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-- Dennis McCarthy, Director of Time, US Naval Observatory
eToys stock has been cratering since December 1. Why?
By now you know that online toy retailer eToys, an Idealab company, has taken a group of European artists to court and stripped them of the domain name etoy.com, which the artists' collective owned years before eToys even existed. Here's the first press account  of the fiasco. This in-depth report by "Claire Barliant" was published in the Village Voice on 1 December. (A nearly identical story  by "Claire Adamsick" appeared the same day in the TwinCities City Pages.) See  for a seemingly complete and up-to-date list of media coverage on eToys/etoy. (Thanks to TBTF Irregular Ted Byfield, whose research provided these links.)
This David-and-Goliath story may have found a resonance among that part of the public that invests in Internet stocks. Here is a comparison over the last three months  of eToys' (NASD: ETYS) stock performance compared to an index of Internet stocks. Until very recent days the price behavior of eToys visibly followed the same trends as the rest of the Net stocks. Until 1 December. See this close-up  of the 10 business days ending 10 December.
The conjecture that eToys' impolitesse may have impacted their stock price started a lively debate on the TBTF Irregulars private mailing list and drew concentrated scorn from Declan McCullagh on his politech list. I've archived some of these comments (including McCullagh's) on this Take It Offline forum  and invite your thoughts on the matter. Simply visit the link and weigh in.
Two privacy clauses we need to start seeing more of
A reader pointed me to a new Web service offered by the newly launched Backflip , which had been operating in stealth mode as The iTixs Project. Backflip's founders were early employees at Netscape. They offer a free service that personalizes Web searches. For them to do this you need to entrust Backflip with your entire browsing history and ongoing clickstream.
It'll probably be popular. Not for me though. In my view a site that offers services whose price is extremely sensitive and personal data ought to offer the strongest possible guarantees of user privacy. (On Thanksgiving day the New York Times ran an article titled "Storing your life in a Virtual Desktop"  at the top of their "Circuits" section. I was interviewed for this piece and the reporter quoted my extreme skepticism about the whole idea, on grounds of privacy and security.)
If a database ever exists that catalogs every page I've visited, it will be on my own hard disk, and nowhere else.
I was debating whether or not to give them (a) my info and (b) my whole contact list, such as it is. Now sales contact lists, a.k.a. customer lists, are something I wouldn't necesarily want in someone else's database, and I know while I don't have much of that, other people at my current firm do.
Which is good enough, and I was delighted to see it. So I thought I'd highlight this worthiness to you and thank you for passing on the meme of "poison pill" privacy policies in the first place.
And Australia cheers
TBTF Irregular Eric Scheid writes from Down Under to mark the overturning on appeal  of the pornography conviction of the former head of Compuserve Germany. Felix Somm was convicted  in May 1998 by a Bavarian court for aiding in the distribution of pornography -- by failing to prevent such material from being distributed over the Internet through his ISP. The charge was so ludicrously ignorant of the actual workings of the Internet that the prosecutors, having been convinced by the defense arguments, actually filed the appeal as soon as the verdict had been read.
The case has been watched with great interest in Australia because of the imminent implementation of a harsh Net censorship regime in that country (see TBTF for 1999-05-08 ). This article  lays out details of how the Australian Broadcasting Authority plans to carry out the broad censorship of Net content. An excerpt:
TBTF has followed Germany's blundering attempts to censor the Net since 1995 .
Now any ISP can offer domain-naming services thanks to rock-bottom wholesale pricing
TUCOWS, which started out life as a Winsock shareware site, has announced the OpenSRS project . OpenSRS wholesales domain names at $13 per name per year: it will allow any reseller -- ISP, Web site operator, VAR, or Web hosting company -- to offer low-cost domain-name registration services to customers. The resellers download and customize (open-source) client software that talks to the (proprietary) OpenSRS server. Resellers can register names for their customers in real time.
While OpenSRS claims to "leverage Open Source principles," it's not a true open-source project. Only the client software is available in source form (under the GNU General Public License). All development is done at TUCOWS. The server code is not released.
I spoke with Ross Wm. Rader <ross at tucows dot com>, architect and prime mover on the OpenSRS project. He said the rollout had been delayed by demand far in excess of what had been expected. Rader said that signed-up OpenSRS resellers number in the "high 3 digits." None is yet operational. I expect OpenSRS to make lots of waves when their resellers go online early next year.
Old cases and suspended names to be revisited
Network Solutions has sent a letter to all parties who have requested invocation of NSI's Domain Name Dispute Policy, informing them that the policy will be superseded on 1 January 2000 by ICANN's new Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy . NSI will not begin any new proceedings under the old DNDP.
Furthermore, according to the Fross Zelnick E-LEGAL Letter (not archived on the Web), on 1 January NSI will reopen all previous disputes that resulted in the suspension of a domain name under the old policy. If by 1 April 2000 the parties to each of these disputes have not informed NSI that the dispute has been resolved, the domain names in question will be reactivated. NSI has not made clear whether the names will be reactivated if within 90 days the parties involved begin dispute resolution under the new UDRP.
Meanwhile, the first UDRP dispute has been filed at the World Intellectual Property Organization .
Seeking the high and low points of 1999's Net news coverage
Internet Freedom, a cyber-liberties campaign in the UK, has just announced  an awards competition that intends to point an accusing finger at examples of bad journalism on the subject of the Internet, as well as to issue awards for good journalism. Capsule description:
The deadline for nominations  is December 31; awards will be announced on January 8, 2000. The award categories:
How long a key will you need?Bruce Schneier's excellent newsletter CRYPTO-GRAM (see TBTF Sources ) alerted me to the work of Arjen Lenstra and Eric Verheul, who have produced a model  by which you can calculate how strong your cryptographic keys need to be. The authors claim that this is the first uniform, properly documented treatment of the subject.
