Timely Topics for IT Professionals
About ACM TechNews
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 126: Friday, November 3, 2000
- "Preferred Perk: Free PCs"
Washington Post (11/03/00) P. E3; Johnson, Carrie
Tech workers want employers to provide them with home computers and Internet access, according to a new survey from Techies.com. The career-based Web site asked 987 U.S. tech workers which perks they preferred, and 36 percent selected free laptops, PCs, and other computer hardware, while 23 percent said free or low-cost home Internet access. Those results shadow an emerging trend among employers. For example, both Delta and Ford recently announced plans to provide employees with discounted PCs and Internet access, and a bill in the House Government Affairs Committee would grant a PC and Internet access to each employee of the federal government. However, some questioned the wisdom of the survey's respondents, saying computers, Internet access, and other items that facilitate telecommuting were just another way of extending the stress of work to the home. Other popular perks mentioned in the survey were health club memberships, which garnered 21 percent of the vote, and wireless phones, cited by 17 percent of respondents. Surprisingly, many of the perks associated with the dot-com revolution--soda, games, massages, pet-care services--received few votes.
- "Small Dot-Coms Thrive Even as the Mighty Fall"
Los Angeles Times (11/03/00) P. A1; Kaplan, Karen; Dunn, Ashley
Although the media has focused on the struggles of high-profile dot-coms such as Drkoop.com and Priceline.com, industry observers say many smaller, less risky dot-coms are doing quite well. Internet-related revenue in 1999 was $524 billion, and revenue will reach $850 billion this year, according to a University of Texas study. Despite the over 16,000 dot-com layoffs Challenger, Gray & Christmas recently reported, 11,000 new dot-com jobs have emerged this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as have over 3,000 new dot-coms. Many of these dot-coms are small companies, ignored by venture capitalists and largely unknown to consumers because they do not spend extravagant sums on marketing campaigns. In fact, observers say many of these small dot-coms are succeeding because they follow a fiscally responsible, old-economy business plan. For example, Santa Monica, Calif.-based Eclip is a one-woman business founded in 1997. Eclip's startup costs rarely exceeded $800 month, and the company is now profitable and has annual revenue nearing $300,000. As for the continued budget-busting failures of high-profile dot-coms, analysts say the industry-wide extinction rate is no worse than the business-failure rate among offline companies. Hal Varian, dean at the University of California at Berkeley's School of Information Management, says the current glut of big-name dot-coms is no different from the similar explosion of automakers when that technology was new. The automobile industry quickly narrowed itself, and many analysts expect something similar to happen with dot-coms.
- "Software Piracy Amnesty Offered"
Baltimore Sun (11/03/00) P. 1C; Kobell, Rona
The Business Software Alliance (BSA), a watchdog group that includes major software firms such as Microsoft, is giving companies in four large cities amnesty for using pirated products if they turn themselves in by Nov. 30. Companies in Baltimore, Cincinnati, Phoenix, and Austin, Texas, will not be audited or fined for using pirated software prior to Nov. 30 if they report the illegal use by that date. Unregistered copies of software cost the industry $13 billion last year in lost fees, according to the BSA. Companies using illegal copies of software face fines of up to $150,000 for each product that was pirated, and companies that refuse to pay the fines could face an even more expensive lawsuit. Although some piracy is intentional, many companies do not know their software is illegal. Small companies sometimes do not have an employee tracking licenses and installations, and many firms are not sure how many copies of a product they have or how many they paid for, says Microsoft's Nick Psyhogeos. Companies can check the status of their software by calling the BSA or by visiting the group's Web site.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "'Watermarks' on Music Files Tested"
Washington Post (11/02/00) P. E1; Musgrove, Mike
The Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI), a coalition of recording industry companies and software firms attempting to find a hacker-proof method of protecting digital song files, will neither confirm nor deny that a team of researchers successfully hacked its watermarking software. SDMI announced that it would pay $10,000 to anyone who could hack the software, the catch being that the resulting music file had to be "listenable." A research team from Princeton University, Rice University, and the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center said it was able to hack the software. The team will not accept SDMI's award and has posted its results on the Internet. SDMI is currently reviewing 447 attempts to hack its software, says SDMI executive director Leonardo Chiariglione. SDMI will not release any results until its meeting in Washington, D.C., next week. However, sources at one of the software firms that designed the watermarking programs say SDMI has told the firm its software did pass the test. Some speculate that the Princeton-led research team was not able to produce a viable copy of a song file, meaning SDMI will not acknowledge the group's victory. SDMI's contest did not come without controversy, as several prominent members of the computer and Internet community criticized it as the recording industry's attempting to coerce hackers into testing a system that would eventually be used to stifle their activities.
