Coop's Corner: The privacy boondoggle and the cult of Cramer

James Cramer's big TV moment and how Internet moguls blew their big chance in the privacy debate.

Are you really surprised at the Federal Trade Commission's decision to recommend privacy legislation? The fact is that Internet moguls blew their chance to keep the Feds out of their hair. Time and again over the last year, folks in Washington urged the industry to do a better job of policing itself by protecting consumers' privacy. It wasn't a tall order to fill. But the FTC appeal was met with deaf ears: The agency's report found that, amazingly, only one-fifth of the Web with monthly traffic figures above 39,000 adequately protected privacy.

Now the other shoe drops. I suppose we'll soon have the invariable fill of belly aching from the DoubleClicks of the Internet world about unnecessary bureaucratic intrusion. Well, to paraphrase the Bard, the fault's not in your stars, but in yourselves.

In today's humor segment, the public squabble between Fox News, the folks who brought America such high-brow entertainment as "COPS," and PR-crazy hedge manager James Cramer, goes nuclear with the network suing and its co-founder for breach of contract. You may recall that pulled its television program off the air after Fox criticized Cramer for hyping his own stock on the network. Touchy, touchy. If I might suggest a compromise: the two collaborate on a half-hour action thriller called "YUPS," in which a camera crew breathlessly traces a quartet of upwardly mobile professionals around the mean streets of Woodside in search of the perfect Chardonnay. Spine-tingling stuff, to be sure.

While on the same subject, when I asked whether Cramer had ever touted the company's stock in any other television appearance or magazine article,'s PR guy thanked me for the question and wrote in an e-mail, "What I can say at this point is this: We don't believe the FOX complaints have any merit, and we will defend our rights vigorously." Or as Ron Ziegler might have said, the statement is no longer operative.

An interesting prediction out from IDC which says Uncle Sam's days of dominating Internet usage and e-commerce are ending. Actually, this is good news. It was only a matter of time before the English (read, U.S.)-centric dominance of the Web got diluted as the rest of the world caught up. Call it globalization in reverse.

Mark it down as another signpost pointing toward the era of voice-enabled Internet devices. The W3C's acceptance of a spec for Voice XML for voice-enabled Web content and services is important because it puts a set of agreed-upon APIs into the hands of developers, service providers and equipment makers. This revolution is going to happen. It was perhaps accidental timing but AT&T also announced plans to plunk down $60 million to buy a minority stake in Web telephony company TellMe Networks.

Still not sure who's got more potential entertainment value as a CEO: Gary Reback or Gina Smith.

Searching for another reason to downsize government? Then with Microsoft and the government set to square off in the Hanging Judge's courtroom Wednesday morning, I'd like to recount a recent conversation between a reporter and a representative answering the phone at the Antitrust Department:

Reporter: "What time are you releasing the Microsoft filing?"

DOJ: "Today."

Reporter: "Yes, but can you give me a time?"

DOJ: "This afternoon."

Reporter: "How about a time?"

DOJ: "No."

Reporter: "Oh. Will it be posted on your Web site."

DOJ: "Web site? Web site?"

Reporter: "But how can I get a copy?"

DOJ: "Why don't you come in and pick it up?"

Reporter: "I don't live in Washington."

Heard an interesting aside from a big-time computer exec, surveying the post-PC horizon. What with Microsoft making strategic retail investments, he wondered how that might affect the chances for Internet appliance makers outside the Windows camp to gain shelf space. Maybe it won't make a whit's bit of difference. Then again ...


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