COULD THERE BE STORM RELATED PROFITEERING IN CYBER SPACE?
LIVE FROM THE PORT OF NEW ORLEANS:
Last night we took pains to at least get our station ID up and one of the promised Namazu School Posts, and an add for our upcoming boat show before the mall closed. We at least wanted you to know that we were still in business. For a couple of days now we have been producing what work we could from PJs Coffee shop and the shopping mall's food court. Our power came back at HQ only about twenty minutes ago. We don't know if this is a permanent restoration or not. Things have been a bit iffy with power all over town. But we are running the air conditioning and firing up equipment. We have our usual Internet access for the time being. But while we didn't, PJ''s Coffee's free wifi was a life saver. When we assembled for morning colors there was no electricity, so off we went to good old reliable PJ.s ordered up a coffee and scone and started to fire up the lap tops. We hooked into the free wifi with the usual ease and then slowly became aware of something very unsettling. The wifi was up, but its connection to the Internet was down. We'd seen something similar elsewhere in town, but this was something quite different.
You may recall that we told you there were several free wifi providers in the mall besides PJ's. We tried all of them this morning. What happened is that we connected right away with the wifi server but were quickly informed that the wifi system was not connected to the Internet. Then a very live and interactive site came on the screen. This site belonged to one of the bigger communications and internet companies which will go unnamed for the time being. We are maritime experts not computer experts so we can't be sure that what we observed was profiteering or just sharp sales practice, we really don't know if any law was violated. What came up on our screens was an interactive window that appeared to take you to a working alternative wifi. As you clicked through the various windows it took quite a few clicks to get to the one that counted, which asked for your DSL number. That gave us a lot of pause because none of us had that memorized, but while racking our brains we noticed in the small print that we were being sold a fee for service program and apparently a long term contract. We spoke with PJ's Coffee personnel and they were mystified as to what was happening.
Let me again commend the generosity of PJ's, the Mall management and Mall Security during these difficult times. The mall relaxed its rules on loitering and allowed itself to become a heat shelter, and even provided free electricity to portable computer users of all sorts. We'd also like to commend the stores like PJ's that left their wifi running after they closed so that those who needed Internet access had it until the mall closed at 10 PM or all night if they sat out in the heat in the outside seating. Security never bothered anyone laboring over a computer or I Pad. In fact I watched security officers assist some folks with getting their battery operated devices charged. So apparently a powerful cyber player either came in and actively interfered or took advantage of a temporary technical problem in this neighborly cyber effort, or imposed disruption from the outside to solicit desperate people for a change of service provider.
Now we don't know enough about computer systems at the macro level to say for certain that the aggressive service advertiser that found its way onto store owner provided public wifi services caused the disruption, or simply took advantage of it. We don't know if what they did was in fact illegal. And that is why we don't use their name here. But it sure as hell looked like proactive sabotage followed by post disaster profiteering of the rankest sort. We know this, the company that did this is known to us and regardless of how their actions are finally judged by any legal test that they may, or may not come up against , we will never buy a service from any company that behaves in such a ruthless manner. Mere minimal legal compliance is not the test of good business ethics. There was no price gouging in New Orleans over ice, gasoline, groceries, or any other commodity. We described the generosity of the merchants in our neighborhood mall. Clearly there is no shortage of service providers and retailer's out there with terrific community attitudes and great business ethics. Why do business with any organization that would play things as sharply as the big name organization we observed this morning? This is one of those organizations that would be likely to claim that it is "too big to fail" if it were in need of a government bail out. Don't believe it, let it fail if its own (at a minimum) "sharp practice" causes sufficient customer flight to threaten its existence. Its market share will be quickly serviced by intelligent and ethical rivals. Rest assured that if any mainstream media with their ready availability of lawyers to fight off liable or slander law suits publish on this we will be sure to link to their stories. Unfortunately, we are not investigative journalists nor yet equipped with a big legal department. But we aren't blind or stupid either and neither are the people they tried to goat rope and hornswoggle this morning.
Maritime global business and maritime security are as computer driven as just about any human activity today. We can ill afford to be oblivious to any outbreak of lawlessness in cyber space as we are unable to ignore real piracy on the ocean. The few bad actor big boys of cyber space haven't taken to shooting hostages yet when demanded ransoms are too slow arriving, but with behavior like we saw this morning you have to wonder if they didn't cross that line in an attitudinal sense some time ago. Maritime interest like ourselves and other more operational interests should join with others in calling for proper and wise policing of cyber space. We don't want to see heavy handed over regulation, but gross disaster profiteering is the sort of crass activity that is illegal in every other sector,and it should not be tolerated here in cyber space.