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Xeroxing Personal Data From Your Browsing History 116

grease_boy writes "Xerox has filed a patent covering a technique to recover demographic information like your age, sex and perhaps even your income by analysing the pattern of web pages you browse. They want to license the technique to online advertisers and shops. Read the full patent here."
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Xeroxing Personal Data From Your Browsing History

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  • Hehe (Score:3, Interesting)

    by HomelessInLaJolla ( 1026842 ) * <lajollahomeless@hotmail.com> on Wednesday April 11, 2007 @09:31PM (#18697775) Homepage Journal
    Because nobody could have ever thought of this before [slashdot.org].
  • More lame patents (Score:5, Insightful)

    by omeomi ( 675045 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2007 @09:31PM (#18697777) Homepage
    Wow, great, another patent covering something completely obvious, like analyzing my browser history to find out what sorts of things I might like.
    • by catbutt ( 469582 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2007 @09:58PM (#18697953)
      Typically patents cover the particular way something is accomplished. For instance, if you invent an airplane and patent it, you are not patenting flying in general (which might be said to be an obvious idea), but the specifics of how you accomplished it. Someone else, who uses a different approach to fly, will not infringe your patent.

      Did you read the 20 claims before assuming their technique is obvious?
      • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday April 11, 2007 @10:19PM (#18698039) Homepage Journal
        Of course not. This is Slashdot, no-one here understands patents and no-one here thinks anything should be patentable.
        • nor does anyone here read the articles... a snapshot is good enough...
        • I understand this: Europe doesn't have software patents. Proving that having no software patents increases one's company's ability to compete is left as an exercise.
          • by omeomi ( 675045 )
            Proving that having no software patents increases one's company's ability to

            I never said that there shouldn't be any software patents, but there should be some standard of innovation required...
        • Not true! I have filed for a patent for reading articles to find out information about the topics I'm going to post about. You see, it's a patent for a particular way to read the articles. I can't patent reading articles, because that might be said to be an obvious idea.

      • The general theory underlying this is already probably (I haven't seen the details) covered in an graduate level econometric theory textbook. Almost all (interesting) practical implementations involve solving a constrained optimization problem where the objective function cannot be expressed analytically so numerical approximations are necessarily and monte carlo methods are used. This is essentially a problem in making a educated guess (i.e. estimates) about underlying characteristics given observations on
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        If it's a mathematical algorithm, it should NOT be patentable. I have no objection to Xerox patenting the part where they pay a person to snoop through the web history and make a wild guess while swivelling left and right on their swivel chair (*)

        (*) that part wouldn't be very valuable but if they felt it was worth it :)

        Most mathematics is nontrivial and highly ingenious, but just because it's non-obvious that still doesn't mean it should be patentable. EVER.

      • by trwww ( 545291 )

        Typically patents cover the particular way something is accomplished. For instance, if you invent an airplane and patent it, you are not patenting flying in general (which might be said to be an obvious idea), but the specifics of how you accomplished it. Someone else, who uses a different approach to fly, will not infringe your patent.

        Yes! This is a no-brainer and makes complete sense in terms of fairness.

        But then why do patents like Amazon's 1-Click get patented? Actually, even this I understand. The

      • Gaah! My eyes! It's like someone wrote a maths paper without using any notation, and then put it into legal jargon.

        It basically describes the use of statistics to estimate things about a population, nothing that hasn't been done to death in statistics, machine learning, data mining etc.

        • It's like they said said some said thousand said times.

          Not to mention the 10% or so of the patent that describes a COMPUTER in its constituent parts. It seems to me, if this is necessary, then perhaps the patent is describing an algorithm. But, of course, IANAL.

