Here's a privacy paradox. To encourage encryption, the British government has announced plans to set up a network of "trusted third parties" who will administer the keys needed to encrypt and decrypt data. So far so good - except that in order to qualify as "trusted", the third parties must be willing to give the government the keys to your data. Now, is that how you define trustworthy ?
As a shameless grab to enable government spying on private data, Britain's initiative mirrors America's Clipper chip - a technology that, despite mounting opposition, never quite seems to die. But unlike Clipper, which does little more than require keys to encrypted information to be handed over to the government, Britain's proposal also promises to solve a basic problem: determining who's really who in the electronic world. If the government keeps its promise not to ban more secure means of encryption, Britons may soon be able to vote with their keyboards over how much privacy really means to them.
Here's how it all works. So-called public-key encryption schemes - the best now available - use two keys, one public and one private. If you want to send a secret message for Tony, you encrypt it with his public key, which is available over the Net. He can decrypt it with his private key, which only he knows. Equally, to prove that the message does come from you, you could also encrypt it with your private key and Tony could decrypt it with your public key. These key pairs eliminate the problem of creating and communicating lots of different keys. But they create a new one: who ensures that the keys really come from the people they purport to?
Enter the Trusted Third Party, or TTP. In Britain, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) will license TTPs, which will certify the identity of subscribers and arbitrate disputes over transactions. In fact the TTP will actually issue the key itself, effectively keeping a copy "in escrow" (a legal term for custody of documents by an honest broker). A condition of the licence will be that on production of a decryption warrant, the TTP must generate a copy of any user's key (without telling the user). The licence will both certify the TTP's reliability and give it some legal protection - provided it has exercised due care.
So far, the British government, at least, says it will leave open an obvious way around its legal snooping ability. The message signed via a TTP could itself be encrypted using another snoop-proof encryption scheme, like Pretty Good Privacy (PGP). Given that there is already a substantial network of volunteer public-key servers for PGP, this dual encryption could give the best of both worlds - guaranteed privacy plus legally-mandated proof of identity. Needless to say, some government groups, including America's FBI and other law-enforcement groups, want to outlaw PGP and other such forms of encryption. The DTI says it won't. Provided the DTI keeps its promise, the interesting question will be to see whether most people care enough about privacy to use these encryption methods.
If people don't care, the DTI also has ideas about how it can make life yet easier for government snoops. Britain is promoting a technology that would enable different countries to cooperate internationally. The Information Security Group at Royal Holloway College has developed a scheme that has been "looked on favourably" by the DTI. It allows TTPs in different countries jointly to escrow (ie keep copies of) keys, permitting authorities to request decryption of messages from either jurisdiction. Different TTPs agree a "shared secret-key" and a function to generate a unique private and public key from every user's name.
If any government wants to decrypt a message it has intercepted, it can simply serve a warrant on the TTP in its jurisdiction. A refinement allows new keys to be issued periodically ("time-bounding"), so that the decryption warrant would have to specify a window of dates for which interception was authorised.
The back door in this scheme is the existence of the shared secret-key. If this master-key (a hundred digits or so) is somehow acquired by the authorities, they could decrypt all messages without further assistance. Users must not only trust their own government not to do this, but must also trust governments in other jurisdictions. Under "special relationship" UK-US intelligence agreements, GCHQ and the US National Security Agency are widely believed to "take in each other's laundry" to circumvent legislation regulating domestic surveillance. Given that gathering economic intelligence on foreign authorities is now within the mandate of most western security services, such trust may well prove too much for businesses to swallow.
Key escrow has already proved too much for Britain's doctors. In May, the NHS published plans for the encryption it intended to use on its new medical records data network, which will be put in every hospital and in 10,000 doctor's surgeries. The original plans allowed for a TTP with an escrow (or "key-recovery") facility, but after fierce criticism from the BMA about patient confidentiality, escrow has been dropped. The government now wants doctors to use a cipher called Red Pike, which comes from the Communications Electronics Security Group, the division of GCHQ that manages British encryption policy. This cipher carries only a "Restricted" security rating, rather than the "Secret" classification used for strong ciphers like PGP. Given that, and its origins at the headquarters of British spying, doctors still aren't sure whether they trust this new idea or not. Who can blame them?
