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Published Friday, December 17, 1999, in the San Jose Mercury News



Justice was served in case of former Infoseek executive

Mercury News Technology Columnist

REPLAYS from my online column, eJournal (

Patrick Naughton, the former Infoseek executive, may have gotten what he deserved in his trial in Los Angeles -- a conviction Thursday on the charge of possessing child pornography but a hung jury on the more serious counts of using the Internet to arrange sexual relations with a minor and then crossing state lines for that purpose. The prosecution should quit while it's ahead.

You may suspect that Naughton was guilty of all three charges. His defense -- that he was only fantasizing with no intention to pursue sex with a minor -- was more than a little hard to swallow.

We're already hearing -- in online conversations, naturally -- that the hung jury is a license for pedophiles to do their vicious stuff. Baloney. Anyone foolish enough to use cyberspace to lure minors into sexual contact is inviting law enforcement's attention.

I'm glad the cops are working hard to keep predators away from our kids. But law enforcement's behavior in this case may have been one reason the jury couldn't make a decision on the harsher chargers. Not only was Naughton's intent unclear, but the government went to amazing lengths to lead their quarry into the snare.

Entrapment is ugly business. The government sometimes helps create criminals out of people who would not take that final step into wrongdoing if they weren't handed the opportunity on a platter.

Juries recognize government misbehavior, and they often find ways not to reward it. They also don't want to reward wrongdoers.

Naughton's life has been turned inside out by this trial and verdict, even without a conviction on the most serious charges. Maybe, in the end, he got a kind of rough justice.

WALL STREET AND YOU: In a conversation with this newspaper a couple of weeks ago, Hewlett-Packard's chief executive, Carly Fiorina, repeatedly used the word ``analysts'' as she discussed her company's communications with investors. In that context, the analysts were proxies for shareholders generally. Fiorina was reflecting the current situation, where companies kow-tow to Wall Street big investment banks and stock traders.

But the system has become jaded, even corrupt in some cases. Most analysts are not proxies for you and me -- smaller shareholders. They're proxies for the big institutions who get to act early on news told first to the analysts and later, if ever, to the rest of us. Some investment bank analysts, meanwhile, have become little more than shills for their firms, which crave the big commissions they can earn when underwriting public offerings and advising on other deals. Analysts almost never write negative reports on the companies with which their firms do business.

The Securities and Exchange Commission, at long last, has offered the mildest of proposals to make disclosure more fair to all investors. Predictably, as the New York Times reported on Thursday, Wall Street is in a tizzy, trying to block even these slight improvements in making flow of information more fair.

Recently, I declined to attend a press and analyst briefing at Cisco Systems, because it was on the record for the analysts -- who, in a sense, are nothing more than journalists for the rich (even if the analysts seem often to be in bed with the companies they cover) -- and off the record for regular journalists. The analysts' clients traded on information given to the analysts. If you weren't a client you were in the dark. It was a charade. And it should have been illegal.

Wall Street has always liked to rig the game. Let's hope the SEC makes some progress here.

ETOYS, GO HOME: eToys, the online toy store, sued eToy, a site maintained by a bunch of Europe-based artists. The fact that eToy had been around on the Web much longer than eToys didn't bother a U.S. judge, who issued an injunction to shut down the eToy domain. eToys should be ashamed of itself, but shamelessness is a hallmark of many companies, online and off.

Some online activists, while properly incensed at the company's arrogance, are taking their objections a bit far. A site called RTMark, for example, is calling for Netizens to essentially destroy eToys by various means, including an open-ended invitation to hackers. This is a vigilante response, and it won't win any friends for the good guys.

The best response, which RTMark also endorses (as do many other activist sites), is to shop elsewhere and make your feelings known to eToys.

This entire case, incidentally, is part of an emerging disaster area on the Net. The rich and powerful are taking control of ``their'' names even when other people with equally good claims have already registered the domain names. The law, as so often happens, has been rewritten to favor the rich and powerful.

I'm working on a column on this overall topic. I'd like to hear your ideas on what we can do about it.

IS RED HAT BUYING BE? That's the rumor. If true, this could be interesting -- adding Be's wonderful multimedia capabilities to Linux.

If it's true, however, somebody should go to jail for insider trading. Be's share price shot up almost 50 percent on Thursday.

Dan Gillmor's column appears each Sunday, Tuesday and Friday. Visit his Web page (weblog.mercurycenter

.com/ejournal). E-mail:; phone (408) 920-5016; fax (408) 920-5917. PGP fingerprint: FE68 46C9 80C9 BC6E 3DD0 BE57 AD49 1487 CEDC 5C14.

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