Monday, October 03, 2005

DIGILIFE | Children and the cell phone revolution

Last week, the results of a long-term study of the health effects of using mobile phones was published in Britain. The study spanned 7 years, and came up with a simple result: mobile use among adults cannot be conclusively connected to health problems, and therefore is not considered harmful.

However, the study did caution against the use of mobile by children and early teens- also known as ‘tweens’, between the ages of 8 and 12- in addition to those with underlying diseases that may, potentially, be affected by mobile signal exposure.

On the subject of children, there is a growing debate in Europe and the USA regarding the pros and cons of children using mobiles.To begin with, the pros are obvious: the ability to stay in touch with a child could be important in certain situations.

The cons though are more. For a start, a mobile brings with it all kinds of changes in social behavior, and could potentially spoil a child. Then, there’s the matter of health issues.In the United States, several children's advocacy groups, including Alliance for Childhood, Commercial Alert, and National Consumers League, are asking Congress to investigate the marketing of mobile phones to kids.

They are concerned about children's safety, privacy, education, and health. Privacy advocates even go as far as worrying that pedophiles may use cell phones to contact children. They also argue that cell phones will become a vehicle for showing advertisements to children and ultimately reaching their parents' wallets.

The study in Britain details the health risks. The British National Radiological Protection Board, warns of the possibility that mobile phones could cause benign tumors of the ear and brain. The NRPB urges parents not to provide cell phones to children under 8 years old.

Still, a new wave of mobiles for children are being manufactured in the USA and Europe, aimed at children as young as 6 years old. To add to that, mobile service companies (operators) all over the world, including Jordan, consider ‘tweens’ as a key segment and they are planning to target them. I find it offensive to think that any business would be ‘targeting’ children with a grown-up product.

As a parent, I can’t imagine giving my daughter a mobile phone at the age of 8. When I first used one, I was 24! And I find it unacceptable to be unable to somewhat monitor her ‘communication activities’ during the night and day. How will it affect her schoolwork? How will it affect her social upbringing?When we were children, we did just fine without mobiles.

Simply, we couldn’t go anywhere unless we told our parents first and we had be home on time, as agreed, because we couldn’t call them to tell them we’d be late. No excuses, no unnecessary communication.

Those were simpler times, for sure. But, more importantly, they were more disciplined and probably healthier times too!

zeid@maktoob.com

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Computer News
Microsoft lawsuit is called a 'charade'

In a simmering legal tussle, Google, the Internet search company, is asking a judge to reject Microsoft's bid to keep a prized research engineer from taking a job at Google, saying that Microsoft filed a lawsuit to frighten other workers from defecting.

Microsoft sued the research engineer, Kai-Fu Lee, and Google last week, asserting that by taking the Google job, Lee was violating an agreement that he signed in 2000 barring him from working for a direct competitor in an area that overlapped with his role at Microsoft.

"This lawsuit is a charade," Google said in court documents filed before a hearing on Wednesday in Seattle. "Indeed, Microsoft executives admitted to Lee that their real intent was to scare other Microsoft employees into remaining at the company."


Google countersued last week, seeking to override Microsoft's noncompete provision so that it can retain Lee.

"In truth, Kai-Fu Lee's work for Microsoft had only the most tangential connection to search and no connection whatsoever to Google's work in this space," Google said in court documents.

The judge in the case, Steven Gonzalez of Superior Court, who heard arguments in the case on Wednesday, said he expected to issue a ruling on Thursday.

Google's filings include details about a conversation Lee had with Microsoft's chairman, Bill Gates, suggesting that his company was becoming increasingly concerned about Google's siphoning of talent, and perhaps intellectual property.

Lee said Gates told him in a meeting on July 15, referring to Microsoft's chief executive, Steven Ballmer: "Kai-Fu, Steve is definitely going to sue you and Google over this. He has been looking for something like this, someone at a VP level to go to Google. We need to do this to stop Google."

A Microsoft spokeswoman, Stacy Drake, declined to comment on Gates's statement directly.

"Our concern here is the fact that Dr. Lee has knowledge of highly sensitive information both of our search business and our strategy in China," she said.

Lee said Google did not recruit him and had not encouraged him to violate any agreement he had with Microsoft.

Microsoft countered that Lee's job with Google gave him ample opportunity to leak sensitive technical and strategic business secrets. Microsoft noted that Lee attended a confidential, executive-only briefing in March, which was labeled "The Google Challenge."

"In short, Dr. Lee was recently handed Microsoft's entire Google competition 'playbook,"' Microsoft said.

Lee joined Microsoft in August 2000 after he helped to establish its research center in China. At one point, Microsoft said, he was in charge of the company's work on MSN Search.

Microsoft and Google, along with Yahoo, are locked in a fierce battle to dominate search, both online and through desktop search programs. Google has begun offering new services, including e-mail, that compete with Microsoft offerings.


Microsoft said it had paid Lee well in exchange for his promises to honor confidentiality and noncompete agreements.

The company said that Lee made more than $3 million during nearly five years at its headquarters in Redmond, Washington, and that he earned more than $1 million last year.

Microsoft asserts that there is "an extremely close between the work Lee did at Microsoft and what he will be doing at Google.

Google argued otherwise, insisting that Lee is not a search expert and noting that his most recent work at Microsoft was in speech recognition.


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