Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 13, 2001

This is the online version of UNU-MERIT’s I&T Weekly which is sent out by email every Friday. If you wish to subscribe to this free service, please submit your email address in the box to the right.

Issue 13, 2001

This week's headlines:

Yahoo can ignore French website ruling, says US judge
November 09, 2001

A US federal judge has thrown into sharp relief the problem of governing cyberspace, ruling that Yahoo can ignore a French court order restricting content on its website.

The case, which involved auctions of Nazi memorabilia, was the first big case to test whether the laws of the country where an internet company is based apply, or the laws of every country where a website is visible?

A French court issued an order insisting that Yahoo block the access of French citizens to auctions in Nazi memorabilia even on its English- language site. Auctioning such items is illegal in France. But now judge Jeremy Fogel has ruled that the orders cannot be enforced because they violate Americans' constitutionally protected right to free speech.

The decision could have broad implications for the debate over jurisdiction on the internet: not only whose laws apply, but how can they be enforced, in cross border disputes?

Full story: Financial Times Back to top

New figures indicate European slowdown in internet progress
November 07, 2001

Progress on the 'unbundling of the local loop', the process whereby greater choice and more competitive pricing of telecommunications services such as internet connection is made available, is slow in the European Union according to the latest figures.

Just one per cent of the EU is using DSL according to the European competitive telecommunications association (ECTA). Most countries have only unbundled between zero and four per cent of their lines, except Denmark and Finland, who have unbundled more than a quarter.

Unbundling the local loop is seen as a key element of the European Commission's eEurope plan, as it is a means of making internet access more widely available to the general public.

The news came as figures from the UK revealed that the country has experienced its first drop in the number of homes connected to the Internet, from 40 per cent in May this year to 39 per cent.

Full story: EUbusiness / Cordis Back to top

Microsoft warns of browser cookie-eating attack
November 08, 2001

Users of Microsoft's browser and e-mail programs could be vulnerable to having their browser cookies stolen or modified due to a new security bug in Internet Explorer (IE), the company warned on Thursday.

A flaw in the latest versions of IE could enable a malicious website or e-mail message to read or alter the contents of a user's cookies, the small data files used to store information on a visitor's system.

Because cookies are sometimes used for storing sensitive information such as usernames and passwords or other user authentication data, Microsoft has categorised the flaw as a high risk.

Microsoft is advising users to disable IE's active scripting feature until it can complete development of a patch. The software firm's bulletin provides instructions on how users of IE, Outlook and Outlook Express, can protect against the bug until the patch is available. See:

Full story: Newsbytes Back to top

Brazil plans to install internet booths in post offices
November 07, 2001

Brazil is pledging to install internet booths in 4,000 post offices next year, giving free web access to about 150 million people in a massive effort to bridge the country's gaping digital divide, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso announced.

The kiosks will be placed in cities with 10,000 residents or more, and then put in areas with smaller populations. The first phase is expected to be done by the first quarter of 2002.

Although Brazil is home to some of the world's most sophisticated websites and internet designers, only a tiny portion of the country's 170 million citizens have full access to the internet.

The country counts about 12 million residential users, the highest number of internet users in Latin America.

Full story: Nando Times / AP Back to top

Bluetooth ready for mass market
November 07, 2001

Three-and-a-half years after the radio-based, short-range networking technology was unveiled, Bluetooth at last is ready to enter the mainstream, according to a new report.

The Forrester Research study says that Bluetooth – first announced in May 1998 by a consortium comprising Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Nokia and Toshiba – is reaching commercial reality.

Falling development costs, the arrival of consumer devices and the introduction of single-chip systems have driven the Bluetooth marketplace so far, but hardware interoperability would be the key to success, the report says.

In the US, after some early faltering starts, Motorola, 3Com and other vendors are now supporting the Bluetooth standard. This means that Bluetooth's survival in the marketplace looks to be assured.

Full story: Newsbytes Back to top

IBM software to be put in public domain
November 05, 2001

IBM announced that it is placing $40m of its software tools in the public domain as the first step toward founding an open-source organisation for developers. The move is the latest step in IBM's embrace of the open-source software model, in which programmers around the world share software code for joint development and debugging.

The new open-source organisation, called Eclipse, will focus on the programming tools used to build applications and other software. More than 150 software companies, from Linux distributors like Red Hat and SuSE to applications developers like Rational and Bow Street, are lined up to join the Eclipse community.

The group plans to establish a governing board later this month, to guide the technical standards and work of the open-source software tools community. IBM will be one of several board members of the Eclipse organisation.

Full story: New York Times Back to top

Mobile gaming: saviour of Europe's wireless nets?
November 06, 2001

Europe's mobile operators face a bleak future due to an increasingly saturated market and the failure of the mobile internet to generate extra revenues for carriers, a new report by Forrester Research says.

Coupled with large debts caused by heavy expenditure on 3G licenses, the wireless networks' only remaining hope of generating much-needed extra income is from mobile gaming, the study concludes.