- Caspar Bowden
As software foul-ups go, it was pretty spectacular. The rocket nozzles decided to swing round to one side; the rocket toppled over and started to break up; safety symptoms blew apart the pieces. At the time Wired went to press there had been no definitive word on why the first flight of Ariane 5 met such a sorry end, but dodgy software in the navigation system is the prime suspect.
Still, though European pride is dented, and the intricacies of the earth's magnetic environment will now not be measured by the four Cluster satellites the rocket took to its fiery grave, the world's satellite industry will hardly be inconvenienced at all. The fact that rockets are inescapable symbols of manhood (and can carry nasty weapons to boot) means that many countries feel they need to have them, even though they aren't that profitable. Ariane 5, for example, could never earn back the amount that was spent on developing it, even if it worked perfectly for the next 100 launches. If it doesn't, then there are other countries eager to take a bigger market share. There'll be more than enough Ukrainian Zeniths, Russian Protons, Chinese Long Marches, American Atlases and Japanese H-IIs to take up the slack.
- Oliver Morton
Matthias Hamm has had enough of global nets. He is perturbed by the notion that the technosphere is only helping people look ever more outward, further away from their surroundings. So he's trying to put it all within walking distance.
Like many other people, Hamm wants to create online public access kiosks that would act as a kind of combined district LAN, bulletin board and access point to other services, bridging the yawning gap between global communications systems and "for sale" notices in newsagents' windows.
Hamm's idea is to try and place kiosks not according to where people live within an area, or how they enter or leave it, but according to the routes along which they move within it. In a trial study of the area around Waterloo Station in south London, Hamm broke the population down into groups that were defined not by race, age, or income, but by how they walked through the locality. According to Hamm, any area has various local attractors such as public buildings, shops, parks and public transport that define the dynamics of how people move through it on foot. He found six main routes around Waterloo, at least one of which was taken on a regular basis by everyone who lived in the area.
Hamm found that just four carefully placed kiosks would ensure that all the people in the area could have access to at least one of them every day, without going out of their way. Through planning to place the kiosks in areas that aren't obvious thoroughfares and are large enough to take a couple of benches, Hamm has also discovered those public meeting places that lie latent in the ways that people wander through their neighbourhoods. His name for his proposed community project based on these findings ? The Walking Distance State. Beats Nanny State and Police State any day.
- James Flint
You know how it is with artificial noses; you wait for ages and then two come along at once. Nantwich-based AromaScan plc and Essex-based Neotronics Scientific have both developed electronic smelling devices, and both are doing extraordinarily well - the former with a turnover of £1.7 million for the six months to October 1995, the latter of £359,000 for the six months to April 1996 (and its parent company, Neotronics Technology plc, of £20.1 million for 1995). Their stock is rising, and prospects are good. Electronic nose technology has proliferated - and blossomed into a moneymaker - because the body of chemists, biochemists and engineers working in this area has suddenly reached the critical mass necessary to make the leap from the academic to the commercial.
The AromaScanner grew directly out of work done at the Department of Instrumental and Analytical Science, at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST). It measures changes in the resistance of conducting organic polymers to determine what scents are in the air - its polymer types detect a spectrum of compounds similar to that of the receptors in the human nose. Neural net software analyses the spectrum along various axes, identifying up to 10,000 aromas (as opposed to the human nose, which is said to recognise only 2,000). It works in real time, sits on a desktop and costs £50,000. By contrast, Neotronics' e-NOSE 4000 (Neotronics Olfactory Sensing Equipment) uses conducting polymer sensors to measure changes in conductivity in vapour mixed with a particular substance, has a different software setup, and comes in at just £30,000. You can even test drive it at London's Science Museum, though to be honest all the sample scents smelled exactly the same to my ten-year-old pal and me.
None of this technology will be available for determining whether the guy at the other end of the bar is sending pheromones your way any time in the near future. But you may reap the benefits of electronic sniffing indirectly quite soon. Wellcome plc and researchers at Cambridge University are working on a fertility project that will monitor women's smells using one of the new technologies. Researchers at Craig Dunain Hospital in Inverness are working on an e-nose that picks up odours on people's breath or from sweat glands, helping to diagnose diseases including cancer, diabetes and ulcers. And the latest schnozz developed at UMIST can sniff out truffles better than a specially trained pig.
