The Internet / Economy Story to Watch This Holiday Season

Those of you who use FireFox are familiar with the fact that you can install add-on scripts to make the browser more useful to you in a variety of ways. For example, I use a plugin called FireBug which slices and dices the code on a page to help me track down problems with web design or make live changes to the code to see how it will effect the site before I commit it to actual data. I also use a plugin which allows me to post any video I see on the Internet to a service called VodPod, which I’ve discussed at length before.

Well, now there is another plugin which is causing quite a stir and could lead to some pretty interesting clones and spin-offs. . . as well as some interesting complaints and even possible lawsuits. Welcome to the new Pirates of the Amazon, a plugin that identifies the album you’re viewing on and then takes you to a link where you can download a free torrent of the same album. “Where,” you ask? Why,, where else?

I’ve been discussing this plugin at some length with a friend of this site, MC, all afternoon.

The thing is: try as they might, no one has been able to tie The Pirate Bay down to any kind of illegal activity. Strictly speaking, there really isn’t anything illegal about file sharing in the first place, but that’s splitting hairs, for the sake of this discussion. So the question is: who made this plugin? If they’re affiliated with TPB in any way, then there’s a possibility that we’re one step closer to a TPB conviction for something. If not, then I don’t see how either party is doing anything which can be considered illegal. They claim not to be affiliated with, but I suppose that’s still an open question for now.

And even if TPB is directly responsible for this new plugin’s creation, is there really anything more illegal or questionable about what they’ve created than what they’ve done in the past? My sense is that no, there isn’t anything really new here to prosecute, but I don’t doubt that there’s a prosecutor out there just itching to take this one on.

And forgetting the legal implications of this particular plugin aside, what other similar projects might loom just over the horizon? What about a button that sends you to Google Shopping Search to find the product you’re looking for, only cheaper elsewhere? Or an instant eBay link? Or even something sinister like a cheap online drug alternative to something you see at Rite-Aid? You could even create a plugin that disables all “Buy Now” buttons on pages where your shopaholic teenagers are always lurking.

And all of this happens on your own PC, presumably without the phishing or security implications. But there *is* a privacy concern: namely any attempt by Amazon or others to remove this sort of plugin from your system means they would be violating your privacy.

We’re only seeing the beginning of this, I can promise you that.

By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.