Monday, July 31, 2006

Oil & Interest Rates

ExxonMobile Corp. reported second-quarter profits of $10.36 billion – up 36 percent from the previous year. Revenue was also up 12 percent to finish at $99 billion. Conoco Phillips, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, BP Oil, and Chevron all experienced similar increases of 65 percent, 40 percent, 30 percent, and 18 percent respectively.

Rep. Edward Markey, D–Mass. is quoted as saying that American consumers have been "tipped upside down and have [had] their savings shaken out of their pockets at the gas pump." Gas prices have become a key comodity in determining changes in economic growth.

Traditionally the responsibility of the Federal Reserve System (FED) is that of conducting the nation’s monetary policy by influencing the monetary and credit conditions in the economy in pursuit of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates. By influencing interest rates the FED has historically had the capability of causing growth or decline in the national economy.

With the lowered interest rates over the past 6 years the value of the US Dollar has continued to fall as inflation has been on the rise. In contrast, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has nearly tripled their basket prices since 2001.

While the economy has grown with the lowered interest rates the FED is now faced with a more difficult situation as the economic growth slows under pressure from gas prices. 17 consecutive increases in interest rates have not been able to put a stop to inflation while still allowing for sufficient growth and development.

According to Janet Yellen, president of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank, it is not likely that interest rates will raise for an 18th time in a row.

While international investors take advantage of foreign currencies raising in value in comparison to the US Dollar, we hope that the economy will continue to grow despite high gas prices. Even more, though, we hope that gas prices will fall again before the next phase of interest rate changes — the value of the US Dollar can't be allowed to fall forever.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) Technology

Oulu, Finland has become home to about 50 people who are now testing the new Nokia 6136 phone that boasts a seemless transition between cellular and wireless networks during a phone conversation. I'm amazed that it has taken this long for this technology to come about, but I'm glad that it is.

While wireless routers are very useful in providing Internet access to homes and businesses, they are no different from in-home wireless phones. They offer a limited area of freedom, but once the handset (or computer) is taken outside of the servicable area they are completely useless.

Cellular technology has modernized the way in which people converse. In a period of five to ten years the United States and much of the world has gone from having land-lines in every home to cell phones in every hand. They offer flexibility and availability in a way that has never before been experienced.

I look forward to the day when business people can sit on a train, or anywhere for that matter, with their laptops open as they communicate over the web. Yes, this kind of change would require a lot of infrastructure and bandwidth capability, but it will eventually offer the same kind of service for laptops that cell phones have been using now for years.

The advent of the Nokia 6136 offers a transition for these services. By putting cell phones and laptops on the same wireless networks the current cellular network infrastructure could more easily be switched to wireless services.

Many cellular providers are already servicing wireless coverage areas. This new technology will make wireless Internet communication better by simplifying services and by putting more emphasis on wireless capabilities and reliability.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

"Click Fraud" Ethics

Google has agreed to pay $90 million to settle a click-fraud class-action lawsuit. This amount easily appears small when compared to the estimated $1.3 billion in estimated fraudulent advertising fees. It also brings another blow to Google investors who have lost around $80 per share or around 17% YTD. For an industry plagued with uncertainty and an era plagued with dishonesty, ethical principles seem to have been swept under the proverbial rug.

While morals are easy to define, ethics are very different. Ethical questions attempt to give answers to the many grey areas that lie between morals and laws. Correct answers can lead us to success, but incorrect answers lead to the skeletons that are the only remains of Enron or Arthur Andersen. Technology has many amazing capabilities that have served to help the overall business process, but it has also increased the speed and ease of fraud.

Internet advertisers pay billions of dollars to strategically place their ads all across the web in hopes that it will bring them a return on their investment. Each time one of these ads is clicked an amount is charged to the advertiser and portioned between the advertising agency and the ad-hosting site. Click fraud is a click that occurs either for personal gain or in an effort to force the advertiser to pay additional fees.

The problem that allows this click fraud to occur is the lack of identity. When a credit card is used to make a purchase there is a record to track the transaction. When the transaction record is reviewed it is easy to spot double-charges or incorrect charge amounts because each vendor and each transaction has a unique identifier associated with it.

Information Systems are capable of tracking amazingly vast amounts of information. Each computer's network interface card is assigned a unique MAC address. This and other identifying information is passed to web servers when information is requested from a website. Without much difficulty, then, advertising agencies could track not only the number of clicks, but also the identities of the clickers. This would prevent the chance of multi-clicking to force additional charges to the advertiser. Also, this would prevent the search engine from using any of its own computers to raise the number of clicks.

Other important information to the advertiser is the location where the advertisement is placed. Since many websites are making money by acting as proxy advertisers by simply posting an 'Ads By Google...' area to their site they are also capable of encouraging false clicks in order to drive revenue to their site. While computer identifiers would prevent multi-clicking the click source is also a useful part of the action. By tracking this information, a company can see what websites are recruiting the most clicks. With this information they could easily visit the site themselves to see if the site is truly popular or if they are encouraging clicks for their own gain.

Any time we are working with information technology there is also the opportunity for fraud. Network interface cards have unique MAC addresses, but these unique identifiers can also be masked with what is referred to as MAC spoofing. While this is not necessarily easy to do if it is required to be changed for each associated click, it is very possible.

While this problem could initially be fixed by using cookies to identify the visitor, these can also be removed or simply prevented from being placed on the user's computer.

It would seem that our current situation remains without an answer. Click fraud and others will continue to occur because of the natural disconnection of identity that inherintly lies between technology and the person operating it. While we could try to connect a user's identity with their computer this would only open doors to many other forms of even more detrimental forms of fraud.

We are therefore left again to ethics. We rely on honesty and integrity because those are the values that improve our world society. We can always pursue answers to ethical questions in order to write or rewrite our social code of conduct, but policies don't change people – people change people.