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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 3, Issue 168: Friday, February 23, 2001
- "Tech Firms Face Bias Suits"
Washington Post (02/23/01) P. E1; Johnson, Carrie
The tech industry is coming under fire from minority employees alleging discrimination practices. High-profile lawsuits have been filed against Microsoft, 3Com, and NEC, and the plaintiffs have retained noted lawyers such as Johnnie Cochran Jr. and Willie E. Gary. Steven Toll, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who represents one of five pending lawsuits against Microsoft, says the latest round of discriminatory litigation could prove to be the most lucrative in history. Microsoft has, for the most part, been spared the brunt of the economic conditions battering many other tech firms, pulling in $6.59 billion in revenue last quarter, which makes it a big target for plaintiffs' lawyers, observers say. Coalition for Fair Employment in Silicon Valley founder John Templeton says the Microsoft case is important and perhaps ominous for the industry because the company actually has a relatively good track record in handling equal-opportunity issues. He adds that the potential for lawsuits is rife in Silicon Valley. "If I were a class-action lawyer, I'd just come down to Silicon Valley and throw darts at the phone book," he says. Minority industry workers' groups have criticized companies that complain of the shallow talent pool among African-American and Latino communities. They say the monies spent lobbying Congress to allow more skilled foreign workers could be better applied to training a domestic minority-labor market. A recent report by a congressional commission found that African Americans account for 3.2 percent of workers in the U.S. tech sector.
For information regarding ACM's joint participation (with CRA and IEEE) on the Coalition to Diversify Computing, visit http://www.npaci.edu/Outreach/CDC.
- "Sun Revises Its Estimates Downward"
New York Times (02/23/01) P. C1; Feder, Barnaby J.
Sun Microsystems has revised its revenue projections for the current quarter downward, saying fear of an economic downturn has made their customers skittish about capital purchases. Sun had projected 20 percent growth for this quarter but now foresees growth of 10 to 13 percent. "We're disappointed in one and only one thing--the U.S. economy," says Sun President Ed Zander. Sun will continue its research and development investments, and Sun executives say they are optimistic that the server market will become stronger later this year. Sun is less positive about the market for data-storage systems, an attitude that was supported yesterday by EMC's announcement that it too was expecting reduced growth this year. The company now projects growth this year between 25 percent to 35 percent, down from earlier forecasts of between 33 percent and 38 percent. EMC blamed its revised projections on dot-coms and other firms that lack the capital to make large investments. The company said the situation could worsen if its largest customers begin to believe that the U.S. economy is headed for a recession. Although EMC would see sales of $11 billion at its lowest projected growth rate, still well ahead of many other tech companies, yesterday's news was surprising to many investors and analysts, who had long held the data-storage market as an unshakable part of the technology boom. EMC, for example, had not issued an earnings warning since 1995.
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- "Java Flaw Exposed"
VNUNet.com (02/23/01); Leung, Linda
A security flaw in the Java Runtime Environment (JRE) could allow hackers to access Java-based programs and perform unauthorized commands, Sun Microsystems revealed this week. The flaw could exist in JRE and several versions of Solaris Developer Kit, Sun said. Also, some Java environments developed by Sun licensees could be affected. Sun has made a patch available to these licensees. However, two well known Java clients, Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer, are not vulnerable to the flaw. Sun officials said it would be difficult for hackers to exploit the flaw because JRE default settings are designed to prevent unauthorized commands. A user would have to allow unauthorized commands to be performed before a hacker could exploit the flaw. "It is like leaving your house door open. The default is for you to lock it, but if you leave it open, anyone could get in," a Sun spokesperson explained.
- "A Long-Term Solution to the IT Skills Shortage"
Financial Times (02/22/01) P. 9; Maitland, Alison
Women may prove to be a key source of skilled tech workers for international IT markets, say experts. In the European workforce, women currently account for only about one-fourth of tech workers and for only 20 percent of the U.S. tech workforce. IBM executive Nick Donofrio notes that, despite the recent tech slowdown, there will be 5 million job openings in the next three to four years, necessitating the training of more skilled employees. However, Sharon Shuster, president of the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, says the exclusiveness of tech education alienates and disinterests many girls. She cites the male orientation of computer games, many of which are based on violence, and the relative seclusion of programming classes from other subjects such as music, history, and the various sciences. Rebecca George, IBM director of staffing for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, adds that the industry must try to change attitudes and perceptions about technology jobs. She says many women do not realize that the communication and managerial skills they possess can be just as vital as technical know-how in the industry. On a positive note, IBM's workshops to promote technology among schoolgirls are receiving a warmer response from students. Sun, Microsoft, and IBM have teamed with the U.K. government to run "taster days" technology forums where female tech employees expand the horizons of young schoolchildren.
