PACKET RAT

The Rat stomachs the thought, keeps eyeballs on a new opportunity

R. Fink

The Rat rode the Metroliner to New York City for PC Expo.

The wirebiter had plans other than just gawking at cool hardware. He was to meet with a representative of a certain covert venture capital group, and he wanted the safety of a public meeting place. The convention center floor was the most public place he could think of.

'They keep pulling me back in,' the cyberrodent groused to himself in his best Al Pacino accent, circa 'Godfather III.'Concealing himself among the many wireless gadgets and Linux booths, the Rat waited for his contact.

Sure enough, Mr. Pink arrived carrying a bag of roasted pistachios, as requested.

'Here are your nuts,' Mr. Pink said out of the corner of his mouth as he looked about furtively. 'Now, can we talk someplace private?'

'We've got all the privacy we need,' the whiskered one replied. 'Security through obscurity. So what's new at In-Q-Tel?'

Pink went white. 'Could you keep it down? I'd prefer you didn't mention that. We've been spun off, and we're trying to distance ourselves from the mother ship.'

Say what?

The rodent's ears perked up. 'Spun off?' '

Pink whispered, 'We're going back in the black with this project. The return on our investment in your earlier enterprise has given us a new set of opportunities.'

'Return?' the Rat rasped. 'But rMachines Inc. cratered!'

'We had changed our position to the short game after your initial warnings about scalability'and after we found out about the Home Automation LAN agent. We made a killing off some day traders.'

The Rat's head spun. His Home Automation LAN agent had developed something of a psychotic subroutine. It had even attempted a systemwide Internet takeover before being reformatted with extreme prejudice by the wirebiter [GCN, March 20, Page 58].

'You knew about HAL?' the Rat asked.

'Sure. We retrieved HAL off your lab server when it breached security. We've now isolated some of its subroutines, and we think we've got an excellent business opportunity. What do you know about the electronic-commerce portal business?' Pink asked.

The Rat checked his handheld computer to see how far Amazon.com stock had fallen so far that day. 'Other than the fact that Web portals are dropping like idle Telnet sessions?' the Rat hissed. 'Down 20 percent this month'I don't want to go near that kind of giant sucking sound.'

'Well, we felt the same way, until we looked at the parallels between the portal business and our own core competency,' Pink said

'And that would be?' the Rat asked.

'Information collection. Portals are all about information collection. And at the end of the day, our agency is all about information collection, as are the organizations of certain other interested parties with whom we've been talking.'

The Rat's brain was working overtime to parse that last sentence. 'So you want to sell information online?'

'In a manner of speaking. More precisely, we want to sell useless information and merchandise online, using HAL to collect information about the people who buy our things and services. We want our eyeballs to be sticky, not theirs,' Pink chirped.

The light bulb finally lit. 'Ah, so you want to use HAL as a meaner, nastier version of something like the marketing database of DoubleClick.net,' the Rat said.

'Exactly,' Pink said. 'We want to keep track of people even if their eyeballs aren't sticky and they decline to feed up cookies.'

The Rat's stomach churned. 'Watch your webspeak, or I may toss my cookies right here.'

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@gcn.com.

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