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A Lottery to Win Web Domain Names May Be Unfair; Should Software Makers Face Product Liability?; Africa Works to Bridge the Digital Divide

Aired August 4, 2001 - 14:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Today on CNNdotCOM: some entrepreneurs are hoping to hit the lottery, not to win a million bucks, but a domain name.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lotteries are specifically made illegal to prevent just this type of thing.


ANNOUNCER: Is there funny business behind dot-biz?

As the Code Red worm wriggles across the net, can Microsoft patch up its problems with security?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ninety-nine percent of the problem is now getting the rest of the world to install these patches.


ANNOUNCER: How software companies can get away with things other manufacturers can't.

If you're wondering what movie to check out on Saturday night, or if you need to know whether it's safe to take your kids, we'll have some handy Web sites to help you out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will never see a movie without knowing a lot about it again.


ANNOUNCER: Find out how to get the inside scoop on the latest flicks.

This is CNNdotCOM with James Hattori.

JAMES HATTORI, HOST: Hi, everybody, and welcome to CNNdotCOM. I'm James Hattori.

There's a land rush going on in cyberspace, a rush to stake out upcoming domain names ending with dot-biz. Since you can only have so many dot-coms, the groups who control domain names now have several new offerings, including dot-info, dot-museum and dot-name. But as Bruce Francis reports, some people suspect there's some funny dot- business going on. For more, let's go to the World Wide Web.


BRUCE FRANCIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When you're writing a Web newsletter called "Liberal News," there's a lot on your mind with a Republican in the White House. But these days, Rob Sherman is more concerned about a new Web home for his work.

Soon, dot-biz Web addresses will go on sale. Sherman wants to get, since the dot-com version is taken, but when he went to apply, Sherman got a shock. It's not first come, first serve, but a lottery -- a lottery that he says is unfair and illegal.

ROB SHERMAN, "LIBERAL NEWS": Whoever buys the most chances in their private lottery has the best chance of getting the domain name with a dot-biz extension.

FRANCIS: A company called Neulevel is in charge of selling the dot-biz names. But other companies can handle the applications, including Network Solutions, which is owned by Verisign. This pitch from Network Solutions plainly encourages applicants to submit multiple copies by offering bulk discounts, 50 cents off each $5 application for 10 or more, $2 off for 100 or more.

(on camera): The message is clear, the more applications you submit, the better your chance of yours getting picked in the lottery. Verisign declined to comment. Neulevel stands by the process.

DOUG ARMENTROUT, CEO, NEULEVEL: This is a very fair and equal process that will give everybody an equal opportunity to obtain a name.

FRANCIS (voice-over): Esther Dyson is the former chair of ICANN, the group that sets the rules for the Internet. She says there's no way to prevent big money from influencing the system, but that doesn't mean she thinks the Neulevel system is fair.

ESTHER DYSON, FORMER CHAIRWOMAN, ICANN: It's a punt. They're just saying, well, we don't want appear to be unfair, so we'll make it a lottery. But then, your chances of winning the lottery are higher if you try more times.

FRANCIS: Rob Sherman is not alone. A suit filed in Los Angeles charges that the dot-biz registration process amounts to an illegal lottery. Sherman says that if the companies involved are breaking the law, the lottery should be shut down.

SHERMAN: Lotteries are specifically made illegal to prevent just this type of thing. FRANCIS: The dot-biz name registry is scheduled to start on October 1.


HATTORI: Speaking of lotteries, odds are the much-ballyhooed Code Red Internet worm is trying to crawl into a computer near you. The bug, of uncertain origin, re-awakened Tuesday night for a second round of infection. The worm targets Web server computers using Microsoft Windows NT and 2000 software. Most home PCs are safe.

The last time it surfaced, around mid-July, it infected hundreds of thousands of computers around the world, resulting in a slight slowdown of traffic on the Internet. It also tried to deface the White House Web page. This time, experts say it could infect just as many, if not more computers, but a last minute campaign to get companies to install a security software fix may slow its spread.

The Code Red problem highlights a chronic but little discussed issue in the computer industry. If a bug pops up in a software program, you have to fix it yourself. David George has more.


DAVID GEORGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): If your roof leaks, or your car comes with faulty tires, or your baby stroller is recalled for a defect, you expect the manufacturer to stand behind the product and fix it. The law says they have to. But when it comes to computer software, you're on your own.