To learn more about ACM's Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "Web Job Sites May Speed up as Tech Slows Down"
Investor's Business Daily (02/22/01) P. A6; Howell, Donna
Online job-search sites are benefiting from the souring tech sector, as many laid off dot-com employees flock to market themselves and search for other work on the Web. Monster.com and HotJobs.com, the two largest Internet career sites, are both taking advantage of the influx by strengthening their positions. HotJobs.com, which had 2.2 million visitors last month, is gaining on market leader Monster.com in terms of revenue, although it has yet to turn a profit, says HotJobs CEO Richard Johnson. However, both companies have room to grow, as online classifieds spending totals less than $1 billion, dwarfed by the $18 billion total classified market. The move of traditional classified dollars toward the online sector signals continued growth for online job sites, report analysts. Because the entire job research marketplace is uniformly shifting to the Web, it partially negates worries of lessening worker demand from the dot-com sector, BlueStone Capital Securities analyst Kathleen Heaney says.
- "Yahoo Defies Court Ruling Over Nazi Memorabilia"
TheStandard.com (02/21/01); Essick, Kristi
Yahoo! plans to ignore a French court order requiring the company to bar French users from accessing Nazi-related memorabilia on its U.S. Web site, despite the nearing deadline for the ruling. Yahoo! has since made moves to keep hate-related goods from its U.S. site, which may render the November ruling unnecessary. The original decision mandated that Yahoo! must install a filtering system to block French users from accessing Nazi-related goods on its U.S. auction site. Yahoo! will be subject to fines of 100,000 francs ($13,970) per day after Feb. 24, but the company has filed a counter-suit in a California court, contending that a U.S. company should not be subject to French laws. Yahoo! also argues that such a filtering system is not possible. The French court has not said whether Yahoo!'s removal of the items satisfy the conditions of the order. The League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, one of the original plaintiffs, says that it is content with the removal of the items. The sale of Nazi-related goods is illegal in France. League board member Marc Knobel says he has contacted eBay to ask why it carries such items.
- "Internet Bills Get Second Look in Congress"
CNet (02/20/01); Ross, Patrick
The 107th Congress has thus far introduced Internet-related bills that bear a striking resemblance to those introduced last year by the 106th Congress. Among the high-tech bills introduced this session are those impacting online privacy, spam, online gambling, and Internet taxes. Lawmakers are optimistic that these bills will be passed on to the desk of the president, even though the majority of last year's high-tech bills failed to clear the Senate. The difference in these bills' chances this year could be the increasing pervasiveness of the Internet in Americans' lives, lawmakers say. Also, the Senate is believed to be more tech-friendly this year. Privacy is the top priority on Congress's tech agenda. Indeed, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) recently promised that privacy would be a "huge issue." When Congress returns from recess next week its committee leaders will likely begin the process of prioritizing Internet legislation. Legislation introduced by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) is perhaps the most popular online privacy bill introduced by the 107th Congress. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking for proponents of an extension of the e-commerce tax moratorium, which concludes in October.
For information regarding ACM's work on matters of public policy, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "Michigan Plans a High-Tech Lure"
New York Times (02/22/01) P. A10; Belluck, Pam
Michigan is planning a "cybercourt" that would specialize in Internet- and technology-related cases in order to bring more dot-com business to the state. The cybercourts will feature Internet-wired monitors to link lawyers, evidence, and judges from different nationwide locations, will honor any law license nationwide, and will have judges educated in tech-related issues. It will provide speed and expertise for dot-com litigation, state officials claim. Michigan Gov. John Engler says he based the idea on Delaware's Court of Chancery, a court created in the 18th Century to serve business needs. However, critics worry this system will produced biased judges and also question the state's rationale, as cases of national scope are often argued in federal courts, not state courts.
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- "Film Studios Prepare for Appeals Court in DVD Case"
Reuters (02/21/01); Caney, Derek
A consortium of major film studios, including Disney, MGM, Paramount, and Warner Bros., has filed a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York, arguing that the court should not overturn a lower court's verdict against Eric Corley, the publisher of 2600 magazine and its companion Web site. That verdict found that Corley had violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) when he published the code to DeCSS, a software program that can crack the encryption on DVDs. Film studios fear that DeCSS could be used to pirate films and trade them online. In a brief filed on Corley's behalf this January, the Electronic Frontier Foundation argues that Corley has a First Amendment right to publish the DeCSS code. The foundation also contends that DeCSS has legitimate uses besides piracy, including in traditional "fair use" copyright privileges and in technological research. In its newest brief, the film studios respond that the First Amendment is not violated in this case because DMCA seeks to prevent any unlawful conduct, such as pirating DVDs, as opposed to speech. The two sides are expected to argue the case this spring.
