One Year Ago: Buckley Bows Out With Internet Tax Debate

Originally published on December 16, 1999 and brought to you today as a time capsule.

For his last televised Firing Line debate, conservative political pundit William F. Buckley, Jr. has chosen an issue that is becoming a key topic in the 2000 U.S. presidential race — Internet taxation.

Buckley will air “Resolved: The Federal Government Should Not Impose a Tax on Electronic Commerce” Friday night at 9 p.m. Eastern time on most publicbroadcasting service (PBS) stations.

The debate, taped earlier this month at the University of Mississippi,examines the pros and cons of charging sales taxes for items sold on theInternet.

The issue has been hotly contested over the past 12 months,at the state and local government level and in Congress, which issued a temporary moratorium on new taxes until the Advisory Commission on Electronic Commerce presents its findings on the matter this summer.

Debate moderator and Slate publisher Michael Kinsley summed the dispute upas follows: “Because you buy it online, you don’t have to pay any sales tax.That’s very nice, but is itfair to the local bookstore owner who must charge that tax or go to jail? Isit fair to local governments that watch their tax bases disappear into cyberspace? On the other hand, will greedy governments crush this fantastic new medium with taxes if we don’t stop them?”

For and Against

Buckley will lead the anti-tax team, backed by former secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp. Also on the team is Ken Blackwell, Ohio Secretary of State and a director of the National Taxpayers Union. Blackwell is the national presidential campaign chairman for Republican Steve Forbes, an outspoken opponent of wasteful government taxes.

Rounding out the team is Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), who co-authored theInternet Tax Freedom Act that imposed the temporary sales tax moratorium.With Senator Christopher Cox (R-California), Wyden introduced a new bill this year to make the three-year moratorium permanent. That bill has not yet passed the Senate.

Robert Kuttner, the founder and co-editor of the liberal journal The American Prospect, leads the opposition team. Joining him are Christopher Hitchens, a columnist for The Nation, and Professor William Fox, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee.

Also on the opposition team is Dallas, Texas mayor Ronald Kirk, who carries the flag for the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM). The USCM has frequently spoken out in favor of Internet sales taxes as a critical way to generate funds for public services such as police, fire, education, transportation and health care.

“The sales tax is the single largest source of state tax revenue ($1.47 billion in 1997) and is a critical component of thousands of local revenue systems in 25 states,” the USCM says in its policy statement on Internet taxation.

Firing Line

Although Buckley’s Firing Line series has tackled dozens of different politically volatile issues over nearly three decades on the air, the commentator has only once before taken on Internet issues in a debate.

In March 1996, Firing Line featured “Resolved: The Government Has the Right to Regulate the Internet.” Buckley and syndicated columnist and author Arianna Huffington led the affirmative team against American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Ira Glasser and Esther Dyson, who later became the first chairwoman of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a group charged with privatizing the Internet domain name registration process.

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E-commerce Times Channels

Upstart Search Engine Andi Delivers Answers, Not Lists

A new search engine powered by artificial intelligence and natural language processing is offering an alternative to the lists of web pages making up the results of a typical online search.

Called Andi, the search engine combines the use of large language models — think OpenAi’s GPY-3 — and live web data to craft an answer to questions posed by searchers.

“We use AI and natural language processing to understand a question’s intent,” explained co-founder Angela Hoover.

“Andi will look at the top 10 to 20 results for any given query,” she explained to TechNewsWorld. “Then, using large language models, it will generate a direct answer to the question.”

Andi search engine

Andi search query screen (Image Credit: Andi)

Does the internet need another search engine? Hoover thinks so. “Google is broken,” she said. “Google is built for how the web worked 20 years ago. The cognitive overload of ads and links overload the user and leads to a lot of distraction and time wasted.”

“People want direct answers to questions. They don’t want a list of links,” she maintained.

Gen Z Appeal

Andi is designed for a younger demographic.

“It felt like getting my search results in a social media feed. That appeals to younger users,” observed Will Duffield, a policy analyst with the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C. think tank.

“The clean reading appearance that Andi is offering seems like a pushback against adding ever more widgets to search,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Hoover acknowledged that Andi aims to appeal to the young set, particularly Generation Z. “Gen Z lives in visual feeds and chat apps. My generation spends all their time in conversational interfaces,” she said.

“The key to taking on Google is having a conversational interface,” she asserted. “Everyone that’s tried to take on Google has just been a weaker copy with the same amount of overwhelming information, spam and clutter in the results.”

