R. Fink | Can't see the forest for the iPhone bills

The Packet Rat | Commentary: The other shoe ' measured by the ton ' drops with the iPhone bill

R. Fink

packet rat illustration by Michael J. Bechetti

The iPhone has already become a source of contention in the Rat household, mostly because of the whiskered one's insistence that digital convergence is just a conspiracy by Apple to breach the final work/life barriers and turn everyone into Web-surfing, e-mail-checking junkies 24/7. That, and he considers it a huge security risk.

Then AT&T Wireless delivered more fuel to fire the Rat's paranoia when it sent the Rat's wife a lovely boxed gift in the mail: the first phone bill for her iPhone.

'OK, how many trees did they have to kill to send out the first month's bills?' the Rat half-growled, half-cackled as he contemplated the wood-pulp brick packed with 150 pages of hard copy.

Mrs. Rat blanched at the package, which ' despite her unlimited use plan ' seemed to list every single text message, Web page download and request. It would be an excellent audit trail of her activities ' except that the details for each transaction were nonexistent.

The postage for her bill? About $3 ' roughly the cost of the toner used to print it.

'Well, this is an argument for paperless billing, I suppose,' she said, embarrassed.

'It might also be a sign that you text like a teenager,' the cyberrodent snickered.

Of course, the winner of the iPhone iBill sweepstakes was a Pittsburgh blogger named Justine Ezarik, whose 300-page bill totaled more than $200, despite her allegedly having an unlimited use plan. Ezarik posted a video of herself opening the bill on various video sites, including one on YouTube that has had more than 300,000 viewings.

Naturally, the size of Ezarik's bill is now prominently displayed on her Wikipedia entry. She's a bit of a Mac-lebrity already because of her role in the Web TV show 'MacBreak.' And the Rat is sure she's tracking any changes to her Wikipedia entry with that other cyberphenomenon, WikiScanner.

WikiScanner, the project of California Institute of Technology student Virgil Griffith, tracks the IP addresses of systems people who edit entries in the online encyclopedia. Wired magazine reported that the tool revealed many cases of organizations manipulating what was said about them in the openly editable articles of Wikipedia. Diebold employees, for example, appeared to have deleted parts of entries detailing security concerns about their company's voting machines.

Griffith told Wired he was inspired to build the database after learning that some congressional staffers had routinely edited their bosses' entries. Sure enough, the database turns up plenty of federal and congressional IP addresses performing edits to Wikipedia articles that match their sources.

The Rat, however, is less concerned with whether anyone is manipulating his agency's Wikipedia cred from within. He's started using the tool to track which IP addresses in his agency are being used to edit Wikipedia entries of any kind, because that isn't what they're supposed to be doing.

'Just don't write anything about me on Wikipedia,' his wife sighed.

'You mean, like, 'digital-convergence tree killer?' ' the Rat laughed.


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