- "Mideast Hackers May Strike U.S. Sites, FBI Warns"
CNet (11/02/00); Luening, Erich
Israeli and Palestinian hackers are bringing the Middle East conflict to the Internet, and the FBI warns that U.S. government and private industry Web sites could become potential targets in the cyberwar. Pro-Palestinian hackers have struck at least 24 sites including those belonging to the Bank of Israel, the Israeli prime minister, and the Tel Aviv Exchange Market. Meanwhile, hackers sympathizing with Israel have attacked at least 15 sites, including the sites of the Hamas organization and the Palestinian National Authority. The attacks have involved email flooding and denial-of-service attacks, and at least one threat has been issued of a distributed denial-of-service attack. Terrorist organizations such as the Hezbollah appear to be organizing and obtaining funding for the cyberattacks, says Ben Venzke of iDefense, a U.S. company that has been monitoring hacking activities in the Middle East. Hackers will target any company or organization that is believed to have ties to Israel, Venzke says. If Middle East hackers escalate their use of viruses or Trojan horses, the attacks are likely to have global repercussions, iDefense says. The FBI suggests that government agencies and private companies prepare to prevent email flood attacks, block source email addresses if a flood attack does occur, and install patches that help limit the risk of denial-of-service attacks.
- "India Maintains High Growth in Software Exports"
Financial Times (11/02/00) P. 8; Merchant, Khozem
India exported $2.8 billion in software in the six months to September, marking a 63 percent year-on-year increase, according to the National Association of Software and Service Companies. This growth is expected to continue for the remainder of the year despite a potential economic slowdown in the U.S., which receives 61 percent of India's exports. A slowdown in the U.S. economy could actually create more business for Indian software firms, which offer less expensive products and proven development processes, experts say. The growth of India's software industry is also due in part to the U.S. raising the H-1B visa cap and efforts by India's government and private sector to draw higher-level development projects. E-commerce and IT-enabled services contributed 25 percent of the rise in exports during the six-month period. Top Indian software companies such as Infosys, Wipro, Satyam, and HCL Technologies are confident that the growth will continue and have been expanding their workforces.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Congress' Tech Efforts May Wait Until After Election"
Newsbytes (11/01/00); MacMillan, Robert
A budget stalemate between the White House and GOP leaders in Congress is threatening to derail any hopes of technology legislation being passed before the close of session. Congress is expected to adjourn before Nov. 7 but will go back to work Nov. 14, according to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.). No progress is expected anytime soon on the Internet filtering bill that is tied to the Labor and Health and Human Services bill. President Clinton is still threatening to veto the appropriations bill, and even if the filtering provision was passed, it would likely face a legal challenge, as some legal precedent already exists on similar filtering laws. It is still possible that an anti-online gambling bill could be added to the Labor appropriations bill. Another appropriation bill that contains a controversial ID-theft provision is also in jeopardy of being vetoed by President Clinton. Lastly, the Senate has taken up a pair of computer-security bills.
For information regarding ACM's work on matters of public policy, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "Website Yields Private E-mail"
Miami Herald Online (11/01/00); Long, Phil
A simple spelling mistake led Miami Internet consultant Jerry Haygood to sensitive email messages that had been accidentally left open for the public to view on the Florida Department of Health Website. The messages were sent either to the Department's Web site or forwarded from other locations such as the state government's new Internet information center, MyFlorida.com. Although state officials have since blocked improper access to the emails, the incident is not uncommon, according to critics and proponents of liberal Internet access to public records. Haygood stumbled onto the emails while searching for information on inhalation therapy licensing. When Haygood typed "liscence" into the search window he activated a glitch that permitted access to what should have been private sector of the Health Department computer, according to state information technology chief Roy Cales. Although the emails were public record due to Florida's open-government laws, certain boundaries and restrictions must be enforced, according to Cales. State and local privacy and public access advocates agree that the state government should take computer security more seriously. "The fact is that neither government nor corporate computer operators are doing a good enough job to protect confidential information from outside access," says U.S. Public Information Research Group consumer programs director Edmund Mierzwinski.
