ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
ACM TechNews is intended as an objective news digest for busy IT Professionals. Views expressed are not necessarily those of either Gateway Inc. or ACM.
To send comments, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volume 2, Issue 114: Wednesday, October 4, 2000
- "Congress Backs More Tech Visas"
Washington Post (10/04/00) P. A1; Dewar, Helen
Both the Senate and the House yesterday voted in favor of legislation that will raise the number of H-1B visas issued each year to foreign high-tech workers. President Clinton will likely sign the bill into law, Washington observers say. The bill would increase the annual cap on H-1B visas from 115,000 to 195,000 and prevent H-1B workers from being deported as soon as their visas expire. The tech industry fought hard to win the bill's passage, arguing foreign high-tech workers would be essential in filling its 1 million job openings and the 200,000 new jobs that analysts project will be created each year from now until 2010. Although the bill passed with few dissenters, it struggled to reach this point as Congress and the White House squabbled over details and amendments. The bill also provides funding for educating and training American workers in high-tech skills. Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.), an outspoken supporter of the bill, concluded, "Whether it's Silicon Valley...or my own state of Michigan, the need for these workers is extraordinarily strong."
- "U.S. High-Tech Industry Gets Passing Grade for Worker Training"
EE Times Online (10/03/00); Leopold, George
U.S. companies are investing strongly in education and worker training programs that will help prepare Americans to work in the high-tech sector, according to a report released Tuesday by the Information Technology Industry (ITI) Council. ITI's members, which include IBM, Intel, and Microsoft, have contributed more than $1.1 billion to education programs, the report says. The report also laid out several goals for improving high-tech education, such as increasing teacher training and professional development; improving math, science, and technology education; and making technology more available to students. The report aimed to alleviate concerns about U.S. workers missing out on high-tech jobs, and was timed to debut on the same day that the Senate voted on H-1B visa legislation that would allow more foreign high-tech workers to work in the United States. The Senate approved the H-1B bill in a 96 to 1 vote.
- "'Business-Method' Patents, Key to Priceline, Draw Growing Protest"
Wall Street Journal (10/03/00) P. B1; Angwin, Julia
Two Democrats in the House of Representatives will introduce a bill this week that would make it more difficult for both individuals and firms to patent business methods. The bill, which does not stand much chance of passing before the upcoming Congressional recess, would compel those who seek a business-method patent to defend their reasons to any challengers. Since a 1998 ruling by a federal court of appeals legalized business-method patents, applications for such patents have risen dramatically, from 700 four years ago to 1,300 last year. Many of the most notable business-method patents have come from the growth of e-commerce. Amazon.com patented its "one-click" shopping service, and Priceline.com patented its "name-your-own-price" service for gas, airline tickets, and groceries. However, these patents are becoming more controversial as patent-holders act aggressively to protect their interests. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos sued Barnesandnoble.com, accusing the company of copying "one-click," while Priceline founder Jay Walker filed suit against Microsoft for stealing its patents for its Expedia Web site. Critics of business-method patents argue that these lawsuits expose the unfair power that holders of such patents wield. Business-method patents, they argue, stifle competition and innovation. Even giant corporations such as Microsoft, which received 352 patents itself last year, are complaining. However, much more than intellectual property is at stake. Business-method patents can generate a good deal of revenue for their holders. For instance, Priceline's Walker also owns Walker Digital, a think tank that devises new retail and business methods, patents them, and then licenses them to other companies.
- "Seeds of Doubt Sprout for Apple's Future"
USA Today (10/03/00) P. 3B; Swartz, Jon
Apple Computer's three-year turnaround appears to be stalling, and analysts predict that the company will remain in a slump until it releases its Mac OS X operating system next year. Last week Apple announced that it would miss analysts' expectations for fourth-quarter profit, causing its stock to tumble. The company attributed its shortfall to sluggish education sales, a weak European market, and lower than anticipated demand for its new Power Mac G4 Cube. However, analysts are worried that Apple's problems could be more severe. Compaq, Dell, and IBM are increasing their presence in the education market, and Gateway and Micron are already stealing Apple's market share. Meanwhile, Apple is not moving quickly enough to expand beyond its base of educators, artists, consumers, and desktop publishers, which represent just 5 percent of the global PC market. Furthermore, Macintosh sales are weak, with third quarter iMac sales slipping to 450,000 down from 487,000 the previous year. Cube sales are lower than expected, and cracks in the Cube's plastic casing are adding to Apple's woes. Apple's product line has not changed significantly for three years, and experts say new colors and designs are not enough to keep sales up. Another problem for Apple is the potential slowdown in the PC market recently reported by Intel. Still, Apple could bounce back easily with new consumer offerings and price cuts, experts say.