Technologies such as GPRS for high-speed mobile data sessions and colour screens will change the way in which consumers look at mobile phones, says the report's author, David E. Bederida. By adding colour and high-speed interactivity to mobile phones, Mr Bederida argues that the carriers stand a chance of beating their debt problem.

Mr Bederida added that NTT DoCoMo In Japan has made its mobile gaming services viable because it controls both the network and the handsets it supplies to users. ''In Europe, the handset vendors control the handsets, while the carriers only control their networks,'' he said.

Full story: Newsbytes Back to top

Sony barks over freeware aimed at robot pets
November 07, 2001

Many owners of the world's most sophisticated robot pet, the Aibo, are upset at Sony over its demand that a website stop distributing free software that teaches the cuddly machine new tricks.

In a letter, Sony told the owner of the AiboHack site that he was violating its copyright and altering its product without a license. It demanded a long list of Aibo software - including code that taught the machine disco steps and new words - be pulled off the site.

The owner, who goes only by the name AiboPet, posted the text of the letter on his site. He said he complied with Sony's demand even though he believes that people who buy copyrighted software should be allowed to let third parties add modifications.

Sony has sold more than 100,000 Aibos worldwide, and has not been persuaded by the argument that the AiboHack software helps sales.

Full story: Nando Times / AP Back to top

3D sound goes beyond stereo
November 05, 2001

Advanced 3D audio technology has won UK's prestigious MacRobert Award for innovation in engineering. The technology, developed by British company Sensaura, creates an illusion of 360 degree sound from just two conventional speakers.

The company's technology is already used on more than 55 million computers across the world. It has been built into Microsoft's forthcoming games console, the Xbox, and is also available as a software package for the Playstation 2. The company is now looking to develop it for use on mobile phones and handheld computers.

A set of algorithms based on the physics of spatial hearing is used to mimic the acoustic processes that are involved and simulate the effect of hearing any particular sound at a chosen position in three- dimensional space around the listener.

Full story: BBC News Back to top

Bugging your keyboard
November 05, 2001

You don't need to be a brilliant spy to access the secret information people type into their computers. The ability to be a hacker is now being mass-marketed in a product called Keykatcher.

Keykatcher is a small tubular device that tracks and stores all the keystrokes a person enters into KeyKatcher's memory chip. It can be used to find out everything a person types into their computer, including personal letters, passwords and credit card numbers.

It is relatively cheap, costing between US $50 and $150, and can be purchased throughout Europe and the US, as well as online. The device is plugged in between the keyboard cable and the computer. Depending on the model the device can display between four and 16 pages of text.

Keykatcher's makers suggest companies use its product to track everything their employees do with their computers, and that parents use it to monitor their children's internet usage.

Full story: BBC News Back to top

IBM new supercomputer to set the pace
November 08, 2001

IBM is to develop a new generation of commercial supercomputers which it says will run 15 times faster than today's most powerful machines - while consuming only one-fiftieth the energy. The programme is based on Blue Gene, the experimental supercomputer that IBM is building to tackle large-scale biomolecular calculations.

Although slightly slower than the original Blue Gene design, Blue Gene/L will have more computing power than the 500 top supercomputers in the world combined, IBM says. The company sees it as the prototype of a new generation of supercomputers that is more adaptable to commercial applications than current scientific supercomputers.

While today's supercomputers are amazingly fast number-crunchers, many data-intensive applications are slowed down by the time taken to obtain information from the memory chips. The Blue Gene/L design will run such jobs much faster because the machine will be populated with data-chip cells optimised for data access. Each chip includes two processors, one for computing and one for communicating, and its own on-board memory.

Full story: Financial Times Back to top

Who buys, and when at
November 07, 2001 released a rare and revealing peak at its customers' shopping habits, taken from a September e-mail poll of 2,072 customers of its French, German and British sites.

Irish internet users shop most on company time, the Swedes are the most likely to make an impulse buy, and the French prefer scouring for deals at breakfast and in the middle of the night, according to research by

''We have to learn from the nuances and idiosyncrasies of each nation's shopping habits to see how we can serve our customers better this Christmas,'' said Robin Terrell, managing director of

Full story: Wired News Back to top

The Gospel, the Pope and the Internet
November 08, 2001

Pope John Paul may well be a technological luddite, but on Tuesday the Vatican said that he would be dedicating his message for World Communications Day to the internet.

The pontiff's aides make no secret of the fact that he does not own a computer and still insists on writing all his speeches by hand, but the Vatican has revealed that his chosen theme for the yearly message will be ''The Internet: A New Forum for Proclaiming the Gospel.''

Although World Communications Day does not come round until 12 May, the Pope's message will actually be published in January to allow churches around the world to prepare.

Earlier this year, two patron saints were chosen to help the misguided technology industry. Saint Titus Brandsma, a campaigner for freedom of the press in Nazi Germany, and Saint Isidore of Seville, creator of the first encyclopaedia, were selected as the guardian angels of the web.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top