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Internet on the go

National | Faster, cooler-running processors are the first step toward a more portable Web; Internet marketing vs. privacy; and is Washington eyeing its next Microsoft case?

Issue: "The McCain craze," Feb. 19, 2000

The show on the road
For years a secretive company called Transmeta has been quietly working on a killer project to turbocharge the Internet. With backing from bigwigs like Linux creator Linus Torvalds, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and billionaire financier George Soros, it spent five years of research and about $100 million and announced a new line of super-powerful computer chips. Microprocessors, the brains within every computer, have been steadily getting better as new generations of models by Intel, Motorola, AMD, and others have rolled out every few months for the last few decades. So why do we need new ones? Mobility. Current chips run very hot and eat a lot of power. So when you run your laptop unplugged, it can't go very long without recharging. Santa Clara, Calif.-based Transmeta claims its Crusoe chips make batteries last about twice as long as the Intel Pentium family. They named the chip after Robinson Crusoe to evoke images of adventure and travel. "Computing is going mobile, and microprocessors must too," Transmeta CEO Dave Ditzel said as he showed off the chips to technology writers. The postage stamp-sized processors sell for between $65 for a 333-megahertz slowpoke to $329 for a 700-megahertz model, comparable to a top-of the-line Pentium. The computers that run them will eventually cost consumers between $500 and $2,500. New products are expected to come running to these new processors. A company called S3 is developing a book-sized mobile Web pad for surfing the Net. The unnamed device will sell for less than $1,000, have a modem jack that connects to a phone line, and is supposed to be easier and cheaper than a bulky laptop. How will this help the Internet? If users can stay running longer, hooked up to a wireless network or a cellular modem, they can keep surfing and connecting longer, which increases the integration of the Net into everyday life. The way the cookie crumbles
Do Internet marketers know too much about you? A California woman named Harriet Judnick claims that DoubleClick, a huge online ad agency, violates people's privacy. She claims the company takes supposedly anonymous data given by users and links it to a database with real names and information about buying habits. DoubleClick bought direct marketing company Abacus for $1.7 billion last year, and Ms. Judnick claims the two sets of data are being cross-referenced without users' permission. "The promise by DoubleClick to keep your surfing habits anonymous has been broken," said Ira Rothken, a lawyer for Ms. Judnick. "DoubleClick had promised that the cookies it deposits on users' computers would remain anonymous or benign and would not be associated with personal information." DoubleClick defends itself by saying that it warns people about its use of the Abacus database and gives people a chance to opt out. "Abacus Online is fully committed to offering online consumers notice about the collection and use of personal information about them, and the choice not to participate," it claims in a privacy policy on its Web site. The agency, like countless others, uses files called cookies to identify different users and track what they do online. While most people don't notice cookies, their use is commonplace and often used for marketing purposes. It also makes sites more convenient, since people can log on once and not have to repeat the process every time they visit. People in the industry take cookies for granted, like the counters in old department store turnstiles. Those who don't want to use cookies can turn them off by fiddling with their browser settings. "There's nothing magical about a cookie. It generally just includes a few bytes of information that identifies the browser as having visited the site before," said Clay Ryder, an analyst for Zona Research, an Internet marketing firm. "You can't get someone's life history in those spaces." Feds probing e-Bay
First Microsoft, now eBay. The Department of Justice is investigating whether the website that brought online auctions to millions violated federal antitrust laws. The probe that launched in December isn't about auctions as much as it is about how auctions are found. Several auction search engines have started up, letting users search several sites at once. eBay has fought this. The company cut a deal with one (Auction Rover), sued another (Bidder's Edge), and threatened still another (AuctionWatch). Since these companies have built their own business around the searches, this cuts into eBay's pie. AuctionWatch CEO Rodrigo Sales said his company spent "hundreds of thousands" to work around eBay's maneuvers after the megapower threatened to go to court. The Justice Department won't comment on the probe and, so far, there's no sign that an antitrust suit will be filed.

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