9th > December > 2005 Archive
CommentComment The Sky TV people have never been as difficult or frustrating as BT. But bless them, they do occasionally get close. After chronicling my nightmarish BT experiences while moving house recently, I am now happy to recount my disastrous activities with Mr. Murdoch’s operation. Well not happy exactly. My initial call to Sky about moving went well enough; they answered the phone in about 30 seconds without incarcerating me in Muzak or IVR-hell as I had fully anticipated. I was after all just trying to transfer my 12-month contracted service over to my new residence. You’d think they’d gotten pretty good at this by now. Nope. I was treated to a cheerful voice telling me that it would be “five weeks” until they could get the installation crew out to our new home. This was more than a week before moving day. Now I don’t know about you, but five weeks without satellite TV would just be impossible for me. I wouldn’t survive it. My girlfriend would be in heaven … but I would crumple up, wither and die moaning in the corner. Five weeks, what a surprise So, cheerfully in return, I informed Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm that “That’s NOT good enough!!” (This incidentally, is a phrase I suggest we all use continuously to train the troglodyte customer service reps to immediately recognize that they’re not dealing with the average acquiescent British sheep willing to follow them anywhere “baah-ing.”) In that split second of my unleashing the wrath of God on this poor soul, she became covered with copious body hair, grew fangs and proceeded to turn into Mrs. Jekyll. I tell you, the transformation was frightening, easily bettering “An American Werewolf in London.” So I did what any fearless consumer warrior would do: ran for the hills by demurely whispering to speak to a supervisor. “NO,” I was told in no uncertain terms, as snarling was clearly audible on the other end of the line. Figuring I should cut my losses and regroup, I hung-up on my angry, rabid representative. Calling right back, I got a reasonable and warm voice on the phone which I immediately asked to speak to a supervisor as I “had just been hung-up on by a Sky agent.” (Well in my defense, this lie was designed to get a proper response to me the customer. Clearly, God would forgive me.) Surprisingly, I was passed right over to a “duty supervisor.” I was pleasantly pleased, because if you want to “escalate” your case (and we should always seek to use their terminology to force management’s hand into this) the supervisor is our first step. Executing our second step of Consumer Satisfaction, I pressed for an installation date sooner than the “five weeks” I had been previously told. But before that, I made sure to aggressively communicate my displeasure at being disconnected by a previous agent. This must be played for all it’s worth if you are to receive special dispensation later in the form of an earlier installations date or better yet, free services. To my astonishment, the supervisor told me she couldn’t do anything better in terms of an installation appointment. Here I began to escalate this issue again. Mr Blue Sky She tried the old “there’s no manager available now” routine, which incidentally is never true; they're just hiding behind the brave people on the front lines. Then contradicting herself, she informed me with a straight face that “our managers don’t get on the phone with customers.” My response to that had to be appropriately aggressive: “I’ll hold while you tell your manager that they’ll be getting on the phone with THIS customer.” And he did. Get on the phone with me, I mean. But, then I started getting the real routine. When I got nowhere fast with this automaton, I felt forced to escalate yet again. When he told me that his superior “wouldn’t tell you anything I couldn’t,” I knew it was escalation-time once again. (When you hear these words, “Nobody can do anything I can’t for you,” laugh heartily and tell them you want to try anyway.) Finally, after complaining and escalating like a champ, I forced the fact out of someone that Sky has a Customer Care Department located at head office. (This is a fact they never want you to know.) Like a moth to the light, I high-tailed it telephonically to the Holy Grail of customer service at Sky. They got me the installation within three days. They listened. They commiserated. They apologized. They even did something I’ve never—I repeat, NEVER—heard of an organization doing before. The Customer Care manager told me she wanted to send my girlfriend flowers. I was flabbergasted. They weren’t some chintzy bouquet either. They were a proper spray of roses and other glistening, fragrant flowers for my lady; and I didn’t even have to buy them for her. Sky made me a hero in my own household. So as I reveled in the limelight of Customer Service Success, I looked forward to having my 500 channels of glorious content and uncomfortable awaited the arrival of the Sky Installation God. When he arrived to trumpeting angels singing the Hallelujah Chorus, I whisked him into the living room and cheered him on to get started. At this time, I was still embroiled in the BT installation fiasco I wrote about here (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/11/21/complaints/) and was still not part of the worldwide phone-using market. After scouting out the place to put the dish, getting all the new gear out of the boxes and strategizing all the installation points, he asked me a question. A simple, innocuous, little question: “You do have a working phone line, don’t you?” Flowers in the rain Apparently, in order for Sky to install, you must have a working BT phone line. Or they tell you no dice … and you have to reschedule for “five weeks” later. My scream audible from the cottage that day was similar to Roger Daltry’s in The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again;” except louder. The man told me that he was very sorry but “it was impossible” to get my precious Sky up for me that day. Calling up my friend at Sky Customer Care (ALWAYS keep the name and direct phone number of these kinds of people), I got her to reschedule for four days later, harping that nobody told me a working phone line was necessary. Finally, the hallowed day came. The installation went off without a hitch--I had my TV back again. A few days afterward, I tried to order a movie from Sky. It didn’t work. Turns out the installer had forgotten to connect Sky to the phone line. Wait just a minute here. I thought it “was impossible” without a working phone line?? Oh well, at least we had the flowers which were still alive and doing fine. Bill Robinson has appeared on CNN, PBS, Bloomberg and had his own segment on SKY News commenting on high-tech and marketing issues and has written columns and articles for FORTUNE Small Business, The Financial Times, Marketing Magazine (UK), Forbes.com, The Moscow Times, Cisco Systems iQ Magazine, United Airline's Hemispheres Magazine and Upside Magazine. Bill may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
