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 129: Monday, November 13, 2000
- "Dot-Com Workers Boomerang Back to Bricks"
USA Today (11/13/00) P. 1B; Swartz, Jon
Dot-com workers are rushing back to jobs at traditional retail stores, as many struggling Internet startups are expected to collapse over the holidays. Dot-coms have laid off 22,267 workers since December 1999, with the retail sector accounting for 5,450 of these layoffs, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Over the holiday season dot-coms might find their problems intensifying, especially in the business-to-consumer area, says CEO John Challenger. January and February are likely to bring further consolidation as more dot-coms crumble due to disappointing holiday sales. Anticipating more job cuts, many workers are following their laid-off co-workers back to brick-and-mortar companies, leaving stock options and impressive job titles behind. "Everything in the dot-com world is inflated," says Kendra Kallan, who recently returned to a traditional retail job after a year at an e-commerce startup. "I like the stability and name recognition of an established retailer."
- "Internet Technical Manager Narrows Field of Address Suffixes"
Wall Street Journal (11/13/00) P. B12; Bridis, Ted
The staff at ICANN published recommendations on the proposals suggesting new top level domain names on Friday, lending their support to the .geo proposal submitted by SRI International and rejecting both the .kids and .xxx proposals. Although the staff recommendations will probably be generally followed by ICANN's board of directors, who will likely choose the new TLDs in this week's board meeting, experts note that the board members could choose otherwise or even postpone the decision until sometime next year. The staff recommendations do not specify which TLDs will actually be chosen or how many TLDs the ICANN board will choose. The .web and .biz sites received initial approval from the staff as e-commerce site suffixes; .san, .nom, .xing, .name, and .per all were supported as suffixes to personal domain names; and the ICANN staff lent its support to specialty site Web suffixes such as .coop, .union, .museum, .air, and .health. SRI International, which calls its .geo address the coming "latitude and longitude of the Internet's virtual world," was the only proposal that ICANN's staff singled out for praise. Both .kids and .xxx did not receive the staff's support because of difficulties in determining who would decide the content that would be permitted in those fields. "Given the international reach of the Internet, the complexity of these definitional issues is compounded by many diverse cultures and a variety of community and individual views on the answers," say the ICANN advisors. And there is no sure method of convincing adult Web sites to leave .com for .xxx, note the staff. The .tel suffix did not receive support because ICANN's staff doubted the numbers would be easily remembered as Web addresses, and the Association Monesgasque des Banques of Monaco's proposed .fin suffix was rejected as not being sufficiently representative of the financial industry worldwide.
For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html.
- "Microsoft Sees New Software Based on Pens"
New York Times (11/09/00) P. C1; Markoff, John
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates next week at Comdex will show off a tablet computer that receives input from a device similar to a pen rather than from a traditional keyboard. The new computer will have the power of a desktop PC and will run Windows-based programs. Wireless office networks will allow tablet PC users to stay online as they move around the office. Although Microsoft believes pen-based devices are a move in the right direction, some observers note the abundance of failed pen computing efforts from companies such as AT&T, Apple Computer, Eo, Grid, and Microsoft itself. Developing software that recognizes handwriting on a full-scale PC is a tremendous challenge, experts say. Microsoft engineer Bert Keeley last week demonstrated a note-taking application for the new tablet PC that stores digital ink strokes and recognizes characters in the background. By contrast, past systems have translated writing to text on the screen immediately, disrupting users as recognized words appear on the screen. Microsoft's system also indexes words to provide search capabilities and attempts to recognize words in the context of a full phrase or sentence. Observers predict that users might not like the feel of using a pen on a computer screen, and that technical problems might occur with the sensors that read pen strokes. However, Microsoft remains confident that a large market exists for a pen-based version of Windows, noting that the large number of failed efforts proves the market is significant.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Workers to Get Job-Injury Protection"
Associated Press (11/13/00); Srinivasan, Kalpana
New ergonomics standards issued by the Clinton administration are due to be released Nov. 13, but business interests will probably challenge them in court. The standards, which could affect more than 100 million Americans, are supported by organized labor and will take effect in January. The standards could make companies alter work stations, change tools, or redesign facilities if employees are discovered to suffer work-related injuries. However, businesses will have until October 2001 to come into compliance, and some of the 6 million workplaces affected by the rule may not have to do much more than provide employees with information about ergonomics-related injuries. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration hopes that the standards will prevent 460,000 workers from getting hurt on the job each year, and the agency says that the rules will cost businesses about $4.5 billion to implement and will save $9 billion per year in savings from medical expenses and workers' compensation. Business leaders contend that the costs will be much higher.
