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Internet Makes Steamy E-Mails (F)Risky Business


December 19, 2000

By MICHELLE GOTTHELF and TODD VENEZIA IT'S the classic e-mail horror story: The most intimate details of a night of passion - sent in a private message - are forwarded to millions all over the world.

That's the high-tech nightmare a young London woman and her boyfriend have found themselves in after he foolishly forwarded her graphic e-mail to friends at work.

Now, Internet news-group users across the globe are ogling the unfortunate couple's steamy prose - and they've been forced into hiding.

"Well, it appears men have a new global locker room to brag in," says Internet guru John Vranesevich, who tracks the trouble e-mail can cause unsuspecting Web surfers.

"I guess the moral of this story is not to e-mail your boyfriend details about your sex life."

According to British accounts, Claire Swire, a 26-year-old public-relations flack for a British dot-com, sent lover Bradley Chait, 27, a naughty joke about a robbery at a sperm bank.

He responded with a simple "cute" message.

She countered back with a comment on a sexual act she had performed on him, and how much she had enjoyed it.

The e-mail pillow-talker wrote with an air of delight about a scene that could have been pulled from the gross-out flick "There's Something About Mary."

"Apparently, it's very good conditioner for your hair, too," she gushed.

In an ungentlemanly fashion, the bragging beau bounced the e-mail to six friends at his law firm, Norton Rose in London, with the line: "Now that's a nice compliment from a lass, isn't it?"

Enthralled by the subject matter, his co-workers passed it on to their friends.

One of the messages read, "Ahhhh, boys you're going to love it, girls you're going to cringe. Enjoy the trip!"

Within 24 hours, the salacious correspondence was copied, forwarded, recopied and sent to millions of people all over the globe - some as far away as Japan and Australia.

Soon everyone wanted to know why the young lovers would allow the world to read their intimate secrets.

The messages led intrigued e-mail recipients to launch a Web site titled, "Who is Claire Swire?" to find the feisty woman.

The unsuspecting Internet flack was then inundated with e-mails she responded to by blasting the recipients and asking them, "Don't you have anything better to do with your time?"

Executives at Norton Rose are pressing disciplinary action against Chait, and have told the British press it's a serious matter. The company's Web site was knocked down for hours after receiving so many hits.

It was unclear whether Swire had been punished by her employer, Magicbutton.net.

Neither company could be reached for comment.

The culprits - Swire, a convent-school graduate who lives in Fulham, West London; and Chait, who lives in North London - have gone into hiding.

Meanwhile, the ravenous British tabloids have spent days camped outside their homes.

At best, the couple's excruciating story is a cautionary tale about how fast your most personal e-mail messages can be duplicated. At worst, it will act as an example for companies to curtail their employees' e-mail privileges, Internet experts say.

THE story is striking a particular nerve with Americans, who spend at least a half-hour a day sending out personal e-mails at work, Internet experts say.

Barbara Dijke, president of the Systems Administrators Guild, said professionals on the front line of corporate America's e-mail and Internet systems see the dangers of careless messaging every day.

"I never put anything in a message that I wouldn't mind seeing on the front page of a newspaper," she said. "Anything you put in an e-mail has the potential to be read by everyone."

Employers are so concerned, many are cracking down on workers e-mail mischief by asking the administrators to use their skills to monitor messages for corporate secrets or lewd content," Dijke said.

She said employers have the right to look at - and even change - e-mail written on a company computer. And because a company's e-mail will pass through the businesses' server, administrators can easily open them up and take a peek.

But, she said, it should be up to managers to stop employees wasting time sending personal e-mails at work.

"If the employees are happy and motivated, they are not going to be wasting time sending e-mails," she said.

Americans are so worried about the ramifications of sending around personal e-mail, that companies are researching software to prevent copies of their messages from being passed along.

"There is very little you can do to protect yourself from an intended recipient; they can send it around the Internet without you even knowing it," says Internet expert David Woodall, the chief information officer at CXO media, a magazine publisher in Worcester, Mass.

"There are some e-mail components that won't allow e-mails to be forwarded, like Lotus Notes from Lotus, but they aren't nearly as popular as Microsoft. Basically, you have to be extremely careful in cases like this," he said.

It's not the first time an Internet e-mail has sparked an embarrassing situation.

Last year, a 19-year-old female cadet in the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado forwarded an e-mail she received from an 18-year-old cadet from a neighboring squadron that included cheesy pick-up lines like: "I know I'm not good at math, but I know the equation of love. It equals you plus me."

Within weeks, the message went global - to the horror of the male cadet - and even was sent to his superiors.

© 2000 NYP Holdings, Inc


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