BEA Systems will bundle application diagnostics software from Mercury Interactive with new versions of its Java application server and JRockit JVM toolkit. Under a cross-licensing deal BEA will ship Mercury Diagnostics Profiler with new versions of the JRockit Mission Control diagnostics toolset and WebLogic Server for users to identify and solve performance problems at a component level. BEA will also use Mercury's Application Management and Application Delivery software, such as Mercury Diagnostics and Mercury LoadRunner as its preferred performance management software of choice. Mercury, meanwhile, will ship BEA's Mission Control Suite as part of its own Mercury Diagnostics suite during the first quarter of 2006. The agreement extends the companies' existing relationships, that sees BEA currently offer Mercury's suite with WebLogic Sever 9.0 and downloads of JRockit. BEA has promised a new version of WebLogic Server, version 9.5, for the second half of 2006. BEA said the deal will help users improve the management and optimization of mission-critical applications. Mercury is pushing its application server into more mission critical environments, specifically those in telcos, with improvements such the ability to make changes to the application server without taking it off line. Additionally, BEA last year began adding features to the WebLogic Server family designed to appeal to telcos. BEA launched the WebLogic SIP Server, designed to handle integrated voice and data communications.®
Visual Studio 2005 Team System (VSTS) users will become the first large community of developers to experience a version of the Rational Unified Process (RUP) that has been streamlined to bring consistent application development processes to a "mass market". Ivar Jacobson Consulting (IJC) has customized its Essential Unified Process (Essential UP) to work with the Microsoft Solutions Framework and will be integrated with VSTS. ICJ has also joined Microsoft's Visual Studio Industry Partner (VSIP) program. IJC is home to Ivar Jacobson, co-creator of the RUP development methodology used by thousands IBM/Rational programmers - including IBM's massive Global Services operation. Jacobson, IJC founder and co-chairman, joined Rational when his start-up company Objectory was acquired by Rational Software in 1995. RUP is an object-oriented methodology that defines stages and best practices required during the application development process, and that is delivered through things like tools and manuals. Problem is, RUP is complicated. Jacobson estimates the RUP manual starts at around 1,500 pages, while the Essential UP guide runs to just 200. That level of complexity has drowned users with features, making it difficult to use and to modify. Yet a process-based approach to development is vital to ensure applications are built properly and can be extended and updated on an on-going basis. Lightweight Jacobson told The Register that Essential UP provides a lightweight approach to tackle this. "We get better and better tools that support process, they support patterns of development software that result in what we call good software. "For me, good software - apart from a low number of defects - is software that meets the businesses needs and that can change for ever. We don't want software that we have to replace every couple of years." That sits nicely with Microsoft's own vision for VSTS and the related Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI). Microsoft wants Windows systems to be self-healing and easy to develop and mange - hence DSI. VSTS is a vital to DSI because it provides a platform of integrated tools that make it easier for developers to build and mange applications. Microsoft believes the kinds of tools that have delivered similar ALM capabilities, such as those based on RUP from IBM/Rational, have been too complicated for the mass market of developers to really find useful or to accept. Jacobson backs Microsoft: "I knew when we did RUP it wouldn't be able to reach more than 10 to 20 per cent of the [developer] population. We are making a fresh start... we want to make [Essential UP] super light and agile." Essential UP uses just five of RUP's core concepts - components, models, iterative and incremental development, application architecture and use cases. Use cases, for example, have been simplified through introduction of Aspect Oriented Programming, which allows developers to insert features into an application's framework as a module, instead of coding a single monolithic application. That speeds development and cuts down on an application's complexity. 20:80 crops up again Architecting an application is also simplified because Essential UP uses just a subset of the Unified Modeling Language (UML), the preferred choice of IBM/Rational and other ALM providers for drawing the blueprints of applications. Jacobson believes most developers need only 20 per cent of the capabilities contained in UML, a fact that means the other 80 per cent just get in the way. "Architecting an application in RUP is very complex. There's nothing wrong with it, it's just hard to learn. We have simplified it and made it more extensible," he said. VSTS is Essential UP's first port of call, and Jacobson plans to make his methodology available for Java during 2006. In the long-term, Jacobson is devising a set of intelligent agents that would do away with the need for offline documentation, and would tell programmers what steps they need to take during each step of development and when they need to take them. Intelligent agents would also help automate an estimated 80 per cent of the repetitive tasks associated with application programming, mandated by other processes-based methodologies such as the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) from the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute, Jacobson said.®
Creative has once again touted its ownership of a key digital music player user-interface patent, though the comapny's CEO, Sim Wong Hoo, didn't go as far as to threaten any rival companies - guess who - specifically. Speaking in London yesterday at the launch of the video iPod-like Zen Vision:M player, Hoo said the company will leverage its ownership of US patent 6,928,433, looking to implementations of side-scrolling hierarchical menus in MP3 players from other companies as a source of future royalty revenues.
SonyBMG’s efforts to regain some credibility with PC users came unstuck again after it admitted that a patch for flawed content protection software included with some its CDs actually creates more problems for users. The academics who have uncovered the latest security hole say the only way Sony can dig itself out is to recall all the CDs that shipped with the flakey software. The hapless media giant snuggled up to the Electronic Frontier Foundation earlier in the week to admit that Sunncomm MediaMax content protection software on some of its CDs could leave users’ PCs open to hijacking by unauthorised users. It instructed users to download a patch from MediaMax. Now, academics at Princeton University have found that the patch itself suffers from the same bug, though in a slightly different way. They have advised users to not install the patch and indeed to not insert the affected disk in a PC under any circumstance, and the EFF and Sony have gotten behind them. Professor Ed Felten and Alex Halderman the problem is “just as bad” as the DRM rootkit carried on other CDs and which caused a furore last month. They go on to say that each CD sitting on a shelf is effectly a ticking timebomb, and the only way for Sony to really sort the problem is to recall all the affected disks. Only the very paranoid would suggest that advice to not insert an audio CD into a PC delivers exactly the level of "content protection" Sony and the other music giants have been gunning for all this time.®
Is Apple about to drop FireWire - the connectivity standard it created and for so long fostered - from the Mac line-up? Certainly, that's what Apple notebook-oriented website O'Grady's PowerPage suggests, without citing specific sources. Apple has already dropped FireWire from the latest iPods - much to the annoyance of numerous Register readers with older, USB 1.1-equipped Macs - so it's clearly shifting its allegiance to USB 2.0, which while technologically inferior to FireWire is fast enough for almost all PC-peripheral connections.