- "Program Gives Disabled Tools for Computer Work"
Baltimore Sun (11/09/00) P. 13A
The Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation in Wichita, Kan., will work with Digital Consulting and Software Services to provide IT training to 124 people with disabilities over the next five years. With the help of a $1.1 million federal grant, the two organizations will work together to train disabled people and assist with job placement. The program will train 24 people a year in Wichita for the first two years, and will then expand to four additional cities for the remaining three years. Participants will use specially equipped workstations to train to become computer operators, support specialists, service technicians, and network control operators. People with disabilities can easily work in IT careers with the help of enabling technologies such as monitors with high magnification for visually impaired workers. The disabled population is a promising source of labor for the high-tech industry, which continues to face an ongoing labor shortage, because only 30 percent of all working-age adults with disabilities are employed, according to the National Organization on Disability.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Comcast Offers Employees Free Home Computers"
Washington Times (11/08/00) P. B7; DeMarco, Donna
Comcast Cable is testing a program that will provide free PCs from Dell Computer to employees in Baltimore, Indianapolis, and Fort Wayne, Ind. The company, which already offers workers free high-speed Internet access and digital cable, will implement the program nationwide if the pilot is successful. Free PCs will help Comcast retain valuable workers and could increase productivity as workers conduct personal business at home instead of in the office. In addition, Comcast will provide online computer training for its employees. Comcast's move follows similar offers from companies such as Delta Air Lines and Ford Motor.
- "Girl Geeks Want to Be Heard"
Wired News (11/07/00); Dean, Katie
Women in the high-tech field attending the upcoming Comdex trade show hope to receive more attention for their contributions to the industry this year than they have in the past. Comdex is traditionally a male-dominated event, and many women IT professionals who have attended the show in the past say they felt more like attractions for male clients than equal participants. GirlGeeks CEO Kristine Hanna says Comdex needs "less booth babes and more highly skilled, highly qualified, highly intelligent women." Women are underrepresented in the high-tech field, claiming only 28 percent of IT jobs while accounting for 47 percent of the overall workforce. At Comdex, women will represent 20 percent of the 200,000 attendees. However, this year will mark the first Comdex/GirlGeeks Forum for women, which will give female tech workers a chance to network with one another. The forum will also award the first Golden Horn Rims Award, designed to honor outstanding women in the high-tech field, to Lynda Weinman, co-founder and CEO of Lynda.com, an educational site for Web designers. In addition, Comdex and GirlGeeks intend to create training initiatives to help more women enter the high-tech industry. Hanna and Weinman both believe women are gradually gaining more respect in the IT field.
To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "Chat Room Penetrates CIA Net"
Washington Post (11/12/00) P. A10; Loeb, Vernon
CIA investigators have uncovered an unauthorized chat room operating on the agency's computer network, agency officials revealed last week. Agency officials said the chat room did not expose any sensitive information but used the agency's computers in an inappropriate manner. The agency is interviewing 160 employees and contractors who allegedly participated in the chat room and has given each five days to explain his or her conduct. The agency does intend to dismiss or suspend at least some of those involved, an agency spokesperson said. Although those under investigation include workers throughout the agency, a few of those involved represent "the hackers of the CIA, in the most positive sense of the word," according to former CIA case officer Robert D. Steele. An anonymous retired CIA official says the agency is reacting much more strongly than it has in previous cases, and he questions whether the agency could have been unaware of the chat room's existence for a long time because of software that allows managers to monitor workers' computer use. The CIA has had several high-profile lapses in computer security in recent years. The former head of the agency, John M. Deutch, had his security clearance stripped after confirming he composed classified documents on his home computer while it was connected to the Internet. Another senior CIA official was discovered to have acted in a similar manner, and, in yet another case, the agency offered 25 computers at a public auction without clearing all top-secret information from the computers' hard drives.
