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Minnesota demands to know who has what PC?

James Lileks today, on where anti-Microsoft mania can lead:

So I’m not a big fan. But I will come to their defense for the anti-trust suits. Minnesota just settled a suit with the state of Minnesota, where millions of consumers were apparently forced at gunpoint to buy Windows machines. Microsoft once again promised to hand over its wallet if the kicking stopped, and agreed to remain rolled in a fetal position until the money is counted. The verdict was around eleventy trillion dollars or so. When it came to distribute the organs of the corpse the lawyers got the liver, spleen, lungs and most of the brain; the consumers got some regulatory glands, some teeth and a selection of minor toes. I think we get a certificate for ten bucks off on future Microsoft purchases. If the consumers don’t claim the money, some goes back to Bill and some goes to an education fund. The trick, of course, is to get people to claim their money. Florida lead the pack: 18 % of the consumers stepped forward. Obviously they need higher participation rates, since it looks bad when you advocate on behalf of an Inflamed Public that turns out to be utterly indifferent to the supposed offense. So the state has come up with a novel means of informing citizens that Microsoft owes them money. It was buried at the end of the story in the local paper last week.

The state will subpoena local computer resellers to learn who bought PCs.

Maybe it’s just me, but: imagine the outcry if the Justice department decided it wanted a database of computer ownership in America. Who had what. Oh no you don’t would be the general reaction, even if people couldn’t quite explain why they didn’t like the idea. It smacks of typewriter-registration laws in totalitarian states, even though we all know no one will kick down the door and demand to know where you put that 386 you bought in ’92. But this is the mindset of the well-intentioned government lawyer: gee, people might not claim their rebates. How about we use the power of the state to force private businesses to turn over customer lists so we can mail informational material to computer owners? It’s for their own good. Who could complain?



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