The UK is on target to hit one million unbundled lines during 2006, according to the organisation responsible for overseeing the development of Local Loop Unbundling in the UK. In its latest update the Office of the Telecommunications Adjudicator (OTA) reported that there are now more than 163,000 unbundled phone lines in the UK with numbers growing by more than 5,000 a week. And with the successful bulk migration of lines starting to kick in, the OTA remains confident that real progress is being made. In fact, the OTA predicts that bulk migration volumes are due to "ramp up significantly" and predicts that the number of lines to be unhooked from BT's network to rival providers is expected to be more than 500,000 by July. As well as increased numbers, the OTA said that the "operational problems" that have frustrated the industry over recent months are showing "some improvement". Part of this is down to a reduction in the number of errors that have snagged orders. But as the OTA says: "Performance had been affected by a combination of automation and operational problems. These look to be on their way to resolution at the current time." Despite the improvements, the OTA recognises that there are still some "ongoing quality issues" which need to be resolved. Even so, looking ahead it says: "We are still on target to achieve greater than one million lines unbundled in 2006." ®
LettersLetters Poor old Rotting Dog: seems the lad has got his Koreas a bit mixed up - a fact not lost on our well-educated readership who can tell their Pyongyangs from their elbows. So, young man, here are a few choice cuts to set you on the road to cartographical redemption, arranged for readers' reading pleasure in ascending order of ire: FYI, Apparently you did not read the subject news article very closely. It is South Korea that has filed the antitrust action against Microsoft, not North Korea. South Korea has one of the highest percentages of Internet users per capita in the world (as opposed to "...four people in the entire country have internet access - all of them state officials"). John Garrott Oh Dear, back to school for some, the story said South Korea so why does one frenzied writer insist on going on about North Korea and Microsoft. Would GPS help? Roger Talbot Uh, dude: North Korea, South Korea, Way different countries. SOUTH Korea is the country that fined Microsoft, not communist North Korea. Sorry to say you goofed. Pull the article ASAP Andrew in Saint Paul Since when is Korea reunited and under control of the beloved leader Kim Jong-il ? How about a nice job flipping burgers for you, this internet stuff is way out of your league. Ronny Mo I don't know wether your an idiot or just plain dumb. Maybe you just don't get it. Or is it that you're lack basic understanding and knowledge. Is the blog just a joke or do you not know the difference between South Korea and North Korea? It just doesn't fit in my mind that you don't understand this, so I'll file your blog under redundant shit. Pasi Jokinen You are the most ignorant idiot I've ever seen call themselves a journalist. Let's set a few things straight. South Korea is a DEMOCRACY. See here: http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ks.html. "South Korea today is a fully functioning modern democracy." If this is what is written about our allies, it's no wonder the US and UK have a hard time making new friends! Chris Swope Who the fuck is this guy? Do you often let this guy spout off about shit that has no basis in fact? In his most recent blog, he goes on about Korea sueing Microsoft, oblivious to the fact that it was South Korea and he's obviously writing about NORTH Korea. South Korea, (the country that sued Microsoft) has the highest percentage of broadband users in the WORLD. Everybody and their grandmother is online. The online gaming market in Korea is the most lucrative market in the world. There are more smoke-filled PC rooms filled 24 hours a day then there are Starbucks coffee shops in Seattle. There is literally one on every corner. Out of 50 million people living in a 3 party democracy, more then 20 million of them own computers, and the rest spend all their time in PC rooms playing Starcraft or World of Warcraft. If you play any of those games, chances are you're playing against a Korean. The average South Korean makes an average of $15,000 US per year. Have you ever bought something by Samsung, LG, or Hyundai? How about an Ipod? All of those products or their parts and more were made in Korean by Koreans. Get your facts straight or don't say anything at all. There are TWO Koreas, North and South. The South sued Microsoft because, unlike the north, they have taken the lead in technology worldwide, and probably made have the technology you use to day, if not the software, most definitely the hardware (own any DDRAM? Who made it? Samsung or Hynix? Both are Korean). You are an ignorant fool. South Korea did the same thing as the European Union and like they EU, they won. It's a full-on technological, economic powerhouse and confusing it with North Korea, although similar in name is just idiotic. David You're an idiot. It's not communist North Korea that is imposing this fine. It's DEMOCRATIC South Korea that is fining MS. And if you knew anything, MS was found guilty of the same offences in the US, and the EU. Go learn politics and geography you moron. Bob Are you so fucking stupid that you can't tell the difference between North and South Korea. With your level of (lack of) intelligence, it's no wonder we get our asses handed to us by third world countries. Dilligaf? You're a fucking idiot, you've got the wrong fucking country dumbfuck. South Korea is the country which imposed the fines, a democratic republic (democracy ie not communist, I thought I'd spell that out clearly since you're a fucking ignorant moron) with 4 major parties, more than 2 parties like your supposed democracy where you get to pick from 2 parties which are made up of the same public school boys. South Korea also is the country with the highest broadband penetration in the world, and the most bloggers. South Koreas broadband is also among the fastest in the world. South Korea is the 10th largest economy in the world, no-one in South Korea lives on a dollar a day . GET YOUR FACTS RIGHT NEXT TIME MORON MAD KIWI Good Lord. For the record, we do have a couple of emails saying nice things about The Rotting Dog, presumably from readers who have read our entertaining "how to write a flame" guide. Here's a snippet from the same: Pick a story to rant about but for God's sake don't read anymore than the first paragraph. And don't read this very carefully either. There are jokes and smatterings of sarcasm and irony in Register stories but these aren't for you. Everything you (don't) read is the literal truth as we see it. Once you haven't grasped the story you can start to twist the words into whatever makes you most angry. Enough said. And, for the record, we are not this week accepting the "yes, I see now it was meant to be funny but I still say it sucks" defence. Thankyou. ®
Microsoft is reported to be looking for a smart-phone manufacturer to produce a low-cost Windows Mobile device. The motivation: to boost the company's share of the mobile-device operating system market. Citing sources from among Taiwan's ODM community, DigiTimes reports the software giant wants to see Windows Mobile smart-phones on the market for under $300. The site claims Microsoft has been talking to HTC, Quanta, Asus, Acer, Mitac, BenQ and other Taiwanese phone makers.
Siemens is expected to break up its IT services division after failing to offload the business as a job lot. The German industrial giant has been touting the Siemens Business Services business all year, even as it has slashed costs and jobs at the unit. The FT reports today that the is ready to sell the product related services business to Fujitsu Siemens Computers. Given that Siemens owns 50 percent of the computer firm, this sounds more like pass the parcel than a long-term solution. However, the move would leave the rest of the unit focused on consulting and outsourcing, which may be more attractive to a trade buyer.®
AnalysisAnalysis Online publishing could be set for revolution next spring if the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) extends the Electronic Commerce Directive to online service providers.
BT plans to spend millions plugging its broadband telephony service next year as it looks to ramp up its investment in VoIP. The UK's dominant fixed line telco currently runs two VoIP services - BT Communicator (which enables calls to be made via a PC) and BT Broadband Talk (which enables internet calls using a standard phone). The telco is planning to rejig both products under a single BT Broadband Talk brand which should make the telco's offering much easier for consumers to understand. Also easier to understand will be what VoIP users are saying - because BT is planning to introduce an "enhanced voice over internet offering" which will improve the sound quality of its VoIP services. According to BT, signing up to its VoIP service is a no-brainer. Why? Because if punters are already a broadband user, signing up to its VoIP service would be cheaper than signing up to comparable all-inclusive BT fixed-line tariffs. Separately, BT is also planning to go large on its "BT hub", a wireless network option for homes linking PCs, lappys, IPTV and VoIP. Yesterday BT announced it had signed up three content partners - BBC Worldwide, Paramount and Warner Music Group - for its broadband TV service which is due to be launched next autumn. ®
Sony has re-iterated its plan to ship the PlayStation 3 by Spring 2006. The announcement follows Electronic Arts CEO Larry Probst's prediction that the console won't debut until next Autumn. Sony yesterday told the Reuters news agency that the company is gearing up for a Spring launch, but that doesn't necessarily refute Probst's belief. All previous PlayStation launches have kicked off in Japan, with US and European roll-outs not taking place until many months later.
