In a case that may well make legal history, a West Australian firm accused of spamming will take an anti-spam crusader to court for listing the company's web site on Internet "black list" used by ISPs to bar emails from suspected spam sources. Perth-based T3 Direct said this week that it will seek compensation of AU$43,750 from Joseph McNichol for allegedly listing the firm's IP number with spews.org, a secretive non-profit organisation that compiles anti-spam lists. T3 Direct's bulk emailing activities have attracted widespread complaints over the last few years, according to the West Australian Internet Industry Association, but the case is the first time anyone has sued because someone else has alleged they're a spammer. McNichol's lawyers have said that they will defend the action, and the case has already begun to attract international support from anti-spam groups worldwide.
While the level of Internet penetration is generally lower in Australia's rural and regional areas than it is in the cities, rural users make more use of the Net according to a new study by Nielsen/Netratings (NN). NN report that the average Australian regional Net user spent 29 hours online in the first three months of 2002 compared to 24 hours for urban users - almost 20% higher usage. Rural users also accessed the web 56 times (against 42 times for city users) and spent more time doing banking, accessing news and other information and looking up phone numbers on the White Pages web site than city users. NN believe that the disparity in usage is caused by a lack of shopfronts and alternative entertainment resources in rural areas.
While telcos may lick their lips at the idea of being paid to forward spam to SMS users (see yesterday's story), New York's Attorney General Eliot Spitzer announced today that his office will sue a US firm that allegedly sent out more than 500 million spam emails in the last year. The suit alleges that MonsterHut.com of Niagara Falls sent millions of spams to people who did not want the messages or specifically tried to block them since March 2001. MonsterHut.com allegedly told its clients the recipients wanted the messages through "permission-based" agreements. A staggering 750,000 people complained about receiving MonsterHut.com spam, Spitzer said, and the New York suit will seek civil penalties of US$500 for each offence. Monster.com's site is no longer on air. In other news: Australian freemail service Start.Com.Au will close its free email service on June 2nd after being unable to cover the costs of providing the service for 160,000 customers. Start.com.au is the latest in a long line of free email services to close down since the end of the dot.com boom.
In news that may leave consumers much less pleased than telcos, The Australian reported today that Australian telecommunications companies are currently implementing charge-back schemes with their SMS partners overseas that will allow them to profit from spams sent to Australians by foreign SMS spammers. The new arrangements will also allow domestic SMS spammers to access cheaper rates, potentially ushering in a new era of spam overload in completely different arena to the Net. The telcos are hoping to make a windfall profit by taking advantage of Australia's currently weak anti-spam laws, which do not view unsolicited marketing messages sent over telecommunications lines - and often received at a direct cost to the consumer - as either an invasion of privacy or bandwidth theft.
A campaign by Microsoft to persuade the US Defence Department (DOD) to abandon open source software in favour of its own proprietary offerings may have backfired badly. According to a report in Newsbytes, a study prepared for the DOD on May 10th concluded that open source often results in more secure, less expensive applications than Microsoft's offerings and that if anything, the use of open source should be expanded rather than reduced. "Banning open source would have immediate, broad, and strongly negative impacts on the ability of many sensitive and security focused DOD groups to protect themselves against cyberattacks," the Mitre Corp. report said, going on to add that open-source software "plays a more critical role in the DOD than has been generally recognized." The report also said that banning open-source software would drive up costs, quoting an example at the US Census Bureau where programmers used open-source software to launch a web site for obtaining US federal statistics for US$47,000, against the US$358,000 it would have cost if proprietary software had been used.
In another blow to Microsoft's dream of being the Internet's "gatekeeper", the European Union (EU) announced today that it will look at whether Microsoft's system of collecting personal data from online users - a linchpin of the company's proposed .Net services strategy - breaks EU privacy laws. The investigation was requested by Erik Meijer, a Dutch member of the European Parliament. Meijer had raised questions about .Net Passport service, saying that failure to register with .Net Passport results in exclusion from many sites' services and that de-subscribing is not currently possible. The EU is already investigating Microsoft for allegedly designing its Windows operating system to work better with its own server software than those of its rivals, and has also expressed concerns about the company allegedly tying its Media Player software to the Windows operating system.
