glass of wine, put on your PJs and snuggle up in your easy-chair. And all because "TRUSTe" says it's cool. Right? Now, students, we must dig deeper! On the Internet, nothing is ever what it seems! Let's read this article on "TRUSTe" and see just how much one can trust TRUSTe shall we? And, please note the sentence above that ends with: "does not cover information that may be collected through software downloaded from this site....". It's a goodie! So, what would the average Joe be most concerned with? A box of cornflakes or software downloaded from this site? That's about how much sense that whole paragraph makes. The use of "TRUSTe" above gives you about as much protection as buying a car insurance policy that only covers your left-front hubcap. Sophistry is such a flexible tool! Can you see how excited this stuff makes me?

Part Two - Obfuscation by Slight-of-Word

One of the Internet's most prolific underware companies on the Internet is Gain (Gator, Claria, et.al.). They're a little more upfront about things these days. At least they don't ask you to trust TRUSTe. But they do use some a nifty bit of sophistry when they say Gain "offers some of the most popular software available on the Internet free of charge..." Hmmm. Does Gator ring a bell with any of you? Would you call it "popular" or "infamous"? What say you class? Would you rather be "popular" or "infamous". Isn't sophistry subtle? I love it! Just read the ooze below:

"....GAIN Publishing offers some of the most popular software available on the Internet free of charge ("GAIN-Supported Software") in exchange for your agreement to also install GAIN AdServer software ("GAIN"), which will display Pop-Up, Pop-Under, and other types of ads on your computer based on the information we collect as stated in this Privacy Statement. We refer to consumers who have GAIN on their system as "Subscribers." GAIN Is Designed to Collect and Use Non-Personal Information. GAIN collects certain non-personally identifiable information about your Web surfing and computer usage...."

Part Three - Obfuscation by Complex Convolution

(From Ask Jeeves/MyWay/FunWebProducts "Privacy Policy)



This is a one of my favorites! The above is such a juicy specimen. Let's take the "THIS PRODUCT IS NOT SPYWARE OR ADWARE"  part. Without getting into a dialectic discussion of adware, let's assume for a reasonable person, adware would be any program that displayed advertising while it is running that would not otherwise appear on your computer if you weren't running that software. Does that sound reasonable, class? Assuming that is true, then the statement "THIS PRODUCT IS NOT SPYWARE OR ADWARE" is not true based on this evidence http://thundercloud.net/infoave/funwebproducts/askjeeves-adware.gif . If that's not an ad showing up on the very program that Ask Jeeves says is not adware, I'll eat this Rant!


Darn those lawyers! Does anyone really believe that lawyers were not the ones writing this in the first place? I think you can all see the sophistry here! And, just think, you've only been in class about ten minutes! Yes, Judy? Ah, yes, indeed, Judy, you're correct! The sophistry here is that since lawyers wrote this in the first place they are trying to convince you that they're going to force themselves to do something. < I chortle mightily > I'm sorry class, I love this stuff. Bear with me :)

Part Four - Obfuscation by Complex Convolution
Example 2

As you can see, an integral part of Sophistry is convolution. And the most prevalent use of Sophistry in obfuscation by convolution. The more convoluted something is the more difficult it will be to find the true meaning of a given document. And no one is more well aware of this than our friends in the underware industry.

I cite the following as an example. This comes from the MyWay Privacy Policy but this technique is used by almost all underware companies and questionable online services. Please note class, I have used red bold text for emphasis - the actual "privacy policy" does not add this emphasis, but the text is, indeed, verbatim from the cited privacy policy.

Information We Collect
This website and related services ("My Way" or "Site") is owned by My Way, Inc. ("we" or "us").
We do not collect any PII about our users  ("you") (such as your name or email address) when you use My Way unless you specifically decide to provide such information in order to enhance your My Way experience. If you choose to provide an email address as part of personalizing My Way, we will not send an email to you unless you specifically request an email response to a customer service inquiry or contact is required in order to protect someone's safety or to enforce our Terms of Service. You are not required to provide an email address to personalize My Way. 

What does this mean. They don't collect any PII (Personally Identifiable Information) unless you "specifically" decide to give it to them? So what do they do with it then? The don't "collect" it. Do they throw it away? Or store it, but not collect it? Well, if I collect stamps, I would hope I would store them. If someone gives me a stamp, I've collected it haven't I? It goes in my collection of stamps and I'm going to store it, aren't I. Actually the paragraph above is brilliant. A very advanced Sophistrist wrote this, maybe even a former student of mine! I'd be proud. But, moving right along.

Exactly nine paragraphs later, MyWay's Privacy Policy says this:

Reviewing Your Personally Identifiable Information

To review, revise or delete the personally identifiable information that
we have collected about you online that we maintain, please log in to your profile and edit accordingly. You may access your profile here. However, please understand that although this information, once deleted, is not available on the Site, that information may remain stored indefinitely in our backup and archival records.