Intel has begun developing rootkit-detection technology with a view to preventing malicious code from modifying the host system's memory. According to an IT Observer report, the system will monitor the OS and other software that could be covertly modified by a rootkit to hide its presence and any security holes it has created. The monitor is implemented in hardware and checks for unnecessary changes made to memory containing system and application code.
Verily, the Lord moveth in mysterious ways, and nowhere has his mysteriousness manifested itself more clearly than in the land of fruits and nuts. Read on: It was 7:30 PM, December 4th, 2005. The second Sunday of advent, in Joshua Tree, California. Personal Chef Karin Winkler started to prepare dinner. While thinking about upcoming Christmas, she was peeling and cutting a potato. Everything appeared to be normal. When she was peeling and cutting the second potato in half, a miracle happened: the symbol of a perfectly shaped holy cross appeared on both halves of the potato. Yup, it's the heart-warming tale of the holy spud - a sign from God to Karin Winkler that the world should pursue peace. And where better to pursue world peace than on eBay, which is where the divine tuber will be appearing from the third Sunday of advent, or 11 December for those of you who skipped church last Sunday. As Winkler puts it: "We want that the right person can own this piece of a true miracle this holiday season and be very happy this Christmas." Yes, we're sure Golden Palace Casino will be very happy with this simulacrum, and if the seller needs an extra injection of cash, she could always have the online gambling outfit's logo tattooed on her butt. ® Bootnote A tuberous ta very much to Lyndsey Thomas for the tip-off.
LettersLetters We have a bulging sackful of letters this Friday for your reading pleasure, so let's get straight down to it with the BSA's claim that cutting software piracy would boost the UK economy. Well, it would say that, wouldn't it? Funny how these "studies" always produce the results that the organization funding them wants them to produce. I have funded a study of my own that clearly demonstrates Free Open Source Software, if used to replace all existing proprietary software packages from Business Software Alliance members, would increase employment in the IT sector by 10%, reduce stress-related employee absences by 30%, increase national tax revenues by 15 billion Euros/annum, and cause Steve Ballmer to explode with a force equal to 15 kilotons of TNT. Amazing what you can "learn" by paying researchers to make up some numbers from whole cloth, isn't it? Morely Dotes "A 10 per cent reduction in the UK's software piracy rate would result in 34,000 new jobs, £11bn of economic growth and a £2.8bn increase in tax revenues, according to a study commissioned by the Business Software Alliance." My Maths may suck, but if a mere 10% can create £11bn and 34,000 new jobs then, getting all over it and solving the piracy problem once and for all, creates £110bn growth, £28bn in tax and 340,000 jobs Not bad for an industry currently worth "£25.9bn in tax revenues. It is valued at £39.8bn" It would appear that according to the BSA we're currently ripping off nearly three times as much as the industry is worth. Please stop publishing this bulshit. Or at least if you are going to publish it, publish it with the respectful amount of investigation and analysis instead of just regurgitating the lobbyist junk. Out of curiosity, why is it that the tax take now (according the the crap you published) is greater than 50% and yet if we eliminate piracy altogether the tax take is nearer 25%. Would it have anything to do with global monopolists avoiding tax by any chance? Perhaps we should put these numbers to the revenue and see what they think. Alan Drew That's is a load of crap, even if only because of the question: where is that 11Bn going to come from? The 11Bn will be seen as a loss somewhere else. Net effect Zero. If you then add in that most of those profits will be taken outside the UK, then you begin to see that "piracy" is helping to keep the UK strong. Mark Hackett If copyright infringement is so limiting to growth, how is China doing so well? Also, if Microsoft (for instance) was really bothered about piracy, it would properly node-lock Windows so that techies couldn't install it on their home PCs. Instead it tolerates limited infringement to prevent a mass switch to Linux which would destroy it's business. John Latham How is it that articles like this are allowed? The statistics are total tosh. Would they claim that if car theft (and twoccing) were totally stopped that all the former car thieves would go out and buy one? Or that if the person who buys 10 pirate DVDs at a car boot cannot do so they will go and buy the same 10 DVDs at full retail? Get real! A lot of the small scale piracy is done by people who couldn't afford to buy all the software they have full price (or films or music) so if there was no piracy they would just do without. Ian Nisbet Sad to see a professional journal falling for BSA puffery just like the Times Online did. These analyses are based on "100% conversion" - every pirate copy denied would be converted into a full price sale. Not really very likely, is it? Phil Payne Please do not report this sort of propaganda as a news story. The model used is that if piracy is reduced exactly as much paid software will be installed as was previously pirated. This is clearly a false assumption as the software is pirated by people who do not want to pay. Even more ridiculously it calculates a benefit to the economy as the extra money spent on software without any allowance for the fact that the extra money spent on software must come from somewhere else and there must be a matching reduction in spending elsewhere. The net effect could be a boost but could also be negative. For very poor economies it is difficult to see cutting software piracy as anything but extremely damaging. Countries without good educational and communication facilities are unlikely to develop any indigineous software economy and business will either have to do without software or choose between investment in software and other things. Even for developed economies such as the UK it is very unclear whether piracies overall effect is positive, negative or neutral. There are far to many reports like this one which are written by consultants to meet the advertising needs of clients, but have no useful content, If you reported it as such it might embarass the consultants concerned. Alan Johnson As most of the major players in software base their operations in Eire for tax reasons surely abolishing piracy would sink the UK economy in favour of the Republic of Ireland's - especially their tax income? Jim C What a strange fantasy world the BSA lives in! Jim Barry Xbox versus PS3: guaranteed to generate a bit of heat. Take it away Devin Johnson: Your article: Xbox 360 vs. PS3 is more a rant than a report. You should be ashamed to publish such a beast. One of the arguments you make is that gamers are too lazy to get up and change CDs? What the hell is that? I'm not going to pick apart your whole article, that was your responsibility. You must understand I am a very peaceful person, but your lop-sided article pushed me to investigate how to submit feedback to you and take the time to write this out. Good day. I read your article with interest (XBox 360 vs PS3) and wanted to point out a frequent misconception -- the PS3 will not require games to be produced on Bluray discs, that will simply be a feature. Obviously, the PS3 will run PS1 and PS2 games out of the gate, so nothing is stopping developers (to my knowledge) from distributing games on DVDs or even CDs for that matter, should they need less space and want to save some coin. Michael T. Babcock As a games designer can