Calif. governor halts personal-data sale
California's controversial sale of birth and death records has been suspended by Gov. Gray Davis, who gave the state's Department of Health Services 45 days to take a second look at whether it should be hawking CD-ROMs of the personal data of millions of residents. "There is too great a risk that unscrupulous people will use this information for identity theft, to falsify records, or to invade our privacy in other ways," Davis said in an executive order. The San Jose Mercury-News first broke the story that genealogy site RootsWeb.com and other sites had purchased the birth records of 24 million Californians and posted the information online for free. Until Wednesday, the Department of Health was selling the information-laden discs for as much as $900, depending on how many birth or death records were included. Privacy advocates said such data could be a boon to identity thieves, but First Amendment watchdogs and genealogy experts said Davis's decision raises questions about public access to government information.
Dumb virus, plus dumb recipients, equals plague
Wired News notes that the anti-virus industry sometimes has to over-hype the threat of not-so-clever computer viruses, largely because many computer users still can't recognize them in time. This week's most notorious rogue program, the "Goner" e-mail virus, "is far from being the brightest pixel in the antiviral jungle. But it still got as much attention as more serious threats to computer users' sanity," writes Wired's Michelle Delio. Unlike the infamous LoveBug virus, Goner "employs no compelling psychological appeal to convince recipients that they ought to click on the virus-laden attachment," Delio writes. And unlike the recent Nimda and BadTrans viruses, Goner cannot spring to life on its own, without the aid of an unsuspecting user. The activated Goner virus does, however, disable a computer's anti-virus software.
For that reason -- plus the ineptitude of many e-mail users -- security experts said Goner deserves the attention, even if it's not exactly the work of an evil genius. Mike Beasly, an administrator with a Wall Street investment firm, told Wired News: "I could understand people falling for BadTrans and Code Red. But this worm is just plain stupid and still it's spreading. This is a perfect example of why systems (administrators) often refer to their users as 'losers' behind their backs."
Excite.com to remain online
The financial meltdown of the Excite At Home Corp. won't affect the popular online portal Excite.com, which has been purchased by Web content company InfoSpace. Excite At Home said it would cease operations of its cable Internet access business by Feb. 28, putting all 1,300 of its employees out of work. Registered users of Excite.com were greeted with a message this week that asked if they wanted to maintain all of their personal information and settings as the portal transferred to InfoSpace, which paid about $10 million for most of the assets associated with it.
Online 'Prayer Team' takes off
The organizers of PresidentialPrayerTeam.org say the site has signed up more than 615,000 people who have made a commitment to pray every day for the president, the Cabinet and the nation, according to the New York Times. Site founder William Hunter, a Scottsdale, Ariz., sculptor, said, "People who believe in prayer know that it helps, and these days many people are wondering what they can do for the country." The site wants to sign up 1 percent of the U.S. population, or about 2.8 million people, to join the team. Hunter said the site had been in the works for about a year before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Research firm Jupiter Media Metrix said PresidentialPrayerTeam.org was the most-visited religious site in October, having drawn 1.1 million visitors. Hunter said the site is nonpartisan and nonprofit, and is not linked to any specific religious denomination. "We're trying to spread a wide tent. There's no test. I want to solicit anyone that prays," he told the Times.
Stability calls D.C.-area tech workers
Many workers in Washington's high-tech industry were stranded by the dot-com collapse, but they are finding new homes in the region's vast network of defense and security firms, according to The Washington Post. The nation's increased emphasis on homeland security has made government contractors a reliable source of employment for workers with computer-related skills. "The government is the only (place) left that has any money," said Mario Gonzales, a former developer at Booz-Allen & Hamilton who now works for defense contractor BAE Systems. Other former dot-com workers interviewed by the Post said they have adjusted to their new firms' tighter dress codes. They are making less money, but also working fewer hours -- a change that some said was welcome after the 60-hour work weeks that came with the dot-com boom.
S.Korea hosts video game championships
About 400 top-notch computer game players from 37 different countries have come to Seoul, South Korea for the first World Cyber Games, where they will compete for a total of $300,000 in prizes. The competition includes the popular first-person "shooter" game "Quake III," and "Starcraft: Brood War," which pits three imaginary future races against each other. Such games are played on networks, with each contestant sitting at a separate computer. Those kinds of setups are popular in South Korea, where there are about 20,000 gaming cafes, according to the BBC. Contestants at the Cyber Games had to win national elimination tournaments to make it to Seoul.
(Compiled by Joe Warminsky in Washington.)