- "UK Consumer Rights Rules Protect E-Shoppers"
Newsbytes (10/31/00); Dennis, Sylvia
New consumer-protection e-commerce rules have gone into effect in the United Kingdom. The rules, based on a 1997 European Union directive, are being well received by most online retailers, who say the rules incorporate the industry's best practices. Smaller online merchants are not as pleased, claiming that the regulations will tip the playing field toward larger Web operations. The new U.K. law covers mail-order purchases, requiring that purchases be delivered within 30 days. Also, after receiving their purchases, consumers have one week to return the merchandise and receive a full refund if they so desire, according to the law. "These new rules are welcome news for consumers, especially in the run up in the Christmas shopping period," says U.K. Minister for Consumer Affairs Kim Howells.
- "Domain Name Space About to Bust Open"
TechWeb (10/31/00); Mosquera, Mary
During its Nov. 13-16 meeting, ICANN will decide on new top level domain names. The applicants that proposed the chosen domain names will be in charge of managing the new TLD registry. This will be the first registry competing with the Network Solutions registry, which is owned by VeriSign. Intrigue abounds amongst the companies suggesting new TLDs. Afilias, a group of 19 current registrars led by NSI, is suggesting .info, .site, and .web. A few of the companies that help make up Afilias are also members of the Internet Council of Registrars. CORE and other companies including Lycos and XO Communications are separately suggesting the .nom TLD, which would be used for personal domain names. If the proposals are selected by ICANN, CORE would also be the registry for the World Health Organization's .health, the Museum Domain Management Association's .museum, and the Universal Postal Union's .post. NeuStar and Image Online Design also applied for the .web TLD in competition with Afilias. NeuStar also is bidding for two other TLDs, .biz and .per, through an alliance with Melbourne IT. Melbourne IT is a member of CORE.
For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html.
- "Americans Skeptical About Online Voting--Study"
Newsbytes (11/01/00); McGuire, David
A Rasmussen Research poll of 1,598 American adults, 908 of whom are Internet users, has found that 66 percent of those polled say they oppose casting their votes online due to fear that online elections will be jeopardized by fraud. American voters should not be allowed to vote online, said 51 percent of those who responded. Only a small portion of those surveyed said they use the Internet as a main medium for obtaining election news. Fifty-seven percent cited television as a main medium, with newspapers coming in at 28 percent. Forty percent of respondents said they trusted television the most of all the mediums, with 28 percent going to newspapers, 11 percent to radio, and only 5 percent for the Internet. Of the Internet users polled, 17 percent had visited a candidate's Web site, and 24 percent of those said their visit helped inform their voting decisions.
- "FTC to Review Software Licensing Practices"
Computerworld (10/30/00) Vol. 34, No. 44, P. 8; Thibodeau, Patrick
The FTC last week held a workshop that kicked off the agency's examination of software licensing practices, with end users and software vendors offering opposing views on the Uniform Computer Information Transaction Act (UCITA). Software users argued that UCITA only benefits vendors, while not protecting consumer rights. Users are concerned about some of the default rules laid out in UCITA, such as a provision that allows vendors to disable a user's software remotely. Although UCITA has only passed in Maryland and Virginia, vendors can choose to apply the laws of any state to their contracts, meaning that software users in all states could be affected by the bill. Meanwhile, software industry representatives at the workshop argued that established licensing practices allow vendors to meet the needs of consumers, for example, by enabling the application service provider model. Rather than buying software, consumers are committing to a long-term subscription relationship with the vendor, said Software & Information Industry Association general counsel Mark Bohannon. In addition, vendors contend that UCITA only sets default rules that can be modified during contract negotiation. The FTC is evaluating issues such as whether it is fair for contract terms to be hidden from a consumer until after the product has been purchased.
Click Here to View Full Article
For information about ACM's UCITA activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/IP.