According to a report in Newsbytes today, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has awarded a lucrative and highly sensitive multi-million dollar contract to a subsidiary of bankrupt US firm Global Crossing. The contract - awarded to Asia Global Crossing (AGC) - is to set up a network linking 40 Australian embassies and consulates around the globe. AGC is 59% owned by Global Crossing, which has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the USA with debts of around US$12 billion. Other owners of AGC include Softbank of Japan and Microsoft, both of whom own around 15%. Under the terms of the deal, AGC will set up three regional hubs in Canberra, Washington and London. They'll be linked in a private network with frame relay connections to Australian embassies, consulates, high commissions and diplomatic missions worldwide.
A new study by Enterpulse (EP) has found that 66% of visitors who arrive at a web site and are dissatisfied with it or have a bad experience while visiting it rarely - if ever - return. Researchers surveyed 301 heavy Net users and said that the phenomena (which they've dubbed the "Internet Death Penalty") came as a complete surprise. They suggest it indicates that many businesses who may presently be "dabbling" in the web with amateur sites may actually be doing themselves more harm than good in the long term. They may also be unaware just how much business they're losing. EP found that the main causes of visitor dissatisfaction are poor or inconsistent site navigation, slow download speeds and lack of personalisation features. EP also found that even where sites scored highly for navigation and personalisation, slow download speeds caused by excessive graphics or other frills still led to high dissatisfaction levels in almost 43% of the study's subjects.
The uncontrolled growth of spam in the last year has led not only to widescale consumer burnout but has also made legitimate email marketing steadily less effective, according to a new study by Quris. More than half of all US users now immediately delete emails from people they don't recognise without even opening them and 40% of subscribers to opt-in email systems (ie "permission-based" marketing systems) do the same thing. In a survey of 1200 people, Quris found that spam now makes up the largest share of most people's email in-boxes. Around 70% of users feel that the volume of spam has definitely increased over the last year and 66% say that they already get "too much" email. As a result, Quris found, consumers are generally becoming burned out and the more heavily bombarded they are by email marketing, the less likely they are to respond. Interestingly, the study disclosed that opt-in systems were more effective than spam and that marketers who'd maintained opt-in e-mail practices the longest were also likely to have the most responsive customers. For e-mail users who've maintained opt-in relationships with companies for more than 3 years, 61% said they believe mailings sometimes affected their purchasing decisions, 13% higher than those with shorter relationships.
After years of inaction on the matter, a US Senate Committee has proposed a tough new law that could see spammers fined up to US$1.5 million and/or thrown in jail. The "Can Spam" Act, passed by the US Senate Commerce Committee, would require that spam contain valid return addresses so that recipients can opt out of spam lists and would impose fines and prison terms against spammers who fake their e-mail or physical addresses. The legislation would also allow US state attorneys general to sue on behalf of residents who are continually besieged by spam. However, under pressure from business groups concerned the bill would outlaw legitimate communications between companies and their customers, the bill includes provisions that would exempt companies that can prove they have a "preexisting relationship" with the recipient. This would be constituted by any transaction or electronic correspondence initiated by a consumer within the past three years. The committee also approved an amendment which would make it illegal to send spam to an e-mail address harvested from another web site.
Traffic to America's top three search engines grew by between 16% and 54% over the past six months according to a new report by Jupiter Media Metrix (JMM). While the overall search category saw an 11% increase to 92.3 million unique visitors, the three largest US search sites experienced especially strong growth with Google doing the best of all. Traffic to Google sites grew by an astonishing 54% to 34.2 million unique visitors over the past three months, while Yahoo Search grew 20% to 38.4 million and MSN Search grew by 16% to 42.4 million. Jupiter Media Metrix attributes Googles strong growth to its partnerships with a number of portals including Yahoo and AOL, while MSN Search's growth has been fuelled by being set as the default search engine in Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. The growth of the Big 3 has been at the expense of most other engines, however, with traffic falling at many former "name" search sites such as Lycos, Excite and LookSmart.
Microsoft released a thumping 2Mb bug fix today to patch six newly-discovered (and serious) security flaws in its Internet Explorer web browser. According to the company, at least three of the newly-discovered in its troubled web browser are "serious". Two would allow a hacker to view data on a user's computer while the third could allow a hacker to take full control of the machine. The 2MB download includes all prior fixes for Internet Explorer 5.01, 5.5 and 6.0 as well as the latest patches. In other news: Microsoft and the Victorian State Government announced today that they've signed an AU$80 million contract for the software giant to supply the State's desktop software over the next 4 years. The Government has been given a $19 million discount on the software's retail price. Commenting on the lucrative deal, Microsoft MD Paul Houghton said: "Microsoft shares the Victorian Government's belief that technology can change the way government operates and empower citizens by making government resources available to them over the Internet."