Visit http://www.acm.org/usacm for articles related to DVD court cases.
- "Don't Count Out Dot-Coms' 'Disruptive' Comeback"
Investor's Business Daily (02/22/01) P. A8; Sleeper, Sarah Z.
Today's e-commerce second-guessing is just a minor glitch at the very inception of the Internet, argues AMR Research senior analyst Scott Lundstrom. Like any new technology, Lundstrom contends, the Web will continue its bumpy progress as it moves toward profitability and discovers its most efficient and desirable applications. For instance, the Internet was originally designed for sharing scientific data, but since then it has evolved into an e-commerce and generalized communication platform. Lundstrom believes that the Internet is just 5 percent of what it will be, although he does see some developing trends. Less expensive wireless devices could replace PCs as consumers' top choice, with business plans mirroring those in the cell-phone industry. Application service providers are too expensive and on the decline, Lundstrom observes, and he argues that the Internet must return to the model of cutting out processes in order to give consumers direct access to goods, rather than replacing bricks-and-mortar processes with online ones.
- "Watching You Work"
ABCNews.com (02/22/01); Serwer, Andrew E.
Workplace surveillance software is a growing business, increasing managers' ability to monitor employees as well as the concerns of privacy advocates. One program available from Tech Assist called Desktop Surveillance can record every single key stroke made by a worker and can also perform other functions such as forwarding email that has triggered preset keyword alarms. Purdue University Associate Professor Carl Botan says the market for this type of service and software has doubled in the past three years. According to an American Management Association survey, 73.5 percent of major U.S. companies said they had monitored employees' activity during the year 2000. However, Professor Botan questions the benefit of such practices, saying the monetary impact of changes to the sociological aspect have yet to be determined. He notes that workplace surveillance is detrimental to communication between peers as well as between worker and supervisor. National Work Rights Institute President Lewis Maltby contends that, while bosses have no business reading email sent on a lunch break, there are no laws to prevent them from doing so.
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- "PDA Users Can Expect Viruses in Their Future"
Los Angeles Times (02/22/01) P. T5; Kellner, Mark A.
As the PDA market continues to more than double, security experts say users need to be aware of the potential viruses targeted at their devices. NPD Intellect reports that 3.5 million handhelds were shipped in 2000, more than 2.5 times the amount for 1999. Mikko Hyppnoen, a researcher for Helsinki-based F-Secure, says the handheld industry should take early measures. Had reactive PC anti-virus real-time updates been available in 1986, he says, there would not be the proliferation of some 50,000 PC viruses today. Handhelds have already been struck by a virus known as Phage and a Trojan Horse known as Liberty. However, Palm and Microsoft contend that the devices their operating systems run on have built-in safeguards against viruses. Besides, says Microsoft's Nancy Redden, handhelds are inherently different from PCs in their vulnerability. Because the "pocket" versions of popular Microsoft software do not run the micro and macro programs in which many viruses hide, and because compiled software cannot be immediately downloaded from the Internet, Pocket PC devices are safer from attack than normal PCs, she claims.
- "UPS Software Goes Past Call of Duty, Irking Customers"
Wall Street Journal (02/22/01) P. A4; Brooks, Rick
A version of United Parcel Service's WorldShip shipping software, sent to 200,000 customers, has drawn fire from many users because it forces their Web browsers to connect to the UPS home page and adds UPS-related sites to their Web browsers' bookmark lists. "We consider it a mistake," says UPS' Angela McMahon. "Our interest wasn't to make customers angry; it was to help them use our functionality." The company says it will assist any user who wants to correct the software or uninstall it. Also, the company will soon ship a new version of the software that will let users stop the software from linking to the UPS home page or adding any bookmarks. "I think monkeying with people's computers...is not honest," says UPS customer Barbara Low, who claims that undoing the software's work took half an hour.
- "Anti-Piracy Laws Rob Consumers of Rights"
Los Angeles Times (02/22/01) P. T1; Wilson, Dave
Copyright holders' efforts to prevent the copying of digital media threatens consumers' rights to "fair use" of that media, argues Dave Wilson. Wilson acknowledges that copyright holders have a legitimate right to prevent the theft of their intellectual properties. However, he says the law passed to accommodate the prevention of that theft, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, is a bad law that harms consumers' legitimate rights. As an example, Wilson points to a software program from High Criteria called Total Recorder. Total Recorder allows users to record sounds broadcast through their computer onto their hard drive. Thus, a listener of a certain Webcast could record that Webcast for future listening. However, the Total Recorder technology conflicts with RealPlayer and other technologies used for streaming media on the Internet. RealPlayer is designed to prevent the unauthorized copying of streamed media--otherwise, Wilson points out, few copyright holders would be willing to stream their content. However, Wilson notes that RealPlayer and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act would also prevent authorized copying, such as the above listener copying the Webcast only to listen it to by himself and not copy and distribute to friends. Although RealNetworks officials did not comment on Total Recorder, they said they won a court injunction against a program designed to copy video streams. Wilson argues that copyright holders want to move toward a market in which all digital content is available on a pay-per-view basis, a trend that could harm rights that many consumers have long taken for granted.