          I said,
          Randy.
      • by Sciros ( 986030 )
        Well it looks like they're accomplishing this using basic pattern recognition. You shouldn't be able to patent something they teach every Comp Sci MPhil in Cambridge.
    • Re:More lame patents (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Brickwall ( 985910 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2007 @10:21PM (#18698053)
      Geez, anyone who read Peter Wright's "Spycatcher" - published 20 years ago - would realize that this patent is merely a specific implementation of the techniques Wright described in the book. In particular, he developed the idea of monitoring radio communications from the Russian embassy in London. All the transmissions were in code, so he and his colleagues had no idea of the content of the messages. However, Wright deduced that when the Russian "Resident" left the embassy, coded traffic between the embassy and his car would increase. By simply matching the comings and goings of various individuals from the embassy with increases and decreases in radio traffic volume, he and his team were able to pinpoint Russian intelligence agents promptly. (The whole book is a great read, by the way, and available at your local public library, I'm sure.)

      In fact, I tried to get Nortel to implement something similar on their Meridian phone systems back in the early 90's. I thought that by tracking internal phone calls through "Call Detail Records" (CDR - which list the calling extension, called extension, date, time, and call duration), we could see patterns of calls between departments, and determine if repetitive patterns existed, such as many calls between sales and billing at specific times of the month, etc. I thought this might help identify operational issues, inefficiencies, etc. Of course, I was blown off.

      Anyone want to give me a job?

      • Traffic Analysis. I'm not surprised you were blown off. It's a difficult concept to beat in to middle and upper level management - at least in a way that would make them understand that they can make more money, or simply that you are not going to steal their thunder, but make things better.

        You might try applying to one of the 3 letter agencies in your country - these concepts are well established. Given the increasing complexity of communication systems, you might very likely find yourself with a rather re
        • by ImdatS ( 958642 )
          What do you mean with "Crappy Pay"?? All the 120-minute-commercials of MI6 (for which we had to actually pay entrance fee to watch) since the 60ies are all but lies? No Martinis, 7-star-hotels, beautiful girls -- and such? All lies??

          And why did I prepare myself in years of training for such a career? What am I supposed to do with my life now??
      • In fact, I tried to get Nortel to implement something similar on their Meridian phone systems back in the early 90's. Of course, I was blown off.
        That sounds like quite a novel bonus scheme. Was the girl cute, or did they just save money by getting your boss to do it?
      • What job are you after? Details can be sent to listed email address.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by baryon351 ( 626717 )
      It sounds obvious, but also stupid.

      One reason marketing likes the whole age/sex/race/income thing, is that they can derive from that some possible information about what you might be interested in, in order to market to you. It's not perfect, as not all 16 year old males with wealthy parents will be interested in buying insanely expensive gaming systems, and not all 85 year old women on a pension will want to just email photos of family around, but it works better than guessing.

      So, what they're really after
      • Heh, well good luck to them.
        I avoid this whole issue by running with Tor. So they're probably going to target some poor chap in China or the middle of Russia as browsing my history.
        But now I understand better why I keep getting Japanese versions of eharmony spam mails...
        Oh well, such is life. Spam is spam, and spam filters just keep with the flow, and it works for me.
        Sorry you uber inquisitive capitalists, I ain't gonna reveal my personality to a corporation just yet. Not until you force me with a brain imp
        • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Congratulations. Your paranoia has limited the marketing you receive to shotgun style messages you aren't interested in. Your victory over the forces arrayed against you is astounding.
      • Aggreed, it is stupid, if your purpose is actually to do marketting with it and sell more products. But my guess is that it's not how it'll get used.

        Thing is, if you think about it... it fits just neatly in the eternal 3-way total war, whee the ad provider tries to shaft both the advertising company and the web master, and in most cases the two try to shaft the ad provider too. Tons of useless metrics exist just so the ad provider can tell some company "here's why you owe us a big pile of money for serving
      • And now in a world where it's so easy to get that specific information on hundreds of thousands people, they want to use that specific information to derive less reliable demographic statistics, in order to derive what a particular person might be interested in...

        i'm not sure that they want to get information on what you might want to buy based on who you are (because like you said they already know what you might want to buy based on your history), i think they want to know how to pitch their product to you in a better way.

        for example, they might know that you are in the market to buy a small car based on the fact that you've visited several other sites that sell small cars or consumer review sites focusing on small cars. but if they also know that you are like

    • by MillionthMonkey ( 240664 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2007 @11:31PM (#18698401)
      I like this kind of software patent. This isn't like most of these annoying software patents on elementary algorithms that any student of computer science would be expected to discover. This is a patent on an algorithm we would expect only to be discovered by assholes.