- "Techies Take Time Out for Kids"
Wired News (10/03/00); Dean, Katie
Tech workers nationwide celebrated "Techies Day" on Tuesday. The day, created to promote technology and technology-related careers to children, featured events in more than 40 cities. Washington, D.C., hosted the Techie Day Summit, which began with a keynote address from Secretary of Education Richard Riley. The summit also showcased the winners of the TechieTeam 2000 awards for those organizations that are helping to introduce technology to young people. Winners include the Chester County (Pa.) Information Technology Workforce Group, a venture of several local tech companies that provide computer-skills workshops; and Omni Tech Corporation's Scott Robb, who founded an after-school program for computer learning at his stepson's school. Techies Day director Sue Hanson hopes the continuing growth of technology will increase public awareness of this day and the programs it celebrated. "At one time technology was necessary for people in technology careers only, whereas now technology touches every career," she says.
- "Glitch Mars Start of World's First Cyberelections"
Associated Press (10/02/00)
The reliability of online voting took a blow yesterday as hundreds of registered voters were unable to cast their vote during ICANN's board election. Election.com, the company in charge of the ICANN vote, blamed the problem on a programming glitch and said the snafu had been taken care of by Monday morning. However, some voters said the problems continued further into the day. Upward of 75,000 Internet users are registered to vote in ICANN's election to appoint five board members. Critics say that online voting leaves much to be desired in terms of privacy, security, and dependability. Houston native Jessica Westbrook was one of those who received "error" messages from Election.com computers when they attempted to cast their vote. Westbrook said the snafu makes her question ICANN's technical experience. Some 4,000 Internet users had cast their votes without a hitch as of Monday afternoon, according to Election.com.
- "Raiding Talent Via the Web"
Wall Street Journal (10/03/00) P. B1; Silverman, Rachel Emma
The Internet has not only created a wealth of new jobs, but it has also transformed the way in which corporate headhunters attempt to fill those jobs. Headhunters now target corporate Web pages to locate and contact their most desirable employees, even executives, and have devised a series of tricks to get past the public front pages of these sites and find detailed information about a firm's staff. In a method known as peeling, headhunters use a firm's URL to find links to employees. Another method, X-raying, uses search engines to locate more specific pages within a firm's Web site. Including keywords such as "resume" or "business development" in these searches can reveal a wealth of detailed, but not confidential, information pertaining to a firm's personnel. Other keywords such as "playground" can lead to a firm's chat rooms. Headhunters stress that all of these methods are legal and claim that most corporate Web sites are too easy to enter. Although many corporations dislike the headhunters' new methods of soliciting their workers, most do not want to remove information about their employees from their Web sites. "It's just a fact of life. You just need to deal with it," says John Featherstone of Sun Microsystems.
- "India Wrestles With Net Porn"
Wired News (10/02/00); Joshi, Manoj
Working on behalf of a law student, Indian attorney Rohas Nagpal claims that Rediff.com is punishable under section 292 of the Indian Penal Code because its search engine provides access to pornographic Web sites. Indian sites that offer access to pornography should be subject to the law even though sites registered outside of India are not, says Nagpal. The case has been brought before judicial magistrate S. Bhosale, who will make a ruling after consulting a local police report consisting of a compilation of interviews with technical experts. The debate concerns whether Rediff should be forced to block access to the sites even though Rediff did not author or create the sites. Selective access blocking is not characteristic of a search engine, argues Rediff editor Zaki Ansari. However, Ansari's argument is somewhat weak considering that French search engines and CompuServe's German search engine blocked access to sites deemed objectionable earlier this year. In addition, fellow Indian site 123india.com possesses nothing pornographic, although it is only a database as compared to a search engine. Complicating issues is the fact that Internet data is fragmented and pornographic sites often change their IP addresses, which makes blocking gateway access impractical, says Ansari. Bhosale's ruling is expected at the end of October.