- "Indelible Evidence"
New Scientist (10/28/00) Vol. 168, No. 2262, P. 18; Graham-Rowe, Duncan
Judge James Rosenbaum, a district judge in Minnesota, recently proposed that laws be changed to protect people from computer data that was meant to be trashed but was recovered by someone else. Although data can never completely disappear, writing that was never meant to see the light of day should be considered deleted as far as the law is concerned, Rosenbaum argues. Rosenbaum warns that unscrupulous employers could dig up deleted data and use it against employees who never wanted the information to be seen. Rosenbaum says the law should discount any legal value given to cyber trash, and Congress should pass legislation that would establish a statute of limitations on the "legal lifespan" of erased information. Currently, in both the U.S. and Britain, a person can be charged with libel even though their slanderous words were erased immediately after they were written and never seen by anyone. Although there are some technical fixes for the problem, such as programs that overwrite data when the delete key is pushed, experts say the original message can still be found if a searcher is dogged enough.
- "Research Labs Get Real. It's About Time"
Business Week (10/06/00) No. 3706, P. 51; Coy, Peter
Industrial research and development in the United States is focusing more on solutions to short-term, practical business problems--a trend shared by corporate labs, contract research firms, and startups. By concentrating on practical innovations, basic research has paved the way for such profitable devices as IBM's Microdrive. Between 1994 and 1998, basic research investment overtook development investment 64 percent to 46 percent, according to the National Science Foundation. Startups funded by venture capitalists are the most rapidly growing contributors of industrial R&D. Between 1988 and 2000, the annual rate of funding has skyrocketed from $5 billion to $100 billion. Acquisition is another way for companies to boost R&D, as exemplified by Cisco System's buyout of 20 tech companies in 2000 alone. Government and for-profit companies will probably focus more on basic research. Some corporate labs such as Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) have been slow to move away from a model based on pure research. However, Xerox's intention to seek co-owners for PARC will probably shift PARC to a more business-oriented model.
- "Safe Harbor, Stormy Waters"
Interactive Week (10/30/00) Vol. 7, No. 44, P. 26; Gruenwald, Juliana
U.S. companies can begin registering with the U.S. Commerce Department on Nov. 1 to join a "safe harbor" self-regulatory program. And European officials are anxiously waiting to determine whether American businesses are willing to accept the compromise agreement reached with U.S. officials on the issue of privacy protections for European consumers. Although some officials and experts are confident the agreement will work, many critics maintain that the compromise is weak. Critics tend to point out that its provisions do not provide enough teeth to enforce the safe-harbor agreement. Under the agreement, private groups will police U.S. companies. Although the private groups will be backed by the FTC, the agreement does not extend to U.S. financial institutions because the FTC does not oversee the financial industry. The safe-harbor agreement is seen as a way for U.S. companies to comply with the European Union's Data Privacy Directive, which prohibits information about European citizens from being transferred to third-party countries that do not have strong privacy protections. By signing up for the safe-harbor agreement, U.S. companies become exempt from the directive. Companies that sign up agree to inform customers how their personal data will be used, provide an opt-out mechanism, and secure consumer data. U.S. companies might be hesitant about signing up because of the cost of complying and the fear that similar consumer protections will be demanded in the U.S. European and U.S. officials are scheduled to meet next year to determine the effectiveness of the safe-harbor agreement.
- "B-to-B's Broken Models"
Industry Standard (11/06/00) Vol. 3, No. 45, P. 90; Young, Eric
A shakeout in the business-to-business e-commerce sector is gaining momentum, and it is expected to eliminate dozens of new ventures with untested business models. Yet B2B e-commerce is expected to emerge stronger than ever, with giant marketplaces taking over to transform the way corporate America does business. A coming shakeout is evident: the development of new Internet exchanges has slowed, and consolidation is already taking place. At least 30 exchanges in various industries have merged with their competitors, in most cases with the aim of forming a more powerful exchange. The question of how to make a profit plagues most surviving exchanges. Many failed initiatives assumed that money could be made from each transaction, but found that most companies expect to do online business for free. Now, some remaining companies are attempting to make money by providing services such as logistics, letters of credit, and certification of materials, while others are taking more dramatic measures by repositioning themselves as application service providers. The strongest players in the B2B sector appear to be positioned for major success. Top players such as Ariba and PurchasePro expect to become profitable in coming months, and a variety of industry-supported megamarketplaces are expected to emerge in the next six months. Most importantly, acceptance of B2B exchanges will continue to grow: a Forrester Research survey finds that the percentage of large companies using e-procurement will increase from 4 percent now to 39 percent in 2002.