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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 2, Issue 86: Friday, July 28, 2000
- "Computer Science Not Drawing Women"
New York Times (07/27/00) P. E10; Eisenberg, Anne
The proportion of women among computer science majors has grown stagnant and may fall, according to a new study. The Association for Computing Machinery's Committee on Women in Computing conducted the study because the field has been changing so rapidly that the most recent statistics available, a 1996 Department of Education report, were no longer valid. The new study, which focused only on U.S. universities with a Ph.D.-level computer-science program, revealed that women comprise 17 percent of undergraduate computer science majors. That number should rise to 17.5 percent next year before falling as low as 16 percent in the near future, the study predicts. The proportion of women in undergraduate computer-science programs reached as high as 37.1 percent in the past. Members of the Committee on Women in Computing cited the image of computer science as dominated by introverted white males as the main reason for women's growing disinterest in the field. Committee on Women in Computing co-chairwomen and 3Com technologist Denise Gurer says, "It starts early. Women get turned off not only in college, but once they are at work."
For more information about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "The War Over Patents on the Web: Who Owns an Idea?"
Christian Science Monitor (07/27/00) P. 15; Farah, Samar
The Internet has transformed how the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office views business methods. Business methods had never been one of the four major areas of patent law--processing methods, machines, compositions of matter, and man-made products--but the rapid changes brought on by the Internet has led many e-commerce companies to apply for patents, and recently the government has shown an increased willingness to approve the applications. The patent office approved 301 patents for Internet business methods in 1999, up from just 39 such patents in 1997. Critics believe that applying patent law to e-business has diverted software developers into a sort of war, in which the companies are concerned only with having more patents than their competitors. Furthermore, they contend that many Internet patents are granted for "innovations" that are neither new nor unique. Patent-holders respond that, like genetic patent law, Internet patent law is still a developing field. Both sides reference Amazon.com's complaint against Barnesandnoble.com to prove their point. Amazon forced Barnesandnoble to stop using its patented "1-Click" system. Critics scoffed at Amazon's complaint, arguing 1-Click was too basic to deserve a patent in the first place. However, proponents of Internet patents say Barnesandnoble's solution, two-click shopping, justifies patent law. Patents force e-businesses to develop their own, potentially better, innovations.
For information regarding ACM's work in the area of intellectual property, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/copyright.
- "Brussels Ends Data Protection Dispute With US"
Financial Times (07/28/00) P. 9; Hargreaves, Deborah
The safe harbor data-protection deal between the United States and the European Union is back on track for implementation in November, as the European Commission yesterday gave its approval to the deal. The commission also approved Switzerland and Hungary's data-protection schemes for EU citizens. Although the safe harbor deal has been approved, ISPs and telecom companies are pushing for changes to a draft directive on spamming that gives consumers opt-in powers over receiving unsolicited email. Mike Pullen, e-commerce expert at the Brussels-based Dibb Lupton and Alsop, says e-commerce companies believe that the opt-in language makes it difficult for them to contact consumers. The industry would like to see the opt-in choice changed to an opt-out scheme, while consumer groups are defending the current opt-in system.
- "Mattel: Don't Play With Barbie"
Wired News (07/27/00); Cisneros, Oscar S.
Critics of the new Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act say that the law favors large corporations and endangers free speech. A typical case where the law works as it was intended is the case of Mattel against Internet Dimensions, which hosts a Web site called barbiesplaypen.com. A federal judge awarded Mattel ownership of the domain name, ruling that Internet Dimensions planned to profit through an association with the doll made by Mattel. The anticybersquatting act allows companies to sue if the domain name registrant is difficult to locate, and requires the court to consider whether other trademark terms were acquired through the "whois" database. In Mattel's case, Internet Dimensions not only falsified contact information, but also had registered domain names similar to other trademarked names. The broader effect of the law's consequences has not yet been established because no one wants to become the test case. Companies with little funding cannot afford $100,000 in statutory damages on top of attorney's fees. The new law also requires courts to take fair noncommercial uses into consideration, which are exceptions for noncommercial uses of trademarks included in traditional trademark law. Many legal disputes filed under the new act pit large, multinational corporations against teenagers and smaller online publishers, says Bret Fausett, an attorney with expertise in trademark domain name disputes.
