Sunday, May 21, 2006

New Open Document Format approved

It didn't get much press in the mainstream media, but the approval of the Open Document Format, ODF, by both the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) on May 2 can be one of the very big news of the year. The ODF files can move smoothly from one program to any other without being locked in any brand or type and they can certainly challenge Microsoft "ownership" of a market that, according to Microsoft's Annual Report, last year gave $11 billion to the folks of Redmond; but it seems that the battle will not be necessarily a clean one. Last year the CIO of Massachusetts, Peter Quinn, made it state policy that by the beginning of 2007 all state files would be saved in open-standard formats such as HTML, PDF and ODF and soon afterwards the Boston Globe run a front-page story alleging that Mr Quinn misused state funds for travel. It was found that the allegations were untrue, but the newspapers put the news about the exoneration buried in the middle of the paper, not in the front page as it should (you can find the stories in the Boston Globe, but you need to register to do so).
Will Microsoft money be able to stop the expansion of open standards?
Will I be able to stop eating all the chocolates I brought from Geneva?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Bridging the digital divide? In whose world?

As I reported below, yesterday in Geneva there were a lot of talks about bridging the digital divide and how things were improving, but if what CNN reports has 1/10 of truth, things are far from getting better. The GB of transmitted data costs more than 90 times in Africa of what it costs in the US, and that is without factoring the difference in purchase power. In this last case things will get even scary...

WSIS follow-up and implementation: First Action Line Facilitation Meeting on "E-business and E-employment"

I’ve just arrived from Geneva, from where I couldn’t write about yesterday’s afternoon meeting due to the Wireless network of the Palais des Nations refusing to give to my computer an IP address (?!)
The meeting was jointly organized by UNCTAD, ITC and ILO and took place at the United Nations Office at Geneva, Palais des Nations, Room XXIII on 17 May 2006 from 3:00 to 6:00 PM. A brief summary follows since the actual presentations (slides) will be posted on the UNCTAD website shortly.
Peter Frohler from UNCTAD, presiding the meeting, opened it with some words about the agenda and was followed by Jose Manuela Salazar from ILO, who made a presentation about the need for the working force to acquire Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) related skills. He also emphasized the necessity of a multi-stakeholder participatory process. Mr. Salazar finished saying that technology and human resources policies should me synchronized. Then, the representative of the ITC gave some data about the information society (number of phones, Internet users, etc) before mentioning the relation of the digital divide with the social and economic divides. Finally, he made some comments on the rise of information technologies enabled services (ITES).
Susan Telscher, from the UNCTAD E-Commerce Branch, explained how the work of the meeting related to the WSIS Geneva Plan of Action, mainly but not only C7:16 and C7:19 (E-Business and E-Employment respectively) and the Tunis Agenda. Christian Planchette from the ITC followed to explain how the “user-divide” was been bridged with the e-trade bridge programme, which it was said has its framework running for four years.
Genevieve Feraud, Chief of the ICT and E-Commerce Branch of UNCTAD, explained some of the programs and how ICT could help in the competition for the mindshare of costumers/buyers. Roberto Zachmann gave a very interesting presentation and in this stage I would like to highlight his affirmation that there is no such a thing as e-employment but only employment and that, sooner or later, everyone employee in every sector will be intensive user of ICT. Then the floor was opened and there were interventions from many people with different topics and perspectives.
When the President gave me the floor, I started acknowledging that the topic I wanted to talk about was specifically excluded from WSIS and that I didn’t want to bring into the meeting the same problems that WIPO and WTO were having, but that it looked to me as if we had the task to try to see how move people around a city without being able to talk about the rules of traffic. I also said that all the projects and the proposals made by the intergovernmental organizations and the NGOs were very nice but they would all eventually hit the wall due to restrictions imposed by the intellectual property rights regime. I finished referring to the paper written by Andres Guadamuz, who paraphrasing Bill Clinton wrote “The Digital Divide: It's the Content, Stupid!” and I referred to the part of the abstract pointing the “problem[s] of access to online content once some of the hardware and network access issues are solved”. I was very surprised when Mr. Frohler said that at this stage ALL the topics would be treated and that he celebrated the idea of treating IP issues too.
Also to comment the participation of the representative of Cisco Systems, who made reference to the importance that his company, as well as the business community, gave to the rule of law and the need of education on these topics (with some references to the efforts of Cisco in that regard).
Roberto Zachmann made another presentation in which analyzed where should we go from where we were. The creation of a community of practice was agreed and the use of ICT to conduct most of the discussions. The technological platform was going to be decided and then the community would meet in cyberspace.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

