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Volume 6, Issue 627:  Monday, April 5, 2004

  • "Computing Power to the People"
    Wired News (04/05/04); Terdiman, Daniel

    University of San Francisco (USF) computer scientists and volunteers created the world's first "FlashMob" computer in the school's gym on April 3, 2004. The event drew about 700 donated machines, less than expected, and individual CPU failures made benchmarking the entire system impossible; organizers had to settle with benchmarking just 150 computers. The original plan was to create one of the world's top 500 supercomputers by harnessing the collective processing power of 1,000 contributed PCs. Although the system was only able to achieve a 180 gigaflops peak performance and 77 gigaflops sustained performance--far less than the 403 gigaflops needed to break the Top 500 supercomputer mark--organizers and supercomputing experts say FlashMob Supercomputing was a significant event. The FlashMob concept allows groups of volunteers to tackle problems such as global warming and breast cancer, says USF graduate student John Witchel, whose master's thesis project was the basis for FlashMob Supercomputing. The FlashMob Supercomputing effort was a long way off from achieving the goal of easy supercomputing, said Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory computing science associate director Horst Simon. "But it's the first step, and somebody's got to start it, and that's why I think it's good," he explained. At the USF event, even a single computer that crashed would halt the benchmark test, and organizers plan to improve their software for the next effort. All types of PCs were contributed, including desktops, laptops, and even bare microprocessors without a box. USF assistant professor Greg Benson noted that the FlashMob Supercomputing software was created in just five weeks and that the real-world experience would make a second effort more successful.
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  • "Poised to Strike: The Battle Waged by Computer Outlaws Enters a New and Deadly Phase of Sophistication"
    Financial Times (04/05/04) P. 13; Morrison, Scott; Waters, Richard

    Existing computer security efforts are not sufficient to stop the rising tide of threats, including the synergistic activities of hackers, virus writers, and spammers. The computer security industry is currently on par with medical practice in 1820s, according to Cryptography Research President Paul Kocher. Last year's Blaster and Slammer worms were able to spread worldwide in a matter of minutes thanks to a growing interconnectedness among systems, more sophisticated virus-writing tools, standardized technology platforms, and always-on connections. New systems will be pinged by hacker scanners in just minutes, with intrusion attempts following soon after. The most recent hacker tools combine a number of technologies and approaches, such as the Phatbot program that automatically spreads via peer-to-peer networks, destroys anti-virus applications, searches for financially sensitive information, and creates powerful, latent networks of zombie machines. Hackers are more frequently using scanners to search for back doors left open by Trojan programs, which in turn are implanted by viruses. Once compromised systems are assimilated into the hacker's "botnet," he or she can launch massive online attacks. Network Associates' Vincent Gullatto believes much of the current virus activity is due to hacker experimentation with blended threat attacks. By attacking targets on several fronts at once, hackers may hope to overwhelm an organization's computer defense resources or hide their real target. Experts say flawed software design methods and network design are to blame for today's poor state of computer security. Software vendors such as Microsoft, however, have begun devoting more resources to improving security while new network technologies from vendors such as Cisco and Juniper are designed to police data traffic. Cisco security technology officer Bob Gleichauf says new computer security efforts focus on real-world designs such as human immune systems rather than perimeter security.