- Liz Bailey
However much wired advertisers may devote their lunch-times to hand-waving about interactivity, many of them still treat Web sites as billboards; put up an ad and that's it. They got a shock when Proctor and Gamble announced that it would pay on the basis of the number of direct clicks its webverts got, not just on the number of eyes that might be presumed to see them.
Now Web surfers may be getting uppity, too. Netscape users can download a plug-in called Fast Forward, which identifies advertisements on Web sites using a combination of artificial intelligence and a database. It then instructs your browser to ignore these adverts when you download a site. It can also be programmed to destroy the "cookie" files that most popular browsers generate, and to help webmasters to find out what system you use, and what parts of their site you spend the most time looking at. Unsurprisingly, Fast Forward
has not gone down well with content providers. "We've received a lot of hate mail," says Jeff Harrell, one of the seven North Carolina undergraduates who run Privnet ( www.privnet.com), the company developing Fast Forward.
But Fast Forward doesn't necessarily herald the end of webvertising. Indeed, it may make it better. Most people probably don't find adverts per se intrusive, but do find particular adverts and advertising styles offensive. Harrell himself doesn't use it to eliminate adverts wholesale; he uses it to disable cookies, to limit the size of the graphics that can appear on his browser and to ignore "blinking" text. That doesn't mean people can't advertise at him - it just means they have to be careful.
Fast Forward could develop into a market research tool, or it could just drive a degree of advertising churn, encouraging ads that the program doesn't recognise as such. But it might encourage advertisers and their clients to think a little more deeply about the many forms of interactivity. One new exploration of that idea is Maritz's Goldmail ( www .goldmail.com), which rewards the users who look at the advertising it delivers with generous prizes.
- Alex Balfour
"As far as I'm concerned, the Communications Decency Act is pants. I don't know much about the First Amendment, and frankly I don't care," says Clive Gringras. In the week when the Communications Decency Act (CDA), billed as the great threat to the Internet, was thrown out by a US federal court, these are not the words of a dyed-in-the-wool techno-reactionary . They're the words of a young man fast becoming one of the UK's leading authorities on Internet law.
Gringras, now a trainee with solicitors Nabarro Nathanson, is working on a book about law and the Internet. He sees the market as wide open, since most Internet-related legal resources, he says, are either "flawed analogies derived from American examples, or interesting but very generic discussions of legal principles." As Gringras sees it, the fundamental Internet problem for lawyers is resolving the conflict between the borderless nature of Net activity and legal systems that only apply within certain countries. In fact, codes of legal practice based on the "conflict of laws" have been in existence ever since nations began trading with one another. Gringras believes that if lawyers can be taught to appreciate how Internet technology actually works, Internet-related legal cases can be tackled using existing codes of legal practice. That's why he doesn't think the CDA has any important lessons to teach British lawyers; it's a law based on underlying principles that aren't applicable outside the US.
Gringras's interest in the history of trade and law can be traced back to his most honourable claim to fame. In 1991 he met Warren Burch, a computer science graduate, at the checkout of a Cheshire computer shop. They hit it off immediately, and teamed up to code the Acorn Archimedes version of the addictive space-based trading-and-smuggling strategy game Elite. Their version has now achieved cult status; some still consider it to be the best version of the game ever produced.
Burch went on to Microsoft; Gringras went on to the law - and might continue into politics, or at least policy. He recently joined a team of academics working under the Oxford economics don Andrew Graham on an Economic and Social Sciences Research Council study of the social consequences of the Net. Over the next two years, the study will take a detailed look at the Net's pricing and regulatory structure. It may well have a profound impact on the Net's future in the UK - not least because Graham is a long time adviser to the Labour Party. If Commander Blair starts to show an aptitude for docking in those fiendish revolving space stations, you will know who to blame.
- Alex Balfour
Spacehog's new CD, a slightly insipid grunge-like concoction, is not something to get too worked up about. Unless, that is, you are a CD counterfeiter. One face of the CD-single is a hologram of a pig in a spacesuit, which not only looks pretty but also makes manufacturing counterfeit copies a whole heap more difficult.