- "US Tech Group Urges Euro Cyber-Crime Convention Delay"
Newsbytes (11/07/00); Krebs, Brian
The Global Internet Project (GIP) has criticized the Council of Europe's draft regulations on cybercrime as too burdensome on ISPs and is asking for an extension of a deadline on the rules. The GIP said it would like the council to postpone the deadline for the rules so that the industry can come up with plans to combat cybercrime, thus avoiding the specter of greater government regulation. The draft regulations deny the use of Internet security tools "even for crucial legitimate use" in order to keep them out of the hands of criminals, said ITXC Chairman Tom Evslin, a principal member of the group. "This apparent contradiction illustrates why more work must be done before such a crucial set of regulations are adopted," Evslin said. The draft is expected to be put in final form by December.
- "WIPO Calls for Web Dispute Resolution"
ElectricNews.net (11/07/00); Scully, Aoidin
The WIPO-organized International Conference on Dispute Resolution in Electronic Commerce began Monday in Geneva. Representatives from alternative dispute resolution providers, including the American Arbitration Association, CPR Institute for Dispute Resolution, eResolution, the International Chamber of Commerce, and Square Trade, attended the conference. Currently, there is competition among dispute resolution providers, which can be a boon to users, said WIPO Assistant Director General Francis Gurry. The conference enables its participants, who number more that 250, to view the changes to alternative dispute resolution caused by the same technological advances that helped start the e-commerce revolution. "Whether the question is the protection of domain names, transactional security, the establishment and use of crypto-secured digital identities, or any other issue arising in the context of electronic commercial transactions, the need for efficient and effective dispute resolution cannot be overstated," said conference keynote speaker Yves Fortier, who is also the president of the London Court of International Arbitration. Further, all arbitrators will have to complement the abstract Internet, where enormous sums of money are spent, with tangible concepts including "assets" or "value," says Fortier. Separately, an e-commerce directive states that a company located in one European Union state and conforming to the rules of that state while providing services can offer the same services to other EU states without complying with the local rules in the other states. European countries including Belgium and France have been seeking exemptions and this is endangering the directive as a whole, says the Sunday Business Post.
- "Japan Passes Info-Tech Law to Create E-Nation"
Reuters (11/09/00); Ueno, Teruaki
The lower house of the Japanese parliament on Nov. 9 approved the IT Basic Bill, which seeks to improve Internet access in a country perceived to be falling behind the e-revolution. The bill, which parliament's upper house will now consider, would remove many of the regulations that have blocked the growth of e-commerce. The government itself estimates over 700 such regulations exist. Legislators are also attempting to reduce the cost of Internet access, a victim of the country's high telecommunications costs. A government blue-ribbon panel blamed the dominance of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone for keeping access rates so high. However, the panel believes increased competition among telecom providers will lower rates and said a high-speed Internet framework with a low access cost can be established within the next five years. The recommendations of the panel and the legislature's actions both follow Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori's recent declaration that Japan must become an e-nation. Mori believes an e-nation will boost the country's economy and give the government an online presence, allowing for more efficient practices.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Virus Wishes You a Merry Christmas"
TechWeb (11/10/00); Gonsalves, Antone
An Internet worm called Navidad@m that spreads through Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express is infecting computer systems around the globe disguised as a Christmas greeting, exports said on Friday. The Windows system directory stores the virus when users click on the Navidad.exe file, causing a blue eye icon to appear in the lower right corner of the screen. Whenever an infected system receives an email, the worm automatically forwards itself to the sender. Although the virus does not overwrite or destroy files, it can freeze Windows or crash a company's email server, experts say. The virus, which appears to have come from South America, has struck many systems in Latin America and the United Kingdom. There have been few reports of the virus in the United States so far.
- "Smart Biz: Enabling the Disabled"
Wired News (11/03/00); Solomon, Karen
The opportunity to increase revenue by millions of dollars convinced Election.com to make its Web site accessible to people with disabilities. However, the threat of lawsuits filed by civil rights organizations will be reason enough for many other Web sites to accommodate people with low or no vision, a reduced sense of hearing, or impaired manual dexterity that prevents them from handling a mouse. Cynthia Waddell, an accessibility activist and a senior consultant for PSINet, says "any member of the public can file with the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) if they need to access your service," which could result in a full investigation with the Justice Department. And Justice could decide to pursue a lawsuit against a Web site. Bank of America avoided a legal battle earlier in the year when it reached an agreement with the California Council of the Blind to not only make its site accessible but to add universal ATM machines. America Online has until the end of the year to make good on a settlement it reached with the National Federation of the Blind. A new report by Forrester Research says 25 percent of sites adhere to the minimum requirements inspired by the Web Accessibility Initiative, and that retooling a site for people with disabilities could cost about $2.2 million.