  • "Look, Listen, Walk"
    Technology Review (04/02/04); Jenkins, Henry

    MIT Comparative Media Studies program director Henry Jenkins writes that location-aware handhelds will enable "augmented reality," where technology makes people more engaged with their surroundings instead of unattached. Whereas most mobile technology--mobile phones, laptops, headphones, and even talk radio--disassociates people from their immediate environment, augmented reality seeks to make users more involved by adding information and media to their experience of a particular location. The technology application has tremendous potential for education, tourism, and storytelling. The Boston Museum of Science recently collaborated on an augmented reality project with researchers from the Education Arcade, a consortium devoted to the educational use of computers and video games based at MIT. The Boston Museum of Science project equipped small teams of children and parents with Wi-Fi-connected handheld devices. The teams used the devices and location-based media to investigate a fictional theft from the museum and made the visit much more entertaining and educational for the children. Geo-caching is another example of augmented reality. The sport involves using GPS devices to locate hidden caches, the coordinates of which can be found on the Internet. In Europe, MIT graduate students are collaborating with local governments in Venice and Alcala de Henares to let visitors explore areas off the beaten tourist path. A similar MIT project in Paris scans neighborhoods and buildings for historical information that would help people understand an area's background. Conversely, future scenarios for a particular location could also be delivered via handhelds. Augmented reality applications can also be used for pure fiction, mapping a story onto the buildings of a small town, for example.
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  • "Linux on Desktop Gaining in OS Race"
    SiliconValley.com (04/04/04); Gillmor, Dan

    As far as operating system evolution goes, the Linux desktop is quickly catching up to more advanced desktop systems such as Windows and the Unix-based Mac OS X, writes Dan Gillmor. While desktop Linux installations still lack applications and easy-to-use support environments, those deficiencies are much less serious than just one year ago. New commercial products based on free software make Linux desktop systems far easier to install, update, and use. The recent Xandros Desktop OS 2.0 package, for example, comes bundled with third-party CrossOver software allowing the Unix systems to run Windows applications without Windows. Xandros' Linux desktop also recognizes even old hardware, including "Winmodems" that usually only operate with Windows. An online software library called the Xandros Network also offers easy access to software fixes and recommended new applications. Apart from this distribution system, however, it still remains difficult to install applications on the Linux desktop. Important Linux desktop technology is also coming from the likes of Sun Microsystems, Novell, and Red Hat, and retail giant Wal-Mart recently began selling complete Linux desktop systems focused on ease-of-use. Linux desktops are also an ideal solution for aging hardware that would run too slowly if updated with the most recent, as well as the most reliable and secure, software from Microsoft. Linux provides a lithe and low-cost alternative. Given these benefits and the ability of the Linux development community to quickly solve outstanding issues, the Linux desktop promises to be at least a credible contender for the desktop operating system space in the future.
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  • "Ambient Assistance for Travellers"
    IST Results (03/31/04)

    Ambient intelligence pilot projects in Europe have shown the value of the technology, according to Information Society Technologies (IST) project manager Hans Myrhaug. The AMBIESENSE project enabled users with wireless-enabled PDAs to receive location-specific information as they passed shops, displays, waiting areas, or historic sites. The project used wireless tags and both WLAN and Bluetooth connectivity to deliver the context-based information. Myrhaug says an AMBIESENSE installation at the Oslo Airport allowed travelers to receive helpful information about nearby shops and services, be entertained while waiting for a flight, actively browse for information, or receive tips on how to save time when going through the airport. The ability to switch between information feeds was important, reported Myrhaug. In the old city center of Seville, Spain, tourists received location-based information in their hotel, at local shops and restaurants, and at historic sites. As the tourists walk near the wireless signal, information appears on their PDA screen silently or with vibration or sound alerts. Users in both tests appreciated receiving different types of information, even including informational advertisements, and were willing to provide personal preferences in order to receive more useful information. Myrhaug says AMBIESENSE technologies promise to boost Europe's travel and tourism industries.
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  • "UNC Researchers Win $2.6 Million Grant to Explore Portable 3-D Medical Services"
    LocalTechWire.com (04/02/04)

    Portable, three-dimensional telepresence technology will be tested during tracheotomies performed at University of North Carolina (UNC) Hospitals. Computer science researchers at UNC Chapel Hill have developed a prototype and are testing the technology through the assistance of a three-year, $2.6 million grant from the National Library of Medicine. The telepresence technology would deliver 3D video of a patient and surroundings, and medical professionals on- and off-site would have the ability to communicate in real time. The researchers believe portable, 3D telepresence technology is a way for high-speed mobile networks to enhance the quality of diagnosis and treatment, and improve health care in rural and remote areas. "Airway obstruction is the leading cause of preventable death in situations where patients die en route to the hospital," says Bruce Cairns, research director in the N.C. Jaycee Burn Center and assistant professor of surgery in UNC's School of Medicine. "Testing this technology in an acute situation allows us to assess the hypotheses regarding the capture of these procedures and determine whether we can effectively bring the consultant to the bedside and the bedside to the consultant." The researchers plan to compare the effectiveness of portable, 3D telepresence technology with the performance of 2D teleconferencing.
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  • "Student Takes Robotic Challenge"
    Times-Picayune Times-Picayune (04/01/04); Bordelon, Christine L.

