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March 15, 2013 at 6:38 PM
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Group puts countries on ivory 'probation'

BANGKOK, March 15 (UPI) -- An endangered species conference in Bangkok has set a deadline for offending countries in the ivory trade to reduce their involvement or face sanctions.

In the final session of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, delegates approved a decision to demand action for reducing the trade in ivory in a "gang of eight" countries considered the worst offenders, the BBC reported.

CITES named the supply states, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, the consumer states of China and Thailand, and three countries -- Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines -- involved in the transit of ivory between suppliers and consumers.

If plans were not put in place by the eight countries then sanctions could be enacted beginning in July 2014, CITES officials said.

"The eight states are prepared to do more and be measured against that," John Scanlon, CITES secretary general, said. "There is also a recognition that a failure to take action, [may see] the standing committee consider compliance measures. And the ultimate sanction under our convention is a trade suspension."

Web 'tracking' debate heats up

WASHINGTON, March 15 (UPI) -- U.S. Internet browser makers are increasingly embracing privacy controls to limit the ability to track users, a move some say could "break the Internet."

Industry groups say the trend could undermine business models that currently support many popular online services.

Mozilla, maker of the popular Firefox browser, is considering new restrictions on the use of cookies, the bits of computer code that allow companies to identify and track users as they trawl across websites, The Washington Post reported. That brought a response from the Interactive Advertising Bureau that Mozilla had launched "a nuclear first strike" against the online advertising industry.

Some experts said they feared the conflict would lead to Internet companies creating even more sophisticated tools for tracking people as they moved around the Web.

"We're at the risk of an arms race here," Peter Swire, a Clinton administration privacy expert who is now an Ohio State University law professor, told the Post. "This could break the Internet. It interferes with existing browsing modules, and it puts bigger pressure on users to take escalating steps to protect their privacy."

Mozilla's new cookie restrictions are included in a version of Firefox released to about 10,000 users for testing, Harvey Anderson, company vice president and general counsel, said.

Anderson cited research suggesting 68 percent of people using the Internet in 11 countries say they would want to limit tracking of their Web activities if the capability were available.

"This kind of feature creates a Web that's more in line with a user's expectations," Anderson said.

Lake Erie faces threat from toxic algae

TOLEDO, Ohio, March 15 (UPI) -- Spring rains could engender an outbreak of toxic algae on Lake Erie in the coming summer, scientists say, reducing fish populations and fouling beaches.

A thick coat of the algae has plagued the lake in recent years, so large in the summer of 2011 it covered a sixth of the lake's surface, they said.

The extent of the spring rains will be an accurate predictor of the seriousness of the problem, researchers said; the greater the amount of rain, the greater the resultant summer algae growth.

The signs are not good, with Accuweather predicting a wetter than usual March and April throughout the region, The New York Times reported Friday.

In 2011, the wettest spring on record, the toxic summer algae bloom stretched nearly 120 miles, from Toledo to past Cleveland, experts said.

Lake Erie's problems began in the 1960s with the mostly unregulated dumping of sewage and industrial pollutants, leading to a multibillion-dollar cleanup by the United States and Canada.

But the algae blooms have returned, due to phosphorus from agricultural runoff that the algae thrive on.

"We've seen this lake go from the poster child for pollution problems to the best example in the world of ecosystem recovery. Now it's headed back again," Jeffrey M. Reutter of Ohio State University said.

France to investigate Skype's legal status

PARIS, March 15 (UPI) -- French prosecutors say they will investigate the Internet call service Skype for failing to register as a telecommunications company under French laws.

In France, a telecommunications company must register with the government and accept certain conditions, including allowing police to monitor calls, before it can operate in the country.

France's telecommunication regulatory agency, Autorite de Regulation des Communications Electroniques et des Postes, has maintained that as a service allows people to make phone calls, Skype should be considered a telecommunications company, even though the calls travel over the Internet rather than traditional telecommunications channels, Radio France Internationale reported Thursday.

ARCEP said it has asked Skype Communications, based in Luxembourg, "to declare itself an electronic communications operator," and that the company has refused to do so.

Skype, a subsidiary of Microsoft, has responded by saying as an Internet-based service it does not come under the purview of French communications laws.

Skype utilizes a system called voice-over-Internet protocol, or VoIP, to enable conversations and video conferencing over the Internet.

European Union law does not consider VoIP services to be telecommunications companies.

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