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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.


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Volume 2, Issue 135:  Wednesday, November 29, 2000

  • "Amazon.com Is Using the Web to Block Unions' Efforts to Organize"
    New York Times (11/29/00) P. C1; Greenhouse, Steven

    Amazon.com has responded to union efforts to organize its workers with an aggressive anti-union campaign. Anti-union material made available on Amazon's internal Web site and released to the press by an anonymous employee makes clear that the company will not tolerate attempts to unionize employees at its Seattle call center and eight of its distribution centers. The material on the Web site states: "Unions actively foster distrust toward supervisors. They also create an uncooperative attitude among associates by leading them to think they are 'untouchable' with a union." The site also includes ways for supervisors to spot possible union activity. An Amazon spokesperson confirmed the site is part of its anti-union campaign, saying the site also features legal advice on how not to discriminate against associates possibly involved in union activity. Amazon supervisors have been holding meetings to tell employees that unionization would not necessarily mean higher pay but would cause labor strife. Officials at the two unions attempting to enter Amazon, the Communications Workers of America and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, acknowledge that the company's response has been effective in limiting their progress.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2000/11/29/technology/29AMAZ.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Intel, IBM, Microsoft, Others Form Group to Boost E-Commerce"
    Bloomberg (11/28/00)

    IBM, Intel, and Microsoft are among several leading technology companies comprising the Business Internet Consortium, a nonprofit organization that will work to encourage industry-wide consensus on technical issues such as systems interoperability and security. The goal is to encourage growth in the e-business sector, which the Gartner Group projects will generate revenues of $3.95 trillion in 2003, up from $403 billion this year. All organizations are free to join the Business Internet Consortium, although critics say this policy will make the group too unwieldy to accomplish anything productive. In addition to IBM, Intel, and Microsoft, companies participating in the consortium include Commerce One, Compaq, Computer Associates, Dell, EMC, Hewlett-Packard, SAP, and Unisys.
    http://www.cnetinvestor.com/newsitem-fd-bloomberg.asp?symbol=110567174

  • "Workers at 'Dot-Com' Firms Seek to Unionize"
    Los Angeles Times (11/29/00) P. C2

    Dot-com workers took a step closer to unionizing yesterday, as 36 employees at Etown.com and ShopAudioVideo.com filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board seeking union representation. The move is one of the first major gains for labor unions in the dot-com arena, observers say. "Even though it is a relatively small group of people, it is big news for the Internet," says Erin Tyson Poh of The Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America. "It is a group of new economy workers who have decided to organize." Although dot-com workers were once content with stock options and the prospect of rapid growth, the recent downturn in the tech market has led many employees to press for better hours, improved working conditions, and health care plans. The decision at Etown and ShopAudioVideo reflects the increasing need for dot-coms to address the same issues as their traditional counterparts, union officials say.
    http://www.latimes.com/print/business/20001129/t000114414.html

  • "Software Makers Have a Program Simplifying Use of Digital Signatures"
    Wall Street Journal (11/29/00) P. B8

    Today, VeriSign, Microsoft, and webMethods will likely announce a new technical framework called XML key-management specification (XKMS) that will make it easier to utilize digital signatures with e-commerce programs. The technology framework, which is XML-based, will simplify the task of software programmers developing Internet applications that include digital signatures. XKMS will permit an Internet company to accept contracts complemented with digital signatures, in the form of electronic-identification cards, issued from a variety of sources, say VeriSign executives. VeriSign, Microsoft, and webMethods intend to offer the technology to Internet-standards groups for examination in order to have it considered as a technical standard.

  • "Dot-Com Layoffs Hit Record in November"
    Reuters (11/27/00)

    November saw 8,789 dot-com workers lose their jobs, an increase of 55 percent from October, recruitment firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported Monday. Since December of last year, Challenger has recorded 31,056 job cuts in the Internet industry. The hardest hit sectors have been service dot-coms, consulting firms, and financial groups, which together comprise 40 percent, or 12,551 job cuts, of the 12-month total. Retail dot-coms also suffered, cutting 7,863 jobs in the last year. The report also found that 20 percent of the 383 dot-coms that cut jobs in the past year no longer exist. The latest victims are 24/7 Media, which has let go 200 employees, and ZipLink, which has fired approximately 800 workers and is now shuttered. Challenger CEO John Challenger says the carnage is likely to continue into the new year, as few firms have been able to turn a profit and the prospects for successful IPOs continue to dim.
    http://dailynews.yahoo.com/htx/nm/20001127/wr/jobcuts_dc_1.html

