News on the latest Internet standards and struggles
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Called Bright Mail, the service so far has only been available through Internet service providers (ISPs). Bright Light, of San Francisco, hopes offering its service free to consumers will encourage them to ask ISPs to implement a commercial version, the company said in a statement.
In testing, Bright Mail has been able to eliminate 90 percent of spam messages sent to users, without accidentally deleting any legitimate e-mail messages, according to the statement.
The service will be available to users with a POP3 e-mail account that can be accessed from anywhere on the Internet. Customers must register their e-mail account with Bright Mail and modify the settings on their e-mail client so that incoming mail is filtered by the Bright Light service.
Bright Mail runs a 24-hour operations center where it identifies new and existing spam and then forwards information about the spam to a "spam wall" assigned to each user. The spam wall uses software to identify and block spam messages before they reach a user's inbox, the company said.
It was not immediately clear if the service will be available to users outside the U.S.
Almost 50 percent of e-mail users say they get spammed six or more times a week, according to a recent study of 13,000 e-mail users commissioned by Bright Light and conducted by GartnerGroup Inc. Users increasingly are looking to ISPs to protect them from spam, the study found.
--James Niccolai, IDG News Service
While acknowledging that more should be done to protect privacy of online users, including children, industry self-regulation is moving along and should be allowed to continue, the FTC told the House of Commerce, Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee. In the meantime, the commission intends to continue monitoring the online industry.
In "Self-Regulation and Privacy Online: A Report to Congress," the FTC outlines recent studies finding that the vast majority of Internet users are concerned about privacy issues and are reluctant to provide personal information for fear it will be shared without their authorization with third parties. Those fears have stymied growth of e-commerce.
The report commends efforts of Web sites and companies that have taken the lead to promote privacy policies, but notes of the recent studies that "they also show that the implementation of fair information practices is not widespread among commercial Web sites."
In what might seem an odd juxtaposition, the report then says, "Based on these facts, the Commission believes that legislation to address online privacy is not appropriate at this time."
FTC commissioners themselves, however, are not in accord on that point, based on testimony at the committee hearing.
"I am concerned that the absence of effective privacy protections will undermine consumer confidence and hinder the advancement of electronic commerce and trade," Commissioner Sheila Anthony said in a written statement today. Anthony also testified at the hearing, saying that she believes it might be time to establish minimum privacy standards.
However, GIPPS found that only 10 percent of its sample sites are using all four fair information practice principles supported by the FTC, while the OPA survey found 22 percent follow the guidelines. The FTC last year said that the principles that should be followed for sound privacy practice are notice and awareness, choice and consent, access and participation, and security and integrity. Online users must be able to readily find privacy policies online, have the option to provide private information and give consent to collection of such data, have access to what is being collected about them and also have assurances that Web sites they visit and use for electronic commerce are secure.
So-called "seal programs" have begun "to offer an easy way for consumers to identify Web sites that follow specified information practice principles, and for online businesses to demonstrate compliance with those principles," according to the FTC study and testimony from commissioners who lauded the efforts of TRUSTe, a non-profit organization started by the commerceNet Consortium and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and BBBOnline, a subsidiary of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
Today's FTC report is one in an ongoing series regarding online privacy. It also apparently is the last of its kind in its overview approach to industry self-regulation and progress in establishing policies.
"The next report is going to be different," FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky told the committee this morning. Thus far, the FTC reports have focused on "just counting noses" to track which sites and companies are establishing and enforcing privacy policies.
Next, the FTC intends to "get at whether those privacy policies are worth the screens they're printed on," Pitofsky said, indicating that the commission will now begin to take a harder look at the merits of privacy policies and at which sites and companies actually adhere to their posted guidelines.
That harder look apparently would be welcome by at least some members of U.S. Congress. Relying on their penchant for giving letter grades to assess progress, members of the Commerce subcommittee today asked FTC commissioners to grade industry progress regarding privacy policies and use of the FTC principles. Commissioners noted that substantial progress has been made in the past year and tended to give a passing grade, even while noting that more must be done.