      What is unfortunate is the fact that asshole companies like Xerox (and its licensees) intend to engage in this particular form of assholish behavior in the first place. But a patent is basically an instrument for preventing people from doing things. If Xerox were granted this one by the PO, it would only play a positive role in the world. It would put Xerox in the position of being able to prevent other asshole companies from mining your browser history for personal data (at least in the fashion described) except under the terms they specify. Conceivably Xerox could prevent anyone from doing it at all simply by not granting licenses. If the EFF had filed this patent with those intentions, none of you would be complaining.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by QuantumG ( 50515 )
        Oh yes they would. Because what you just did is called rational thought and the Slashdot crowd is not capable of rational thought when it comes to patents.
      • by a.ameri ( 665846 )
        Things we wouldn't have (or wouldn't have had as early as we did) if it wasn't for Xerox:

        Graphical User Interface
        Mouse
        Ethernet
        Object Oriented programming .....

        I know we hate software patensts here and all, but calling Xeros an 'asshole' company only based on a single action, is rather feeble, don't you think?
    • Does this mean that pedophiles will get ads for Lucky Charms, or that children will get ads for Viagra?
    • [0006] As Internet usage continues to rise, it becomes increasingly important to identify the demographic characteristics of Internet users. Such characteristics can help businesses and advertisers provide services to Internet users in particular demographic groups and to attract and retain new customers. To obtain this demographic information, web sites may request Internet users to enter personal demographic information. However, such user-entered information may be incomplete, thus preventing a business
  • by khasim ( 1285 ) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Wednesday April 11, 2007 @09:31PM (#18697779)
    ...I must download more lesbian pr0n.

    Get real. This is worthy of a patent? Just by the fact that you're reading this post you're most likely male, some college, etc.
    • Is that pr0n being images of lesbians, or is that pr0n that lesbians like to, er... ..look at.

      If it is one an the same, then that makes lesbians just like dirty old men (and slashdot basement dwellers).
    • by nmb3000 ( 741169 )
      you're most likely male, some college,

      WHO ARE YOU AND GET OUT OF MY HEAD!!~

      etc.

      And what, exactly, are you implying?
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      ...I must download more lesbian pr0n.

      Not needed at all... Xerox will find that you spend 20 hours a day on Slashdot... and conclude you don't have any girlfriends.... and get your kicks watching porn!

      To really confuse Xerox, you need to shop online for diapers, ladies' undergarments, walking sticks, power glasses and valentine's day cards.... besides lurking on Slashdot with insightful comments. That would confuse the hell out of them!
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by inviolet ( 797804 )

        To really confuse Xerox, you need to shop online for diapers, ladies' undergarments, walking sticks, power glasses and valentine's day cards....

        [Marge] "Whatever you've got planned tonight, count me out!"

  • Remember, kids... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Atario ( 673917 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2007 @09:31PM (#18697783) Homepage
    ...pay attention to those tracking cookies [wikipedia.org].
    • by ajs318 ( 655362 )
      One of these days, I swear I'll write that cookie-blocker I've been meaning to write since forever. The one that silently swallows all those __utm.*, RMID, h2 and anything that originates from 2o7.net.
      • by fatphil ( 181876 )
        Just be careful not to block utm.edu - the university of Tennessee at Martin!
        However, anything with 'click', 'track', or 'xch' in its URL seems to be bin-worthy.
        • by ajs318 ( 655362 )
          Oh, no -- "utm.edu" is a URL. I'm talking about cookies. A lot of sites try to set one with a name of "__utma". If you accept that one, then they will try "__utmb", "__utmc" and "__utmz"; but if you reject the __utma one then they don't usually offer any more.

