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My Mom The Pirate

My mom is not what you’d call a geek, or even someone who is really interested in computers or the Internet.
She works for an HMO in the US and uses the computer for work-related tasks and email. She also keeps up to date on her favourite tennis players at the US Open site and forwards me funny photos of cats, but that’s about it. She does 100% of her Internet activity at work because she doesn’t have a computer at home.
I looked into getting her Internet access at home last year, but she lives in a rural area in Pennsylvania. Dial-up is still the norm and *that* is a level of technical support I don’t want to provide long-distance. It is surprising to me how many places in the States still don’t have access to broadband. According to some recent ComScore data I’ve seen, 77% of Canadians use broadband while only 53% of Americans do! (Q3 2005 data). That’s something I definitely take for granted being up here.
But, back to my mom. Her workplace has slowly been implementing security measures on their computer networks. And they have recently introduced some network sniffers to monitor for illegal downloads. Now my mom doesn’t know how to download music or movies, either legally or illegally. So imagine her surprise when her boss burst into her office one morning and announced “Network Security has found illegal files on your computer. You could be fired!!” and stormed out.

My poor 61 year-old mom was in a bit of a panic. Luckily, she knew the company’s IT guys; she had gotten to know them when she was having some problems with the interface on her email (a non-standard, crazy, Lotus Notes-esque email system). Their conversations went something like this:
bq.. My mom: “Bob! I sent a few emails this morning and the people I sent them to said they were blank. But I know I typed the information in.”
Bob: “Okay, Patty, let me check that for you . . . okay, Patty, it looks like you put the entire content of your email into your subject line again.”
My mom: “But I hit the return key, like you said.”
Bob: “It’s the tab key, Patty.”
My mom: “Ohhhh. Thanks, Bob.”
Bob: “Sure thing, Patty!”
p. So naturally, after being accused of being the company’s first hacker, my mom called her friend Bob. “Bob?! They’ve found illegal files on my computer! What’s happened?”
Bob the IT guy said “Yeah, I couldn’t believe it when they told me the first case of piracy was you, Patty. I just don’t think that can be right. I mean, you don’t know how to download anything, do you? I’ll come up.”
Bob arrived and with my mom wringing her hands, he discovered that when she had been playing her CD’s, Real Player had been *copying* the files and then playing them. My mom had no idea; she just put in the CD’s and grooved. So the nice computer guy changed her settings, erased the other files and submitted an “all clear” report.
So, a couple of things I take away from this:
# You can never go wrong knowing the IT guys.
# Broad, unsophisticated anti-piracy measures are much more likely to catch people like my mom, than true pirates. Workplaces that try to implement these measures (including initiatives like the “Sony CD Copy protection rootkit”: need to include education programs to go along with them.
Meanwhile, my mom continues to listen to her CD’s in her computer and makes sure she sends IT regular batches of cookies.