A new study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project (PEW) - likely to have strong parallels in Australia - has found that US Internet users are increasingly using the Net to source information for major life choices. PEW found in a study of 1,415 US surfers that they're using the Net to make choices about education and training (36%), deciding on a new hobby (33%), improving job skills (29%), buying a car (27%), dealing with a major illness in a loved one (26%), dealing with their own illness (24%), and finding a new place to live or sourcing information about investments (22%). However, PEW also found that seeking online advice about love and/or legal matters was at the bottom of the heap among those surveyed. Just 15% turned to the Net for advice on starting or ending a relationship, and only 13% sought legal help online. PEW believe the study reflects the increasingly central role the Net is beginning to play in modern life.
A new study of 2,000 jobseekers conducted by international human resource consultants Drake Beam Morin (DBM) has found that while online job sites like Monster.Com may draw lots of traffic, they result in surprisingly few hires. According to DBM, 61% of their survey group found new positions by networking while less than 6% (up from 4% in 1999) found them via the Net. Furthermore, a DBM report on executive job searching revealed that only 3% of those surveyed found their jobs on the Internet. DBM's findings appear to be supported by a parallel study carried out by CareerXroads (CX), who surveyed 9 major US public companies which collectively accounted for 62,000 hires over the last year. CX found that the percentage of hires made through the top four job boards Monster, Hotjobs, CareerBuilder and HeadHunter was small, with none exceeding 1.4%. CX attributed at least part of the poor showing to a lack of tracking data (ie some individuals who were hired may have first noticed the position listed on a job board and bypassed it, networking their way into an offer).
A new international study by Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS) has found that user satisfaction with a web site is not only important to draw repeat visitors - it encourages new visitors as well. In a study across 14 countries, TNS found that features that have strong appeal include regularly updated content, rapid downloading, good search facilities and personalisation capabilities. Other features that rate highly are clear and straightforward site navigation, depth of content and "user friendliness". Surprisingly, TNS found that word of mouth is more important than search engines or links for attracting regular users. Nearly twice as many regular users of a web site say that they first found the site through friends or relatives than through a search engine. Further, 98% of satisfied users said they'd recommend a site to someone they know, compared to only 1% of dissatisfied users.
46 million users of Microsoft's MSN Messenger have been advised to download a patch to fix a critical security hole in the product which could allow hackers to run malicious commands on a user's computer. The flaw - the latest in a string of serious, embarrassing security defects in the company's software - affects Microsoft MSN Chat Control, Microsoft MSN Messenger versions 4.5 and 4.6 and Microsoft Exchange Instant Messenger 4.5 and 4.6. According to Microsoft, the flaw affects a feature that allows users to gather in a single virtual location to exchange messages across the Net in near real time. The flaw was unearthed a month ago by a security company, but not announced until today when the company made a patch available to fix it. In February Microsoft warned of an unrelated flaw in MSN Messenger that could allow a hacker to gain access to screen names and email addresses. The company has urged users to either download the latest patch as a matter of urgency, or upgrade to the latest version of MSN Messenger or Exchange Instant Messenger by visiting an MSN chat site.
In a study likely to be paralleled elsewhere, telecommunication industry analysts RHK report that Internet traffic doubled in the USA during 2001 - a sign of the medium's continuing spread into everyday life. RHK estimate that the USA's Net traffic now stands at around 100 petabytes (ie 100 million gigabytes) per month. This is more than twice the equivalent long distance voice traffic for the whole of the USA. However, while Internet traffic has doubled in the USA over the last year, RHK indicates that revenue derived from pipes carrying information grew by just 17% over the same period. RHK also predict that while dial-up is still the access method of choice for around 79% of US households, the number of residential broadband subscribers in North America will reach 36.8 million by 2005.
The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) yesterday approved and published a new standard for electromagnetic radiation emissions which - if accepted - could see the level of radiation emitted by mobile phones and a range of other devices in Australia double. Using the bizarre logic that since no-one has yet conclusively proven or disproven that mobile phone radiation can cause cancer, leukaemia or lymphoma - despite several disturbing research studies around the world in recent years which suggest that it might, and other studies which show that EMF radiation above certainly levels most likely does - ARPANSA has submitted its suggested new standard to the Australian Federal Government and State legislators. If accepted by legislators, the new standard could come into force as early as the end of the year.
