Para-sites on the Web

[Flea]The birth of the World Wide Web brought with it
many joys -- entertainment, information, a sense
of connection with the rest of the world -- all with the
stroke of a key. It's a tempting Pandora's box of goodies.
But like Pandora's box, the Web comes with its own little demons and devils. Hold your ear to the ether. Listen closely and you can hear the pitter-patter of para-sites.

Para-sites are the perhaps inevitable offspring of the easily accessible information super highway. A para-site, at its worst, is a form of fraud on the Web. Call it super-highway robbery.

A para-site capitalizes on the good reputation of another by copying down to the last detail the Web site of a reputable organization or business, making a few content changes, and posting the new site back out on the Web. Easy downloading of complete HTML codes for existing sites means the possibilities are limited only by the imagination -- or a sense of ethics.

The problems raised by para-sites are many. Search engines can't tell the difference between the original site and the knock-off site any easier than a user can. Therefore, a Web search is as likely to yield a mimic site as it is a genuine site.

Aside from the Web clutter generated by unauthorized sites, there is the confusion that results among unsuspecting Web surfers who stumble on a seemingly innocuous site only to discover it's not what it appears to be: A virtual trip to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue courtesy of whitehouse.net [1] looks like an official Whitehouse site, but it turns out to be an elaborate advertisement for a Web design company. Users with their online meters ticking away are unlikely to be amused at the ruse. Nor is the webmaster for the real Whitehouse site, located at whitehouse.gov [2].

For those attempting to conduct business on the Web, malicious mischief is perhaps the area of most concern. One possible para-site nightmare: a disgruntled employee or a business rival copies a Web site, then enters bogus information and puts it back on the Web. The company and its customers bear the consequences. Or a cyber bandit remakes an authentic sales site, then collects credit card and other personal information from unsuspecting customers.

Corporations can also fall prey to critics. These para-sites camoflage themselves to look like their host, then proceed to chip away at its reputation. For instance, McSpotlight [3], a site originated and maintained by British activists, has targeted McDonald's [4]. Intel and Smith Barney are other corporations that have suffered similar cyber attacks.

Parody sites are kissing cousins of para-sites. Like para-sites, they emulate an existing site, but their intent is to spoof or mock the original site, not to derive commercial gain or damage credibility. Examples of parody sites include Stale [5], which pokes fun at Microsoft's Slate [6], and UnderWired [7], a nutty spoof of HotWired [8].

Send in the clones:
[1] whitehouse.net and [2] whitehouse.gov
[3] McSpotlight and [4] McDonald's
[5] Stale and [6] Slate
[7] UnderWired and [8] HotWired

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Copyright Jane Medley 1996