    A team of University of Louisiana at Lafayette students and teachers built an autonomous ground vehicle and entered it into the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Grand Challenge last month. CajunBot was one of 15 vehicles to qualify to participate in the 142 mile challenge run; it is 10 feet long and has six-wheel-drive. None of the vehicle entries actually completed the course, and the CajunBot was almost immediately disqualified when it brushed against the wall of the opening chute. CajunBot was built in just three months by a team that included professors Charles Cavanaugh, Arun Lakhotia, and Tony Maida of the university's Center for Advanced Computer Studies, as well as seven graduate and six undergraduate students. The CajunBot used computers, laser sensors, and an inertial measurement system. The inertial measurement system kept the machine level and functioned as a compass, and was programmed with a custom algorithm developed by a computer science student on the team. "I saw it as a segue into imbedded systems and robotics, and it would look great on a student's resume and give them a unique experience on a hands-on project that was of great significance to the university as well as the state," says Cavanaugh. He says the team is already talking about entering next year's competition and that there may even be multiple entries, depending on whether sponsors are willing to buy more inertial navigation systems, a critical component costing $100,000. Computer engineering student Josh Bridevaux says, "I probably learned more about the electronics and computer science than I've ever learned in school before."
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  • "Smart Devices: The CEA, France Telecom and STMicroelectronics Create MINATEC IDEAs Laboratory"
    PRNewswire (03/30/04)

    The CEA, STMicroelectronics, and France Telecom have teamed up to establish a laboratory for studying the use of micro- and nano-technologies in new consumer products and services. The MINATEC IDEAs Laboratory is based in Grenoble, France, and will be used to evaluate ideas from their initial concept to gauging consumer interest in products and services. The organizations plan to apply a "use-oriented design" approach to concepts, in which creativity sessions impact application ideas, the building of operational prototypes, and tests with users, to assure prospective manufacturers of their worthiness at early stages. "We want to integrate the human aspect as early as possible, right from the design phase of the objects and services," says Michel Ida, director of the laboratory. Electronics, biology, and energy researchers will work with experts in sociology, anthropology, ergonomics, marketing, and other specialists at the laboratory. "A genuine 'ideas incubator,' this laboratory will enable us to anticipate the next telecommunications services, propose new interactive modes [sensitive interfaces], explore future communication environments [car services, ambient intelligence] and improve the ergonomics of existing solutions," adds Patrice Senn, head of the France Telecom R&D Smart Objects laboratory.
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  • "The Penguin Is Popping Up All Over"
    Business Week (03/30/04); Salkever, Alex

    Linux is rapidly expanding in the critical embedded operating systems market, which provides the technological underpinnings for automotive controls, consumer electronics, telecommunications devices, and a host of other electronic products. Embedded systems are growing fast as devices take on more functions, but the segment remains a small percentage of the overall software market; still, control of this underlying technology affects development plans, market strategies, and other big picture business aspects. Linux is not only a good technical solution, but it allows companies more freedom to develop specialized functions and a low-cost operating system with which to consolidate their enterprise systems. Gartner analyst Daya Nadamuni says Linux could comprise as much as 20% of the embedded systems market, including famous products such as Sony PlayStations, TiVO personal video recorders, Volvo cars, and Linksys wireless routers. Companies that use Linux for embedded systems have an advantage in crafting new services that interact with other Linux-based infrastructure, and they can view the source code to easily check for necessary capabilities or to add features. Linux is also becoming something of a lingua franca in the embedded software development community, says Linksys engineering vice president Malachy Moynihan. Companies that use the open-source software expect to gain time-to-market efficiencies by reusing existing code components, while industry competitors are also rallying around Linux to help establish a more solid foundation for their products. And although analysts note that Microsoft is also quickly gaining ground in the embedded software, even Wind River Systems, which claimed its VXWorks system had about half of the embedded market, has teamed with Linux vendor Red Hat to offer both proprietary and open-source solutions to customers.
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  • "Industrial Control Systems Seen as 'Undeniably Vulnerable'"
    Computerworld (03/31/04); Verton, Dan