Representative Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, suggested those grades are inflated. The industry overall, he said, deserves "a big fat F."
Pitofsky attempted to counter Markey's argument, saying that technology is changing rapidly and so flexibility is necessary.
"Technology is changing rapidly, so what" Markey said angrily, adding that rapid change does not obviate the need for consumer protections, since online users are becoming less comfortable, rather than more comfortable, with providing personal information to Web sites.
Pitofsky said in response to more measured comments and questions from Representative Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat, that the FTC will conduct a public workshop on how some sites gather and use information about consumers, gathered both online and offline. The FTC also will create two task forces of industry representatives, privacy advocates and consumer groups to work on how to help push implementation of fair information practices online.
Another report tracking online privacy policies will be issued by the FTC in a year, but subcommittee members asked for updates on what the commission is finding.
While the hearing continued this morning, OPA, a coalition of some 90 global companies and associations, urged companies that do business online to post privacy policies that meet industry guidelines. The OPA said that policies must be easy to find and understand; offer details to consumers about what information is being collected and how it will be used; allow consumers choice; disclose security measures; provide a contact person with whom consumers can relay problems or concerns; and explain mechanisms for providing access to personal information so consumers can make certain such data is accurate.
--Nancy Weil, IDG News Service
The companies, which include Amazon.com Inc. and America Online Inc. (AOL), said that this is the first public-policy group composed of participants whose primary businesses are based on the Internet. The group will attempt to foster user confidence in the Internet, while preserving "market-driven policies," according to the group's statement.
The birth of the new lobbying group comes at a time when regulation of the Internet in the U.S. is increasingly considered by politicians. Though many politicians have professed a hands-off policy regarding regulation of business on the Internet, issues such as privacy, pornography and taxation are being closely examined.
For example, a 19-member Congressional Advisory Commission on Electronic Commerce met for the first time last month, to consider taxing e-commerce. The Congressional commission was created in the wake of the Internet Tax Freedom Act of 1998, which created a three-year moratorium on new Internet taxation.
In addition, the U.S. is currently negotiating with the European Union over how to reconcile European privacy concerns with the lack of government regulation over Internet privacy issues in the U.S.
Meanwhile, though several proposed laws regarding pornography on the Internet have been struck down by various U.S. courts, the Senate Commerce Committee last month approved a bill that would require schools and libraries that receive discounts for Internet access from the government to use filtering technology on computers that children access. Antipornography groups also have said they will fight for legislation to ban pornography on the Internet.
In its public statement today, Netcoalition.com declared that it will be a resource to politicians who want to protect the "open and competitive environment in which the Internet has thrived."
Other coalition members are: DoubleClick Inc., eBay Inc., Excite@Home Inc., Inktomi Corp., Lycos Inc., theglobe.com Inc., and Yahoo! Inc. For more information, go to http://www.netcoalition.com.
--Marc Ferranti, IDG News Service
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The 15 companies will be accredited when ongoing tests of the new Internet address system have been completed, which is scheduled for July 16. The new companies join the five accredited registrars that are carrying out the tests and another 37 companies that ICANN has said it will accredit when the tests are finished.
Nine of the companies named today are from the US, two are from the Middle East, and four are from Europe.
Until competition was introduced last month, registration for the three most popular top-level domains was handled exclusively by Network Solutions Inc. (NSI) of Herndon, Virginia, under a 1992 contract with the US government. Register.com of the US, one of the five test-bed registrars, became the first company to compete with NSI.
The new system is being introduced in part to provide more global representation among the companies that manage one of the Internet's most important resources -- Internet addresses.
The 15 companies approved today are: Affinity Hosting, Alabanza Inc., Animus Communications Inc., Concentric Network Corp., Domain Registration Services, EnetRegistry.com Corp., InterAccess Co., PSINet, Inc., TierraNet Inc., all of the US; Computer Data Networks of Kuwait; SiteName of Israel; EPAG Enter-Price Multimedia AG of Germany; Research Institute for Computer Science Inc. of Japan; TotalWeb Solutions of the United Kingdom; and World-Net of France.