For information regarding ACM's work in the area of intellectual property and copyright, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/IP.
- "Standards Groups Reach E-Business Accord"
CNet (02/22/01); Wong, Wylie
Oasis, a group of technology vendors jointly developing an e-business communications protocol, has abandoned its efforts and announced support for the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) competing Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP). "We don't need unnecessary duplication," explains Bob Sutor, e-business standards strategy program director for IBM, which is a member of both working groups. "It means that software that businesses use can be simpler because they will have fewer specifications for messaging. People can devote more time on creating really new software to make their businesses better, rather than being mired down in the details of yet another messaging protocol." The XML-based SOAP, which was originally developed by Microsoft, can be likened to the standards the U.S. Post Office imposes on mail, says IBM's Sutor; i.e., addresses and postage must be placed in specific places in order for the letter to be delivered.
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- "A Question of Ethics"
InformationWeek (02/19/01) No. 825, P. 38; Wilder, Clinton; Soat, John; Wallace, Bob
- "India 3.0"
BusinessWeek (02/26/01) No. 3721, P. 44; Einhorn, Bruce; Kripalani, Manjeet; Engardio, Pete
Vivek Paul, president of Bangalore, India-based Wipro Technologies, foresees his company becoming one of the 10 biggest IT service firms on Earth, "a completely audacious goal," he admits. However, he, and many other Indian software firms, are preparing themselves to compete with IBM, Accenture, and other multinationals in the market for full-service consulting. The Indian IT sector has already made a name for itself, largely by providing solutions for specific projects from U.S. and European companies. Having established a top-flight reputation as developers of software code, Wipro and other Indian firms now want to provide end-to-end solutions, a move that will require them to hire thousands of new employees and take themselves global--a potentially daunting task. Wipro's Paul sees it as a three-step process. First is the development of "verticals," groups that draw from his company's software engineers and from business and finance consultants. Second is recruiting the consultants to fill these positions. Wipro will need some 30,000 workers to meet its goals, Paul predicts. Third is acquiring other companies in order to grow Wipro's larger enterprise. However, even with the recent downturn in the U.S. economy, Wipro and other Indian firms have so far found many U.S. firms that might serve their ends to be too expensive. Some Indian firms are also trying to increase their business by offering code written for one firm's project to other firms. Although this can increase the Indian firms' range of offerings, some of them may find foreign companies unwilling to do business with them if their software does not remain proprietary. Many analysts say Indian firms could make a large impact in the global IT services market, but some analysts question whether India's IT sector, traditionally conservative in fiscal matters, will be willing to spend money and, in the short-term at least, to lose it.
- "Seeking Direction"
Interactive Week (02/19/01) Vol. 8, No. 7, P. 24; Brown, Doug
The federal government's efforts to protect cyberspace security have reached an uncertain juncture. The director of the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center left his post last month; the position has not been filled, and there is no mandated time line for doing so. The Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office (CIAO) is also required by law to close down this year, unless the Bush administration makes a quick decision to keep open an office that was central to the government's attempts to work with the high-tech industry on cyberspace security issues. President Bush has not yet indicated how he will treat the CIAO, despite the fact that many in the high-tech industry felt that the office has helped centralize an enormous array of often opposing federal interests in critical infrastructure and highlighted the issue of cybersecurity by getting industry to talk about it.
- "Europe Gives Mother Nature a Break"
Electronic Business (02/01) Vol. 27, No. 2, P. 46; Zizzo, Thomas
Two recent European Union directives could have a large future impact on U.S. tech firms that export computer hardware and electrical equipment to Europe. The EU's initial directive mandates that firms recycle all discarded computer systems and components, and this directive applies both to firms that make products in Europe as well as to any firms that sell within the EU. The second directive demands that certain toxic materials be phased out of electrical engineering by 2008, one of which is lead. U.S. electronic exports now total over $6 billion per year, but industry groups worry that it will drop if firms do not adjust or are unwilling to make the capital investments necessary to create new means of production and recycling. The EU is currently considering an Electrical and Electronic Equipment directive to address environmental concerns within development labs.