The software industry has used holograms on packaging for several years, with some success (see "Caught by Coherent Light", Wired US 4.05:), but this is the first time a hologram has been incorporated into the actual structure of the storage medium. The hologram technology is a product of the four-year partnership between CD manufacturer Nimbus and UK-based Applied Holographics. The holograms do not have to be as striking as Spacehog's; they can be hidden along the outer perimeter or the inner ring of a CD as a simple aid to authentication. But if they can simultaneously make those shiny little suckers more fun to look at, why not ?
- Tom Loosemore
It may be out of narcissism, or as a public service, or just from a simple desire to set the record straight; whatever the reason, the Net lets you look after your heritage. Take Roger McGuinn. While contemporaries such as Graham Nash and Todd Rundgren are seduced by the eye-candy of multimedia, McGuinn talks to his fans. Anybody stuck for a chord or a lyric from a Byrdsong need only query the alt.music.byrds group: before long, the chances are Roger McGuinn will pop up to answer the question in person.
The Byrds were always fixated by technology, despite their folky roots; one of their albums features the sound of a taxi-ing Lear jet as the background to a song, and McGuinn was one of the first users of Bob Moog's new synthesiser back in the late '60s. So it's a natural progression to find McGuinn back absorbing technology and turning it to his own purpose. (This is a man, after all, who changed his name from Jim to Roger because it sounded more aviation-like.)
McGuinn started with a CompuServe account back in 1985 before stretching out to full Internet access through Netcom a couple of years ago. He's now established a Web page called Folk Den where, month-by-month, he's giving away a whole folk album (albeit only in 8-bit).
The impetus, he says, came from that same Internet fan-base. "I think there is a very limited commercial market for such an album, and rather than make a small album for sale to a limited market, I wanted to make an limitless one available to the public, free. My concern for preserving the art form takes precedence in this case." If you have any questions after hearing it, you know who to ask.
- Jim Smith
"I don't break things," Eugene Kashpureff says from his chaotic office in Bremerton, Washington. It's more accurate to say that he specialises in bending things - preferably the rules.
Kashpureff built his first computer by hand when he was ten years old and currently makes a decent living hawking coveted .com Internet domain names. Now he's created Alternic.net - an ad hoc registry experimenting with the development of new international top-level domains (iTLDs) like .sex or .biz.
The .com zone is filling up at the rate of several thousand names per day, leaving few options for new Internet sites to choose from. The powers behind the Net infrastructure agree on the need to create new iTLDs as quickly as possible, and they're busily preparing for the rollout of up to 100 new domains within the next year. But Kashpureff is thumbing his nose at the Net power structure - and pushing Alternic.net as an alternative registry.
The triumvirate of the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet Society and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) makes it its business to assign new iTLDs and registry managers. IANA director Jon Postel, the top dog within the Internet architecture elite, scoffs, "Kashpureff is not cooperating. If some people went along with him and some people didn't, the Net would become a jungle."
Kashpureff says he doesn't need Postel's blessing to push ahead with his new top-level domains. "InterNIC and the IETF would like to think they're the sole authorities," he says. "But those tigers don't have any teeth. No one out there is really in control." And so Kashpureff continues to rail against the party line. It's possible that he'll be rendered impotent by Postel's new plan, or he may get co-opted with the promise of a lucrative registry contract. But whatever happens, get your browsers ready for the likes of .inc, .xxx, and .wir.
- Roderick Simpson
How much do you use the different applications on your computer ? You may not know, but if your company invests in a software system called WinWatch Professional (see www.winwatch.com), your boss could. The package gives managers surveillance and control over every Windows-based PC in the organisation, interrogating them to determine which software the user is running, how often and in what manner. An audit trail gives IT managers a profile of each user, and a panorama of how workers are using their machines.
And it gets better. The software also gives managers the ability remotely to modify or suspend programs on any machine. It doesn't actually extend to analysis of the text in files. Yet.
The £150-per-PC WinWatch package is being marketed on the notion that users are now "over-empowered". Lack of control, the company argues, leads to a degree of desktop autonomy that can only result in expensive chaos. Sony and Reuters have been trying WinWatch for a few months and seem happy with the results. Justin Doyle, Sony Entertainment's IT manager, played down the surveillance aspect of the product, insisting that it is only "a tool for diagnosing and resolving fault situations". It does have some undeniably useful capabilities, such as the ability to stop customer files being copied from the network. And it probably makes the corporate trains run on time, too.