Further information about these companies will be available shortly on ICANN's Web site, at http://www.icann.org/registrars/accreditation.html.
ICANN is a non-profit group formed in September 1998 to sort out who will manage a set of Internet management functions currently handled by the US government and its contractors. Specifically, ICANN is responsible for coordinating the assignment of protocol parameters, the management of the domain name system, the allocation of IP address space, and the management of the root server system.
--James Niccolai, IDG News Service
A coalition of US computer makers called the plan "a good first step," but urged the government to work around a regulation that would prevent any changes from going into effect for six months.
Clinton is proposing raising the licensing threshold of high-performance computers to so-called "Tier 2" and "Tier 3" countries, including China and Russia, while maintaining a lower threshold for military end-users than civilian end-users in the countries the US considers the greatest national security risks, he said in a statement.
The president said he is proposing the change because the strict US export controls are hurting US companies' competitiveness in a market where technology is advancing rapidly, and where other countries are able to sell faster and faster computers.
"Computers that are widely used by businesses and can be manufactured by European, Japanese, and Asian companies will soon exceed the limits that I established on high-performance computers in 1996," Clinton said. "These business computers have become commodities, and next year, US and foreign vendors are expected to sell 5 million of them."
Clinton's computer export changes will require congressional approval and a six-month waiting period before going into effect. He said he will work with the US Congress to pass legislation that will reduce the waiting period to one month.
A coalition of US computer makers praised the government for "acting to avoid the 'technology train wreck' we've all been anticipating," but called on the government and Congress to find a way to sidestep the six-month rule.
"The Administration's proposal provides only half a solution since the revisions cannot go into effect for six months," said Lewis Platt, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard Co. and chairman of the Computer Coalition for Responsible Exports (CCRE).
"We are heartened by the Administration's commitment to work with the Congress to implement these changes as quickly as possible and to shorten the timeframe for implementing future revisions to 30 days," Platt said in a statement.
CCRE, whose members also include Silicon Graphics Inc., IBM Corp., and Sun Microsystems Inc., said its goal is to help foster a competitive computer export policy that doesn't compromise national security interests.
In a press briefing today, White House staff said the changes are made necessary by rapid advances in computer technology since computer export controls were last revised in 1995.
"What was controlled in 1993 as a supercomputer is now less powerful than the most used laptops," Commerce Secretary William Daley said.
The government measures computer power in terms of how many millions of theoretical operations per second (MTOPS) a given computer can perform. A typical laptop computer costing a few thousand dollars today may be able to perform more than 2,000 MTOPS, Chief of Staff John Podesta told reporters.
The control level for individual microprocessors that can be shipped to Tier 1 countries will be increased from 1,200 MTOPS to 1,900 MTOPS, Podesta said.
For Tier 2 countries, the administration proposes raising the level from 10,000 MTOPS to 20,000 MTOPS, a figure that could be increased to between 32,000 and 36,000 MTOPS in six months time, Podesta said.
For Tier 3 countries, the administration will raise the level at which a license is required for civilians to 12,300 MTOPS, up from 7,000. For military users the limit will be raised from 2,000 MTOPS to 6,500 MTOPS, Podesta said.
"The National Security Agencies have judged ... that it is simply not practical to try to control computers below 6,500 MTOPS, such as the IBM Netfinity, the Hewlett-Packard Netserver and the Compaq (Computer Corp.) Proliant," Podesta concluded.
In the future the administration will work with Congress to adopt an approach that doesn't rely on "ad hoc judgments about appropriate levels of control," he said.
"These changes may not go as far as some in the industry wish, but we have committed .... to review the levels again in six months to see if they need to be adjusted," Commerce Secretary Daley said.
Clinton said he will ask his security and economic advisers to recommend changes to export controls at regular six months intervals.