    Neither the private sector nor the Homeland Security Department have developed a comprehensive strategy to secure the real-time control systems of the nation's critical infrastructure, making the nation vulnerable to cyberterrorism, says Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census. "I've learned that today's SCADA [supervisory control and data acquisition] systems have been designed with little or no attention to computer security," Putnam says. He has held two hearings to examine SCADA system security, and the General Accounting Office has released a study on the subject that concludes that the Department of Homeland Security could have worked faster with the private sector to strengthen security. James F. McDonnell, director of the Homeland Security Department's Protective Security Division, listed a number of physical security efforts such as site security assessments, and said that he and Amit Yoran, director of the agency's National Cyber Security Division, are working on developing a joint physical and cyber protection plan. One major concern is that many organizations that handle critical infrastructure may not have the funds to make security upgrades on their own, and vendors developing applications for SCADA systems are not focusing on security. McDonnell says the National Communications System is working with the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Lab on simulations and communications models to study potential vulnerabilities, while NCS is investigating whether SCADA systems are susceptible to high-power microwaves.
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  • "In 2015: Sensors Everywhere, Computers Invisible"
    ZDNet (03/30/04); Farber, Dan

    Gartner analysts at the Symposium/ITxpo 2004 predicted that pervasive and personalized networks will facilitate ubiquitous computing and render current PC devices obsolete by 2015. These self-organizing, self-managing networks will be comprised of intelligent sensors that collect event-driven data to support a "tera" architecture that can process terabytes of data every second, according to Gartner Fellow Tom Austin. Effective management of such networks will rely on a new kind of operating system that can detect and configure networks automatically. Austin said the proliferation of intelligent networks will hinge on the falling price and growing availability of sensors, and the maturation of WiMax and ultrawideband, which respectively promise a 70Mbps data transfer rate across a 30-mile range and a rapid, low-power wireless connection. Gartner analysts projected that within 10 years all but the most trivial objects would be outfitted with passive radio-frequency identification tags; active, intelligent wireless networking and sensor devices would cost less than 50 cents; and invisible, disposable computers would be prevalent. Sensors would draw their power from the electromagnetic spectrum and sport low-power CPUs, ad hoc networking algorithms, and wireless and sensor chips. Converting the massive amount of raw data generated by the sensors into useful information and addressing privacy concerns will be key challenges. "All of us are part of a massive data trail that never gets deleted and gets backed up," noted Gartner analyst Andy Kyte. "The battle is forming over who gets to use my data, for what purposes and under what circumstance."
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  • "Talking Security With Motorola's William Boni"
    Network World (03/29/04) Vol. 21, No. 13, P. 16; Messmer, Ellen

    Motorola chief information security officer William Boni, a keynote speaker at the recent InfoSec World conference, was also instrumental in the launch of the Security Metrics Consortium, in which IT security professionals brainstorm on the key issues they face. Boni supervises security for a global network that has roughly 100,000 end users. He says Motorola is fairly dependent on its IT infrastructure, applications, and technologies, and so management has made its security and maintenance an executive-level task. Motorola is working on keeping its digital intellectual property secure, Boni explains. He says that intrusion detection tools are useful in helping manage events within a network, but that Motorola is upgrading its technologies to actively prevent attacks. The technologies that can actually prevent attacks from happening need to be proven so that Boni can present company leaders with a solid business case, he says. He says the Security Metrics Consortium was formed in hopes of creating a security best-practices baseline for interorganizational comparisons, so that entities can figure out if they are doing enough security and doing it well. Boni also belongs to the Police Futurists International, a group of experts from around the world in the fields of social research, technology, and science that meets to anticipate what the world will be like in 10 to 15 years and how it will impact security, particularly in the public sector. Boni says the group has been meeting for over 20 years to "try to map the potential of the future and what the consequences are from social, political, economic, and technological dimensions. And to influence that future so it will be a more positive destination."
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  • "Technology Assists When Memory Falters"
    Newswise (03/30/04)

