May 2001

Real World
Web-wide World
Wired World
Wireless World
Hard World
Soft World

Real World

  • The case of The Times vs Loutchansky, which is now under appeal, endorsed some rather worrying principles for those who are based in the UK and publish material on the web.

    In the UK, a case of libel in regard to 'hard copy' material must be brought within a year of publication. There are also certain 'qualified privilege' defences, available to people like journalists, protecting them from prosecution in certain situations. The judge in the cited case, however, ruled that articles posted on the web are in essence being continually published. So libel cases can be brought at any time when the article is available. Furthermore, any qualified privilege defence applicable at the time the article was posted should not be relied upon to exist at later times.

    Now, posting libellous material is clearly a bad thing. But a consequence of this ruling is that there may have to be a continual review of all material posted on the web in the UK, just in case what seemed fair comment on the date of publishing becomes libellous in the light of changed circumstances.
  • The Government (as was) has introduced legislation to licence those working in the field of security. The bill's purpose is clearly to manage people like bouncers, wheel-clampers, etc., rather than network security types. But because the bill doesn't actually make this distinction, it is currently unclear as to whether systems administrators will have to be licenced or not.

Web-Wide World

  • There have been a number of stories recently about things getting out of hand with people posting to newsgroups in the role of different characters.

    For example, the members of the 'Anandtech' forum last year were delighted to witness the blossoming love of one member Dennilfloss for another, Nowheremom. Their joy turned to sorrow, however, when a tearful Dennilfloss reported that Nowheremom and her daughter had been killed in a car accident - apparently there were over two hundred messages of sympathy, and someone even set up a memorial site. Imagine their pique, then, when it was subsequently discovered that the postings of both Dennilfloss and Nowheremom - complete with idiosyncratic vocabulary and grammar - were the work of just one man.
  • With the general election now just days away, stories are appearing that the parties are disappointed with the tiny number of people viewing their websites. At the same time, however, the use of tactical voting sites, independent news sites and sites offering satirical election-related games has been quite high. We're entirely at a loss to explain this dichotomy.

Wired World

  • The Government's promise of fully integrated 'e-government' by the year 2005 is looking to be increasingly implausible. A study by the lobbying group 'Eurim' is shortly to report that there is no chance of this timetable being met. The reason that this should be taken seriously is that Eurim is a uniquely qualified body, made up of top politicians, civil servants and IT executives.

    (Of course, the Government has been taking some unusual steps to help it meet its targets, such as claiming that some departments count as 'online' because they are connected to the outside world by phone. But presumably credibility can only be stretched so far without breaking.)

    In any case, even if all the government services are implemented on time it's not clear that everyone will be able to use them. Microsoft, which is helping to build the gateway.gov.uk site, has implemented it so that the site's digital certificates (needed wherever the site needs to secure access to personal data) only work with Internet Explorer 5+ on Windows. Unsurprisingly, this has not been taken well by the users of non-Windows operating systems, fans of Netscape or Opera browsers, etc. We wait to see if this Microsoft lock-out will be addressed in the many years of development the project has left in it.

  • According to well-regarded Internet analysis firm Forrester Research, the World Wide Web's days are numbered. Rather than suggesting a luddite retreat from Internet technologies, however, the suggestion is that the movement from static to dynamic 'web pages' will continue until the Internet is made up primarily of executable applications. This change will be partly driven by the increase in the number of everyday devices which will be Internet-enabled, as such devices won't be able to host web browsers.
  • There is a self-spreading program (the attractively named 'Cheese Worm') which is currently going round Linux machines. It takes advantage of systems that have been compromised by a previous worm and, um, installs a patch to fix the hole. People aren't quite sure what to make of this altruistic exploit - it's rather like someone breaking into your house when you're away, putting in better locks and leaving you the keys. The end result is welcome, but the means are still rather disturbing.

Wireless World

  • The May 10th Guardian Online supplement gives a platform to the views of Japanese 'sociologist', Hisao Ishii. Apparently, the latest threat to teenage civilisation since the anarchistic power of Elvis' gyratory hips is this: talking on mobile phones. According to this sociological authority:

    "Genuine conversation will be driven out by superficial communication, in which the act of contacting one another is all that matters, leading to a deterioration in the quality of relationships. Indeed, the very fabric of civilisation may be threatened."
  • After running up debts of 28 billion pounds, and recording its first quarterly deficit since it was privatised, British Telecom this month decided that the time had come to split (in two). Its mobile arm is to become BT Wireless, with everything else becoming Future BT. Perhaps it is an indication of what is wrong with the company that it announced these names before checking or registering the appropriate domain names. Predictably enough, those of the appropriate domain names that hadn't already been take (eg futurebt.co.uk) were registered by private individuals just after BT's announcement.
  • Parents concerned about the vicinity of a mobile phone mast to a school in Stockport have succeeded in forcing Orange to relocate it. Orange backed down after Stockport County threatened it with court action, but another similar case in Stockport is heading for the courts. There is still no hard evidence that mobile phone radiation is harmful, but public concerns are growing.

Hard World

  • According to a ruling of the Advertising Standards Agency, all monitor sizes quoted in PC adverts after May 1st must specify the actual viewable area of a screen, not just its physical size. If you spot a non-compliant advert, feel free to complain.

Soft World

  • The cold war between Microsoft and advocates of 'open source' software has been running hot this month, with top Microsoft executives comparing open source software to a 'cancer'. The issue relates to the Gnu General Public Licence (GPL), which is set up so that if your program makes use of any code covered by GPL, then the whole program must be released as open source. Of course, since it is difficult to use code in your program by mistake, the analogy with cancer is a little difficult to maintain. The deeper truth behind the attack seems rather that Microsoft is beginning to worry a little more publicly about the open source movement.

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