--Elinor Mills Abreu and James Niccolai, IDG News Service
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The Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act of 1999 was introduced by Louisiana Republican Billy Tauzin, chairman of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection, and John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat. The bill, which amends sections of the controversial Telecommunications Act of 1996, would prohibit regulation of high-speed data services by states or the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which increasingly has been criticized by various US lawmakers -- Tauzin has been a chief FCC critic.
Regional Bell operating companies (RBOCs) would be allowed to compete in the growing high-speed-network market with regulations now imposed on them removed under the bill's provisions. RBOCs have complained that they cannot easily compete against cable television companies in the high-speed-access market because the cable carriers do not face the same federal regulations.
"Under our legislation, consumers will have freedom of choice when it comes to Internet access. No one will be able to monopolize high-speed broadband services," Tauzin said in a written statement. "As we move into the 21st century, more and more Americans are going to rely on the Internet to help them navigate around the world of information. Our bill assures that no consumers will be marooned on an island where competition does not exist."
The bill is supposed to provide incentives to companies to develop and offer advanced telecommunications services through deregulation of high-speed data and Internet access. The measure would allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to work with RBOCs on high-speed networks -- a provision that the sponsors contend will allow consumers more choices for Internet access and also will enable ISPs to have access to at least one broadband pipe.
The bill further would prohibit RBOCs from marketing or billing for voice long-distance telephone service over high-speed, packet-switched networks until authorization is given by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for the RBOC to offer such service.
Supporters and critics of the bill quickly issued written statements.
BellSouth Corp. endorsed the bill, saying there is "no good public-policy reason to regulate the advanced services of local telephone networks under these competitive circumstances."
Conversely, the Telecommunications Resellers Association, which has more than 700 members, decried the legislation, arguing that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 offers a "balanced approach" to deregulation and has paved the way for increased competition.
The bill introduced today would keep local exchange carriers (LECs) from competing, while it removed regulations for the bigger RBOCs.
"We strongly encourage Congress not to reward anti-competitive behavior with a rewrite of the ground rules under which the incumbent LECs must operate," the Washington, D.C.-based trade association said in a statement.
The bill will have to work its way through various congressional committees and win approval from both the House and the US Senate before being passed along to the president, who can sign it into law or reject it.
--Nancy Weil, IDG News Service
"We have every interest in making it known that we are concerned about the abuse of its dominant position in the award of domain names," the official, who asked not to be identified, told the IDG News Service today. The official confirmed that letters had been sent out to a series of companies asking for information about how their licensing agreements with NSI operate.
The Commission in April also informed J. Beckwith Burr, Associate Administrator at the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Department of Commerce of its concerns in a seven-page letter, obtained by IDG. The letter, and various annexes appended to it, details the EU's concerns.
The letter, signed by John Temple Lang, head of a Commission division focused on competition in new technologies, explains that the Commission has received informal complaints about alleged abuses by the NSI and that the investigation is taking place "in full cooperation and in parallel with the US Department of Justice (DOJ)," according to the text of the letter.
The DOJ has been conducting an investigation of NSI to, among other things, determine whether NSI is violating antitrust law by monopolizing a master list of names and Web addresses that it compiled during the time it had sole rights to register domain names. Currently there are five domain-name registrars involved in a trial of the new, competitive domain name registration system.
As far as the Commission's investigation is concerned, it has no time limits on inquiries of this type. The investigation focuses on determining whether provisions in the so-called Standard Registrar Licensing Agreements between NSI and companies wanting to enter the lucrative market for the registration of domain names are overly restrictive, preventing companies from entering the business.
Last year the global Internet community, involving both private and public sector representatives, agreed to a new Internet governance regime with the objective of promoting competition in the domain-name registration market. This involved the creation of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit agency to take over the governance of the Internet -- including issues related to the organization and management of the Internet numbering system (IP addresses), the Domain Name System (DNS) and the Internet protocols (technical standards).