- "Network Solutions Inches Toward Domain Auctions"
CNet (07/27/00); Wolverton, Troy
Moving toward the development of a domain name auction, Network Solutions recently launched InSearchofMy.com, which lists domain names available for sale and the owners' contact information so that interested bidders can contact those trying to sell the rights to their domain names. NSI intends to make money on appraisal and escrow services provided through InSearchofMy.com, rather than charging fees for the auctions of the domains. Other domain auctions have been held recently. For example, the loans.com domain was purchased by Bank of America for $3 million at a GreatDomains.com auction.
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- "Change Your Infrastructure, or Die, Burton Group Says"
Network World Fusion (07/25/00); Fontana, John
Virtual enterprise networks (VENs) are the future of business infrastructure, according to the CEO of The Burton Group. The Burton Group this week hosted its annual Catalyst Conference, at which it stressed the importance of VENs for companies that expect to flourish in the e-commerce era. VENs allow businesses to integrate their customers and suppliers in one network, rather than distributing functions along intranets and extranets. A key feature of VENs is that they can be easily reorganized, giving businesses the structural flexibility necessary in the fast-moving Internet world. Moreover, VENs increase the speed of communications and reduce transaction costs. The only current difficulty for businesses wishing to create a VEN is the lack of application vendors providing services to improve interoperability and security. However, businesses will want to be patient and work to overcome these challenges. Those that do not simply will not survive the e-commerce era.
- "Government Ill-Prepared to Handle Viruses"
Philadelphia Inquirer (07/27/00) P. C2; Savino, Lenny
Federal agencies have weak computer security that leaves the government especially vulnerable to viruses, according to a study from the General Accounting Office (GAO). The study found that 22 of the 24 large federal agencies surveyed have major computer weaknesses. The Department of Agriculture's National Finance Center, for example, allows easy unauthorized access to its systems, which distribute over $15 billion annually in payroll checks. The inability of federal agencies to handle viruses was highlighted by the Love Bug virus, which froze email systems at a number of agencies. Due to incompatible systems, defense department agencies were unable to warn one another about the virus. Federal agencies did not cooperate with one another or with the private industry as they should have during the attack, the GAO says.
For information regarding ACM's activities related to encryption, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/crypto.
- "Paying Lip Service to the Digital Divide"
E-Commerce Times (07/25/00); McDonald, Tim
E-Commerce Times columnist Tim McDonald expects the digital divide to close when poor countries take the initiative to build their own high-tech sectors and high-tech training centers. "Or when tax laws favor the lower class, pigs fly, or Larry Ellison concedes that Bill Gates is the better man--whichever comes first," he adds. McDonald believes the wealthier nations have shown over and over again that they do not intend to give poorer countries anything--unless they are threatened with revolt. The recent Group of Eight summit was the latest example of the leaders of underdeveloped countries pleading for assistance without any success. Occasionally wealthy nation will offer debt relief to poorer countries. But the eligibility requirements of such aid have become so complex that the bureaucratic tape lessens the impact of any assistance. McDonald says he actually attended a summit in which an expert in international finance bluntly assessed the situation of a poor country looking for money for high-tech infrastructure. The expert essentially said the country would have to close the digital divide itself, and even suggested a number of options for developing a digital economy, such as niche Internet marketing and opening up the telecommunications industry. McDonald now wonders whether there is a media conspiracy, because the local press did not report the expert's comments.
Readers interested in the digital divide and related issues may wish to learn more about ACM's upcoming Conference on Universal Usability http://www.acm.org/sigs/sigchi/cuu.
- "Spying or Security?"
