Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Why Warman is probably innocent, part 2: Rogers Hi-Speed Internet

Whenever you visit a site on the internet, you leave details behind about where you are coming from and information about your computer configuration. These details are included in your user-agent string. (For a tutorial to user-agent strings, see here.) As we have seen, the user-agent string of the Cools poster will have been this:
    "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows 98; Rogers Hi-Speed Internet; (R1 1.3))"
I have already argued that the "R1 1.3" (blue) means that the Cools poster had Real Player (version 1.3) installed. Commenter "freemarkets", however, points out in the comments of that post that in order to register in a user string, Real Player must be running, which weakens its exculpatory value.

But what about the entry "Rogers Hi-Speed Internet" in red? Clearly it identifies the poster as a Rogers subscriber, but that cannot the whole story, since it is not found in the user agent string of all Rogers' customers. Indeed, most don't. Take, for example, the thirty or so visits the proxy made to the site ArcticCircle.ca in 2002 and 2003 that I have presented here. The user-agent data is listed for these visits, but only four of them include "Rogers Hi-Speed Internet". The same impression arises from the logs here, where over 3000 visits from various Rogers IPs were recorded from mid-2002 to mid-2005, and fewer than 50 have "Rogers Hi-Speed Internet" in their user agent string.

So what is happening here? In fact, this designation is mostly about the browser being used. If you've ever seen a version of Internet Explorer dedicated to a specific company (Yahoo!, Rogers, Bell, etc.), you'll have encountered browser customization, a process Microsoft describes at length here. The relevant section:
    Customization Examples for ICPs
    To showcase your organization's information and services on the Internet, you might want to consider the following customization options:
    • Add links to your organization's Web sites. For example, if your organization is a radio station, you could add links to Web pages that highlight playlists and composers' biographies.
    • Update the browser with your organization's logo and appropriate graphics. You can add your organization's name to the title bar and your organization's logo seen in Windows Update Setup for Internet Explorer and Internet Tools. In addition, you can replace the browser logo with your organization's logo or other graphics.
    • Track information about your customized browser by using a user agent string, which is a string of characters that a Web browser sends when it visits an Internet site. The custom string that you append to the user agent string enables Web sites to compile statistics about how many of your customers are using your browser to view those sites.
Note especially the red. Custom versions of Explorer were typically signalled in the user agent string. And this is what Rogers did: create a customized version and distribute it their clients. It looked a little different, reminded their subscribers they were (joy!) Rogers' customers, set the default web-page to Rogers' site, etc. Also -- and this is the important point here -- this special customized edition of Rogers left its mark at every web-site they ever visited, with the "Rogers Hi-Speed Internet" tag in the user agent string.

Of course, not all Rogers customers used the special Rogers version. Indeed, the vast majority seem to have opted for the one that came with their machine, or that they downloaded themselves. This group -- who may have been over 90% of Rogers customers -- did not have the "Rogers Hi-Speed" tag in their user-agent string. (Indeed, as you can see here and here, the user agent string might continue even after a change of ISP -- it's about the browser being used, not the ISP.)

So, what does this have to do with our present inquiry?

We have already seen that the Cools-poster (90sAREover) had Real Player installed on his computer and (as "freemarkets points out) had it open when he visited freedomsite.org. We now also know that his visit was completed using a version of Internet Explorer that had been customized by Rogers.

And Richard Warman? His visit to freedomsite.org on Oct. 15, 2003 (a month after the Cools post) left the following log entry (the user agent is underlined in blue):
As you can see, Warman does not have the "Rogers Hi-Speed" tag in his user agent string, therefore he was not using a customized Rogers browser. This presents an obstacle to any attempt to identify Warman as the Cools-poster.

1 comment:

bigcitylib said...

As someone who employed the Rogers install disk when I subscribed in (I think late 2000 early 2001), if you did it this way it would be fairly difficult to switch to a generic version of explorer. The Rogers version over-wrote, and it was a bit of effort to rig things so you could download a generic version and default to that(which at some point I eventually did do).