- "In Silicon Valley, Candidates Seek Both Money and 'Cool'"
New York Times (10/03/00) P. A1; Wayne, Leslie
Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George Bush have campaigned heavily in the Silicon Valley area, as each seeks to establish himself as the high-tech presidential candidate. The courting is somewhat odd, political observers say, considering California as a whole is inclined toward Gore, according to a recent Public Policy Institute poll that shows the vice president leading by eight percentage points, and more so in the traditionally Democratic Bay Area, of which Silicon Valley is a part. However, observers note that high-tech companies are spending millions on this campaign--$22.1 million so far, claims the Center for Responsive Politics--and both candidates want a share. Several surveys show Bush leading Gore in Silicon Valley donations, which surprises Gore supporters. They believe high-tech firms should be more respectful of Gore's accomplishments, which include support for numerous initiatives that helped build the infrastructure for the Internet and other telecommunications technology. High-tech executives are ignoring the Clinton administration's role in boosting the economy over the past eight years, Gore supporters add. However, some within the high-tech industry say Gore represents what they fear most: trial lawyers and unions. The firms see Bush as more pro-business and less inclined to regulation. However, both candidates have stated similar high-tech agendas that favor business concerns. These include increased funding, efforts to open up trade, and a greater number of the controversial H-1B visas that allow skilled foreign employees to work for U.S. tech firms.
(Please note that access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Record Labels Push EU to Tighten Digital Copyrights"
Bloomberg News (09/28/00)
Fifteen European Union governments have sent a new copyright law to the European Parliament requesting stronger protection against digital copying. The European music industry lost $1.2 billion to CD copying in 1999, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). EU representatives have been discussing ways to curb digital piracy for three years, but music companies say current proposals are riddled with loopholes. The companies demand a standard EU law that permits the use of digital watermarks--codes that prevent products from being copied past a certain number--among other security measures. Industry groups counter that such a law will create numerous regulations that will complicate business. Consumer advocates also claim that such rules could allow electronic equipment makers and rights holders to ban copying even where copying is legal. In addition, consumers could also be forced by manufacturers to sign agreements that restrict the copying of downloaded material. Software companies are worried that the proposal could allow local variations, endangering current laws that protect software and databases. The parliament will study and possibly amend the proposal before sending it back to the EU for final approval, which will most likely occur next year, says Frances Moore, a director of IFPI.
- "Beijing Rules Target Subversion on Net"
Washington Times (10/03/00) P. A13; Pottinger, Matt
The Chinese government on Monday issued new rules governing Internet content and the dissemination of "subversive" ideas, including rules that force ISPs and content providers to keep 60-day blocks of records on Web content and visitors--information that must be given to police upon request. The rules state that ISPs must "record the times users log on to the Internet, users' account numbers, Internet addresses or domain names, and the phone numbers users dial in from." Prohibited content includes that which undermines the power of the government or harms China's reputation and that which jeopardizes China's goal of reunifying with Taiwan. The rules threaten to jeopardize the well being of commercial Web sites in China because they also place restrictions on foreign investment in commercial Web sites. Commercial sites may not receive foreign investment unless the investment is approved by the Ministry of Information Industry, according to the rules--a heavy blow, as China's nascent dot-com industry is overly reliant on foreign investors. Also, the rules prohibit commercial sites from having any dealings with foreign companies or listing their stock unless permission has been granted by the ministry. "The proportion of foreign investment must conform with relevant laws and administrative regulations," the rules say. The harshness of the investment rules could very well precipitate an exodus of commercial Web sites from the mainland.
- "Inching Toward Dot-Whatever"
Wired News (10/04/00); Oakes, Chris
A consortium of top Internet registrars called Afilias submitted a proposal to ICANN suggesting .web, .info, and .site as new domain name suffixes. The proposal is intended to address the long-term need for more Internet domain name suffixes, says Afilias marketing task force head John Kane. Registrars from North America, the Middle East, and Asia, including top registrars such as Network Solutions and Register.com, joined together to create Afilias. The current domain suffixes .com, .net, and .org focus more on the United States, and Afilias intends to leverage a new top level domain (TLD) that reaches across boundaries to symbolize a world that is more unified, says Kane. ICANN thinks new TLDs will increase the number of available domain names and spark competition among domain name registrars. However, ICANN does not intend for the additional TLDs to harm the Domain Name System's stability. Applications could be approved as early as November, and those that are approved might be allowed to operate new TLDs by early 2001. The current problems with Network Solutions dot-com registry could be avoided through Afilias, says Register.com director of policy Elana Broitman. Afilias can keep technical and intellectual property issues in mind while constructing its registry, says Broitman. Other registrars accredited by ICANN will also be permitted to join Afilias. The new domain suffixes "absolutely will compete with dot-com, but we have said all along that the expansion of the name space is not only good for the Internet but good for Network Solutions," says Network Solutions spokesman Brian O'Shaughnessy. "Because you give consumers more choice, not only are you going to motivate those existing customers to expand their Internet identity, but you're also going to motivate other people who had felt that maybe dot-com wasn't the right place for them on the Internet," says O'Shaughnessy.
For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html.