Do you think your eyes are deceiving you? They're not. They clearly say in the paragraph titled "Information We Collect" - "We do not collect any PII (Personally Identifiable Information) about our users...." and nine paragraphs later they say "...To review, revise or delete the personally identifiable information that we have collected about you ...."

Wait! I thought they said they didn't collect ANY PII from me! Class! This is a perfect example of Sophistry by complex convolution. Contradictions like these abound in the underware industry! Not only complex documentation which comes with the underware itself but now with the underware industry's online services' (that require logins for "personalization") documentation.  Indeed, the most sophisticated Sophistry can be found in use by underware companies. I stand in awe of how much Sophistry is out there! Doesn't it make you glad you're taking my class?

Part Five - Text Glazing
(May result in contamination by association)

The final lesson in our course covers a very nifty part of Sophistry I call "Text Glazing". This is where the writer quickly glazes over something important and attempts to distract the reader's eye and focus on the text the writer would like the reader to focus on. It's sort of like a magician's sleight-of-hand - only with words. Text glazing is used by the more sophisticated Sophistrists and should not be attempted by students or mere amateurs. In other words - don't try this on your spouse or significant other unless you're a graduate Sophistrist, like me!

Here's a textbook example of "Text Glazing" and it comes from our old buddies at Hotbar:

"...When an e-mail, containing Images and Content, is received, the recipient receives the e-mail which includes HTML format comprised of HTML code which allows for the presentation of the selected Images and Content to such recipient directly from our servers. Such HTML code of the e-mail may also retrieve information from our servers (such as text and/or banner promotions) which will, in such case, also appear in the e-mail sent and be viewed by the recipient in question.  If you downloaded the Software after February 6, 2005, these functionalities of the e-mail signature shall apply to all outgoing e-mails you send...."

This is a professional job of text glazing! Students, do you see all the acronyms (HTML) in that paragraph? Do you see how your eyes are drawn to them?

Notice how this sentence is constructed: "...the recipient receives the e-mail with includes HTML format comprised of HTML code (no kidding?) which allows for the presentation of the selected images and Content (sic) to such recipient directly from our servers...." Wow, this guy could teach this class. This is classic Sophistry!

And, it goes on to say "....Such HTML code of the e-mail may also retrieve information from our servers (such as text and/or banner promotions) which will, in such case, also appear in the e-mail sent and be viewed by the recipient in question...."

Bravo! Bravo! This is perfect Sophistry! Notice the phase "text and/or banner promotions". Such text-glazing! Translated this means text or banner advertisements will appear in "all outgoing messages you send" (if, of course you downloaded the "Software" after 2/06/05"). This means your recipient will get the added bonus of seeing advertisements served up hot and fresh by Hotbar. Can you imagine how much joy that will bring your recipients? I bet the "recipient in question" won't be able to wait until you send them more email so they can see even more advertisements. One thing we don't ever get enough of on the Web is advertisements!

And, what's really neat about this type of Sophistry is that all the meaty parts are nicely "glazed over" sort of like a donut. Whoever chooses to put Hotbar on their computer agrees that if they send email using the "software" they will be sending banners and text-advertising to their recipients (and the sender never sees what's being advertised to the recipient). So, Hotbar can advertise on computers owned by folks who never agreed to Hotbar's EULA, TOS, or TOU, and it's all completely legal! Amazing!

The great part about Sophocratic writing is that it is quite like a magic trick. You have to make the words appear to mean something other than what you really mean. This might sound easy, class, but it's really very difficult. Most of us are trained to write so as to be understood, but Sophistrists learn to write so what they really mean is not understood. Instead the goal is to create a document that appears to mean something different than what it says. It's sort of like "Where's Elmo?". You have to see how many Elmos you can find hidden the picture.

Class Dismissed

You came in to my class without a clue as to how much Sophistry affects our lives on the Internet. Hopefully those of you who have stayed awake will leave cognizant of the techniques used by Sophistrists . As you continue your education and work toward your degree in Sophistry, remember that practice does indeed make perfect. In your spare time, read the many superb examples of professional Sophistry available in almost any document accompanying any underware product!

Please turn in your test papers on the way out. Have a great weekend!

Class dismissed.


Tell us what you think - Please

Nothing in this RANT may be construed as a comment about, for, or against, the programs and services used as examples in this RANT. Nor can any conclusion be drawn nor are we recommending any conclusion be drawn as to the suitability of any software or company named herein for any purpose. Nothing in this RANT may be construed as an argument for or against installing any particular program or using any particular service.

This RANT is an editorial. It is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Cloudeight Internet, Thundercloud.net, or the sponsors, or hosts of Cloudeight Internet LLC or Thundercloud.net.  It is a tongue-in-cheek essay about Sophistry and not about adware, freeware, spyware, malware, or any other kind of 'ware'. This is stuff our lawyers make us put in :-).

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