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Internet users warier than they used to be

Nearly a third in new survey say they've reduced overall Web use

WASHINGTON - As identity theft has grown, so has fear of  being victimized through high-tech means. A new study finds some computer users are cutting back on time spent surfing the Internet. Some have also stopped buying altogether on the Web.

The report from Consumer Reports WebWatch finds nearly a third of those surveyed say they've reduced their overall Web site use.

Some 80 percent of Internet users say they're at least somewhat concerned someone could steal their identity from personal information on the Internet. A majority of users asked say they've stopped giving out personal information on the Web and a quarter say they've stopped buying online.

The survey was of 1,500 U.S. Web users aged 18 and older.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed

                                                                       

High school orders students to stop blogging

Officials say decision motivated by cyber safety concerns, not censorship

NEWARK, N.J. - A Roman Catholic high school has ordered its students to remove personal blogs from the Internet in the name of protecting them from cyberpredators.

Students at Pope John XXIII Regional High School in Sparta appear to be heeding a directive from the principal, the Rev. Kieran McHugh, to remove personal postings about the school or themselves from Web sites like myspace.com or xanga.com, even if they were posted from the students' home computers.

Officials with the Diocese of Paterson say the directive is a matter of safety, not censorship. But constitutional experts say the case raises interesting questions about the intersection of free speech and voluntary agreements with private institutions.

"There was a student who thought he was talking to another teen, and that was not the case," said Marianna Thompson, a diocesan spokeswoman. "Young teens are not capable of consenting to certain things, especially when they're being led along by adults."

She said the student's online contact did not involve sexual activity, but such a possibility led school administrators to convene an assembly for all 900 students about two weeks ago to reinforce the online rules.

Kurt Opsahl, a staff attorney at the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, which champions the rights of bloggers, said there have been several attempts nationwide by private institutions to restrict or censor students' Internet postings.

"But this is the first time we've heard of such an overreaction," he said. "It would be better if they taught students what they should and shouldn't do online rather than take away the primary communication tool of their generation."

Thompson said such a ban has been on the books at all four of the diocese's regional high schools for five years, but is being strictly enforced now. It does not restrict their Web surfing or writing about other topics, she said.

McHugh referred inquiries to the diocese.

Students could be suspended if they flout the rules, but no one has been disciplined in connection with them, Thompson said. A search of both sites Wednesday by The Associated Press found no postings by users who mentioned the school.

Profiles posted by other users on the site include photos and detailed personal information on topics ranging from body measurements to what kind of music they like, their relationships with family members, and their sexual history.

Frank Askin, director of Rutgers University's Constitutional Law Clinic, said the case could be an interesting free speech test if someone took it to court.

"They are a private school, and they can have whatever rules they want," he said. "But students do have rights in this matter, especially in New Jersey. Under our state's constitution, private entities that exercise some kind of dominion over people have to respect their free speech rights."

Thompson said parents of students who enroll in the schools sign contracts governing student behavior, including responsible Internet use.

"It's not a question of legality or censorship," she said. "This is an agreement between us and the parents."

That could dilute the students' free speech claims somewhat, acknowledged Ed Barocas, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

"The rights of students at private schools are far different than those of public schools because administrators at public schools are agents of government," he said. "That's not the case here."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Yahoo doubles price of online music service

Cost now similar to that of other subscription services

 

SAN FRANCISCO - Yahoo Inc. is doubling the price of its online music subscription service for portable MP3 players, ending a short-lived promotion that tried to lure consumers away from Apple Computer Inc.'s market-leading iTunes store.

Effective Nov. 1, Yahoo will charge about $120 annually to download selections from a library of more than 1 million songs and transfer the music to portable players. The Internet powerhouse has been charging just under $60 annually — a price most industry observers predicted wouldn't last when Yahoo entered the market in early May.

Subscribing to the service on a monthly basis will cost $11.99, up from $6.99 under the initial pricing plan. That narrows the gap separating Yahoo's price from similar services offered by Napster Inc. and RealNetworks Inc.