I point out than none of the latest PC games fill more than 1 DVD and that PC textures are way higher than anything that will be used on next gen consoles. So claiming the size of the DVD of the 360 is a problem might be a bit silly IMHO. You can easily point to *any* part of a system as having a problem (what? no 1GB RAM???) but filling up a DVD with a real-world-game will probably only happen when companies use silly prerendered CGI and other non-game stuff. Claiming the 360 has a problem compared to Bluray is silly. I would even argue that the DVD size will be a blessing in disguise for the 360 because devs will like finally start to include procedural generated assets (like Oblivion does). Dirk Vandenheuvel "Without PS3, without Blu-Ray, Sony looks like a very weak, financially ailing company past its innovative best." Given that more and more Hollywood studios have taken up Blu-Ray, it seems that this will be the media that eventually wins...DVD's have become the most widely adopted format in recent history, more prolific than VHS, tapes, or CDs. Also, since HD-DVD and Blu-Ray will both play DVD's, most DVD collections will be safe for now...and given that the PS3 will also support PS/PS2 games, it's a given that people will be happy to take up the PS3 in favour of an X-Box...especially as the cost of adopting the new format will be a lot less than buying seperate pieces of kit! And let's not forget the fantastic PSP... Sony past it's innovative best? I think not...the best is yet to come! Pritesh And speaking of Sony, here's a nice summary of the ongoing HD-DVD v Blu-Ray saga from Brian Davison: "Convergence is here, everything is digital, the Internet is going to deliver video, you are going to want to pass information from one device to another, and HD-DVD versus Blu-Ray is really the first battle in the issue of who controls the home," he said. Indeed. Sony or Microsoft - take your pick... I don't know who these people think they are, I for one control my own home and they can all go and fuck off. So there. Well said sir. However, while readers may feel inclined to tell MS and Sony to take a hike, they are advised to treat Oracle with a bit more respect: Try to be more polite when talking about Oracle. They are not little kids playing with you in the backyard. It is a big respected company that contributes in many ways to the world. Without oracle the world would not be the same as it is today. And 55,000 employees will be jobless. So do not attack for the sake of making your readers happy because that is really lame. "Sane" That's right - diss Oracle and they'll pop a cap in your ass, make no mistake. Now, Xmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, etc, etc. Sadly, there will be tearful scenes chez Ballmer this year, since the "Basher" is not allowed a free Xbox 360 for the kiddies: Good--anyone who didn't preorder an xbox before August, doesn't deserve one. I have one because I was smart enough to realize this was going to be insane. Frank Vanden Bosch "Indeed, rules dictate that any freebie would have to be disclosed as income and since Ballmer will only earn $3.51 this year (after deductions for office furniture) the increased tax liability could be crippling." really he only earns 3 and a half dollars???? where's your editor / spell checker / attention!!! Jeremy No, that's what we meant to say, and now you've forced us to break the glass on our emergency graphic: Be warned: the next Sober virus attack is due on 5 January. Which is, by an astounding coincidence, the 87th anniversary of the foundation of the Nazi party: Is this a case of "hactivism" or is it a case of security researchers desperately searching for an aniversary of something, anything, at all that co-incides with the activation date of the virus. After all every day is the aniversary of something and the 87th aniversary of the foundation of the Nazi party is about as obscure as they get. Ben Robinson You mention "5 January - the 87th anniversary of the founding of the Nazi party". What kind of correlation is that!? Maybe the Sober attack is in reality to commeorate the 543rd anniversary of poet François Villon being banned from Paris, or the 351st anniversary of the death of Pope Innocent X... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5_January Joshua Hewitt who came up with the political edge? that date could mean anything. its my opinion that the nazi comparison was made to further crimalize the group that made the virus (probably rightly so). other things that happened that date: 1531: Pope Clemens VII forbids English king Henry VIII to re-marry. This event leads to the creation of the church of England 1836: Davy Crockett arrives in Texas, just in time for the Alamo 1895: French Captain Alfred Dreyfus, convicted of treason, publicly stripped of his rank in anti-semitic trial; later declared innocent 1972: NASA announced its plans for a new space vehicle, the shuttle source: first search result in google (",) Dave Nice way to grab the headlines, but I somehow think that your average teenage hacker is more likely to identify the 5th of January as Marilyn Manson's birthday [http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001504/] than the 87th anniversary of the guys that grandpa fought in the war. Donald Massyn Readers are invited to take their pick from the above. We like the François Villon angle... Moving swiftly on, has al-Qaeda been using Google Earth to pinpoint US positions in Iraq? I think the US and UK Military is being WAY too shortsighted in reference to this. Were I them, I'd actually consider playing up how accurate Google Earth was, making sure to have the satellite scan some juicy target for the insurgents the lying in wait in ambush. Effectively turning the "weapon of the Enemy" against them. But who knows... If I've thought if it, they likely have also. As you pointed out in your story, Google Earth is hardly a live eye-in-the-sky now is it? I mean hey - parts of my home province in Canada have never been scanned, and those who have not been updated since 2002. But I think they would be fools not to take advantage of the opportunity if the enemy is using this tool. Eric Polley Hmmm, I've read the aforementioned afticle, and there are enough discrepancies to make me a little suspicous about the validity of the observations in it. I served 2 years in USMCR and 10 on active in the USAF, so I have some clue. Some of the issues: the article uses the wrong designation in the description of a SAW. Calls it a 243 instead of the 249 (Crap it took me 2 seconds to google for the correct name). Also claims that its fed by a drum; it isn't, takes an ammo belt stored in a pouch or a plastic box. the article refers to a mass replacement of the M16 by the M14, and that just isn't happening. the article refers to m60 as a beautiful weapon. Hmmm, that wasn't my experience with as an M60 gunner. I didn't use it in combat though. Basically, the article is, at best, second hand reporting by someone who freely injects his own opinions. As the "danger" of google earth, I believe that it's overplayed. It's not updated enough to be tactically useful, and while the gee whiz overheads are nice, let's not forget that the bad guys can already see the targets. Plus, I'm sure that the army plays games with the data that goes into google earth- I'm sure wouldn't trust it... Dan LaPine Clearly you don't understand what the Marine was implying Google Earth is being used for. Of course it's not used to discern enemy positions. But for surveying terrain, it has immense utility. They used to say that the army that wins is the one that best knows the land. Maybe that diminished in importance with the advent of tanks and airplanes, but for the type of guerrila warfare going on in Iraq the maxim should still hold. For any organization that has any sort of access to quality maps and the training