Saturday, February 24, 2007

Driving with Four Bald Tires on the Information Superhighway

The dearth of competent computer specialists in the United States has led to two competing and contradictory solutions. The first involves increasing H-1B visas, reserved for professionals from overseas who have secured a job in the United States, in an attempt to boost the labor force from outside the country. The second is a push to better educate Americans in information technology and to encourage them to enter the field of computer science. This second option is particularly directed a women and minorities in an attempt to broaden and diversify the labor pool.

On the one hand, America cannot afford to close its doors to immigration, particularly at a time when our own citizens are not taking the lead in filling positions vital to our economy. Nevertheless, Americans cannot stand idly by while the rest of the world continues to push ahead of us in the information sector. There should be a balance, and it should favor homegrown innovation in the long term. America should take the lead in technological innovation, and it cannot hope to do so without a serious commitment to education.

America's lack of foresight is precisely the reason why we lag behind other countries in training IT professionals. My own experience in high school, and that of many people I know, is a case in point. The one computer related class I was required to take was essentially a typing class. Because I already knew how to type, the class was completely useless to me. The class may have been useful for those who did not know how to type, but even in that case it provided little else to help them increase their knowledge of the growing field of computer science. Classes like these should be eliminated in favor of sustained education from pre-school to college that teaches children the cutting edge of computer science. Even non-professionals should have a functioning knowledge of programming and web design, both of which have become necessary skills in a variety of non-IT fields.

Luckily, my chosen field of journalism is probably not in as much danger of outsourcing as IT jobs are. Good journalism requires face-to-face communication that cannot be duplicated by phoning it in from Bangalore. Still, with the advent of digital journalism and the ease of communication, some outlets may choose to hire stringers or foreign correspondants who already live in a given country, rather than sending out field reporters. Being a foreign correspondant is one of my dreams, so this might be a problem. The only thing I can do to prevent that is to truly distinguish myself through my writing.

With today's open field, it is more possible than ever to publish work, though. This blog and millions like it are a clear indication of that fact. I am confident enough in my own ability and in my goals as a journalist to not worry about outsourcing in my field. Perhaps if America stepped up to the plate and delivered on its promise in terms of educating its young people, IT professionals would not have to worry about the limits on H-1B visas, and could focus instead on turning out the best product that American know-how can offer.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Cybersquatting - The Pros and Cons

Cybersquatting is a particularly thorny issue in the world of online ethics. On the one hand, it seems illegitimate for someone to register a domain name that is either a registered trademark of a private company, or a person's own name. In the case of businesses, the case against it seems particularly valid, given copyright laws.

On the other hand, the idea that an individual citizen would be the sole owner of his or her name online seems illogical, since he or she is likely not the only person in the world with that same name. It would also seem fairly impractical for that reason alone to think that everyone could be given their own names as website addresses, an idea that was proposed in class.

Even still, it seems rather petty and opportunistic to cybersquat for the sole purpose of selling that domain name to someone with a more legitimate claim to that domain. In the same vein, it seems particularly malicious to cybersquat at a domain similar to an existing website like for the sole purpose of misleading people into believing that they are shopping at the actual website.

The really tricky situations are where cybersuqatting is used as a form of protest. The protest is perfectly legal and legitimate outside the online world, so what makes cybersquatting any different?

In my opinion cybersquting should only be illegal in cases where an individual deliberately misleads viewers into believing they are on one website, when in fact they are on another. This seems to be a clear cut case of truth in advertising.

Cybersqatting as a form of protest however, could not be treated in the same way as other forms of cybersqauting, because of the first amendment. This type of cybersquatting should remain legal, because restricting it would be difficult to do short of declaring free speech dead on the Internet. If I were a legislator I would ensure that businesses have access to their own names, while still championing the rights of those who wish to engage in social commentary through cybersquatting. This is especially true when it comes to public figures like the president, who already do not enjoy as much protection as private citizens in this regard. While it is true that such sites may mislead, that can also help to change the nature of a national debate, and that far outweighs the potential for harm in this case.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Private iLife

When I’m online, I think long and hard before I give out my personal information. I only shop on reputable websites, and I never save my credit card information for future use, no matter what the website is. The convenience of not having to enter my credit card information every time I make a purchase does not even come close to matching the inconvenience of having my information stolen or sold.

I have been burned before with my PayPal and eBay account, both of which were hacked. I later found out that the person had also hacked my e-mail account, and blocked me from receiving e-mails from PayPal. This made it impossible to receive notices after tried to investigate the matter with officials at PayPal.

Once again, though, it was my own desire for convenience that caused the problem. I had the same password for all three websites, and the password itself was not very secure. Since then, I have changed all three to separate, more secure passwords. I have not had another issue since then, so my efforts seem to have payed off.

I am comfortable giving my information online to reputable sites like eBay, online stores like Amazon, or my school’s website. I feel that, on the whole, these groups do all they can to prevent my information from leaking out. My basic philosophy on that front is that you can’t argue with the numbers. Millions of people use these popular websites, and the percentage of problems is low. My only incident was actually my fault.

I would not feel comfortable dealing directly with someone online to make a transaction, or dealing with a website that I have never heard of before. Whenever I purchase items online outside of eBay or a major online store, I always use the secure PayPal service, rather than using my credit card. I feel safer with that added buffer between my information and an unknown person on the other end.

The ultimate difference comes down to numbers. If I can’t see a person’s eBay feedback, or know from the size and reputation of the company that they are trustworthy, I won’t give out my personal information. I won’t give it out under any circumstances if I feel there is a significant concern, as in the case of saved credit card information.

In the long run, I may get burned again. However, it won’t happen because I haven’t taken the proper precautions.