ABCNews.com (07/21/00); Segan, Sascha
Email monitoring software is gaining popularity among companies that are trying to avoid potential liability over harassing or discriminatory messages. The market for monitoring software will grow to 14 times its current size in the next four years, reaching $952 million, International Data predicts. Employee Internet use is monitored at 54 percent of U.S. firms, while email is reviewed at 38 percent of companies, according to an American Management Association survey. Of the companies that monitor email use, a third do not inform workers of the activity, says "E-Policy" author Michael Overly. Companies are growing increasingly concerned about their legal responsibilities as emails begin to turn up in court, as occurred in a sexual harassment suit in 1995 involving offensive chain letters that circulated among employees of a Chevron subsidiary. Monitoring tools such as Content Technologies' MIMESweeper scan email using keywords and grammatical rules to locate potentially inappropriate content. Although some employees have raised legal objections to email surveillance under a 1986 privacy law, Overly says workers have limited privacy rights in the office. Nonetheless, experts warn that companies can avoid privacy lawsuits by letting workers know their privacy rights.
For information about ACM's activities on behalf of privacy matters, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/privacy.
- "U.S. Wants More Cybercrime Laws"
Reuters (07/26/00); Wolf, Jim
The House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information, and Technology heard testimony from the FBI and other law enforcement officials yesterday about the dearth of cybercrime legislation at the international level. More than 100 countries lack laws governing computer crime, a factor that is undermining international cooperation to eradicate computer viruses, denial of service attacks, identity theft, child pornography, and other forms of cybercime. Top law enforcement officials from Germany, Sweden, Latvia, Israel, and the Philippines also provided testimony at the hearing.
- "Bill Addresses E-Mail Surveillance"
Associated Press (07/27/00)
Rep. Bob Barr said yesterday he is crafting legislation that would restrict the FBI's Carnivore email monitoring system by extending telephone wiretap law to the Internet. Barr's bill would also limit the amount of evidence that can be taken from email communications, placing the amount roughly in line with that yielded by telephone wiretap court orders. Meantime, Attorney General Janet Reno indicated yesterday that she will not suspend the FBI's use of Carnivore, despite the Justice Department's review of the system. Reno stressed the importance of examining all sides of the issue and coming up with a thoughtful solution to the matter.
For information about ACM's activities on behalf of privacy matters, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/privacy.
- "Bush Hews to Middle of Silicon Valley Road"
Hill (07/30/00) Vol. 7, No. 30, P. 42; Silverberg, David
The two presidential candidates appear to be taking nearly the same position on high-tech issues, closely echoing the stance of the Internet, software, and computer industries. Among George W. Bush's key high-tech advisors are campaign policy director Josh Bolton; Dell Computer CEO Michael Dell; Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers; Netscape founder Jim Barksdale; and Richard Perle, former assistant secretary of defense for international security policy. Perle was an advocate of strong controls on the export of powerful technology to the Soviet Union, which brought him into conflict with the U.S. high-tech industry; however, since the demise of the Soviet Union, Perle has expressed support for relaxed controls. Bush advocates a "commonsense" export control system for military technology but also wants to let U.S. companies sell technology that is readily available commercially. Bush wants to strengthen intelligence capabilities, create new rules for technology export, and ease controls on encryption and hardware. Bush also says he supports making the research and development tax credit permanent, and would increase defense research and development by at least $20 billion. Bush supports the extension of an existing tax moratorium on Internet sales through 2004, but has defended other theoretical taxes such as Internet tariffs. He officially supports tort reform and lifting current limits on H-1B visas. However, the fate of Microsoft will become the problem of the next president if the Supreme Court does not rule before November.
- "Whose Net Is It, Anyway?"
Business Week (07/31/00) No. 3692, P. 98; Carney, Dan; France, Mike; Ante, Spencer E.
