The frontiers of greed...

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From: Robert S. Thau (
Date: Mon Jan 10 2000 - 16:21:25 PST

On, I noticed that "" had just announced
their "personalized start page based on Linux". The CEO, Bob Haya
says in the press release that:

  "Linux and MyOwnEmpire are very parallel," said Bob Haya, founder
  and chief executive officer at "Linux is hoping to
  create a new software empire owned by the thousands of people that
  contribute value. MyOwnEmpire wants to create a new business empire
  owned by members who create value by using a site that consolidates
  information and e-mail from other sites people already love."

This is vaguely akin to the GnuHoo folks, who thought that *their*
idea (getting volunteers to donate free work so that they could profit
from it) was very parallel to the Linux folks, before they were,
ummm..., educated. But let's take a closer look.

This is yet another customizable portal site (yeah, the world needed
one of those), with an sweepstakes, and a couple of
brazen twists.

First, in order to take advantage of *any* of the site's
personalization features, you have to give them comprehensive
demographics; name, age ("birthdate... for horoscope"), gender,
occupation, income, zip code, etc. But take heart, they have privacy
guarantees! "Our advertisers will only know what *kind* of person you
are, they won't know *who* you are." In other words, they promise to
share everything with their advertisers (and their cross-licensees)
*except* for personal name. At least until myownempire's policy
changes. Guess they'll have to find another way to get that info.

The other unique feature of "myownempire" is that it functions as an
MLM scheme for its own stock. Of course, you don't even *see* the
full rules for this until you've already told them your income level,
occupation, name, age, and zip code. (Most of it can be seen
elsewhere, but they leave themselves an option or two which they seem
to be shy about over-promoting). For those of you who don't want Bob
Haya to know where you live, and don't fancy telling him you live in
Afghanistan, here's the skinny:

   Rules of Use for Qualifying for Stock

   By checking that you wish to qualify for stock and clicking accept
   below, you are agreeing to make the default
   start page in your browser's settings.

I'm not sure how they'd check, but if there is a legal contract here,
I guess that's part of it. After tweaking your browser settings:

   If you qualify, you can earn
   your first 5 shares of common stock by visiting
   10 days in each of three 30 day periods for a total of 90
   days. Some people are lucky enough to go on vacation so it's
   understandable if someone doesn't sign in for a while. If we don't
   see you logging in 10 days out of any 30 day period, we'll think
   you are not interested anymore, and we'll offer the share of stock
   we are reserving for you to someone else. Of course we will always
   let you try to earn stock again, starting a new 90 day period, if
   you still qualify and stock is still available.

   Qualify, then:

   visit 10 days in the First 30 days
   visit 10 days in the Second 30 days
   visit 10 days in the Third 30 days

   You've earned your stock!
Are you confused about whether you need to meet any requirements to
"qualify" besides just using the web site (like perhaps residing in
the U.S.)? Can't figure out whether you've "earned" one share or five
shares by going through this rigamarole? It gets worse:

   To earn 10, or 100, or 100,000 shares, let many qualified people
   know about us and make sure they give us your sign in name, which
   is the same as the prefix of your free MyOwnEmpire email address,
   when they register. To maximize the value of your shares, refer
   people who you think will use our evolving services and who will
   pull their weight as active, revenue generating co-owners. Since
   your referrals must earn their 5 shares in order for you to earn
   that referral share tell everyone you know and help us build up the
   stock value.

Of course, they say on another page that you shouldn't *spam* ... that
would be rude.

   Since your referrals must earn their first share in order for you
   to earn that referral share and some may drop out, spread the word
   to many people in order to increase the probability of earning the
   4 referral shares. In the interest of maximizing the company's
   value, you agree to let your friends and others earn their initial
   shares before share availability from this offering is determined
   for your referral shares.

If anyone can figure out how you earn 100,000 shares on the basis of
this description, please let me know. Oh yeah, one more thing:

   Legal Info: Stock is earned on a first come, first to qualify,
   first to earn basis to people of legal age according to the laws
   where they live. Although we will not report your earnings to the
   government if you earn less than $600, you are expected to report
   any earnings as income. Issued shares are not restricted and can be
   traded on the date you earn them. If the company determines that a
   major public market can't be created for it's stock because of
   various issues, including the chance that potential investors may
   be worried about frivilous law suits or the high costs of
   administering stock to members, the company can buy my shares, with
   cash or incentives, at a price or value over the current offering

In other words, they can buy back the stock at any time before there
is a public market, at a price which is basically under their own
control, for anything which they deem to be of equivalent value
(including, perhaps, a bushel of flooz). They haven't figured out how
they will administer actually issuing the shares, and they don't know
how much it will cost. And they can't spell "frivolous". Neat! They
try to paint a somewhat different picture of the value of the stock at ... but
that page deserves to be appreciated in full.

BTW, it's hard to square the absence of a public market with the
assertion that "shares ... can be traded on the date you earn them",
particularly when the discussion of stock certificates on their
"getting shares" page says that they "may do a number of creative
things ... regarding the actual certificates"; this presumably does
not include actually giving you a certificate, which would require no
creativity whatever. But hey, they have a former SEC prosecutor on
their advisory board, so what do I know?

Oh yes, they have a patent pending on this unique business concept, to
make sure that other people can't make use of their neat idea without
giving myownempire a cut. (Depending on the date of filing, I guess may or may not count as prior art for the patent filing).

The parallels to Linux are... stunning.


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