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Week's Clue: Cyber-Libertarianism Hits The Wall
Well, we've lost half the battle. After three months of hints, Vice President Gore has turned decisively away from "self-policing" of privacy on the Internet. Instead he's proposing an "Electronic Bill of Rights" to be enforced by the Office of Management and Budget. Groups like the Center for Democracy and Technology and Electronic Freedom Foundation offered some praise, but criticized again Gore's opposition to exports of strong encryption (handing the market to Swedes and others). The new Online Privacy Alliance must fix things by year-end or it's the law's turn, Gore vows.
Here's a Clue, Al. (You said in 1992 I could call you Al, remember?) The OPA won't get the job done and, if Republicans keep control of Congress (a near certainty) the needed laws won't pass. The secret to this prediction lies in a basic political dynamic. The OPA is a "Business Roundtable" group, but it's the "National Federation of Independent Business" Republicans listen to. NFIB hates regulations, period, because they hurt small business. The fact some small businesspeople are crooks never occurs to them.
Competitiveness requires that all of us run on the ragged edge, or lose to the crooks, and so it will be on the Internet. If you think House Majority Leader Dick Armey is going to make Microsoft stop sending junk e-mail, or prevent NationsBank from using your account data to sell you stock brokerage services, you're dreaming. All this means that 1999 will feature lots of stories in which European regulators try to enforce their strict privacy laws against U.S. companies, and even big European outfits move their data warehouses west.
Here's another Clue. If you think that ends the matter and the Internet triumphs over law you're just wrong. Canada intends to pursue the neo-Nazi Zundelsite in U.S. courts . New Zealand vows new crackdowns on child pornography . Britain's Labor government still wants to enforce its Official Secrets Act, despite the protection such secrets win under our First Amendment. U.S. lawmakers relied-upon to stop privacy laws want to go after other sexual content , and they just finished banning online casinos licensed in Antigua, Australia and New Zealand , among other locales.
There are two nightmare scenarios that result from all this. There could be no effective law, followed by stricter controls on Internet access by everyone. There could be local control of content, leaving everyone less free than when the Web was spun. Your best Clue is to expect a little of both. There will be worldwide attempts to keep child pornographers from finding safe haven anywhere. Filters will be mandated for all public Internet access, subject to the political mores of local governments (or the fears of employers, school boards, librarians, you name it). Any effective international laws will leave us less well off (in terms of economic and political liberty) than we are under current U.S. law.
The result will be what I call the "underground Internet," a system now (ironically) being developed by spammers and child pornographers, but most similar to the "Committees of Correspondence" developed during the American Revolution over 200 years ago. The Web may become regulated, but controlling e-mail traffic is nearly impossible. Those who demand whatever will get it -- maybe at high prices, maybe in fits and starts - but they'll get it. Enforcement will be high profile and random (thus destructive to the consensus that makes effective enforcement impossible) because governments will seek to ban too many thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Your final Clue to this future lies in the marijuana market. Most analysis I've seen indicates pot is smoked by 10% of us. Efforts to enforce laws against cocaine and heroin, indulged in by less than 1%, are hampered because the jail's full of pot smokers. Regarding Internet content and privacy, we're all pot smokers of one sort or another - even good Christian sites are unwelcome in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. Which means all laws regarding the Internet are due for minimal enforcement, including any laws regarding privacy. This is not good news, but until we get a better consensus on basic questions of right and wrong it's the best deal we're going to get.
SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)
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And now back to our show...
OLAP (OnLine Analytical Processing) was a technology with limited application until after the Web was spun. But, as the folks at PC Week and Internet Week have written lately, once you've gotten past links and database boxes, you want the computer behind the Web site you're dealing with to do something even mo' real and mo' better, right? (You don't want to pay mo' money either.) And would you like some standards with that, so you don't lose your investment next week? OK, you need OLAP. It integrates programs that analyze what's in your data warehouse to the Web. You summarize it into views, on different dimensions, then drill-down or pivot around those views so you see the results of your query graphically.
Naturally, Microsoft has a place in this race, and a very important one. It's an OLAP server code-named Plato being bundled with SQL Server 7.0. More important, they're also pushing (what else) a standard, specifically an Application Program Interface (API) called OLE DB. Since this area is so complex, dozens of OLAP toolmakers are supporting OLE DB. Oracle (naturally) is an exception, with its Express OLAP server, which has applications for analyzing things like financial and sales data. (Will Microsoft take the "standard" chips? Ask IBM and Sun, and tell them they need to get back to you ASAP.)
Of course it takes major horsepower (and storage) to move OLAP to a Web site in Web-time, thus the separate server. Since each session is so resource-intensive, we're still talking mainly about Intranet applications, used by people in offices. The complexity of the process also means you need a front-end decision support tool along with your browser, like Business Objects' WebIntelligence 2.0, ComShare's DecisionWeb, or Cognos' Impromptu Web Query. The battle is to scale these solutions up so they're usable on the Internet, not just an Intranet, and put the "client" tool on the Web server, with the OLAP server behind it.
What can you do with OLAP? Franchisers can create great applications for franchisees, and so can chain stores for local managers. Banks, insurance companies, and other financial houses can offer consumer and business applications. They're big enough (they need to use these tools internally), and it will take some time. But if you want a good reason for merger mania, wait for this stuff to emerge, and enjoy.
Denise is like the rest of us, frustrated by the way companies use "standards" as a club with which to beat rivals. Standards can also freeze innovation (when's the last time you saw a really innovative PC application?) and preserve the status quo.
Then she goes after the Advanced Television Enhancement Forum . Ooops. APEF was put together by Microsoft and Intel to create an Internet standard that can be put on silicon and placed inside TVs. This standard would access HTML files fired through the Vertical Blanking Interval (VBI) on your TV picture. The VBI is best known now for holding "closed caption" data. APEF not only makes this data attractive, it gives networks like CNN, NBC, Disney (ABC) and Warner Brothers new real estate through which to sell you stuff (which is what they do). It also gives TV makers like Sony a feature they can use to sell you a new set for the kids' room.
In this case, unfortunately, Denise has let her argument get in the way of a good thing. To put the Internet inside a TV, it has to be expressed in hardware. That's the only way the economics work. That requires a standard that programmers, chip manufacturers and TV makers can all follow. The browser wars finally ended - we don't see "optimized for" signs on Web sites anymore, even Microsoft Web sites. So there's no advantage to be gained in supporting specific HTML tags here, and the standard being offered doesn't mandate Microsoft's .asp pages.
It's true that freezing Internet access in silicon, and not providing a way to upgrade, does freeze the kind of service the resulting device can provide. But that's the nature of consumer electronics - you can't blame Microsoft for that. By restricting the ATEF system to the VBI, you've also locked-in minimal bandwidth, so there's no need to embrace high-bandwidth enhancements. Those enhancements will likely obsolete ATEF before it takes over the world anyway. In other words there's a sound argument here, just a bad example. And a good opportunity for A-Clue.Com to set things straight, so let's conclude by giving Denise a hearty thank-you.
Clued-in is Amazon.Com . Not just because its new music store is better than that of experienced competitors like CDNow . But also because it pulled the trigger on $280 million in stock deals for PlanetAll, which offers "reminder" services on the Web, and Junglee, the shopping bot company. Stock is not cash - you have to spend it to get use from it.
Clueless is ZDNet, for following CMP and killing links on most news stories. Clued-in users don't need an excuse to switch to C|Net or Newslinx for their news fix, although they just got one. I went over the explanations of why this is Clueless last week and won't repeat them here. Just let me say that when you have an important story about a hacker-developed tool, making people do a Yahoo to find it is ridiculous.