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Topic: E-mail--Somthings Important to Know
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 13,397
Registered: 12/3/04
E-mail--Somthings Important to Know
Posted: Dec 16, 1998 11:57 AM
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Newsweek, New York; November 23, 1998; pp. 45-46.

When E-mail bites back

Bill Gates isn't the only one whose old messages have proved perilous

By Jerry Adler

Abstract

Many employers are expected to institute e-mail policies after witnessing
the use of e-mail against Bill Gates and Microsoft in the government's
antitrust case. E-mail messages from several years ago could still be
stored and easily retrieved if necessary.

Full Text

This antitrust thing," Microsoft chairman Bill Gates allegedly told
executives from Intel at a meeting
in 1995, "will blow over." Microsoft wasn't changing its business practices
at all as a result of the government investigation, Gates continued,
according to handwritten notes by an Intel executive - except that it might
revise its policy on keeping records of corporate e-mail. That may have
been meant as a joke. As of last week the company has never had an e-mail
policy, according to a Microsoft spokesman. Thus in its protracted
investigation the government was able to get its hands on an estimated 3.3
million Microsoft documents, including megabytes of e-mail messages dating
from the early 1990s - and is now using them to contradict Gates's own
videotaped testimony in the most significant antitrust case of the decade.

From the glass towers of midtown Manhattan to the glass shoe boxes of
Silicon Valley rose a muffled murmur of clicks last week, the sound of
cubicle dwellers hitting DELETE as they scrolled through years of
accumulated electronic correspondence, in search of business plans that
smacked of brilliance, as well as illegality; projections of how much the
company could save by laying off everyone over 55; dirty jokes; mash notes,
and comments about the CEO's bald spot. Those who didn't think of this on
their own were encouraged to do so by cybersavvy employers, like
Amazon.com, the online book merchant, which this fall instructed workers
that all nonessential documents "should be destroyed when they are no
longer current or useful," according to a company spokesman. Until now,
says Los Angeles attorney Michael Overly, an expert on electronic
communications, only around a third of all businesses have had formal
policies on the content,
handling and archiving of e-mail, and only about a third of those have been
actively enforced. But he predicts these numbers will climb sharply,
propelled not just by the Microsoft trial but also by Chevron's $2.2
million settlement in 1995 with a group of female employees who took
offense at e-mail postings such as the one headed "25 reasons why beer is
better than women." For many companies, he says, "the honeymoon with e-mail
is coming to an end."

Surprisingly, indiscreet e-mail can be even more dangerous than written
records and memos. An unfiled note gets deleted in the next day's trash,
but in a typical office network almost all e-mail is recorded on the system
server (graphic). Messages sent years ago may live on in taped storage, far
beyond the reach of a delete key, although not of a subpoena. Lack of space
is rarely a problem; Randy Kolb, information services director for the city
of Eugene, Ore., estimates that one employee has 180 megabytes of e-mail
stored up, equivalent to roughly 180,000 typed sheets of paper. But it
would be the work of minutes for a computer to sort it all for lawyers in
search of a single incriminating phrase.

Moreover, the seeming evanescence of e-mail encourages people to use it to
say things they would never commit to paper. "It looks more like a note you
pass in the back of the classroom than a handout from the teacher," says
Joe Walther, editor of The Journal of Online Behavior. "People get sloppy.
They write things they shouldn't write." His description fits the behavior
of a group of Netscape employees who organized an online newsletter called
Really Bad Attitude. Over two years members of the group exchanged
thousands of messages about bosses, co-workers and the food in the
cafeteria, running the gamut from affectionately irreverent to shockingly
puerile. As a minor bit of fallout from the latest Trial of the Century,
Microsoft lawyers subpoenaed all the messages last summer. Whatever their
legal relevance - and people familiar with the contents say they had
nothing to do with the Netscape-Microsoft browser wars -one possible
consequence is already keeping cofounder Jamie Zawinski awake nights: "If
[the e-mails] got back to their managers, [they] could very well cost [the
senders] their jobs."