(voice-over): For example, here's the warranty from a copy of Microsoft's Windows 98. The company acknowledges no liability for any damage even if, quote, "the manufacturer has been advised of the possibility of such damages." When Microsoft discovered the weak spot in certain operating systems that eventually allowed the Code Red worm to infiltrate hundreds of thousands of computers, it offered a patch to fix the problem.

SCOTT CULP, MICROSOFT CORP.: We redoubled our efforts to make sure the customers had the patches. We put additional information up on our Web site. We also sent thousands of Microsoft support personnel out to talk to their customers personally and to ask them to please get the patch onto the system.

GEORGE: But computer security experts say providing patches isn't enough.

CHRIS KLAUS, INTERNET SECURITY SYSTEMS, INC.: Because that only solves like 1 percent of the problem; 99 percent of the problem is now getting the rest of the world to install these patches.

GEORGE: And the rest of the world has learned there can be a lot of patches to install.

BRUCE SCHNEIER, INTERNET SECURITY, INC.: There are about 50 to 60 security flaws in all products discovered every week. There are about 20 patches that are introduced every week. If you were an administrator at a reasonable-sized company, that would translate to probably -- that affects you about a patch a day.

GEORGE: Microsoft says the system works as well as it can.

CULP: All software has bugs. Any piece of software that is written by human hands is going to have bugs, and the question is what can you do to find the bugs and to get them out of the software?

GEORGE: Some computer security experts say software makers should try harder to find bugs before they leave the factory, not after.

SCHNEIER: I think we really need to deal with these problems before they happen, and not think we can throw insecure software out there, patch it, and magically make it better, because that's not working.

GEORGE: Bruce Schneier told a congressional hearing that until software makers face the same product liability issues as other manufacturers, things aren't likely to change.

Meanwhile, the insurance industry has found a new business selling policies covering what's called cyber risk. They've been available to American businesses for about a year and a half. So far, the industry says 5 percent of American businesses have bought them.


HATTORI: If your company is taking a cyber risk and still needs that patch to block the Code Red worm, check out our Web site, You will find a link for it there.

Later on THE DOT: kids and sand and computers? We will show you some laptop uses that will make you cringe. Whatever you do, don't try this at home, and don't go away.


HATTORI: Welcome back. With movie ticket prices on the rise, they're up to 10 bucks in New York Cit, and not far behind elsewhere. You want to be darn sure the movie's good before you show Hollywood the money. Natalie Pawelski talked with filmmaker and university film professor Evan Lieberman, and got some tools for finding the right flick.


NATALIE PAWELSKI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Evan, let's say I want to go out and spend my $7.50 on a movie this weekend, and I do not want to go see a turkey. How can I use the Internet to find something that I might actually like?

EVAN LIEBERMAN, UNIVERSITY FILM PROFESSOR: The best site to start with, if what you are looking for is what should I see this weekend, is It's the Movie Review Query Engine. PAWELSKI: And are these mostly sort of mainstream things, or is it a bit of a mix?

LIEBERMAN: These are -- it's a bit of a mix. It's anything that might be at your local -- at your local theater.

PAWELSKI: Are there any other sort of general interest sites that can tell you everything about movies that you want to know?

LIEBERMAN: Ah, there's one site that's even more important then MRQE in terms of information about movies, and that's the Internet Movie Database,

PAWELSKI: Let's pick a movie I actually like.

LIEBERMAN: OK, let's do that.

PAWELSKI: OK, this is a chick flick, but "Chocolat."

LIEBERMAN: "Chocolat." You just enter "Chocolat."

PAWELSKI: Let's see, so it gets user rating.

LIEBERMAN: Yes, user rating here.

PAWELSKI: And who are the users?

LIEBERMAN: Everybody. Anyone who's seen the film can vote. Let's say you wanted to vote on the film. You just hit vote here, your rating for "Chocolat."

PAWELSKI: So if you wanted to rent a video instead and stay in, this, is also -- would give you some guidance?

LIEBERMAN: Absolutely. This is an excellent site for if you want to, say, watch a good old movie, but you don't know what you want to watch, here you have it.

PAWELSKI: What can you get out of these Internet sites that you might not be able to find elsewhere?