          The domain "2o7.net" seems to be used by some privacy-invader.
          • by fatphil ( 181876 )
            Ah, OK, I've not seen enough of those __utm* ones to notice the pattern. However, they do sound like they're worth rejecting. Thanks for the heads up.
  • this should help with the spam wars going on.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 11, 2007 @09:56PM (#18697939)
    The patent may well have merit but to be used it would have to break the law. Notwithstanding that governments may keep them for national security reasons, if the law in a country prevents a third party using or selling browsing habits for commercial purposes is it possible to take out a patent that presumes illegal behaviour? Such as a method of extracting money from a bank using a shotgun? Aren't they getting a little ahead of themselves in thier race to the bottom of corporatist fascism? Or is this very revealing patent application telling us that they consider buying the necessary laws to use it a mere formality?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by joe_cot ( 1011355 )
      Point: quite a bit of spyware is perfectly legal. It's very clear in the EULA for the product it's strapped to, and it has a clear uninstaller (which breaks the program you wanted). Many people will use it anyway to use the program for free, or are just too clueless to notice.

      Point: a company does not need to do anything "invasive" to track your browsing habits. Back when DoubleClick had a majority share on banner ads, they could track what websites you went to simply based on the referring url when you got
      • by maxume ( 22995 )
        Do you think that they have noticed that I only ever click through to reward a decent site or punish a stupid ad? I use gmail and generally search without taking any anonymizing steps.
      • Point: a company does not need to do anything "invasive" to track your browsing habits. Back when DoubleClick had a majority share on banner ads, they could track what websites you went to simply based on the referring url when you got loaded of their ads on a site.

        Which is why whenever I visit a site that I don't trust completely, I start out from a clean, blank page. I'll even go so far as to copy and paste the URLs from google search results to the location bar of a new browser window.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by asninn ( 1071320 )

        Point: quite a bit of spyware is perfectly legal. It's very clear in the EULA for the product it's strapped to, and it has a clear uninstaller (which breaks the program you wanted). Many people will use it anyway to use the program for free, or are just too clueless to notice.

        That doesn't necessarily make it legal. If someone wants to install a piece of spyware and realises what he's doing, that's fine, of course, but for someone who's too clueless to notice, it's not nearly as clear. I might argue tha

    • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2007 @10:27PM (#18698073) Journal
      Can you patent an illegal process?

      Why not?

      The law might change to make the process legal before the patent runs out. But you need to patent it right away to establish priority.

      Meanwhile you could sue everybody accused of breaking the law in your particular way.

      The police do your investigating and the prosecutor does the work of putting the information together for you, too. And the jailers keep the infringer in a known place for your process server. How convenient.
      • Can you patent an illegal process?

        Why not?


        Fundamentally? A patent is a contract between the government and the patent holder. A fundamental aspect of law is that you can not legally contract for illegal purposes. For example, a contract that included a clause for you to murder someone or steal something is not legal - or at least not that clause. It could be argued that patenting an illegal process would be tantamount to a contract with illegal activity as part and parcel of it.

        After all you will either lic
      • by Dausha ( 546002 )
        "'Can you patent an illegal process?'

        "The law might change to make the process legal before the patent runs out. But you need to patent it right away to establish priority."

        The answer is no, you cannot. First, the patent law clearly says you cannot. Second, public policy says you can't. In courts, patents are given the binding effect of a law---with the same rules for statutory interpretation, etc. So, if you patent an illegal thing, then it would be legal. A patent is "legislated" through the USPTO under a
        • In courts, patents are given the binding effect of a law---with the same rules for statutory interpretation, etc. So, if you patent an illegal thing, then it would be legal.

          Not at all.

          A patent is a license to sue anyone who "practices an invention" without the permission of the patent holder. It is NOT a license to practice the invention despite laws to the contrary. (It can't. Laws are made and repealed by the legislative branch. Patents are issued by the executive branch, which does not have the autho
    • by ajs318 ( 655362 )

      [I]s it possible to take out a patent that presumes illegal behaviour? Such as a method of extracting money from a bank using a shotgun?

      Actually, it would be more fun and profitable to patent methods for being robbed (such as protecting your throat from the deleterious effects of a sharp knife blade by revealing your debit card PIN). Think about it: you don't always catch the perpertrator (and they're a criminal, ergo unlikely to have much respect for the niceties of Intellectual Property law); but y

  • by StringBlade ( 557322 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2007 @10:06PM (#18697995) Journal
    They used to come up with new and innovative ideas such as, the Xerox copier, a graphical user interface using windows, and a host of other innovate technologies.
    Now they've reduced themselves to patent trolling in order to pander to marketing scum. Just, wow.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      They've also given name to a photocopy of my buttcheeks.