- "Upside Counsel: Combating Internet Crimes and Threats"
Upside Today (11/07/00); Sinrod, Eric J.
Cybercrime is rising, and as a result more attention is being focused on various laws to combat cybercrooks. The number of known computer viruses has more than doubled to 50,000 just in the last 18 months, yet, according to Cutter Information, 23 percent of global companies do not have simple firewalls, preferring to beat competitors to the Web over security. Computer-crime legislation has been around since the mid 1980s, when Congress passed the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which made illegal espionage, information violations, breaking into government computers, fraud, hacking/viruses/denial of service attacks, password trafficking, and extortion. The law is somewhat dated, and there is currently a movement to bring it into the Internet-age. The law not only punishes those who violate it with criminal prosecution, but also allows people to sue companies for compensatory damages and injunctive relief. A recent example is RealNetworks being sued for allegedly pilfering personal information about customers' musical tastes from their computers. The law also allows companies and individuals to face civil penalties for the cybercrimes of others if it is found that they did not take appropriate security measures to guard their servers. For example, if a hacker uses one company's computer as a "zombie" from which to launch an attack on another company's network, the victimized company can actually sue the negligent company for compensatory damages.
- "Trials and Tribulations in the W3C"
Interactive Week (11/06/00) Vol. 7, No. 45, P. 72; Gaskin, James E.
The World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) task of creating Internet standards is becoming increasingly difficult as the Internet grows and thousands of organizations with competing interests seek input. The consortium, co-founded by Internet pioneer Tim Berners-Lee in 1994, initially released standards for technologies such as HTML and XML rapidly and with little dissent. However, as the Internet's role in business and the economy snowballed, the W3C's efforts were increasingly scrutinized and the process of releasing standards slowed significantly as a result. For example, the W3C spent over three years hammering out the Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) specification. Speed is essential in releasing standards because companies begin rolling out competing standards if the W3C takes too long, notes Leon Shklar of Information Architects. The W3C walks a fine line between delaying action by allowing too many parties to help shape standards, and angering companies by confining deliberations to a small group. In an effort to strike the right balance, working groups hold closed meetings but also publish progress reports on the Internet and invite public feedback. Another problem for the W3C is coordinating among its 30 working groups, which work simultaneously on standards that influence one another. For example, many standards had to be modified after the privacy standard was released, says AT&T's Lorrie Cranor, who chaired the P3P working group. However, even as observers note the W3C's shortcomings, most agree that the group operates as effectively as can be expected given its extremely complicated task.
- "Privacy Legislation Raises Question: Will Americans Envy Strong EU Protections?"
ComputerWorld (11/06/00) Vol. 34, No. 45, P. 1; Thibodeau, Patrick
European authorities will have to enforce their existing privacy laws if they think U.S. companies will sign on to the "safe harbor" agreement that went into effect Nov. 1, according to Steve Emmert, director of government affairs for London-based Reed Elsevier, who attended last week's Privacy 2000 conference in Columbus, Ohio. They "just can't pick on U.S. companies and ignore the European ones," says Emmert. "You can't have a double standard." Perceived fairness will give U.S. e-commerce companies an incentive to adopt the guidelines on taking personal data out of the 15 countries that make up the European Union. Many experts do not believe U.S. companies will rush to adopt the safe harbor provisions. According to attendees of the annual conference organized by the Ohio Supercomputer Center's Technology Policy Group, U.S. companies are not enthusiastic about the demands that the safe harbor provisions make on their business operations and information technology systems. U.S. companies are also apprehensive about assuming the legal risk of signing on to the agreement. Moreover, U.S. companies fear that once they adopt the provisions of the safe harbor agreement they will have to provide Americans with the tougher privacy protections that European officials demand of e-commerce companies. PricewaterhouseCoopers privacy expert Ruth Nelson expects European officials to go after European companies to show how much teeth their privacy laws have.
Click Here to View Full Article
For information regarding ACM's activities on behalf of privacy matters, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/privacy.