to intepret them, Google Earth is of course useless. For an insurgency that has trouble doing even that, then the satelite database is priceless. Alex Dubinsky You may have gotten lots of emails like this one already, but here it is. The supposed email from a marine is probably bogus. It has been pretty thoroughly dissected on a lot of internet gun boards, due to numerous factual errors regarding things as simple as the names of common weapons. Gene Poor old UK heritage websites - eschewed by discerning surfers in favour of footie hooliganism: Re: www.ukworldheritage.org.uk It's not just that the www.ukworldheritage.org.uk site is bland, boring, unimaginative and, apparently, unindexed by the likes of google... it doesn't work either. Try going to the "Stonehenge" section (one of the best known landmarks) and you actually wind up at a page for "Felixstowe Museum" - probably not one of the best known landmarks or heritage sites. But then, why is there a site www.english-heritage.org.uk *and* and a completely different site www.ukworldheritage.org.uk Nick Ryan I thought I'd increase the hit rate, so I checked out the Heritage site. You may be interested to know that most of the linkouts from the site are broken. Ain't the Civil Service great? Joined up thinking??? Hywel Owen as half man half biscuit said : "Sealed Knot Society, let's see you try and do this one : Luton Town v. Millwall 1985" Maht You'll need to read the article to get that last one. Nicely put. Podcast - word of the year according to the New Oxford American Dictionary: Who cares? Look at their definition... 'An audio file(podcast or *SIMILAR*) that can be uploaded from the internet'. Wow, now that doesn't sound like half the audio files uploaded to the internet since the 90's. It's just a stupid term for the iPod sheep fad loving people. Michael Podcasting. What a concept. You have a music file hosted on a website that people can "click" and "download". My goodness, some Silicon Valley nerd with a fake goatee and a brain full of buzzwords must really be patting himself on the back for thinking that one up. Word to the wise: I can pod cast. It's called hyperlinking an mp3 on a webpage. *shakes his head* Nathan Wosnack I went looking to see what other publicity stunts .. I mean useful dictionary additions this lot had made in the past. Blog was *last years* word. (By last year, I mean 12 months. Not as in "that's *so* last year". ) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4059291.stm Presumably that means it's now passe and we don't have to use it. (don't tell the guardian though) Terry G and poor "mobe" never even got a chance in the running Robert King Oh no, you've got me all tearful now. RIP mobe - we miss you mate. Of equal import to the ever-expanding English lexicon is the matter of the Japanese MP3 bog seat. Readers felt some clarification was in order: I can't be certain of the details, but I don't think the point of the mp3 part is to pipe your latest iTunes into the bog. Rather, it's for bird sounds, rushing water or other noises to drown out the plips and plops that might otherwise pass through those paper-thin walls and cause so much embarrassment. Incidentally, in case you hadn't spotted, the biggest breakthrough in recent toilet seat technology is the self-opening and closing function. Approach the Apricot and its hidden sensors will cause the lid to rise, finish, depart and it will close again. As you can imagine, this feature makes for some interesting scenes as you walk past the toilet seat section of the nearest Yodobashi Camera store. That's My Bog Andrew Sheppard aaah, nostalgia! I won't have a chance to enjoy the luxury of Japanese bog seats until my partner & I next visit her family. Can be - aaah - interesting - when you're guessing what the controls mean, & the talking facility (BTW, lots of Japanese domestic appliances are chatty, e.g. showers, lifts) doesn't help me much. But you have to try the massage facility :) Small point - the Toto Apricot has been around for a few years - I've used a couple. I believe it's a range, rather than a single product. This may be just an upgrade, or an optional extra, or maybe a new model. The music actually has a purpose. It drowns the sound of what you're doing. Some Japanese women, particularly young ones, are sufficiently embarrassed by the thought of being overheard in the loo (the Japanese are very big on embarrassment) that they'll flush the toilet before beginning, so the noice of the cistern refilling drowns them out. As a result, it's now common for public toilets to have automated music (starts when you sit) or running water noises. Paul Irving Ok, now we know. Thanks fellas. And finally, lets have a two bits' worth about bloggers, the scourge of civilised society: "And being the no-shit kinda guy I am, I did. In front of 400 influential bloggers and opinion formers I stood up." "Influential bloggers and opinion formers?" They really do have a high opinion of themselves, don't they? So far as I can make out, the only people who read blogs are other bloggers. It's Usenet for the 21st century (I posted well-nigh daily to Usenet from August 1984 to August 2004, but I'm over it now...) Ian Batten Sure, but keep taking the tablets. More fun and games next week. Have a smashing, blog-free weekend. ®
More than a third of calls to UK Government helplines fail to connect, according to information obtained by the Liberal Democrats. It shows that since the beginning of 2003, more than 119m calls to Government departments about pensions, taxes and benefits ended in failure with callers either getting an engaged tone or abandoning the call because they had to wait too long. The worst offenders were the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and HM Revenue and Customs. The Lib Dems warned that the real number of call failures could be much worse since many departments fail to keep up-to-date records. The Government has introduced a host of e-government proposals in a bid to make it easier for people to contact government departments. But according to Lib Dem Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, David Laws, the Government's direct line to the public is "failing". "Over 119m phone calls from the public have been missed since 2003 - a colossal waste of people's time and an enormous frustration. Over one in three people calling Government helplines are receiving engaged tones or abandoning calls when they should be able to speak to an adviser...Most of the missed calls are to the tax credits hotline and to the benefits department. Because of Labour's reliance on means-testing, more and more people are having to phone in information, or check why their complex awards are going wrong. These calls are overloading the system, which is quite simply breaking down." Earlier this week the DWP announced it was "realigning existing contracts" with BT to provide the department with a "modernised communications network to provide customers with a more reliable, better performing service". "Over the next five and a half years, the department will be spending around £870m including VAT on services delivered by BT," said the DWP in a statement. "This will enable the department to modernise its infrastructure to improve services for customers who are often the most vulnerable in society." ®
Napster has opened its 1.5m-song catalogue to music downloaders in Germany, the company said today. The tracks are available to buy on a one-off basis for €0.99 a song, and Napster is offering its usual unlimited-download rental service for €9.95, or €14.95 with the opportunity to transfer songs to digital music players.
Episode 34Episode 34 "You've got to be kidding!" the PFY slurs, putting down his glass of port. "It's Friday at 4:30 - you can't expect me to do anything!" "It's just a quick job," the user gasps, extricating his laptop from his briefcase.