The bulk of Lenstra and Verheul's conclusions are contained in a single table . I've excerpted the most salient data into a graph  -- use it to read off the key length you'll need in 2015 to fend off an adversary who will devote $40M over a year's time to the task of breaking your key.
Colorful, noisy, fast, and fun
During a California trip several weeks ago I had occasion to visit Gray Cell, the first Indian software company to win Silicon Valley venture capital. The company has been working quietly for three years in Bangalore and has now opened up an office in Campbell, CA in preparation for launching Unimobile . This is a free software "device" that can talk to nearly any mobile gadget anywhere in the world -- text-enabled cell phone, pager, PDA, email, and (of course) another Unimobile. I was impressed by the product focus Gray Cell has maintained in realizing the Unimobile device in "bits, not atoms."
Gray Cell claims its database of worldwide phone services is the most comprehensive in existence, and I have no reason to doubt it. Do you know another service that can instantly tell you what telephone company issued the cell phone attached of any random phone number you choose to throw at it? If so I'd like to hear of it (and so undoubtedly would Gray Cell).
The Unimobile isn't quite like anything that has come before -- Gray Cell is opening up a new market. The device may not initially have much application in the world of business. It's colorful, noisy, fast, and fun. The product is targeted at young, technologically savvy, and above all mobile consumers worldwide. The US lags much of the rest of the world in its uptake of mobile and wireless technology, so the Unimobile will at first find a larger audience elsewhere than it does on these shores. (Gray Cell tells me they have two entirely separate marketing plans, one for the US and one for everywhere else.) An American may need a little time at first to appreciate what the Unimobile can do, though I expect that a 15-year-old Finn who lives on her cell phone would get it right away, so the product and its Web site come with extensive tours, tutorials, and help getting started. (The TBTF Irregulars  were privileged to test an early version of the Unimobile, and since many of us are Americans we may have influenced the amount and quality of handholding available in the product.)
Gray Cell wants to build a worldwide community of connected users who chat constantly with people on their buddy lists, and don't want to give up chatting when they leave their desks and go out into the world. The company will offer a growing roster of services to this mobile community and draw revenue from sponsorships and other non-intrusive forms of partnership. The Gray Cell executives I spoke to were adamant that they will never beam advertising to Unimobile users -- they truly "get it" that a mobile device is even more personal than a personal computer. Blasting advertising to a user's Unimobile would be an act akin to marching a brass band into a Quaker meeting.
When you download  and register a Unimobile, you get a free email address -- mine is firstname.lastname@example.org -- which you can point to your normal email POP box, or to any text-capable device you travel with. Any Unimobile user, or indeed anyone at all with Internet access, can message you at your Unimobile address and you will receive the message in seconds on whatever device you have configured at the moment.
You can change the device's "skin" -- on-screen appearance and behavior -- to resemble your PDA, or your pager, or your cell phone -- complete with the look & feel of whichever brand and model you're most accustomed to. A number of skins will be included when the product launches and more will come from mobile device companies, hobbyists, etc. I expect Unimobile skins to be traded freely on Web sites the way Nokia ring tones  are today. See what I mean about the product not being targeted to business users? This soft device is all about lifestyle.
Unimobile is a 3-MB download . It runs only on Windows. Give it a try.
Disclosure: I don't have any business relationship with Gray Cell, nor any financial interest in the company. One of their employees, Udhay Shankar, is a TBTF Irregular.
Government services and foreign trade look problematical everywhere
This BBC site  excerpts data from a Gartner Group assessment
of the worldwide effect of the Y2K bug. (I have not seen this
assessment. It appears the BBC began with an August 1999 Gartner
report and added more recent data.) The BBC shows estimates for 11
countries (I assume Gartner covered more), in 11 categories of
concern. For each country and category, Gartner estimates the
bug's distribution and impact. I've taken the liberty of assigning
numbers to these estimates:
distribution impact 1 = isolated 1 = minor 2 = moderate 2 = moderate 3 = widespread 3 = severeand consolidating these data into a single table (below) and a 3D chart  whose vertical axis is an estimate of the Y2K bug's bite: the product of distribution and impact.
An enchanted spyglass on the Web
Go visit NASA's magical telescope on the cosmos , a Web-based simulator that lets you construct a custom view of many solar-system objects from nearly any vantage point. The simulator grew out of early work at Cal Tech by graphics.god Jim Blinn, who has since moved on to Microsoft Research. (I recently heard this outfit referred to as the twentieth century's intellectual roach motel: the great minds check in but nothing ever comes out.)
Here's what Mars looked like from the NASA craft Mars98 about 7 hours before its too-final impact, from a distance of 50,177 km .
Thanks to TBTF Irregular Gary Stock for pointing out this marvel of the Web.
You've no doubt read about the steganographic identification data printed, as an anti-counterfeiting measure, on every color copy produced by (apparently) every color copier sold in the US. Lauren Weinstein gave the issue wide exposure in the Privacy Forum . He investigated because I sent him a query and a couple of URLs. I completely missed out on the scoop, though. It's the sort of thing that keeps me humble.
TBTF home and archive at http://tbtf.com/ . To (un)subscribe send the message "(un)subscribe" to email@example.com. TBTF is Copy- right 1994-1999 by Keith Dawson, <dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com>. Commercial use prohibited. For non-commercial purposes please forward, post, and link as you see fit. _______________________________________________ Keith Dawson dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.
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Most recently updated 2003-08-31