    Researchers at the University of Michigan are developing an advanced version of so-called minder technology that makes use of artificial intelligence to deliver more personalized reminders of what an elderly person has done and is supposed to do. The Autominder software serves as a computerized caregiver that would aid the elderly or anyone suffering from brain trauma. Designed for use in handheld computers and in a mobile robot called Pearl or Nursebot, Autominder provides instructions and guidance to patients who let the device know they have completed a task by touching or tapping it. Electrical engineering and computer science professor Martha Pollack says most minder technology operates as a "glorified alarm clock," but the artificial intelligence capabilities allow Autominder to interpret data and issue reminders on what a person needs to do. The researchers, who are working with a team from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon, also are considering integrating motion sensors and contact sensors into the Autominder software, which would give the device the ability to, for example, determine that a patient left the water running and tell the person to turn it off. Acting on sensor data, the device would know whether a patient has eaten, and remind the person that they must eat lunch before taking their medication.
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  • "NASA Using Linux"
    UnixReview.com (03/04); Brockmeier, Joe

    There are between 20 and 30 Linux workstations at NASA's Ames Research Center for each rover currently exploring the surface of Mars, running Red Hat Linux 7.3. These workstations, which are equipped with dual 2.8GHz Xeon CPUs, 2GB-4GB of RAM, and an Nvidia Quadra 2000 or 3000, are used to transmit orders to the rovers across space and process the data they send back from the red planet. Both of the rovers run on the VxWorks real-time operating system from Wind River, which runs on RAD6000 processors insulated against radiation. Laurence Edwards, Mars project lead for 3D Visualization and Surface Reconstruction with NASA's Intelligent Robotics Group, estimates that the rovers send approximately 10MB of data to Earth each day at an average data transfer rate of 128Kbps, which is then processed for use in the "Viz" program. Viz furnishes a 3D interactive simulation of the Martian surface so the NASA team can plot out the rovers' routes a day in advance. About three to four hours pass before these high-resolution are ready, according to Edwards. The NASA operators can then determine the best possible routes by simulating the view they might get if they change the rovers' positions. Releasing the Viz software under an open source license has been a topic of discussion, although Edwards notes that NASA "doesn't have the facilities to support a large [Viz] user base." He says Viz will compile not just on Linux, but on Windows, the Mac OS, and some other Unix iterations.
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  • "Technology a Dependable Ally in Iraq War"
    Federal Computer Week (03/29/04) Vol. 18, No. 8, P. 46; French, Matthew; Tiboni, Frank

    Military services are evaluating information technologies designed to enhance battlefield strategies in Operation Iraqi Freedom to see which ones worked and which ones need work. U.S. Strategic Command commander Adm. James Ellis told attendees at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's DARPATech 2004 conference that bandwidth allocation remains a sore point: Ellis says troops often suffer from information overload and are not adequately using the bandwidth they have. Linton Wells of the Department of Defense said this problem should be mitigated by the DoD's transition from circuit-switched bandwidth to bandwidth on demand via IP. Battlefield commanders said they often received raw data they were expected to translate into useful information, and military and civil defense leaders want more machine-to-machine information and data analysis to cut down reaction time. Army officials reported that intercom radios did not inspire confidence among soldiers, while ruggedized laptops suffered a 35% failure rate in desert environments. More successful technology deployments in the Iraq war include Blue Force Tracking, which reduced friendly ground fire; unmanned aerial vehicles; Lockheed Martin's Theater Battle Management Core Systems, which were used to plan, coordinate, and carry out 47,000 bomber, cargo, fighter, and refueling missions; satellite communications to alleviate the difficulties of out-of-sight data transmission; and DARPA's Phraselator, a translation device that was well-suited for checkpoints and prisoner interrogations. "The lesson we've learned from Iraq and Afghanistan is that we're moving in the right direction in terms of transformation and network centricity," explained Wells. "We are clearly at a critical point in our network-centric approaches, and the war has reinforced that the way we've been moving forward is the right one."
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  • "Dust in the Wind"
    Government Technology--Mobile Government (03/04) Vol. 17, No. 3, P. 22; Jones, Jessica