- "At the GBDe"
Miami Herald (10/02/00) P. 21; Dorschner, John; Garcia, Beatrice E.
The Global Business Dialogue on Electronic Commerce (GBDe) was held last week in Miami, attracting heavy hitters from several big technology companies. The GBDe is becoming a global power, and it wants to encourage the free exchange of goods and information while avoiding excessive regulation. IBM's Dave Carlucci says the GBDe is not opposed to taxing goods and services over the Internet, but he adds that taxation should not punish e-businesses. However, Europe administers its value-added tax (VAT) when European Internet companies sell to European customers, and the European Union wants to force foreign Web sites to register in a European nation and charge taxes. Many at the conference spoke about closing the digital divide. Equitable Cardnetwork Chairman Roberto Romulo, whose company is in the Philippines, leads a group of government and business leaders from 10 nations in Southeast Asia. The countries have agreed to act jointly when it comes to Internet legislation. Egypt's minister for communications and information technology, Ahmed Nazif, says developing nations see the digital revolution as a way to catch up with the developed world.
- "What Silicon Valley Wants"
Economist (09/30/00) Vol. 356, No. 8190, P. 40
Silicon Valley is becoming increasingly involved in politics, as high-tech companies seek to push their agendas on antitrust issues, Internet regulation, H-1B visas, and other matters. The computer industry, galvanized over the past year by the Microsoft antitrust trial, is increasing its rate of donations to federal candidates faster than most other industries. In addition, Amazon.com, DoubleClick, eBay, and ExciteAtHome all established offices near Washington, D.C., last summer and formed the lobbying group Netcoalition.com. The antitrust issue is a top concern for many companies in the consolidating tech industry, with even firms that criticized Microsoft's market dominance now worried about the potential for overzealous anti-monopoly activities. Silicon Valley is also pushing legislators on the issue of H-1B visas, which offer a temporary solution to the industry's much-lamented labor shortage. Internet issues such as the digital divide, taxes, and privacy are also top priorities for the high-tech industry, which favors self-regulation over government intervention. Despite its political agendas, the high-tech industry is not strongly affiliated with either major party, tending to agree with Democrats on social issues but with Republicans on free-market issues. This leaves tech companies in position to choose freely among various legislators and their policies, but also prevents the industry from wielding complete control over one party.
For information regarding ACM's work on matters of public policy, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "Big-Name Web Sites Lack Basic Guidelines"
Computerworld (10/02/00) Vol. 34, No. 40, P. 12; Verton, Dan
Many of the Internet's leading Web sites do not meet the basic standards for access, customer interaction, and navigation, according to a Giga Information Group review of 200 major Web sites to determine how well they meet the standards recognized by the FTC, the Americans With Disabilities Act, and the Standards for Internet Commerce. "Companies are failing to adhere to some of the most basic standards on the front-end of their e-businesses," says Steve Telleen, head of Giga's Web Site ScoreCard service. "Some companies do fairly well, and some are completely lacking." Standards Giga looked for included privacy statements, navigation aids, text-only access, and various tools to assist disabled users, such as keyboard-directed navigation or special color coding. "Every site should do a set of basic things," Telleen says. "We couldn't find a single site that has everything." Failing to meet these standards will frustrate customers and damage business, Telleen warns. On a positive note, experts say more businesses are taking these issues into account when designing and building their sites.
- "Techonomics: New Economy, New Gauge"
Interactive Week (09/25/00) Vol. 7, No. 38, P. 106; Monroy, Tom
The concept of techonomics, or the connection between how work is done and how it affects economics, is a more appropriate way of assessing the impact of technology on the economy than traditional measures, writes Tom Monroy. For example, renowned economist Robert Solow uses traditional economic measures to describe a "Productivity Paradox," which contends that productivity growth has slowed since 1960 even as high-tech investments soar. Monroy says Solow fails to take technological principles into account. Productivity for sectors that made strong investments in computers and computerization since 1970 rose over 300 percent more than sectors with weaker technology investments, according to a 1998 Presidential Economic Report. As technology advanced, more people began working in the service sector-which today accounts for 80 percent of the workforce. No effective measures have been developed for the service sector, and productivity gains for the service sector are reported at less than 1 percent annually. The low-tech service sector is likely to see large productivity gains as technology--which Monroy says has yet to reach a critical mass--advances. Some gains are already evident in the rise of business-to-business commerce, and productivity will continue to rise as customer service functions move online and digital transactions replace paper. Finally, Monroy notes that rather than eliminating jobs, technology has created over 4 million new jobs since 1990, including both high-skill IT jobs and lower-level service jobs.