Cyber Ramblings - Aug 14, 2001

14 August 2001
Reports Have AOL Laying Off Up to 1,000

AOL Time Warner is preparing to lay off as many as 1,000 employees--mostly from the AOL Online division in Dulles, Va.--people familiar with the situation said Monday.

According to the Associated Press, the layoffs are an effort to make up a revenue shortfall from the ongoing advertising recession and are expected to come either at the end of this week or the beginning of next, the sources said.

The job cuts would come about seven months after the company cut 2,400 jobs in January almost immediately after America Online and Time Warner completed its $106.2 billion merger.

About 725 people of the 16,000-person online division lost their jobs in that round. The upcoming layoffs would cut as much as another 6 percent of the workforce in the Dulles, Va.-based division. AOL Time Warner employees about 90,000 people in all its units. An AOL spokesperson declined to comment on the layoffs. But in the quarterly earnings announcement last month, AOL Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin promised to meet financial targets for 2001, and said that cost-cutting was a "permanent way of life."

DSL Market Takes Another Hit

The United States' struggling DSL delivery system has suffered another blow with the announcement by Rhythms NetConnections Inc. that it will be shutting down its line services to broadband providers within a month. Rhythms filed for bankruptcy protection last week.

Its 83,000 customers were advised Thursday night that Rhythms, which also said that it's laying off 700 workers, will be ending its services in 31 days.

Rhythms said it will work with clients to try to help them shift to other line service providers. Rhythms typically offered lines to DSL providers over wires provided by local telephone companies. The layoffs consist of 75 percent of the company's remaining work force, and most are in Colorado.

It's the second major line service company to shut down service. Northpoint Communications ended service after being taken over by AT&T. Earlier this week Covad Communications Group Inc. said that it planned a bankruptcy filing that will wipe out $1.4 billion in debt.

Flooz.com Seeking Merger Partner as Operations Are Put on Hold

An online currency promoted as the perfect Internet gift certificate is apparently no longer redeemable. The New York-based Flooz.com Inc. said Friday it had suspended operations and is seeking a merger partner.

The company sold a "currency" called Flooz, which users bought with hard currency and then were able to spend online by visiting several dozen sites that accepted it, including Barnes&Noble.com and TowerRecords.com.

Those sites and others have removed Flooz payment options, but other sites around the Web still tout Flooz, many displaying banner ads with the smiling face of Whoopi Goldberg, the company spokeswoman hired in an $8 million ad campaign.

The company's website, which made a splash with its $35 million in initial investments, has been shut since Wednesday and displays a message that declares the company can no longer process transactions.

Crawford Coffee Shop Turning Into Cyber Cafe

Starting this week the one greasy spoon located in Crawford, Texas, the ranch home for the U.S. President, will be transformed into a cyber café. LivePerson Inc., a New York company that handles live online chats, is providing a laptop computer and setting up the three-week project, which will turn the coffee station into an international institution.

For several hours each afternoon, Internet users will be able to chat with Crawford residents and see real-time pictures, updated every 15 to 20 minutes. The project may later include a live video feed.

Company officials dreamed up the idea after hearing that Bush would spend a month at his ranch in rural Crawford, 20 miles west of Waco.

Afilias Investigating Fraudulent .info Claims

According to media reports, the ".info" domain name registry, Afilias, is investigating allegations of fraudulent claims for ".info" names.

Domain names with the ".info" extension are not yet publicly available, but the registry is currently operating a "sunrise period," intended for trademark owners to claim rights to the domain names reflecting their marks.

Earlier this week, Afilias published a list of claims that had already been made to the registry. However, several of the claims appear to be based on trademark rights that do not exist. The claim procedure requires trademark owners to provide a date the mark registration was issued, the country where the mark was issued and the registration number.

However, it appears that nobody checks the legitimacy of trademark claims at this stage. Instead, after the sunrise period expires later this month, there is a period during which applications for names can be challenged under rules very similar to those used for cybersquatting arbitration. Some people seem to be submitting applications for names based on generic words, such as business.info or sex.info, where there is unlikely to be a trademark.

Judge Blocks Former Owner from Logging onto Site

A New York judge has ordered the former owner of a website to keep out of the site pending a full hearing by the court on allegations by the site's new owner that it was deceived when acquiring the site as part of a company takeover.

The site was originally set up by John Morel's company, Popsmear, to advertise postcards. In June 2000, Popsmear sold its assets to 1800Postcards. 1800Postcards claims that Morel then accessed the site and changed the password so that 1800Postcards could no longer access the site. It alleges that Morel was able to do this because he had retained personal ownership of the domain name when the website was sold.

The judge was satisfied that these arguments were sufficiently well-grounded to justify preventing Morel from accessing the site until the case is fully decided.

Individuals Filing Tribunal Complaints Will Remain Anonymous on Web

According to The Guardian, a controversial proposal to publish on the Internet the names of individuals who make complaints at employment tribunals has been abandoned. The plans may have posed a threat to the privacy of individuals and industry representatives feared it would encourage blacklisting.

At present it's relatively difficult to obtain details of individual complainants, although they are publicly available on request. A person wanting to know the identity of a claimant would have to approach a government office in Bury St. Edmund’s where the files are kept manually. The industry minister responsible for dropping the plans, Alan Johnson, said that the idea had not been fully discussed with ministers.

German Furniture Maker Criticized in Domain Name Dispute

German furniture and tile maker Villeroy & Boch has been criticized by the panelist in a domain name arbitration for wasting its money in bringing legal action for $1,500 when it could have obtained the disputed names by paying the owner around £390.

The domain names "villeroyandboch.com," "villeroyandboch.net" and "villeroyandboch.org" had been registered by web solution provider David Gordon who lives in Dublin. He had been instructed to register domain names on behalf of his client, a licensed seller of Villeroy & Boch’s furniture in Ireland.

The German company approached Gordon, demanding he transfer the names or face legal action. Gordon explained that he had only registered the names on the instructions of his client, but that he would willingly transfer the names to Villeroy & Boch for payment of his expenses, which he calculated at €628 (around £390). The German company refused and instead raised an action before the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)--which costs US$1,500.

Friendly E-commerce Laws in Europe a Step Closer

The UK Government has released a formal paper that could shape the way e-commerce is conducted across Europe. The government has launched an official consultation on the implementation of the e-commerce directive that is required to take effect in the European Union in January 2002.

The directive is designed to lift barriers in cross-border e-commerce throughout Europe. The directive includes requirements on:

    a. The information an on-line service provider must give a consumer;

    b. The information a consumer must have about the steps to take to conclude a contract online;

    c. The information that must be given about the sender, discounts, offers etc. in online advertising;

    d. Ways to make it easier for Internet users to protect themselves from unsolicited e-mails;

    e. The limitation of intermediate service providers' liability for unlawful information or activities they carry or store; and

    f. The national law that will apply to a cross-border transaction.

The consultation document gives background on these issues and discusses how to introduce these requirements effectively in the United Kingdom. It identifies options and invites contributions. Where changes in legislation are required, these will be met by regulations taking account of responses to the consultation, which closes Nov. 2.

The Department of Trade and Industry says that these new regulations will be complemented by additional initiatives by industry, in consultation with consumers and others, to make e-commerce work better by developing codes of practice and routines for alternative dispute settlement without recourse to the courts.

The consultation document and further information can be obtained from DTI's website: www.dti.gov.uk/cii/ecommerce/europeanpolicy/ecommerce_directive/shtml.