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Communications of the ACM

Communications of the ACM

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An increasing number of companies are creating a new position"chief privacy officer"to prevent legal or marketing disasters and help gain the trust of online customers, reports the San Jose Mercury News. Government scrutiny is a major factor in companies creating the postthe Federal Trade Commission recently filed a lawsuit to block the bankrupt from selling its customer information to pay off creditors, and the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act now makes it illegal for commercial Web sites to collect personal information from children under 13 years of age without their parents' consent. Other advantages for creating the position: educating employees; negotiating deals with advertisers and explaining company privacy policy; streamlining operations; and delving into issues such as what, exactly, consumers want in the way of privacy.

"I think consumers fear identity theft and the building of super-profiles without their permissionthings that most companies don't do and don't facilitate."
Chris Kelly, Excite@Home chief privacy officer.

Figure. Age and Sex of Web Users

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End of dot-com days

By the end of the year, many Web addresses will be using new suffixescalled top-level domains (TLDs), such as .shop, .tel, and .newsreports the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN is now accepting applications from companies that plan to sell and register the new TLDs, called "registrars." ICANN president Esther Dyson said the first new Web addresses would start to appear by the end of the year or the beginning of next, though no one knows what the new TLDs will be until November. Internet company officials are concerned about user confusion and infringement of trademark rights.

Table. Seek and Find

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Online ivory tickling

Live, interactive piano lessons are being offered over the Internet. Since January 2000, more than 800 students in 55 countries have taken online lessons in genres ranging from classical to blues, jazz, country, spiritual, and hip-hop. A Canadian company,, has been offering free lessons to test customers. Lessons require a musical instrument digital interface-compatible piano or keyboard, an Internet-accessible PC with sound card, microphone, and speakers. The company's software turns keyboard data into the language of the Net; Microsoft's Netmeeting software allows teacher and student to hear each other and talk and play piano in real time. Teachers set their own fees, but lessons cost an average of $20 for a 30-minute session. The company plans to add guitar, woodwinds, and brass instruments.

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Privacy fortress

Worried about the government eavesdropping on your email or Web browsings? If so, you may want to rent a server housed in a rusting island of metal and concrete in the North Sea that's billed as the "world's most secure" data haven. The data bunker is Sealand, a former WWII British Navy fortress off the coast of eastern England. The company, HavenCo (www.havenco. com), offers Internet servers that are "subpoena-free ... there are no laws about storage or transmission," says a HavenCo spokesperson. Only spam, child porn, and Internet attacks are off limits. Customers expected to fork over $500 to $5,000 per month for the server space include banks, e-commerce companies, and "individuals who just feel like being left alone." To avoid sabotage, HavenCo is installing multiple Net linksfiber-optic cable, microwave, and satelliteall sending encrypted data.

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Asteroids by the numbers

"It's possible some of these asteroids eventually will move onto an Earth-collision trajectory. I think it's prudent to find these big asteroids."
William Bottke, Cornell University astronomer

Nine hundred large asteroids, some of which could threaten the Earth with dangerous collisions, have been located in the inner solar system by an international team of scientists, reports Science. Researchers say an object 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) or greater in diameter slamming into the earth are small but not inconceivable. Such space rocks could set off natural catastrophes freezing or frying the planet. Smaller ones could wipe out millions of people; larger ones could wipe out most species. Most asteroids remain in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter, but sometimes collisions launch large chunks into unstable orbits, moving them on a course that could threaten our planet. Scientists estimate that on average, a killer asteroid strikes the Earth once every 500,000 to 1 million years. Near-Earth asteroids range from mere specks to more than 64 kilometers (40 miles) in diameter.

"The entire Earth would be in bake mode."
William Bottke

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UF1Figure. Age and sex of web users (online at home and work), in millions*

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UT1Table. Seek and Find

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