- Simon Davies
Psst. Wanna see what hackers get up to ? The hardcore, unexpurgated stuff ? Then point your browser at www.takedown.com, the site created to promote Takedown, the book written by Tsutsumo Shimomura (Unix god of the San Diego Supercomputer Centre) and John Markoff (Silicon Valley reporter of The New York Times) about Shimomura's efforts to track down America's most dedicated hacker, Kevin Mitnick. Shimomura recorded Mitnick's efforts to break into a variety of computers, keystroke by keystroke. Visitors to the Web site can play them back, and see exactly what Mitnick and his buddies got up to.
It's oddly fascinating to watch - in large part because it shows just how pathetic and boring the hacker's life really is. Mitnick's communications with fellow hackers alternate between bragging of his exploits and begging for the tools that will enable him to break into yet more machines. There's not a lot of intellectual puzzle-solving going on here. But there is a lot of name-calling, racism and violence - although mostly to machines.
One transcript is the computer equivalent of a snuff movie. A young would-be-Mitnick breaks into one of Shimomura's computers, painstakingly types out a manifesto from the "Mitnick Liberation Front", mails it to various news organisations and then proceeds to trash the machine. True, subtitles would enable the action to grip a larger audience, but those who speak Unix will shudder when he types "rm -rf /*", deleting all files on the computer. And they will wince when he changes the password on the EPROM, ensuring that nobody will ever log into the machine again - or wouldn't if this weren't in fact a bait machine set up by Shimomura as a way of watching hackers at work.
- John Browning
In January 17th, 1996, THB Asia Connect, a Malaysian Internet provider, successfully facilitated the first-ever live interactive session between three heads of government: Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad met with PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Philippine president Fidel Ramos for a ten-minute online chat. But the online exchange was just one small step in Asia Connect's plan to develop Asiacentric content for the Net.
"If you look at today's Internet, more than 90% of it is western in focus," says Joe Lam, senior vice president of Asia Connect. "We create content that people on this half of the world can relate to. The faster we develop Asiacentric content, the faster Asia will get online."
Lam's not kidding. A year ago, the Internet didn't exist in Malaysia. Now popular sites are getting a million hits a month.
What qualifies as Asiacentric content ? Lillian Too's feng shui site has been big news. Feng shui is the Chinese art of geomancy - a cross between psychic energy work and interior design - and Lillian Too can make a Swiss ski chalet seem as spiritual as Stonehenge. In Asia she's a celebrity, and her online consultations are burning up lots of Asian bandwidth.
"Most of what they're doing isn't nearly as big as the tripartite head-of-state chat or as esoteric as Lillian Too," says Asia Connect's former webmaster, Anthony Batt. "They do a lot of day-to-day small stuff, like giving away homepages and helping Malaysian radio stations and newspapers get online."
If Asia Connect has its way, it will put all of the Far East online. This year alone, the company plans to expand its Hong Kong office and open new ones in Thailand and Indonesia. "It's exciting to imagine what happens when Asiacentric content starts exerting an influence," muses Batt. "That could produce a brand-new vision - a true East-meets-West scenario."
- Steven Kotler
When King Ludd first enquired as to the time and place of Simon Jenkins's "The Last Word" lecture, he was told that these were under wraps. Happily, though, His Royal Security-Consciousness was able to attend and bask in the wit and wisdom of one of his best-beloved courtiers. His Lunchtime O'Booziness was delighted to hear the former editor of The Times assert that the Internet as a research tool was as nothing compared to "a yellowing pile of old clippings" and a "fine glass of claret". And his Munificent Speculance found himself in complete agreement with Mr Jenkins that the Net will never replace "sitting down in my study with my favourite book of Cezanne reproductions". He would like it made a matter of public record that Mr Jenkins is as far as it is possible for one man to be from missing the point.
- James Flint
Jeraint Hazan is managing director of On-line Publishing, a firm that has set up Web sites for clients that include the Labour Party and all ten English regional arts boards. He is also chair of the Hackney Chamber of Commerce. Wearing both these hats at once, Hazan is heavily involved in the Hackney Business Web site, an Internet directory for, at the moment, between 40 and 50 Hackney-based companies, divided into eight sections, from Business Services to Furniture (there are a lot of furniture firms in Hackney). This is the new face of urban regeneration; in Hazan's words, it's about "helping business, which helps people".