The EC investigation apparently began as soon as the creation of the new Internet governance regime was announced last year. In a letter to US Secretary of Commerce William Daley welcoming the new regime last November, former EU Telecommunications Commissioner Martin Bangemann pointed out that the Commission's antitrust division was reviewing the US government's agreement with Network Solutions Inc. to ensure that it was consistent with EU competition rules.
The text annex to the Temple Lang letter lists the Commission's concerns relating to the implementation of the new, competitive registry system. These include, according to the EC, lack of safeguards to prevent NSI from discriminating against competing registrars. The EC also want to investigate the allegedly uncooperative attitude on the part of the NSI, in its relationship to the Department of Commerce, test-bed registrars and ICANN.
The EU also questions the financial requirements imposed by NSI on new entrants to the lucrative market for registering domain names. These requirements, according to EU documents, involve the posting of a performance bond of $100,000, which is allegedly difficult to get for non-US companies, a license fee of $10,000 together with a fee of $9 per second-level domain name (SLD) registered per year.
The Commission views these fees as barriers for new entrants because they "have not been justified on the basis of costs entailed by NSI as far as we are aware," according to the Commission text.
--Elizabeth de Bony, IDG News Service
Called the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), the technology provides a common platform for developing Web content for access by devices with smaller screens, lower connection speeds, and less memory than traditional computers like PCs.
The market for WAP-enabled devices is expected to mushroom after the first products become commercially available later this year, according to market research firm Strategy Analytics of Luton, England. The firm predicts that as many as 525 million [M] WAP-enabled devices will ship in the US and Western Europe by 2003.
Members of an industry association called the WAP Forum announced this week an updated version of the protocol, called WAP version 1.1. The new protocol provides better support for international markets, a memory caching feature that will help compensate for lower connection speeds, and a feature that will allow products and services to be tested for interoperability.
The first mobile phones supporting the new protocol are expected to ship in Europe before the end of this year and in the US by early next year, officials from Nokia Corp. and Ericsson Inc. said today.
"Having a handset that's WAP-enabled is going to get you information while you're on the move," said Alina Sargiss, a market research analyst with Dataquest Inc. "It's not designed for Web surfing, but for pulling information off the Internet."
WAP-enabled devices won't just be aimed at consumers. The technology is suitable for use in an intranet environment, allowing mobile workers to access information from corporate Web sites when they are on the road.
"You will see commercial deployment of WAP-enabled products coming out in rapid succession in the third and fourth quarters," predicted Chuck Parrish, vice chairman of the WAP Forum.
Ericsson today showed a handheld computer that it claims will be the first commercially available product to support the new protocol. Called the MC218, the device has a small keyboard set in a clamshell design, and allows users to send and receive e-mail and view content on the Web.
The device will launch in the U.K., Sweden, and possibly other European countries in about two weeks, said Daniel Coole, a senior technical director with Ericsson. The device will be released in the US hopefully by the first quarter of next year, priced at less than US$700, Coole said.
Eventually, handset vendors expect to offer WAP-enabled telephones at the same price as regular mobile telephones, said Lauri Hirvonen, senior manager of customer services with Nokia's Wireless Data group.
Nokia announced a new WAP browser today aimed at wireless product manufacturers. The company said it will license its browser to other companies in a bid to help the technology spread more quickly. Nokia also announced a new toolkit for developers that allows them to build WAP-compliant content.
The announcements were timed to coincide with the WAP Forum members' meeting, which is being held here all this week. The Forum's membership jumped from about 40 companies this time last year to about 120 today, Parrish said.
For WAP to really take off, content providers will first have to be persuaded to rewrite their Web sites in a format called Wireless Markup Language (WML), a programming language related to XML (Extensible Markup Language). Officials here said the momentum behind WAP is sufficient to drive the transition.
The idea is that companies will still offer standard HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) Web pages for PC users, and offer a subset of that content in WML for mobile access, Ericsson's Coole said.
The growth of WAP also depends on manufacturers, content providers and telecommunications providers working together to ensure interoperability between their products. The need for a cross-industry effort was part of the motivation behind forming the WAP Forum.
--James Niccolai, IDG News Service
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