Yahoo, Napster and RealNetworks are all trying to sell the concept of renting digital music instead of buying copies to keep permanently.

The rental approach is supposed to encourage customers to sample different genres and discover new artists because the song selections can be repeatedly changed at no additional cost.

Under the rental model, consumers must pay a recurring fee and synchronize their portable players with the subscription service at least once a month to preserve the music. If the subscription expires, the previously downloaded music becomes unplayable.

Customers at Apple's iTunes store, in contrast, keep all the songs that they buy.

Renters also can't transfer downloaded songs to a compact disc without paying an additional fee. Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo will continue to charge its subscribers 79 cents to own a song. iTunes charges 99 cents.

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said Yahoo's low rental prices didn't impress most consumers because the service isn't compatible with Apple's iPod — the ubiquitous device that controls about 75 percent of the market for portable players.

Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple has sold 28 million iPods since 2001, creating a large and loyal audience for its iTunes store.

"About 90 percent of the music store's success has to do with the devices that it works with," Munster said.

Yahoo's price increases should ease some of the competitors facing Los Angeles-based Napster and Seattle-based RealNetworks, said industry analyst Phil Leigh of Inside Digital Media. "Those guys are breathing a sigh of relief now."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

Microsoft blasted over exclusive music proposal

Antitrust judge demands explanation, says 'this should not be happening'

WASHINGTON - The federal judge overseeing Microsoft Corp.'s business practices scolded the company Wednesday over a proposal to force manufacturers to tether iPod-like devices to Microsoft's own music player software.

Microsoft abandoned the idea after a competitor protested.

In a rare display of indignation, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly demanded an explanation from Microsoft's lawyers and told them, "This should not be happening." (MSNBC is a Microsoft-NBC joint venture.)

Legal and industry experts said Microsoft's demands probably would have violated a landmark antitrust settlement the same judge approved in 2002 between the company and the Bush administration. The government and Microsoft disclosed details of the dispute in a court document last week.

The judge said Microsoft's music-player proposal — even though it was abandoned 10 days later — "maybe indicates a chink in the compliance process." She made her remarks during a previously scheduled court hearing to review the adequacy of the settlement.

The disputed plan, part of a marketing campaign known as "easy start," would have affected portable music devices that compete with Apple Computer Inc.'s popular iPod. It would have precluded makers of those devices from distributing to consumers music software other than Microsoft's own Windows Media Player, in exchange for Microsoft-supplied CDs.

"I do want to know how this happened," the judge said. "It seems to me at this late date, we should not have this occur." She did not indicate she plans to punish Microsoft, but her comments were remarkable because she generally praises efforts by the company and government under the settlement.

A Microsoft lawyer, Charles "Rick" Rule, blamed the proposal on a newly hired, "lower-level business person" who did not understand the company's obligations under the antitrust settlement. The agreement constrains Microsoft's business practices through late 2007.

"This is an issue that Microsoft is concerned showed up," Rule said. He added that Microsoft regrets the proposal ever was sent to music-player manufacturers and that the company was "looking at it to make sure this is a lesson learned."

Responding to related complaints by Microsoft's competitors, the European Union ordered the company last year to sell a version of its dominant Windows operating system without the built-in media player software. Microsoft appealed the decision, which included a $613 million fine, but now sells a Windows version in Europe without its music software.

A Justice Department lawyer, Renata Hesse, said the government will discuss with Microsoft its legal training for employees about antitrust rules. The government previously said the incident was "unfortunate" but said lawyers decided to drop it because Microsoft pulled back.

"I think we, like you, believe it should not be happening at this point," Hesse told the judge.

Microsoft wants consumers to use its media software to transfer songs onto their portable music players from Internet subscription services, such as those from Napster Inc., RealNetworks Inc. and Yahoo! Inc. Each company currently offers its own media software.

Microsoft and others have struggled to match the runaway success of Apple's iPod player and iTunes music service.

© 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

 

Google classifieds? Sneak peek stirs speculation

Company says it's testing content database tool, but won't say more

SAN FRANCISCO - Google Inc. has unintentionally provided a sneak peek at what appears to be a looming expansion into classified advertising — a free service that might antagonize some of the Internet search engine’s biggest customers, including online auctioneer eBay Inc.

