Cyber Ramblings - Feb 20, 2001

20 February 2001
Internet Sales Rose at end of 2000
Layoffs and cuts in the dot com sector of the American economy recently have cast a dark shadow over the industry, but recent figures show consumers still have faith in e-commerce. Internet sales boomed during the final three months of 2000 according to a report filed by the Commerce Department. Online purchases rose by 35.9 percent to $8.69 billion in the fourth quarter from the third-quarter.

Those sales accounted for 1 percent of the $856.2 billion in total retail sales rung up during the fourth quarter. In the third quarter, online sales represented 0.8 percent of all retail sales. The nation's economy slowed to an annual rate of growth of just 1.4 percent in the fourth quarter, its weakest performance in more than five years. The nation's retailers reported lackluster sales at the end of last year because of a number of factors including harsh winter weather, lower consumer confidence, stock market volatility and higher energy prices. The online sales figures are based on a wide range of businesses — from traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers to Internet-only merchants.

Kournikova Hacker Offered Job Interview
The mayor of Sneek, Netherlands has extended a friendly gesture to a young man who has very few friends in the computer world.

The 20-year-old hacker who confessed to spreading a computer virus purporting to offer a photo of tennis star Anna Kournikova that backed up e-mail systems worldwide has been offered a job interview by the mayor.

Siebold Hartkamp didn't specify what sort of post he might offer the man, who was arrested by police on Wednesday. But he suggested the hacker — known as "OnTheFly" — would be a good expert on computer security.

The mayor said the virus maker was a "modest, well-meaning and unassuming kid" who didn’t intend to cause major disruptions, but rather wanted to warn Internet users to tighten security.

Microsoft to Test Smart Phone This Summer
Microsoft will begin consumer tests of a "smart phone" this summer, extending a late, but determined thrust into mobile devices that started with the PocketPC handheld computer. The software maker planned to show off the latest prototypes of a cellphone powered by its "Stinger" operating system on Monday at the 3GSM World Congress, a wireless industry conference in Cannes, France.

The Stinger is Microsoft's attempt at squeezing the most popular features of a handheld organizer — especially a bigger screen for e-mail and datebook functions — into a cellphone-sized package.

In addition to announcing market trials with wireless carriers such as Vodafone, Microsoft also planned to announce that two new partners, Mitsubishi and Sendo Ltd., will be making phones based on Stinger. Samsung Electronics was the first to sign on.

It is the Sendo model, which Microsoft worked most closely in developing along with chipmaker Texas Instruments, that will be tested in Europe and Asia. Microsoft is still working to arrange trials with a U.S. carrier.

European Parliament Votes to Pass 9 Out of 46 Amendments
The European Parliament voted to pass 9 out of 46 proposed amendments to a new copyright Directive that will close a loophole in European law through which Napster-type services could fall.

The amendments stopped short of some of the demands made by numerous lobbyists. Commissioner Frits Bolkestein said: "The Parliament has been subjected to unprecedented lobbying onslaught on this Directive, and I regret that some of the parties concerned strived to obtain nothing less than total victory, using sometimes highly emotive arguments, rather than seeking a balanced compromise between the various legitimate interests involved. That is not the European way to move forward."

He added that "the rapid implementation of this Directive will facilitate the development of electronic commerce and so increase the competitiveness of the European economy."

The new law covers the rights of reproduction, communication to the public, distribution, the legal protection of anti-copying devices and rights management systems.

Congress Looking to Extend Moratorium on Internet Taxes
Although a U.S. moratorium on new Internet taxes does not expire until October, lawmakers in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate are already eyeing an extension.

Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore. and Patrick Leahy, D-Ver. as well as U.S. Representative Christopher Cox, R-Cal., are expected to introduce legislation that would impose a five-year extension on an existing law that prevents new Internet taxes and access charges.

The news comes even as lawmakers begin examining ways to help states collect state sales tax on many Internet transactions.

The announcement also comes two days after Senator Bob Smith, R-New Hampshire, introduced legislation that would permanently ban taxes on Web transactions.

EC Hopes to Develop E-Commerce in Financial Services Sector
The European Commission (EC) published a plan aimed at developing e-commerce in the financial services sector.

The plan addresses the harmonization of national consumer and investor protection laws and the establishment of a system for alternative dispute resolution, as well as measures designed to build trust in Internet payments.

Another goal of the e-commerce initiative is to provide European businesses with an environment in which they can remain competitive in the global economy.

Small Businesses May Get Help Going Online
Soon small and mid-sized manufactures all over the U.S. may be getting help from the federal government in taking their product to the Internet.

Congress is considering the launch of a federally funded pilot program designed to help small companies go online.

The Electronic Commerce Enhancement Act, if passed, will require the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to establish an advisory panel to do an "immediate needs" assessment on the e-commerce challenges facing small and mid-sized manufacturers. Members of the advisory panel would include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Administration.

The new proposal would create a network of centers across the U.S. that offer technical expertise, training and guidance to small and mid-sized manufacturers.

Competitive grants would be awarded to those regional NIST centers that are best able to develop solutions that address the problems facing businesses in their specific region of the country.