For Hazan, urban regeneration is not just about cleaning up buildings and making the environment look better; it's also about making companies work better. "If we can do something with public money that does benefit people, and we can show that, then great." The public money Hazen spends comes not only from the council but also from Dalston City Partnership and from Digital Business, a government initiative aimed at small businesses in economically-challenged inner-city areas.
The idea is not a matter of online for online's sake. "The key is where you draw the line. We're not interested in pushing anyone online who won't benefit from it. We're not afraid to turn people down. A corner shop, for example, won't need us. On the other hand, our site definitely has already helped some businesses." He points to the experience of Justin Lewis of Mandora Greetings, a company that specialises in designing "Afrocentric" greeting cards. In the few months since the Web site has been running, Lewis has been contacted by potential clients in Los Angeles and has high hopes for the future, although he cannot yet confirm any actual sales.
Another founder-subscriber to the Hackney Business Web site is Colin Jones of Rhiannon Records, an independent label. Jones is currently working on a full Web site for Rhiannon that will be linked to the Hackney Business page, and is particularly attracted to the possibilities a Web site might give him in the US market, although he admits that no one has yet emailed him saying, "I saw your page on the Hackney Business Web site and...." "Remember," says Hazan, "that what we have now is only a pilot - we really need to show results in a year's time." By then the service will be greatly expanded; there are about 6,500 legal small businesses in the Hackney area, and all of those that might benefit should find their way onto the Web through Hazen's good offices.
Once a theatre director, Hazen has a practical bums-on-seats approach. "Economic regeneration can only happen if the businesses feel they can compete better online, and then do so, and expand, taking on more people." One small example: On-line itself is about to take on another four.
- Wayne Myers
Summertime, and the streets of Soho are formicating with taxis, tourists and tipplers. But for all the bustle above-ground, the real traffic is to be found a few feet below the pavement, where the rushes, edits and special effects of the British film industry are flying by at an ungodly pace, courtesy of Medianet 15.
Medianet 15 (from its 155 Mbit-per-second speed) is a fibre-optic service that was originally created to serve the needs of four London film companies: CFC, Cinesite, BTR and The Moving Picture Company. It proved such a success at handling the vast data files involved in broadcast-quality digital film production that it has now been extended to other film houses. Faced with such generous bounty, the users have been permitting themselves such luxuries as transmitting uncompressed footage at cinema resolution.
Although the trial took place in Soho, and the rates go up the further you are from Telecom Tower, Shepperton and Pinewood Studios have expressed interest in the idea of hooking up to the service. Perhaps more important, though, is an extension to studios elsewhere. A direct link to Tinseltown allowing British special-effects houses to pitch for contracts or piecework in Hollywood is almost ready.
Interest is said to be high, but there is a hair in the gate; in order to conform with the American DS3 standard, the data rate is dropped to 45 Mbits per second for the transatlantic crossing. Just to rub in that data-rate disparity, BT has announced that in the near future it intends to ramp up the rate under Soho's drinking dens to a dizzying 622 Mbits per second. Enough to make your head spin.
- Steve Shipside
Happily for Mr Cocker, the future doesn't have to be just 20,000 people in a field. Instead of camping out in the mud to see Bowie and Björk live at Phoenix '96, the largest music event taking place in Britain this year, fans will be able to catch it broadcast live over the Internet, 24 hours a day.
The "cyberfestival" is the brainchild of Traffic Interactive, a new media marketing outfit that specialises in creating online events for advertisers. Its 40-strong team of techies, musos, editors and reporters will put together a rolling netcast from the festival, armed with Pentium processors, digital cameras, powerbooks and video cameras. Two on-site servers will put out the CU-SeeMe and RealAudio files through eight ISDN lines, and visitors will be able to choose between performances on the festival's seven stages, pre-recorded interviews with stars and fans and festival news - including details of the toilets' cleanliness.
Phoenix '96 will be accessible online via Vladivar vodka's "http:// www.goodcleanfun.freud.co.uk/phoenix/">Good Clean Fun" Web site . Traffic's first step into this new world was a live broadcast of Britpop band Supergrass playing at London's Astoria; 200,000 people accessed the "cybergig" from as far afield as Slovenia, Latvia and Bermuda. Their approach was pioneered in the US by Traffic's Los Angeles-based backer, House of Blues, which was started by Hard Rock Cafe founder Isaac Tigrett and and Blues Brother Dan Ackroyd. HoB mixes its restaurant business with TV production and music interests, and has a production division specialising in creating exclusive events with which to drive online traffic onto Web sites.