Screen shots of the experimental service, dubbed “Google Base,” appeared on several Web sites Tuesday shortly after the legions of people who dissect the online search engine leader’s every move discovered a link to a page inviting people to list things like a used car for sale, a party planning service and current events.

Google confirmed the development of the service a few hours after taking down the link.

“We are testing new ways for content owners to easily send their content to Google,” the Mountain View, Calif.-based company said in a statement. “We’re continually exploring new opportunities to expand our offerings, but we don’t have anything to announce at this time.”

By offering a forum that would enable people to sell goods and services without paying for the advertising, Google might hurt eBay — a major buyer of the online ads that account for most of Google’s profits.

EBay depends on the fees that it receives for helping to sell all kinds of products and services, including items that might be listed for free on Google Base. The San Jose, Calif.-based company also owns a 25 percent stake in Craigslist, a popular site that offers free classified ads in more than 100 cities.

Google also has confirmed it’s working on an online payment service, but CEO Eric Schmidt has said the service won’t compete with eBay-owned PayPal.

Another free online classified ad service also would pose another financial threat to newspapers, which already have been squeezed in the cities where Craigslist provides free listings.

If a free Google listing service materializes, it could change the way many Web sites view the online search engine leader.

Through most of its seven-year existence, Google has depicted itself as a vehicle for delivering people to other destinations that contained a desired piece of information or product.

But during the past 18 months, Google has increasingly been adding more content and services that are turning its Web site into more of portal — a sort of one-stop shop for information and commerce.

“As soon as you start competing with some of the people that you are indexing, it creates a completely different dynamic,” said Craig Donato, chief executive of Oodle.com, a search engine that pools listings from dozens of classified advertising sites.

“Google can get away with a lot of stuff, but (Google Base) would certainly give people pause,” he said.

Google’s diversification has coincided with tougher competition from Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp.’s MSN — two longtime portals that have been trying to build better search engines. (MSNBC content is distributed by MSN. MSNBC itself is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

© 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Wiretap rule for Internet phones challenged

Privacy, technology groups say FCC order would stifle innovation

WASHINGTON - A new federal regulation making it easier for law enforcement to tap Internet phone calls is being challenged in court.

Privacy and technology groups asked the federal appeals court in Washington on Tuesday to overturn a Federal Communications Commission rule that expands wiretapping laws to cover Internet calls — or Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).

Law enforcement agencies already can obtain a subpoena for the contents of VoIP calls from Internet access providers. But the FBI and others want the ability to capture the technology live and they want systems designed so it would be easy to do that.

"The whole process of innovation on the Internet would be seriously damaged," said John Morris, staff counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology.

To meet the rule's requirements, Internet call providers would have to rewire networks at great cost, Morris said. In addition, there is fear the rule would stifle development of new technologies by placing more regulatory burdens on innovators.

Justice Department spokesman Paul Bresson says court-authorized electronic surveillance is a critical law enforcement tool. "As communications technologies develop, we must ensure that such progress does not come at the expense of our nation's safety and security," he said.

The FCC declined comment on the legal challenge.

The Center for Democracy and Technology was joined in its court petition by several groups, including CompTel, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Separately, the American Council on Education, which represents about 2,000 colleges and universities, filed an appeal of the rule on Monday in federal court in Washington.

The rule, approved by the FCC in August, requires that providers of Internet phone calls and broadband services ensure their equipment can allow police wiretaps.

The rule applies to VoIP providers such as Vonage that use a central telephone company to complete Internet calls. It also applies to cable and phone companies that provide broadband services. The companies must comply by May 2007.

The education group said schools are willing to cooperate with the FBI, but that there are other ways to assist law enforcement rather than rewiring networks.

"We fear that the FCC order will make every college and university replace every router and every switch in their systems," said council senior vice president Terry Hartle. "The cost of doing that is substantial."

For example, he said, the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently rewired its network as part of its regular upgrade of computer systems. The cost, he said, was $18 million.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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