  • "Germany Investigates Yahoo's Nazi Auctions"
    TechWeb (11/28/00); Page, Barnaby

    Germany has opened an investigation into allegations that Yahoo! broke German law by selling copies of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf on its auction Web sites. Yahoo! sold copies of the autobiography from Feb. 1 and Apr. 19 of this year, according to Manfred Wick, senior prosecutor for the Bavarian state court in Munich. German law forbids the distribution of un-annotated hate literature to its citizens. A Yahoo! user is believed to have notified authorities about the alleged illegal sales. A search on the Internet reveals that QXL, eBay, and Amazon.com also offer the book. Yahoo! policy regarding its auctions is that "any item that is illegal to sell under any applicable law, statute, ordinance, or regulation" is forbidden.
    http://www.techweb.com/wire/story/TWB20001128S0010

  • "Businesses Respond to a Wave of High-Tech Crime"
    Cox News Service (11/28/00); Keefe, Bob

    Internet security experts warn that most businesses are unprepared to protect themselves from cybercrime. The Computer Security Institute found that 90 percent of all corporations and government agencies had suffered a breach of some sort within the last year, while the firm Safeware reported an increase in laptop theft from 303,000 in 1998 to 319,000 in 1999. Viruses continue to be a problem for email users--the ILOVEYOU virus, for example, struck 3.9 million files within the past month, according to McAfee.com. Most businesses are not funding security efforts adequately, Forrester Research reports. The firm says that the average business gives one-tenth of 1 percent of its budget to computer security measures. However, vendors are introducing numerous new devices to improve security, and Forrester predicts security spending by U.S. businesses will total $20 billion by 2004. Many of these new devices feature fingerprint-recognition, a technology once used only by the government but which is now widespread. Vendors have developed fingerprint devices that are built into computer mice, laptops, and separate scanners that users attach to systems. Other new devices in the security market include Cyber Group Network's forthcoming E-Snitch, which will prevent access to stolen laptops. Those seeking virus protection can turn to McAfee, which offers continuous updates to its anti-virus software. The firm currently has some 650,000 subscribers.

  • "New Dot-Com Mantra: 'Just Pay Me in Cash, Please'"
    Wall Street Journal (11/28/00) P. C1; Pulliam, Susan

    As dot-com stock values continue to decline, many dot-com employees are seeking to replace their stock-option packages with cash compensation. A few of the industry's leaders have responded. Amazon.com has given a bonus of $1 million to its CFO and its vice president of operations, while VerticalNet paid its new CEO a $4 million signing bonus. Priceline.com has redesigned its compensation plan to offer cash to key employees. Although the companies would not comment on the payments, industry analysts say the firms have little choice if they want to retain employees, who are upset that stock options worth millions when first offered have declined significantly over the past year. However, investors say the move toward cash payments could further damage the stock value of dot-coms. Merrill Lynch analyst Henry Blodget says increased demand for cash "causes earnings estimates to go down and puts further pressure on the stock price, which can lead to further demands on the company for cash." In contrast, the value of stock options are not counted against a company's income statements, which is the main reason many established dot-coms have been able to report low operating margins. Analysts say companies that cannot afford to pay cash will begin to lose their most talented employees, forcing them closer to extinction.

  • "Does Internet Time March On or Has Its Clock Been Cleaned"
    USA Today (11/29/00) P. 3B; Maney, Kevin

    The Internet industry has discovered that former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale's famous pronouncement that those who do not get on Internet time will "die" may not necessarily be true. That philosophy, that the key to a successful Internet strategy was to move online quickly and if possible to become the first in a certain field to do so, drove entrepreneurs and venture capitalists during the initial dot-com boom. However, the recent collapse of many Internet stocks and the death of several first-to-market brands such as Pets.com and E-Stamp have questioned whether speed is the paramount virtue of the Internet. Industry analysts say the problem may be that ordinary people, those outside the Internet industry, simply do not move as quickly as those in the forefront and have no compelling reason to change. However, analysts say the Internet has changed the way people perceive time, as it has reduced the time necessary to develop and distribute new software or to order and receive goods.
    http://www.usatoday.com/usatonline/20001129/2873760s.htm

  • "Senate Panel Presses FBI on Carnivore"
    Reuters (11/27/00); Wolf, Jim

    Congress continued its offensive against the FBI's Carnivore email monitoring system Monday, as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called upon FBI Director Louis Freeh to explain just how the system would be used and how Americans can be sure it will not violate their constitutional rights. Documents recently released by the government show that Carnivore was tested and that it was judged capable of reliably capturing and archiving unfiltered traffic. Leahy and Hatch have asked Freeh to explain why Carnivore was tested, whether it can intercept and archive unfiltered traffic through an ISP, and how legally it could be used for that purpose.
    http://www.zdnet.com/zdnn/stories/news/0,4586,2657976.00.html
    For information regarding ACM's activities on behalf of privacy matters, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/privacy.