World Information Society Day Conference in Geneva

I am writing from inside the Centre International de Conferences Geneve, where in few minutes will start the World Information Society Day Conference. I am here as member and representative of Alfa-Redi and this afternoon the First WSIS follow-up action line facilitation meeting on "e-business and e-employment" will take place in the UN's Palais des Nations.
11:15- The VIPs have arrived and a nice strings quartet is playing some lovely classical seems that the meeting is starting.
11:20- Speech of the Secretary General of ITU, who says that together we can build a future where information is shared and its benefits be enjoyed by all
11:30- The Director General of Geneva's UN Office talks about the importance of WSIS and focuses on cybersecurity. Trust and security are essential to economic growth.
11:33- The President of the Swiss Federation of Telecommunications (?) speaks in French. Time to get the headphones (and study French again). Reaffirms the commitment of Switzerland to what it was agreed in both WSIS (Geneva 2003 and Tunisia 2005). Governments will be able to announce positive results if all the stakeholders participate in the process. ITU has to keep adapting, as it has been doing, to new challenges. Cooperation is a must.
11:38- The Minister of Communication Technologies of the Republic of Tunisia (I also need to learn Arabic!) talks about the delight of his country for hosting WSIS. ICT distribution has not be balanced or equitable. The international community should step up its efforts to make real that everyone benefits from ICTs, especially the African countries.
11:45- More music...
11:47- The President of Senegal and the Managing Director of the Grameen Bank get the World Information society Awards for their works to bridge the digital divide (they used other words though) and helping the poor. Representatives and delegates give a standing clapping but some representatives of developed countries don't stand (?!)
11:49- More music...
11:50- The Managing Director of the Grameen Bank says that he expects that this Award helps to raise awareness about the need to end poverty. Not coming from tech background entered into the IT world to help fight poverty. He put poor women in the mobile phone business through the Grameen Phone, and started a win-win-win situation. More than 400,00 "phone-ladies" at the end of this year. Collaboration with MIT-Media lab for the use of the $100 laptop. Social program "16 Decisions", and a long list of programs to end poverty.
12:10- The President of Senegal refers to the efforts of the international community to raise awareness about ICT issues. The honor goes to the people of Senegal and the people of Africa because he proposed the idea of the Digital Solidarity Fund, but they put it in place. Thanks to Internet you can go to the world and the world can come to you, but there are risks too. We have to get together. Refers to Wikipedia as important to give access to information. Senegal's 40% of the national budget goes to education and training (!!!) Refers to the choice of software (against the predetermination of the type of it) Says that some might be thinking why he is not focusing on feeding people instead that on computers, but he thinks that the computers are the tools that would allow people to feed themselves. E-learning important to balance the brain drain.
12:40- This is the music?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Call for papers Law, Technology and Society

Call for papers: (castellano mas abajo)
Law, Technology and Society in Latin America

Papers are invited to be presented at a panel on the relationship between law, technology and its impact on society in Latin America to be held at the 2007 International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA 2007), sponsored by the Law & Society Section in Latin America (LASLA).
The panel will focus on the link between law and technology and the ways that is affecting society in Latin America.

While the methodology is open, it is expected that the papers would be based on theoretical and empirical work leading to the development of grounded theory, as well as more policy orientated studies which feed directly into the policy making process. They would normally be built on a multi or inter-disciplinary approach.

The panel will concentrate on the following issues:

-Legal aspects of E-Government
-Data protection law and policies
-Intellectual Property rights, technology and development
-Cybercrime and cyberlaw
-Law, technology and innovation policy
-Freedom of expression and new technologies

Submissions in the form of an abstract should be e-mailed to Dr. Fernando Barrio and it must be received by noon GMT, August 18th, 2006.