Traffic is trying to bring the same idea to Europe. Along with its partners AMV, an advertising agency, and Freud Communications, a consumer PR company, HoB hopes that Traffic will change the face of advertising, replacing the traditional model with the creation of new products that an advertiser's target market desires. So this summer, eschew the Portaloo for your mouse pad.
- Meg Carter
Andreas Whittam Smith is unnervingly calm. Perhaps it's the fine head of silver-grey hair, a wall-to-wall hessian-weave carpet and one of Notting Hill's most pleasant streets outside his window. Perhaps it's the fact that his travails as a national newspaper editor are now behind him. Perhaps it's the cute little CD-ROM start-up two metres beneath his elegant leather slippers.
"Notting Hill" is the name of the Whittam Smith venture, set up in the venerable editor's own house with his son Ben. In 1994 Whittam Smith left the ailing Independent, which he had founded. Notting Hill was set up the following year and has since published four titles, had a great deal of media attention and put up large and tasteful stands (not necessarily an oxymoron) at various Internet trade shows. Why did he take the plunge into CD-ROM? "I want to be involved in a new medium," he explains, "and there are not many chances to do that. CD-ROM is still very open; nobody's been involved before. It's a medium which has certain advantages for explaining certain things, and the longer I've spent in journalism, the more I've been motivated by a desire to explain."
So what distinguishes Notting Hill from any other ROM start-up - apart from a famous newspaper editor at the helm and a healthy investment base ? The answer: not much. Notting Hill's first two ROMs were done in commercial "mission to explain" mode, aimed firmly at the self-improvement pop-elitism market: wine and opera. The Wines, Beers and Spirits ROM wasn't much cop, but The Art of Singing, the opera ROM, is rather better: you wander round an opera house discovering opera samples, a library of opera info, and interviews with various divas and tenors. There are only two other Notting Hill ROMs: International Athletics - similar to The Art of Singing except that you're in an Olympic stadium instead of an opera house - and Richard Dawkins' The Evolution of Life, which will be released mid-August. At which point, presumably, we'll get an inkling of Notting Hill's fitness to survive.
- James Flint
America's Communications Decency Act was overturned in June by the district court of Philadelphia, where the judges offered a rousing defence of cyberspace as a home for free expression and democracy. In other countries, with other constitutions, legislators trying to censor content on the Net are having a much easier time of it. In Germany the struggle is between the states and the federal government over who should have jurisdiction - both sides are trying to legislate, the states more restrictively. And in France, there is the new Fillon amendment.
In early June, in the wake of the arrests of French Internet service providers for "distributing" paedophile pornography and Holocaust revisionism, François Fillon, Minister for Telecommunications, rushed through an amendment to the act of parliament originally intended to lay down the guidelines for telecoms privatisation in '97. The amendment sets the scene for a trusted-third-party encryption system (similar to the one under construction in Britain). It also renders ISPs immune from prosecution, providing they abide by two conditions.
The first is that they must provide baby-sitter software to allow parents to set filters on what their children can access on the Net. The second is that they must not knowingly provide access to any sites blacklisted by the CST (the Conseil Supérieur de la Télématique, which now comes under the tutelage of the national broadcasting authority, the Conseil Supérieur de l'Audiovisuel).
The President of the French branch of the Internet Society, Bruno Oudet, has pointed out that this hurried legislation is flawed by a mindset which treats the Internet as a glorified Minitel - which has been, until now, the CST's main jurisdiction. The CST has a lot of leverage over exclusively French Minitel; it has a lot less over the internationally based Internet. Despite this, there is some consternation, especially among lesbians and gays, at the presence of the conservative Federation of French Families on the CST's board. The board's composition will now be changed to include ISPs; at the moment the industry is "represented" only by France Telecom, which has a seat more or less ex monopolismus. But the ISPs and their representatives are aware that their voices may not count for that much. After all, Fillon said that he would consult them before legislating in the first place.
- Steve Shipside