    Smart Dust is composed of tiny sensors or "motes" that can be programmed to monitor humidity, vibrations, energy use, and many other factors, and organize into ad hoc networks. Proposed by former UC Berkeley professor Kris Pister, Smart Dust was sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency as a low-cost wireless solution to assess the situation in battlefields and other arenas. UC Berkeley's Steven Glaser says a typical mote is dynamically programmable and features "a microcontroller, two-way radio, buffer memory and so on and so forth." The sensors communicate with each other via TinyOS, an open source software program written by UC Berkeley computer science professor David Culler. "Like a microscope allows you to see tiny things, Smart Dust lets you perceive what's going on in an environment in a great amount of detail," he remarks. Individual motes cost a few hundred dollars, but Glaser says the price will fall as Smart Dust is commercialized and the technology matures. Services Smart Dust can enhance or provide include building automation, surveillance, energy management, emergency response, port tracking, and asset management. Culler sees Smart Dust technology eventually becoming transparent, like electricity is today. He says, "If you went back 100 years, electricity was a big deal. Now we take it for granted. I think this technology will become more a part of information interface, receding into a substrate." Culler expects Smart Dust to most likely be used as an embedded technology for manufactured goods, and both he and Pister are concerned with the technology's social and legal ramifications, including privacy, certification, regulation, and liability issues. Pister has even written a book, "Sensor Networks in 2010," speculating on the social implications of technology that can provide such pervasive, immediate information.
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  • "Privacy in the Age of Transparency"
    Strategy+Business (03/04) No. 34, P. 99; Rothfeder, Jeffrey

    Companies and organizations must negotiate a veritable minefield to tailor and streamline their relationships with customers, suppliers, and business partners while concurrently upholding the confidentiality of their personal information; this challenge is the result of the emergence of information transparency driven by the proliferation of communications technology, growing customer demand for corporate honesty and integrity, the increasing prevalence of global markets, and burgeoning activism among stakeholders. Columbia University professor Alan F. Westin estimates that 56% of Americans think most businesses improperly manage customers' personal data, while 59% doubt that the current public-private system for shielding consumer privacy offers a "reasonable" level of trust. In "The Privacy Payoff: How Successful Businesses Build Consumer Trust," Ann Cavoukian and Tyler J. Hamilton point out that privacy policies and systems are as essential to the success of business-to-business relationships as they are to business-to-consumer relationships, and recommend the Privacy Diagnostic Tool Workbook as a resource with which to measure companies' compliance with fair information practices and promotion of customer privacy protection. "Privacy Payoff," along with Don Tapscott and David Ticoll's "The Naked Corporation: How the Age of Transparency Will Revolutionize Business," contend that open and honest businesses that adopt privacy policies and clearly define the discreet use of data to boost corporate growth, efficiency, and performance will be more widely accepted by consumers and enjoy more revenue, greater numbers of potential partners, less litigation, and augmented brand reputation. Companies are focusing more on privacy as a consequence of globalization, and the myriad global data protection schemes and resources businesses can use to comply with them are detailed in Albert J. Marcella Jr. and Carol Stucki's "Privacy Handbook: Guidelines, Exposures, Policy Implementation, and International Issues." The European Union's strict data protection policies are often at odds with American companies' paucity of privacy safeguards.
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