Of course, most e-mail users will never be caught up in a huge antitrust
trial. America Online, which processes 37 million pieces of e-mail a day
for its members, keeps them on file for only 25 to 30 days, then destroys
them irretrievably. Before that time, though, they can be viewed by
law-enforcement officials with a search warrant; the FBI has looked for
child pornographers this way. Most people's e-mail disasters are of the
run-of-the-mill variety. A typical victim was Mimi Rumpp, an executive
assistant at New Line Cinema, who once hit the REPLY button on a message
instead of the FORWARD button and thereby inadvertently sent a caustic
remark about a co-worker to the co-worker herself. This is a mistake,
obviously, that one wouldn't make with a phone call. They are still on
speaking terms, but just a few months ago Rumpp, not having fully learned
her lesson, accidentally sent an animated e-mail greeting card featuring an
exotic dancer to a writer she
had never met, instead of her husband. In that case, though, she was
actually lucky she used e-mail instead of a stamp. As soon as she realized
her mistake, she dashed off an abject apology to the writer - who replied
that she hadn't been able to read the document in the first place because
it was incompatible with her computer.

Even before Gates's e-mail became an exhibit against him, companies were
starting to take the problem seriously; a survey by the American Management
Association this year found that 20 percent of companies have some system
for reviewing employee e-mail, usually by spot checks, up from 15 percent
in 1997. There also has been a boom in programs that automatically censor
e-mail, especially those bound for recipients outside the company.
Securities firms are required by the Securities and Exchange Commission to
monitor outgoing e-mail for high-pressure sales tactics and leaks of
information that could give rise to insider-trading violations. About 40
companies use Accentor, by SRA International, which employs
natural-language algorithms to check for forbidden phrases and meanings.
("Microsoft" wouldn't cause alarms, but "this stock will be the next
Microsoft" might.) Another program, MIMEsweeper, by Content Technologies,
is used by about 4,000 companies to block e-mail containing profanity,
racial slurs, sexual content and anything else the company wants to
specify, such as the code name of a secret project. Of course, there's
always the danger that, as one data-marketing firm discovered, you won't be
able to receive an e-mailed copy of the Starr Report.

If you're bothered by the thought that a computer somewhere is sifting
through your messages to your wife in search of lascivious phrasing, well,
get used to it; as e-mail extends its ubiquitous reach, so will the
technology to monitor and control it, at least in the office. And at
Microsoft, 2 million e-mails a day still fly among the 28,000 employees,
any one of whom can sit down at his terminal and tell Gates what he ought
to be doing. "It's the only way we communicate with one another," says Bob
Herbold, Microsoft's chief operating officer. "I don't get any paper mail.
None. Except from a lawyer occasionally."

[Chart]

Caption: Hey! How'd You Get a Copy of That E-Mail?

Sending an e-mail to another person creates multiple copies in places you
might never imagine. Deleting it from your mailbox doesn't mean it's gone.
Here's what happens:

Sender: When you send an e-mail it gets transmitted to a central server.

Server: Messages are stored here. A second computer may keep duplicates,
in case the main server crashes. For extra safety, additional copies can be
saved on magnetic tape.

Storage: Companies archive anywhere from a few weeks'- to years' - worth
of back mail.

Outside: Once it leaves the building, there's no way to control what
happens to it.

Recipient: She/he can keep it, print it, post it to the Web or forward it
round the world.

[Illustration]

Caption: Think before you send: Who knows where the mail goes?

I hate this !@#$^% job!
Meet me in storage room B at noon
I'm wicked hungover ...
Do you think that's plastic surgery?
Doesn't he ever shower?
Did you know Jane P. makes $20,000 more than you?
Monica Lewinsky and a priest walk into a bar ...
Your order for XXXVixens is confirmed
We're going to the matinee -- meet us in the lobby
C'mon, just expense it

*****************************************************


*
*
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618)453-4244
Phone: (618)453-4241 (office)
E-mail: JBECKER@SIU.EDU





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