  • "Asia Seeks E-Commerce Parity"
    E-Commerce Times (11/27/00); Enos, Lori

    The likelihood that digital signature bills and other forms of e-commerce legislation will be introduced in Southeast Asia became much stronger Friday as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) formally ratified an agreement to embrace e-commerce. The e-ASEAN accord calls for the group's 10 member countries to legalize the use of digital signatures, ensure the safety of online consumers, and work toward closing the region's digital divide. As stated by ASEAN Secretary General Rodolfo C. Severino, the group is pressing its members "to adapt, develop, and utilize science and technology to strengthen the region's economies and improve the lives of its people." The e-ASEAN accord also calls for the elimination of tariffs on IT products and services by 2010. In addition to the accord, ASEAN has come up with a non-binding set of rules, the Guiding Principles on Electronic Commerce, which urge the introduction of laws that would engender the growth of regional e-commerce. Digital signature bills have already been passed in the ASEAN member countries of Thailand, Singapore, and the Philippines.
    http://www.ecommercetimes.com/perl/story/5491.html

  • "The Best Way to...Stop Spam"
    Wall Street Journal (11/27/00) P. R28; Loftus, Peter

    San Francisco research firm Ferris Research estimates that the average corporate email user will waste 15 hours of productivity per year, translating into $400, on spam messages. Although there is no way to completely block all spam messaging, online users can limit spam by being careful about giving out their email addresses and by using filtering software. In order to avoid spam, users should not give their email addresses to online retailers, nor should they post their email address on message boards because spammers use sophisticated software to search the Internet to create lists with millions of addresses. One way to stop spammers is to report them to their ISPs; most ISPs are happy to cancel the accounts of known spammers. America Online and EarthLink use filtering software to help block spam. Spammer Paul Willis, who sends 25 million to 30 million spam messages per week, says it is nearly impossible to filter his spam. He sends bulk email overseas to a computer known as an open-relay server, such as a university or small business computer, which then sends the email to the United States. Yahoo! has launched a feature called Spamguard that uses filtering devices to divert spam into a user's bulk mail folder. With this software, a user can arrange mail with certain subject lines, such as "Adult Material," to be sent directly to a "trash" folder. Most large ISPs subscribe to MAPS blacklists, so any email from a blacklisted source is rejected from the system. United Messaging provides spam protection for large corporations by letting its customers block mail from known spammers. Meantime, Congress is addressing several anti-spam bills. "I wouldn't want to live in a world where it's impossible to spam," says Junkbusters President Jason Catlett. "Because that would require locking down this avenue of speech. We're always going to have some amount of spam, but it should be kept to a lower level than it is now."

  • "Southern Cal Not Mickey Mouse When It Comes to Tech"
    Investor's Business Daily (11/28/00) P. A8; Prado, Antonio A.

    Southern California is often overlooked as a high-tech region, according to a recent study from the Los Angeles Regional Technology Alliance (LARTA). Although Silicon Valley is renowned as a hotbed for high-tech innovation and venture capital, observers often do not look further south in the five counties surrounding Los Angeles. This area in Southern California has more high-tech firms than any other region and employs the most tech workers, the study says. However, Southern California's high-tech strengths are often ignored because of the region's spread out geography combined with the fact that the area's economy is more diverse than the entirely tech-driven Silicon Valley, says LARTA President Rohit Shukla. Another factor likely to boost Southern California's high-tech presence is that it has more colleges, universities, and trade schools than any other region. A region's success in the new economy hinges largely on the ability of its universities to generate commercial products from research. Southern California is likely to benefit from the California Institute of Technology, the University of California at Irvine, and California State University at Long Beach, all of which are likely to turn their research into commercial products. In addition, many tech workers might prefer to live in Southern California, where real estate is more abundant and less expensive than in Silicon Valley. Still, venture capital funding, patents, and exports are weak in Southern California. In addition, the region's companies lag in IPOs and federal innovation research grants.