LIEBERMAN: Well, the sheer amount of information for one thing, is so far beyond what you can get in your local newspaper, or even in a more in-depth film magazine, because this not only allows you to see one review, or to have one source of information, but it gives you access to countless sources of information and countless sources of reviews.

In fact, here on, we find little capsule reviews from lots of different sources.

PAWELSKI: This is very good for quick thumbs up, thumbs down, what do people think.

LIEBERMAN: Absolutely. Let's say you don't want to spend all day reading reviews about the film you are wanting to see, but you just want to get a sense of how are reviewers in general reacting to the film.

PAWELSKI: And these seem all, like, legitimate sort of -- these are not just any old guy on the street, these are people who are actually published?

LIEBERMAN: The Tomato meter only takes into account the most reliable and well-known reviewers.

PAWELSKI: Well, I have nieces and nephews between the ages of five and 10, so what do I do if I want to find out if a given movie is appropriate for them or not?

LIEBERMAN: Well, there's dozens of sites, but this one is particularly good, Kids-in-mind. It's a site that is oriented toward telling parents what they want to know about the movies that their kids want to see.

Let's look at "America's Sweethearts." You go to the content analysis section, and it gives us first a little graph rating for sex and nudity, violence and gore, and profanity.

PAWELSKI: So, what does the detail allow parents to do?

LIEBERMAN: It allows parents, I think, to read the review and decide if this material is something their kids should see or not. I mean, it puts much more control in the hands of parents in terms of guiding their children's viewing, which is a very, very good thing.

PAWELSKI: So if you use the Internet right, you can guarantee that you never see a stinker again?

LIEBERMAN: Oh, I don't know, I think that subjectivity always enters in, but the fact is that you will never see a movie without knowing a lot about it again.


HATTORI: Now we know some of the good movie review sites, what makes a good Web site overall? A couple of weeks ago, we showed you some of the winners of the Webby awards, honoring the best sites on the Internet. We asked Randy Constan, winner in the weird category for his site, Peter Pan's Home Page, "Just One Question:" what makes a good Internet site?


RANDY CONSTAN, PETER PAN'S HOME PAGE: I don't have a lot of really fancy, flashing Java scripts and animations on my site, all I have is content and reality, and I'm being truthful. Maybe that's what makes a good Web site. People are so used to banner ads and junk being thrown at them and hype and people promoting themselves, you know, thinking they're something special, and I'm really just being honest.



HATTORI: Laptop computers continue to grow in popularity. You can take them pretty much anywhere -- on the plane, to your favorite lunch spot, even to the beach. But what if sand gums up the works, the bellman drops it, or you slosh coffee on it? Well, we'll show you a laptop that can stand up to all that, and more. Marsha Walton has this week's "Technofile."


MARSHA WALTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Don't you just hate it when that happens? But it is kind of fun when you clean up the mess by doing this in the break-room sink. It'll wake up your colleagues faster than a double espresso.

This laptop is made by Rugged Notebooks, and includes features like a magnesium chassis, hardy rubber bumpers, and the ability to keep working at temperatures well below zero. The price tag is as steep as the products are tough, ranging from about $4,500 to $15,000.

One computer repair technician tells us this is probably a good investment if you work on an oil rig, in a war zone, or if you're just really, really clumsy. He says repairs for run-of-the-mill laptops are almost always costly, seldom less than $500, often almost as much as a whole new computer.

(on camera): Floods and construction sites have their challenges, but can this notebook take a real test? How about half a dozen 4-year-olds armed with sand and incredible energy?

(voice-over): Rugged has testimonials from rocket scientists, hydrologists, and people who spill Mountain Dew, describing it as a sort of SUV of laptops. And you might think it weighs as much as an SUV. While conventional laptops can come in under five pounds, this model hits the scales at 12. That's heavy duty.

I'm Marsha Walton, and that's "Technofile."


HATTORI: Next up on THE DOT, bringing high-tech to a country where the digital divide is a daily challenge. That and more as CNNdotCOM continues.


HATTORI: It's no secret that computers are still an extraordinary luxury in Africa. It's estimated there are fewer than three computers per every 1,000 people on the continent. Top African leaders are looking for ways to bridge that digital divide, as Alphonso Van Marsh reports.


ALPHONSO VAN MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Raymond Akwule has a passion for information technology. The Nigerian native teaches telecommunications at a U.S. university, but for the last 10 years he's been pushing African governments to develop their own telecommunications systems.