Contrary to Microsoft's assertions in its recent "We Have The Way Out" campaign that Unix-based systems are more expensive to operate, Australian IT service provider Cybersource (CS) estimate that companies that swap to Linux can make substantial savings very quickly. The company has released a Total Cost of Ownership study which analyses the differences between Linux/Open Source platforms and Windows/Microsoft platforms which discloses Linux cost savings of between 25% and 34%, depending on hardware factors. The study was modelled on an organisation with 250 computer using staff, an appropriate number of workstations, servers, internet connectivity, an ebusiness system, network cabling and hardware, standard software and salaries for IT professionals to establish and support the infrastructure and technology. CS found that the total cost of ownership for a Linux solution was US$482,580 over three years compared with US$733,973 for a Microsoft solution; and if new hardware was required, the Linux solution cost US$790,717 over three years while Microsoft's alternative cost US$1.04 million. (CS support both platforms). The study reinforces an earlier report by Amazon last year, which swapped from Microsoft to Linux and saved US$17 million per quarter - a 30% cost reduction.
Although there are now more almost 20 million web sites in the world, 90% are orphans that no-one links to according to web monitoring firm ServerWatch (SW). In the company's April 2002 Security Space Survey Results, the firm report that they were only able to trace 6.3 million web sites through links (many of them duplicates), indicating that the web may be significantly more "porous" than widely believed. SW also report that despite 6 years of intensive marketing effort Microsoft's IIS web server still remains a minority server on the Net, accounting for 25% of all sites (against almost 66% now run running Apache) and that .COM remains the most widely-used domain, accounting for almost 51% of all domains in the world. Interestingly, UK firm Netcraft - polling a sample base 6 times bigger than SW - report that Microsoft's share is slightly higher (at close to 32%) and Apache's slightly lower (at 56%). They attribute this to Microsoft aggressively targeting a few domain registrars who provide "domain parking" services. But Netcraft also report that for active, live sites the figures are strikingly similar.
In a startling report likely to have strong parallels worldwide, the Korea Times say that a study by Nara Research estimates that spam now costs Korea US$2.25 billion per year. Nara found that Korean ISPs now spend around US$1.78 billion on storage costs for spam while infrastructure costs such as filtering software, extra hardware and personnel to cope with the volume of unsolicited mails costs the country an additional US$49 million. The research also indicates that recipients' efforts to remove spam work out at an additional US$911 million per annum. The number of domestic email users in South Korea is currently around 20.5 million people and 98.9% of these said that they've been spammed. As a result - on average - Koreans now spend 7.23 minutes a day deleting spam and pay around US$100 per year to deal with the problem. In just one day, the Times report, some 900 million spam mails were sent to Korean email subscribers while the number of unsolicited mails sent on a yearly basis was now 340 billion.
Major US software companies - which already have a stranglehold on the Australian market - are now demanding that Australia introduce a raft of new laws to bolster their near-monopoly position while simultaneously scrapping another proposal that might weaken it, according to a report in The Australian today. The Australian says that a delegation of US lobbyists from the Business Software Alliance (which represents Microsoft, Adobe, Macromedia, Symantec, Borland and Autodesk amongst many others) met officials in Canberra over the last week and demanded the immediate introduction of laws to ban the use of pirated software by business. The lobbyists also want the proposed relaxation of parallel importation laws scrapped, the Australian reports, and guidelines struck to help Federal Court judges set damages for breaches of copyright. The group has also threatened that if the Government doesn't accede to its demands the companies will have these matters put on the agenda for free trade agreement negotiations between the two countries.
The Australian Internet continued to contract during April after a major die-back in February and negligible growth in March according to the search engines we poll to construct our monthly Australian Internet Growth Index (which has been attempting to measure the number of live Australian web sites - as opposed to the number of registered domains - since January 1996). Perth suffered the greatest decline (-5.7%) followed by Brisbane (-3.6%), Melbourne (-2.4%) and Canberra (-2.0%), though there appeared to be a growth of around 4.1% in regional and rural web sites. The May 1st figures (with April 1st figures in brackets) are as follows:
During April 2002 Australian Cybermalls hosted 65,188 visitors, a slight fall on March's 66,558. Our visitors viewed 344,777 page displays from our servers, which in turn consumed 16.88 Gb of bandwidth.
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