  • "Hewlett-Packard Settles Music Case"
    Houston Chronicle (11/25/00) P. 2C

    Hewlett-Packard was ordered to pay fees for making CD burners to lift music off of the Web in Germany. The company agreed to pay a fee of $1.54 for each burner it sold in Germany since 1998, and $5.16 for each unit sold in the future. German law protects authors and musicians by outlawing the manufacturing of equipment that could be used to violate copyright laws. GEMA, Germany's main licensing group, targeted HP because it is the market leader of CD burners in Germany. Experts estimate that CD burners, printers, hard drives, and high-speed modems cost Europe's $10 billion music industry about $1 billion last year. "The manufacturers are scapegoats," says Robert Labatt, a new media analyst at the Gartner research group. "It's the individual works of art, books, songs, and videos that need to be protected."

  • "High-Tech Issues Help Unify Divided Congress"
    Washington Technology (11/20/00) Vol. 15, No. 17, P. 20; Wakeman, Nick

    IT experts say citizens and the new appointees of the next U.S. president will play key roles in moving the high-tech agenda forward. Citizens will continue to demand e-government, they say, while the appointees of the new administration will know how to use computers for more than email. However, IT experts continue to stress the importance of bipartisanship in finding enough support to pass high-tech measures. In fact, some observers believe the broad bipartisan nature of tech issues will make high-tech bills among the measures most likely to gain passage in a divided Congress. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) says legislators will have to endure gridlock or find a new way of governing. "The smart leaders [of both parties] are going to be the ones that sit down together and figure out what they agree on," says Davis, who represents Northern Virginia, a region filled with IT companies. "That is not how Capitol Hill normally operates." High-tech experts are also bracing for the change in House leadership that will occur next year as a result of the new term limits on the chairmanships of committees.
    http://www.wtonline.com/vol15_no17/federal/14924-1.html

  • "Women Face 'Slow Climb'"
    Computerworld (11/27/00) Vol. 34, No. 48, P. 54; Solomon, Melissa

    Liz Ryan, the executive director of WorldWIT (Women in Technology), an international listserv for women in the IT field, says women still confront a "slow, uphill climb" in the industry. She says the dot-com culture was a step backward for women in some ways because of the "frat-boy mentality" that reigned at many dot-com startups. However, Ryan believes that economic necessity will lead women into prominent positions throughout the IT industry because firms will not be able to turn down any qualified worker. In fact, she forecasts that women could find themselves in the position 10 years from now when they are shepherded into the IT field because it is "safe." She says that scenario would be unfortunate. She says women in the IT field should not be afraid to assert themselves--if they are fired for speaking their minds, she concludes, then their employers were not worth working for in the first place.
    http://www.computerworld.com/cwi/story/0,1199,NAV47_STO54319,00.html
    To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.

  • "Quantum Leaping"
    Interactive Week (11/20/00) Vol. 7, No. 46, P. 64; Robinson, Sara

    Intelligence agencies are increasingly becoming involved in quantum information theory projects, which could have a major impact on national security. Although projects in this area have yet to yield a usable device, intelligence agencies are intrigued by the possibility of quantum technology that could create new ways of protecting, computing, and storing information. The U.S. intelligence community six years ago took notice of quantum information theory when AT&T researcher Peter Shor discovered an algorithm that uses quantum properties to crack the codes that encrypt online data transmissions. Shor's algorithm in turn sparked interest in using quantum cryptography to protect information on the Internet. Quantum cryptography would allow intelligence agencies to easily determine whether information had been intercepted because quantum systems are always altered if someone tampers with them. The National Security Agency is interested in this use of quantum cryptography. Meanwhile, quantum clock synchronization has drawn interest from the Department of Defense's National Reconnaissance Office and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Quantum clock synchronization, which makes two atomic clocks start ticking simultaneously, could be used to synchronize signals from two spy satellites or to calibrate global positioning systems, says Jonathan Dowling, a researcher at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Dowling and his colleagues published their research on synchronizing clocks using quantum properties in September, around the same time as a similar report from scientists at IBM. Quantum clock synchronization could also allow much faster routing of information over the Internet as technology becomes all-optical, requiring more accurately synchronized router clocks, says DARPA's Shankar Sastry. DARPA recently earmarked $100 million for a five-year program in Quantum Information Science and Technology, which will fund quantum information theory projects at government and corporate labs as well as universities.
    http://www.zdnet.com/intweek/stories/news/0,4164,2656919,00.html