His forum, AFCOM, is an annual conference of American and African ministers, regulators and businessmen. His goal: to help bridge the so-called digital divide between the U.S. and Africa.

RAYMOND AKWULE, AFCOM CONFERENCE FOUNDER: From an African point of view, the digital divide concept is one that encapsulates the relationship between information technology and economic and social transformation.

VAN MARSH: But that transformation, using computers and the Internet, for example to link African business to global markets, hasn't been fast or easy. Officials say African governments reluctant to embrace telecommunication tools are hurting their own people.

MICHAEL POWELL, CHAIRMAN, FEDERAL COMMUNICATION COMMISSION: What's critical is trying to empower out citizens with the kinds of tools that will sort of exponentially increase their ability to provide for their families, to feed their families, to take care of the health needs of their families.

VAN MARSH: Every African country is online. Excluding South Africa's relatively high number of Internet subscribers, the continent's Internet accessibility ratio is one Internet user for every 750 Africans. The U.S. ratio is one in three.

(on camera): Internet use in Africa is very similar to Internet use in the United States 10 or 12 years ago. Most users tend to be technically-educated elite, Internet connections are often slow and sometimes unreliable, and most users rely heavily on e-mail. But exhibitors here intend to change all of that.

(voice-over): They're selling tools to bridge that so-called digital divide -- satellites to mirror information in and out of African countries, wireless communications to spread that information where telecommunication infrastructure is shoddy or non-existent.

Exhibitors and ministers aren't here just for ideals. The reality is that telecommunications is big business. Raymond Akwule wants to be sure that Africa gets its share.


HATTORI: Still ahead, if you think you're obsessed with the latest new gadgets, get a load of these guys. Techno geeks Tokyo- style, when CNNdotCOM returns.


HATTORI: If it seems the Japanese get all the cool tech stuff before the rest of the world, the credit may go to Japan's gadget geeks. As Kristi Lu Stout tells us, a subculture of self-proclaimed nerds is pushing technology development in Japan. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)


KRISTI LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Japanese seem to live a few clicks ahead. They have those high-tech phones, high-tech trains, and of course, those high tech dogs. But if Japan is the world's epicenter of innovation, its mascot would have to be the Otaku, a subculture of gadget geeks.

They are plugged in, wired up and totally into tech. They are the connoisseurs of video games, animation, and consumer electronics. And if they see something they like, they don't just buy it, they hoard it.

HIROAKI HAYASHI, OTAKU: I don't mean to collect, but I ended up having lots of hardware and software on my PC.

STOUT: Hiroaki Hayashi owns seven computers, just what he needs to fuel his passion for PCs and pop music.

HAYASHI: I like movies, films and music. And technology made me able to make both just myself.

STOUT: Masujiro Maeda on the other hand is into the Net. If a gadget has an IP address or a phone jack -- you name it, he's got it.

MASUJIRO MAEDA, OTAKU (through translator): I'm interested in anything related to networking. And I'm pretty much interested in any new products that appear, like this new keyboard.

STOUT: The name "Otaku" in Japanese connotes "male nerd." Sci-fi writer William Gibson calls them "passionate obsessives." But as any Otaku would tell you, he's no social reject.

MAEDA (through translator): There are a lot of people that have the same interests as I do. And we exchange a lot of information.

STOUT: The Otakus say they're not possessed by technology. They just have an innate drive to constantly modify and accessorize their own personal technology worlds. And as a result, an entire sub industry has emerged to cater to their needs. Now there are hundreds of Otaku Web sites and magazines, even shopping zones. The Tokyo district of Akihabra (ph) is now nicknamed "Otaku town."

But what's most astounding perhaps is that they have forced major tech companies to deliver to their needs.

TIM CLARK, ANALYST, ION GLOBAL: The Otaku are those who are constantly seeking new functionality, new ways of using devices. They're the ones that are the bellwether for each sector. They're the first buyers on the leading edge, the driving force behind product development.

STOUT (on camera): The Otaku lives and breathes technology. They also dictate its future, living proof that even the biggest geek can be a consumer force to be reckoned with.


HATTORI: Another force to be reckoned with: the CNN clock. We've got to go. But feel free to tell us what you think. Our e-mail address is

That's it for now, thanks so much for logging on. For all of us here at THE DOT, I'm James Hattori. Hope to see you all again next week.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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