A number of high-tech companies are gaining more control over essential pieces of the U.S. information infrastructure, with Microsoft owning Windows and AT&T controlling some of the cables that offer consumers high-speed Internet access. The looming question is how much responsibility a monopolist has to share its private property with rivals. Rivals and consumer groups are complaining that the monopolists take unfair advantage of their power, and regulators are moving to protect openness in the digital economy. The Federal Trade Commission, for instance, intends to look into whether cable companies should be made to open their wires to competing Internet service providers. Although FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky says trustbusters do not want to let companies transform the Internet into monopolies, he points out that they also do not want to discourage companies from investing in the Internet by demanding that they share. Anti-monopolists, who believe that information should be able to move freely on global networks, say openness encourages innovation by not allowing one company to control a critical part of the infrastructure. However, openness could require considerable regulation, since making companies share resources can lead to having to decide how much the companies can charge for the use of the resources. Currently, companies in the cable industry are acceding to openness, though the firms could still favor their own business partners. The wireless industry could see the next big fight--it already has in Europe, where companies are giving in to pressure to allow wireless customers to choose rival Internet portals for the home page on their cell phones, instead of the default home page. In terms of the Internet backbone, the Justice Department challenged the WorldCom-Sprint merger largely because the merged firm would have controlled 53 percent of the Internet backbone, enabling it to discriminate against rival networks.
- "Crafting New E-Biz Jobs"
eWeek (07/24/00) Vol. 17, No. 30, P. 66; Villano, Matt
In order to survive, fast-growing businesses must plan ahead, anticipate future growth, and determine how they will manage the more mundane aspects of becoming a successful enterprise. One method, adopted by application service provider (ASP) Virtual Growth, is to hire an ASP to take over tasks unrelated to the core business. Virtual Growth hired IBM to handle its network operations. "The challenge switched from managing our databases to reorganizing the resources and talent we had devoted to them," says Virtual Growth CEO Stephen King. The employee responsible for database administration was trained in another technical field and given a new post within the company. In addition to freeing a company to focus on core issues--growth and development, for example--contracting with an ASP affords businesses the opportunity to move their talented IT personnel around, constantly exposing them to knew challenges and keeping them interested.
- "Testing Services Put IT to the Test"
InformationWeek (07/24/00) No. 796, P. 147; Williams, Aisha M.
Although small and midsize businesses are historically slow to adopt new IT solutions, IBM Global Services is making an effort to reach businesses with 100 or fewer employees. The company is allotting space in its systems testing facility in Gaithersburg, Md., for example, to attract smaller businesses unlikely to have a dedicated IT staff. "We can literally rebuild a company's entire network in this facility," says IBM's Jeff Gore. "We can mirror your workloads and introduce a new software application into it, thereby introducing the technology into your network before you actually use it." For companies with limited resources, testing centers reduce the risk of implementing new IT solutions. Bank Atlantic, for example, learned through testing with IBM Global Services that its online banking venture was not capable of handling a sufficient amount of traffic volume. The company was able to fix a potentially expensive and embarrassing problem before it released the service to customers. IBM Global Services' testing center is capable of testing multivendor platforms, meaning that businesses using Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and/or Sun servers will be able to test their solutions in the facility.
- "Developing Europe"
Industry Standard (07/17/00) Vol. 3, No. 26, P. 51; Deninger, Paul
Although Europe has made great strides in becoming a common market--such as leadership in global tech and wireless technology, its emerging culture of equity, and taproots into markets like fiber optics and interactive television--outdated economic controls still bar it from becoming a unified market with long-term duration. The changes necessary to create a formidable global European tech market include income tax reform, more accessible stock options, and homogenized business policies that transcend nationalism. Also needed are the creation of new jobs, the use of outside talent, an increase in Internet technology spending, and the eradication of inequality between the various national stock exchanges. To effect these changes, more reliance on young, new-economy companies and less on old-economy companies is encouraged. Without these implementations, Europe will continue to suffer a fractured marketplace whose gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate is barely half that of the United States, even though Europe's population is 35 percent larger and its current GDP only 5 percent lower. The proposed EuroNext merger, which would combine the exchanges in Paris, Amsterdam, and Brussels, places Europe one step closer to a real economy. Similarly, the iX merger would do the same for the London and Frankfurt exchanges.