German publishing house Directmedia is taking Wikipedia offline. The German version of the online encyclopedia will be available on a DVD and in print, Heise online reports. The DVD is available as a free 7.5GB ISO image which you can burn on a DVD. A previous version, which was released in the spring, contained only 2.7GB of data. The new DVD has 200,000-300,000 entries, all in German, and contains more than 100,000 images. The publisher only uses articles from writers who are known to be reliable. However, on the previous DVD were at least a hundred copyrighted articles taken from a DDR Lexika. After the slip-up was discovered, Directmedia immediately replaced the DVD image. The print version of Wikipedia will be sold for a nominal fee - €9.90 - to cover expenses. The publisher can't claim copyright. Wikipedia publishes everything under a GNU Free Documentation Licence, the same licence used by developers of open-source software. According to Wikipedia's founder, Jimmy Wales, content from the web site may also be burned onto CDs and DVDs for computer users in places like Africa, which lack access to the internet. ®
The Home Office is considering pitching the UK identity card scheme as a fix for online and 'card not present' fraud, according to answers given to parliamentary questions by Home Office Minister Andy Burnham earlier this week. The Home Office has previously indicated that it foresees the possibility of ID cards being used to support financial transactions at some point in the future (for example, when the deployment of future generations of ATMs might allow the ID card to 'piggy back' on the banking networks), but it now seems that it anticipates more immediate financial uses for the ID cards. According to Burnham, there is "an opportunity for the identity card scheme to combat online fraud", and the Home Office is looking at possible mechanisms for secure remote authentication, "including use of one-time password technology." In recent debates on the ID card scheme, Home Office Ministers suggested that a PIN could be used to allow people to check information held on them in the National Identity Register via the Internet; however, PIN alone is clearly not an adequate gatekeeper for general Internet access to something in the region of 60 million records, and the latest statements suggest that perhaps the Government is beginning to grasp this. But the Home Office's difficulties here will stem from its belated discovery of the need to bolt aspects of the right kind of ID system onto the wrong one. The UK ID scheme as originally envisaged and currently advertised hinges on the magic of 'biometric security' protecting your identity, but this security is worthless in transactions where the card isn't checked by a card reader or where the bearer's biometrics aren't checked online. It turns out that this will likely be the case with most transactions, and obviously in the case of online ones the basic ID scheme has no mechanism for determining whether the card or the user is actually present (wherever 'present' might be, online). So the Home Office first considers PINs then, er, moves on to "one-time password technology" and makes aspirational statements about "secure remote authentication", which is a hell of a lot easier to say than to do. Government IT chief Ian Watmore put it rather better by outlining the right kind of ID system in his recent Transformational Government document: "Government will create an holistic approach to identity management, based on a suite of identity management solutions that enable the public and private sectors to manage risk and provide cost-effective services trusted by customers and stakeholders. These will rationalise electronic gateways and citizen and business record numbers. They will converge towards biometric identity cards and the National Identity Register." That is, Watmore's plans for a radical, citizen-centric approach to Government services and IT will require highly sophisticated identity management systems, and these will (so long as they actually work) be able to underpin transactions in both the public and the private sectors. Watmore needs the right kind of ID systems for this, and we can perhaps allow ourselves a chuckle as we observe them 'converging' towards the wrong one, the national ID scheme - which, as it's a Government policy-totem, we're going to get, and Watmore is going to have to cater for, anyway. According to Burnham the security technologies the Home Office is currently considering with the help of "representative groups from both private and public sectors" could give "greater assurance of the identity of credit card or account holders when conducting transactions over the internet, telephone or post in the future". But at what point will the Home Office's plans meet Watmore coming in the other direction? The difficulty here lies in the fact that the Home Office's needs are more immediate than Watmore's. It definitely needs to do something about validating ID when there isn't a card reader available, so effectively it's going to have to add 'good enough' verification systems well in advance of any kind of national identity management systems being ready for deployment. And although representatives from the financial sector will undoubtedly be among the private sector bodies it's consulting, there seems little chance of the banks and credit card companies viewing the ID scheme in its first iteration as able to secure anything other than major transactions (where it might well be viable to check biometrics). So what is it about the forthcoming ID scheme security systems that will provide "greater assurance of identity" than the banks and credit card companies have already got online? We look forward to finding out, and we're also particularly interested in how they will protect, as Burnham suggests, postal transactions. How the other half represses: Amusingly, David Blunkett's notions of the ID card as a mechanism for building community, a sense of belonging, and general inclusiveness flew like a brick in Home Office focus groups. In Egypt, however, we have ways of making inclusiveness work, and people are demanding (presumably, given the nature of the regime, quietly and politely) ID cards. According to Foreign & Commonwealth Office Minister Kim Howells, the new computerised Egyptian ID card requires citizens to be Moslem, Christian or Jewish, and "Egyptian citizens of other religions will not be entitled to an identity card, and may therefore suffer from lack of access to public services". Among other things, Kim... A resolution in the US House of Representatives earlier this year said that, according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom's 2005 report on Egypt, "discrimination, intolerance, and other human rights violations committed by Egyptian authorities affect a broad spectrum of Egyptian society, including Muslims, Coptic Christians, Jews, Baha'is and members of other religious communities." So would you rather be suspect because you haven't got an ID card, or suspect because of what your ID card says you are? Decisions, decisions... ®
ReviewReview Eagle-eyed - and slightly geeky - viewers real-time drama show 24 of would have noticed the evil terrorists led by Marwan all used Alienware notebooks to hatch their evil plans. The goodies used Dell. Hmmm. And in the popular game F.E.A.R, the notebooks lying round the offices of the company whose troops are shooting at you are also Alienware-branded. So it's official: Alienware is the choice of bad-asses everywhere.
A Microsoft investigation into the sale of counterfeit software on eBay has led to the closure of an online operation responsible for the sale of over £3 million worth of fake Microsoft software. The activities of internet trading outfit Zoobon first came to light after Microsoft received a number of complaints from Zoobon customers unhappy with the quality of the products they had been sold. In an investigation lasting over a year, Microsoft, in collaboration with eBay, identified the sources of the counterfeit software and the people behind the operation. Following the investigation, an out-of-court settlement was reached with the individuals behind Zoobon, under which they have ceased trading and given undertakings not to sell counterfeit Microsoft software in the future. They have also paid very substantial damages to Microsoft. “We take our responsibility seriously to protect consumers and legitimate channel partners from counterfeit software,” said Michala Alexander, Microsoft head of anti-piracy. “This was a major counterfeit operation selling goods which were hard to distinguish from the genuine article. By working with eBay, Zoobon has been taken out of business.” The action is the latest in an ongoing Microsoft campaign against software piracy. Earlier this week the software giant announced that it was working together with eBay to stop the sale of pirate software on the online auction site. Between them, the two firms were able to remove over 21,000 suspect software sales from the UK site between August and October this year. The crack down has been aided by eBay’s VeRO programme, which enables the rapid removal of infringing listings on eBay. Copyright © 2005, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