      PC LOAD TP.
    • Actually it was the company Wang that was first experimenting with visual interfaces. However Xerox had one of the first mice if I remember right.
    • "They used to come up with new and innovative ideas such as, the Xerox copier, a graphical user interface using windows, and a host of other innovate technologies. "

      And what did they get for their troubles? They did the research, other companies (hello Apple) stole, I mean, were "heavily inspired by" their ideas.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xerox_PARC [wikipedia.org]
  • by sotweed ( 118223 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2007 @10:16PM (#18698029)
    .. not yet a patent. Look for it as a patent in 2-3 years. Maybe never.
    • Whoa there, mister! This is /., you must be new here. We don't take kindly to people distinguishing between patents and published applications. Why, you couldn't even make fun of the USPTO for them (not that there isn't plenty of ammunition elsewhere).
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by mavenguy ( 126559 )
      It's more complicated than that. This is a divisional application of another application which has issued as a patent [uspto.gov]. Furthermore, they filed another divisional application which also has been published. [uspto.gov]

      Divisional applications are made when the examiner determines that more than one invention is claimed in an application and requires the applicant to elect one of the inventions to prosecute on the merits. The claims to a non-elected invention(s) are not examined in that application and must be cancelled
  • How is statistical analysis patentable? I was under the impression that most patent systems excluded the possibility of patenting a mathematical method - which is exactly what statistical analysis is. You could probably extend that to all computer programming.
  • Patent in zanza form:

    It is like setting up a 2D space, one being the weight and the other the age. Then if person X hangs around the doughnut shop all day, we can assume that (s)he is fat, if (s)he spends the rest of the time at movies watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Spiderman and alike then we can also assume that (s)he is young, so we can assign a vector pointing somewhere in the (fat,young) quadrant. Wow. If the pattern is food, food, movie, food, food, food, movie then we can assume that (s)he
  • by tekrat ( 242117 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2007 @11:23PM (#18698363) Homepage Journal
    You know, I'm really sick of the whole "Guess your personal needs based on browsing habits". I get this enough from Amazon, recommending crap to me that I don't want, but that I sell to others.

    I run a website which sells stuff. Now, it may not be stuff I personally want, but obviously other people do. So, I go through Amazon looking for products to sell. Of course, the advantage is that Amazon recommends items to me that I might sell to the other people reading my site, so it works out, but still, Amazon has a screwed up image of what I want as an individual.

    Now imagine all these people who do searches online to find crap to feed their blogs. All the people who scour the internet in search of material for websites, stuff they are going to mention in passing, and then move on.

    All the marketing people are going to get is that 50% of the people who surf the web want to see dismemberments via locomotive accidents on YouTube. That's the "vector".

    The point I'm trying to make is that only half the people on the internet are the passive surfers this technology would work with. The other half are people who create the content online via looking for content online. (and then there's a small percentage who actually create content, but they don't surf as much).

    So, the entire concept to start with is screwed because it assumes that the web is TV.

    • by daigu ( 111684 )

      Ever consider seperating your business account from your personal one? Of course, Amazon could also incorporate aspects, profiles or whatever into individual accounts that would solve this problem. I think everyone encounters it in some form or another - whether you are buying gifts, changing jobs or changing as a person.

      With that said, I don't think the central concept is screwed. If we can agree that the central concept is about effectively making suggestions to new things based on what we like, then th

  • ... to protect Xerox's IP by not using their trademarked name as a verb! Because it hasn't become generic or anything...
  • Just reading this patent is chilling. How can the Patent Office even consider this as new and inovative when the NSA does this to us already. Hell Xerox might have been the contractor for them using this for all we know, and now want to patent this technique.

    This should not be patentable here or anywhere else.

    No software should be patentable.

    I wait to see the patent for chewing your food thoroughly before swallowing.

    Cheers
         
    • I wait to see the patent for chewing your food thoroughly before swallowing.

