Ethics and Sailor Moon

There’s a difference between those of us who do business online and those who do business offline.

It’s called ethics. I’m not saying online businesspeople lack ethics. We just don’t police them. When an online business crosses an ethical line (as opposed to breaking the law), we don’t hammer that business in an organized way. We don’t shun it and separate ourselves from it. Instead, we try to pretend it’s not there.

I learned this firsthand recently when my 13-year-old daughter invited a friend over to spend the night. They were searching for pictures and stories on “Sailor Moon,” a cartoon they both like.

As best as I could figure out later, they first got in trouble at a site called Nettaxi.com, out of Campbell, CA. The site has a search box and subject headings (just like a regular search engine), but its business model seems to be pop-up ads.

Any search brings a host of new windows, and the girls were soon off to other similarly intentioned sites. A site called NetBroadcaster.com popped up a search box, and the girls wound up on a page called chat.cjb.net (which I don’t recommend you try), owned by Chris Butdorf of Wooster, OH, which seems to specialize in URL redirect services.

While URL redirection has its good side, the services are also a haven for spammers and shady dealers of all types. A quick search of Google Groups on cjb.net finds a host of complaints against the company and Butdorf personally, mostly in the net.admin.net-abuse.sightings newsgroup.

While no porn changed hands here, these sites did all the other things porn sites are notorious for. The girls were mousetrapped. They faced hordes of pop-up ad windows (including a program that popped up extra windows every time they clicked one away); an outfit called Macro.Net Inc. tried to download software; and it had my daughter’s home-page default hijacked to the cjb.net chat room.

Luckily, I was able to figure all this out and return my daughter’s computer back to its original condition in about a half hour. (Her preferred default home page, she wants you to know, is CNET’s Search.com, a meta search engine.)

But I had to ask, What if I weren’t an expert? What if this were my only computer, with just a dial-up connection, and my kid got it hogtied by accident one Friday night? What would I do, and whom would I blame?

I might lose my temper at the kid, and I’d certainly blame you. I wouldn’t know the difference between the mousetrappers and any other Internet merchant — I’d tar both with the same brush.

That’s what happens to industries that don’t police their ethics. Everyone is blamed for the excesses of a few.

Let me clear up something here. As far as I can tell, no laws are being broken by cjb.net, by Nettaxi.com, or by the other sites the girls visited. But ethical lines were breached left and right. Everyone trying to make an honest living here pays for that.

I don’t much care for the so-called “ethics cops” on this beat, who tend to be either self-promoters or highhanded bureaucrats like the Better Business Bureau. But we’re suffering a lot of self-inflicted wounds here, and kids are being victimized. Think we should do something about it?

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