Click Defense, a web analytics firm that intiated proceedings against Google in June, alleging that the search engine was failing to stop click fraud, is to be replaced as lead plaintiff in the suit by web hosting firm Advanced Internet Technology (AIT). "We are only withdrawing as a representative plaintiff," said Scott Boyenger, Click Defense's Chief Executive Officer, "in order to concentrate our efforts in helping our clients develop their claims of click fraud. We remain a member of the class and our click fraud claims against Google will still be litigated when and if the class is certified." The suit, which is seeking class action status, alleges that Google’s failure has cost users of its AdSense scheme at least $5m. The AdSense system allows advertisers to display targeted ads on websites in return for the payment of a fee to Google each time an internet user clicks on one of their ads. Google then repays part of the fee to the web page owner. This is different to Google’s AdWords service, which allows advertisers to sponsor particular search terms so that, whenever that term is searched in Google, the advertiser’s link will appear next to the search results. However, the AdSense scheme is open to abuse by website owners who, keen to boost the fees repaid to them by Google, try to ensure that the third party adverts displayed on their site are clicked as often as possible. As a result, the search engine’s AdSense program policy states: “Any method that artificially generates clicks is strictly prohibited. These prohibited methods include but are not limited to: repeated manual clicks, incentives to click, using robots, automated clicking tools, or other deceptive software. Please note that clicking on your own ads for any reason is prohibited, to avoid potential inflation of advertiser costs”. This was not enough for Click Defense, which in June filed suit, alleging that Google refused to take steps to prevent click fraud, even though the company was well aware of the practice. But the firm has now withdrawn as representative plaintiff, handing the job over to AIT. According to Clarence Briggs, AIT's Chief Executive Officer, AIT has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to fraudulent clicks even though Google has the capability to detect fraud. "Google is able to block spamming efforts from its own Google Gmail service and should do the same to protect its pay-per-click advertising clients. However, Google chooses to do nothing because substantive action would both invalidate the current paid search model and because a lot of people are making a lot of money from this," he said. "We have been watching this and documenting it for some time, not only for ourselves but for our customers from our network and several other networks," he added, "and we have the technical expertise to prove without a doubt that it is happening and that Google could do something about it if they wanted to.” Google denies the allegations. In June a spokesman for the firm told Reuters that the company believes the lawsuit is without merit. See also: Google sued for failing to prevent click fraud, OUT-LAW News, 01/07/2005 Copyright © 2005, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
NTL reckon its £817m bid for Virgin Mobile is a good offer representing "better value for all Virgin Mobile shareholders" - even though it's been rejected by the cellco. On Monday both NTL and Virgin Mobile confirmed they were holding talks that could lead to the creation of a mega media business offering punters a four-play service of TV, fixed-line phone, broadband and mobile under the Virgin brand. NTL said it was prepared to pay 323p a share (£817m) for the cellco, which is 72 per cent owned by Sir Richard Branson. However, this was "unanimously rejected" by the board of Virgin Mobile who claimed it "undervalued" the business. Branson then waded into the debate saying that extra dosh would probably sway it which in turn helped push Virgin Mobile's share price to a record price of 361p Today, though, NTL appears to be standing firm on its offer. "NTL continues to believe that its potential offer at 323 pence per Virgin Mobile share represents better value, for all Virgin Mobile shareholders, than Virgin Mobile's stand-alone alternatives and will make a further announcement in due course, if and when appropriate. It went on: "NTL reserves the right to make an offer at a price lower than 323p per Virgin Mobile share with the agreement of the Virgin Mobile Board or in the event that a person not acting in concert with ntl announces an offer at less than this price." ®
Government plans for an "Information Sharing Index" identifying every child in England will be subject to trials early next year, with a full scale system intended to be live by the end of 2008. The Index, which is intended to help a wide range of workers in education, health, social services and youth offending exchange information about children, was first mooted in 2003 via the Every Child Matters Green paper, in the wake of the death of Victoria Climbié. The Index is not an ID card scheme as such, although, as under 16s won't qualify for National ID Cards, it could be said to be helpfully mopping up the ones the ID scheme will miss. And bear in mind that all schoolchildren have unique IDs and records already. The Index does however look rather like a privacy (or worse) disaster waiting to happen, and it's not entirely obvious how the Index described by the Department for Education & Skills this week can achieve its stated purposes. According to Secretary of State for Education Ruth Kelly, it is a key part of the Every Child Matters "programme to transform children's services by supporting more effective prevention and early intervention. Its goal is to improve outcomes and the experience of public services for all children, young people and families." Kelly says that better information sharing is "essential for early and effective intervention", and adds that the Index "will provide a tool to support better communication among practitioners across education, health, social care and youth offending. It will allow them to contact one another more easily and quickly, so they can share information about children who need services or about whose welfare they are concerned." So far, so clear. In the specific case of Victoria Climbié, failures (including communications) on the part of several organisations made a substantial contribution to the child's death. And in the broader case of children in general it is, says the DfES, important to ensure that all children have access to services such as education and health care, and to identify early "those children with additional needs which should be addressed if they are to achieve the Every Child Matters outcomes." The DfES estimates that 3-4 million children have such needs at any one time, but as we don't know which these are, that's why all 11 million children in England have to be on the Index. The Index itself will house information relating to children in all 150 local authorities in the country, and will consist of "minimal identifying information for each child; name, address, date of birth, gender, and contact details for parents or carers... contact details for their educational setting and GP practice and for other practitioners or services working with them; and where a practitioner judges it appropriate and necessary, an indicator showing that they wished to be contacted by other practitioners because they have relevant information to share, are taking action, or have undertaken an assessment in relation to that child." That Index will not be a casework system or provide access to individual case data, which makes that last section particularly interesting. In essence, social workers, teachers, doctors, probation officers et almay flag the fact that they have taken action or opened a case of some kind, and then other interested parties will be expected to contact them to exchange information. Therefore it will not be the case that all such actions will be flagged, nor that flagging a child's record will result in an alert being issued to all other associated professionals who may have an interest in the child. A considerable measure of proactiveness would therefore seem to be necessary for the system to work, and that would seem to leave plenty of scope for the kinds of failures the system is intended to address. The people who have access to the Index will certainly find it helpful in that it will provide a reference of address, and contact details for all of the other people concerned with a particular child - but how many people is that, and how will access be secured? Almost certainly the DfES is not yet in a position to say how many people will be allowed access, but it will inevitably be very many indeed. Local education authorities will need access, so will teachers and social workers, yet to be identified numbers of youth workers, health workers, probation officers and, according to the DfES, the parents and children themselves, so that they can check the record's accuracy. The DfES doesn't seem to mention police access, but the police were involved both in the case of Victoria Climbié and the subsequent enquiry, so it would seem logical that they too join the list. Access "will be through the practitioner’s existing case management systems, via a web link or, where an approved practitioner has no access to appropriate IT facilities, via another approved user who does have IT access. Clear and secure arrangements will be in place to guard against access by unauthorised users, or inappropriate use of the index by authorised users." So large numbers of people from numerous organisations throughout the country will be able to obtain basic information about any child in the country from the Index, which will make the system extremely difficult to secure and police, even if mobile and/or remote access isn't allowed. If (or should we say "when"?) security is compromised, then it would be possible for someone to get a child's home address and phone number, and to obtain more detailed information by spoofing the contact details of the professionals who know lots more about the child, or indeed the child's parents. We trust that the DfES will provide a detailed explanation of why all of this will be impossible, before the system goes live. ®
Into the ValleyInto the Valley One of the biggest threats to open source software has arisen from a most unlikely place - the food and beverage industry. Steve Gundrum, CEO of food engineering house Mattson, has teamed with sophist and celebrity author Malcolm Gladwell to bastardize the fundamental concepts behind open source software development, turning the OSS idea into nothing more than another term for inefficient collaboration.