An NYTimes look at the technique of “pretexting” at the heart of the recent brouhaha over at HP: An Industry Is Based on a Simple Masquerade

People who obtain calling records often use a technique known as pretexting — using a pretext, like masquerading as a customer, to get a company to disclose information. Their shady subculture has been getting renewed attention since the revelation last week that a subcontractor for an investigative firm working for Hewlett-Packard used pretexting to obtain the call records of company board members and reporters.

It is hard to quantify the size of the telephone pretexting economy. But in recent years it has turned into a small industry, with dozens of Web sites offering calling records to anyone with a credit card, for a modest fee. Their main customers appear to be private investigators, although some in that field criticize the practice.

[…] Pretexters often use techniques similar to those employed by identity thieves to obtain not only telephone records but also other private data. Robert Douglas, an information security consultant and former private detective, said they often called telephone companies armed with some personal information, like a customer’s Social Security number, mailing address or date of birth. Then they charm and cajole the phone company employee into thinking they are the actual customer.

“They have the knack,” Mr. Douglas said. “It’s more art than science.”

Many professionals pretexters, including those who have used the practice to build lucrative data brokering businesses, are reluctant to discuss their methods. At a Congressional hearing in June, 11 of the witnesses who were called refused to answer questions, invoking their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

[…] Mr. Douglas, the security consultant, agreed that the carriers faced a tough balancing act. “We’re in the McDonald’s generation. Everybody wants information and they don’t want to wait for it,” he said. “That’s why these guys win.”

APWire coverage of the hearing: Lawmakers to Crack Down on Data Brokerspdf; the FTC’s description of what it sees as pretexting enforcement options (via Orin Kerr’s weblog)

From the WaPo: When a Stranger Calls, Beware of The Pretextpdf

Later: deep waters for HP getting deeper — House Panel and U.S. Attorney Join H.P. Inquiry; HP Scandal Widens With U.S. Probespdf — and a big article in Newsweek: Suspicions and Spies in Silicon Valleypdf; see also E-Mail Offers Peek Into Debate

Later — a board chairman ejected: Spying Uproar Causes Shuffle in Boardroom

Bands, Fans and the Internet

What happens when the contradictions implicit in the online social network’s “privacy in public” mindset runs up against promotion and commercial culture: Labels Sued Over Sexy Video of Minorpdf

The Internet has transformed how bands interact with their fans. But that can lead to troublesome consequences.

A lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleges that Warner Music Group, Atlantic Records and other music industry organizations helped coerce a 16-year-old girl into making pornographic rock videos when a band advertised for extras on MySpace, News Corp.’s teen-oriented social networking site.

[…] “For years, the industry has been talking about how online sales and online promotion creates unique opportunities to reach out to fans,” said the attorney, Douglas Silverstein. “Well, that also creates a unique burden” to protect minors from online exploitation, he added.

A Movie Distribution Experiment

Another Movie Speeds to the Netpdf

organ Freeman’s new film, “10 Items or Less,” is scheduled to arrive in theaters in December. But you’ll be able to download a pristine copy of the movie over the Internet just days after it rolls into the multiplex. And Freeman — along with everybody else who worked on the film — couldn’t be happier.

That’s because “10 Items or Less” represents the latest challenge to the traditional model of movie distribution, which holds that new films must initially be shown only in theaters for several months. Freeman’s new movie, which was directed by Brad Silberling (“Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events”) and costars Paz Vega (“Spanglish”), will be made available for Web sales and rentals a mere two weeks after its theatrical debut.

[…] Despite worries that no distribution would step forward to buy a movie whose broadband rights were already spoken for, ThinkFilm snapped up the “10 Items or Less” theatrical rights at the start of the Toronto International Film Festival, where the movie debuted over the weekend.

Related: How Artists Can Skip the Offline Middlemanpdf

Amazon Extends Its Reach In Services

Buy-the-book retailer Amazon now sells its computer know-howpdf

While the one-time books-only seller is widely known for its transformation into an online shopping mall with 34 different stores, Seattle-based Amazon has quietly spent the past few years leveraging its computer know-how to become an emerging technology company outside its core business.

[…] One of those is Amazon Enterprise Solutions, which in mid-August began running the Web site for Benefit Cosmetics and delivering the goods — with tissue paper — from Amazon’s Hebron, Ky., fulfillment center.

Francois Darricau, Benefit’s chief financial officer, said the company went with Amazon because of its “state-of-the-art” operations and Amazon’s success in running Web operations for other major retailers such as Bebe, Sears Canada, Bombay and the National Basketball Association.