Papers and abstracts can be written in English, Portuguese or Spanish in .doc, .rtf or .pdf format, be up to 250 words and include the following data:

Last name(s):
Given name(s):
Mailing address:
State or Province:
Post Code:
Email address:


Solicitud de Ponencias:
Derecho, Tecnología y Sociedad en América Latina

Se invita a enviar propuestas de ponencias a ser presentadas en el panel sobre la relación entre derecho y tecnología y su impacto en la sociedad en América Latina, que tendrá lugar en el Congreso Internacional de la Asociación de Estudios Latinoamericanos del año 2007 (LASA 2007).
El panel se centrará en el vínculo entre el derecho y la tecnología y los modos en los que éste afecta a la sociedad en América Latina.

Mientras la metodología es abierta, se espera que las ponencias estén basadas en estudios teóricos y empíricos que lleven al desarrollo de teorías fundamentadas, al igual que estudios más orientados hacia políticas que alimenten directamente el proceso decisorio. Estas estarán normalmente construidas desde un enfoque inter o multidisciplinario.

El panel se concentrará en los siguientes temas:

- Aspectos legales del gobierno electrónico
- Políticas y legislación sobre protección de datos
- Derechos de propiedad intelectual, tecnología y desarrollo
- Delitos informáticos y derecho informático
- Derecho, tecnología y política de innovación
- Libertad de expresión y nuevas tecnologías

Las propuestas, en forma de resumen, deberán ser enviadas por correo electrónico al Dr. Fernando Barrio,, y ser recibidas antes de las 12 del mediodía (GMT) del 18 de Agosto del 2006.

Tanto los resúmenes como las ponencias podrán ser escritos en español, inglés o portugués en los formatos .doc, .rtf o .pdf, tener hasta 250 palabras e incluir los siguientes datos:

Dirección para correspondencia:
Estado o Provincia:
Código Postal:
Correo electrónico:


In UK spam could be a crime

London's High Court ruled last Friday (12 May), that people who bombarded innocent victims with a blizzard of unsolicited emails, spam, were breaking the law and could be prosecuted under the 1990 Computer Misuse Act. In a test case that put spammers in the same league as people who spread computer viruses, two judges said that these cyber-spammers could face up to five years in jail . The judges two overturned a lower court judge's previous ruling that 18-year-old David Lennon had no case to answer after being accused of using a computer programme to send five million emails to a firm which had fired him. They said that the consent given to being sent some emails did not extend to receiving a barrage of such messages. Ruling that the extent of consent should be decided on a case-by-case basis, the judges said it plainly did not cover emails sent intentionally to jam a receiving computer rather than for the purpose of communication. The case must now go back to the original court to be reconsidered.

Monday, May 08, 2006

A win for Apple?

The news that Apple Computers has won the case brought by The Beatles’s Apple Corps has spread like wildfire. Most online newslets immediately posted the decision on their front site as The New York Times, The Times of London, Clarin and CNN, between others, did.
But, has Apple Computers really won? In addition of leaving the case wide open for appeal (the conclusions of the judge are not necessary supported by the reality of iTunes and the music market), the case sets the precedent that Apple’s iTunes business is ONLY about the transmission of data, which automatically would preclude them to follow what many music analysts see as their natural step: to become a really big and powerful music label.
My previous, very short, blog mentioned what would happen if Apple decides to sell unsigned artists via iTunes, a move already started by other online music companies, and by winning this case for the reasons it was won Apple might certainly have shot itself in the foot. According to The Times of London “Lord Grabiner, QC, for Apple Computer, [said] that "only a moron in a hurry" could confuse his client's download system - which, he said, was basically transmitting data - with a record label.” A more sensible argument could be put forward attacking the 1991’s agreement due to Apple Corps being more a conduit to administer The Beatles music than a current and active record label.
We will have to wait for the appeal, and then time will tell how wise has Apple Computers been for not just paying and renegotiate the agreement…

Apple vs. Apple decision

Mr Justice Mann, judge from the High Court in London, has held today that Apple Computers has not breached the agreement it has with Apple Corporation since 1991. The judge strangely sided with the computer company, which claimed that their business is only about the transmission of data. It will be interesting to see what happens if Apple Computers decide to sell music of unsigned artists via its iTunes outlet...