      No need to wait long then (although this is for a device and not merely the method alone):

      Patent 5924422 abstract:

      Title: Oral device to aid weight control
      Document Type and Number: United States Patent 5924422
      Link to this Page: http://www.freepatentsonline.com/5924422.html [freepatentsonline.com]
      Abstract: An oral device and method for slowing down the rate of food ingestion, thereby aiding digestion, assimilation, and allowing time for rai

  • ...so we CANSPAM you some more... just a little bit more. Its not bad enough that 90% of all email traffic is spam... lets add to that figure.
  • by SpecialAgentXXX ( 623692 ) on Thursday April 12, 2007 @12:34AM (#18698677)
    I use Firefox's NoScript and AdBlockPlus. Between them both, I've blocked out all of the Yahoo!'s and Google's ad-tracking capabilities (and nearly all ads in general). Without cookies to track from one site to the next, I don't see how this will work unless every site does URL redirection. Also, don't log into Yahoo! or Google, then surf. They can record all of your search queries and tracking via your logged in cookie.
  • Well, they aren't trying to patent statistical analysis or tracking cookies in general, but they are grabbing for a lot. The claims don't look too impressive either. All the claims are too broad without a single super narrow claim that might just get accepted. Maybe the person who wrote the claims didn't understand the math. Double click, some of the old shopping sites, and similar companies must have had this well before the 11/2/2001 priority date. There is nothing in the claims or the application sa
  • OK Xerox, so I'm a wanker. Like many of us. I confess. But how the hell are you able to deduct my age from the 2% non-porn related clicks? You'd conclude I have a stamina of a 16 year old and you'd be wrong. Unfortunately.
  • I have a Squid proxy server set up to block all advertisements. If a site sends me an advertisement, I add it to an ACL which blocks it. The full Squid is a bit overkill for the purpose, though, and I do plan to write my own "mini" proxy server just for advert-blocking (and I'll even add options to have it download the advert and just not display it, so blocking advert-blocker-blockers; and maybe even falsify clicks to distort their figures -- though I'm not sure if this is kikely to make them show me mo
  • Many companies continue to use airbrushed pictures, so-called subliminal, in their ads despite the fact that the very concept has been debunked. They do it Just In Case it'll work, and they pay big money for it. The only difference is nowdays they deny they do it.

    Same with this. It's probabilistic, meaning is does statistics and guesses. It has more holes in it than I'd allow any of my research methods undergrads get away with on homework: besides multiple people using the same browser, how about people who
  • News like this make you appreciate techniques like TrackMeNot. [computerworld.com]
  • I thought they were already doing this! Why else am I getting all this spam that assumes I'm a college dropout with a small penis who likes to help out Nigerian businessmen while scarfing down untested homeopathic supplements?
  • That might mean that unless Xerox licese this tech, only they could use it --meaning no-one else could harvest information this way. Hurrah! Here's for hoping, anyway...
  • I can see it now a Mozilla Plug-in that creates
    random cookies to confuse these systems or hey
    even create artificial patterns that might work
    to your advantage.
    (Yes sir you can see from my profile that I'm the
    right person for testing driving the new Ferrari
    just leave the keys in the mailbox)

  • ...that the right to make a profit is higher than my rights to freedom and privacy? Sorry folks, but business has absolutely no right to my money. I earned it, I have the right to choose how I spend it with absolutely no influence from the seller. This is why advertising fails with someone like me. I ignore all advertising. If I need or want something I have the following criteria:

    1. If it's something I need frequently, I find a brand that I like (defined as: does what I need, or has properties that I
  • Can it tell penis size? I'm not asking for myself. Just out of scientific curiosity.
  • Start surf random plugin Load trophy wife theme
  • So they were annoyed when "Xerox-ing" became a generic term for photocopying?

    I'm sure they will be much happier when it becomes a generic term for spam, spyware, and identity theft instead, as in "that f'ing virus xeroxed all my personal data to the Russian Mafia and now my bank accounts are empty" or "those damn pill peddlers keep xeroxing me the same tired crap, trying to sell me Viagra".

Neckties strangle clear thinking. -- Lin Yutang

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