Andi search results

Andi search results (Image Credit: Andi)

A search engine that delivers answers might appeal to older folks, too, noted Mark N. Vena, president and principal analyst at SmartTechResearch in San Jose, Calif.

“In general, users are beginning to get weary of Google’s search algorithms as being biased, deterministic and selective,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“Whether that perception is accurate or not,” he continued, “a new search engine that uses common-sense language and provides specific answers instead of links could be interesting, particularly to older users who don’t want to bother with reviewing multiple links to get an answer to a question or query.”

Need for Search Alternatives

Getting people to switch search engines, however, is a daunting task. “Google has set the bar really high for web search,” observed Danny Goodwin, managing editor of Search Engine Land & SMX, a digital marketing and advertising technology publication.

“The only reason we would need another search engine is if you can provide something better than Google,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Better search results. Better user experience. Better answers. Better whatever.”

There’s just too much information online now, much of it of low quality, added Greg Sterling, co-founder of Near Media, a news, commentary, and analysis website.

“Google has been trying to respond to growing complaints about a decline in the quality and usefulness of its search results,” he told TechNewsWorld. “I do believe there is an opportunity to deliver a new or improved search experience. But this is a big problem and many of the newer search engines simply duplicate the look and feel of Google.”

“The partial abandonment of Google by some younger users in favor of TikTok,” he said, “is an illustration of an appetite for something different.”

“It is hard to just get an answer anymore,” added Liz Miller, vice president and a principal analyst at Constellation Research, a technology research and advisory firm in Cupertino, Calif.

“The battle for who you see first in query results is brutally expensive for brands and increasingly obnoxious for users,” she told TechNewsWorld. “For many users the reality is that they just want the answer to the question they asked. They don’t want the Easter egg hunt that sponsored and tiered results deliver.”

Finding a Niche

Kerstin Recker, chief strategy and growth officer for the Seekr search engine said there are numerous reasons for the existence of alternative search engines. “When one search engine controls the majority of the market, it has control over what information most people are receiving,” she told TechNewsWorld.

“The top search engines all factor engagement into their ranking,” she continued. “The more clicks a result gets, the more likely that result will rank higher. What the majority of search engines do not take into account is quality of content.

“Alternative search engines are needed to balance out bias and give people more choice and clarity when it comes to information discovery and privacy,” she added.

Taking on the biggest search player can be challenging for an alternative search engine, but not hopeless.

“If you’re going to compete with a dominant product like Google, you find a niche that Google doesn’t want to meet — in this case, answering questions — and you come up with a service that does a better job,” explained Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst at the Enderle Group, an advisory services firm in Bend, Ore.

“That’s normally a successful strategy called subtargeting,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Andi’s target demographic should also help it gain some traction in the market, Enderle added. “It’s targeting a demographic with something the demographic feels it isn’t getting from the primary search engine,” he said.

“The one thing about going after a young demographic is they’re very active on social media,” he continued. “So if a few influencers get excited about this, it could move a lot of people to this.”

Show Me the Money

Providing answers, not lists, isn’t the only way Andi differs from some of its competitors. It doesn’t charge for its service and it doesn’t record personal identifying information about its users.

Hoover explained that the service is looking at several ways to generate revenue, including creating a premium tier of service, offering API services, and partnering with publications. “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to partner with tools like Amazon Alexa and other kinds of voice-powered search,” she added.

Duffield, though, said that it may become difficult to become profitable through organic link referrals and add-on services. “Current searches are bundled with advertising for a reason. That’s the way to make money,” he added.

John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government Security News. Email John.

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New Intelligence Platform Helps Businesses Sidestep Cyberattacks

cybersecurity professional

Vulnerability management is a major cybersecurity strategy that many organizations never seem to successfully solve.

The threat landscape is evolving, fueled by digital transformation, remote work, and ecosystem complexity. About a third of the recent attacks are based on the exploitation of vulnerabilities in software that companies use.

Some industry reports show that about 50 new vulnerabilities of different software pieces are published daily. In many cases these are being exploited in order to launch new attacks. These current conditions require businesses to respond to risk quickly and comprehensively.

The cybersecurity industry rides herd on the constant discovery of software weaknesses using notifications known as Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) alerts. In essence, this provides IT departments with a whack-a-mole approach to what needs to be patched.

The issue is actually patching the software containing the vulnerabilities. No centralized process for developing patches for known vulnerabilities exists. When patches are available, installing the software fixes is an ongoing, uncontrolled, catch-as-catch-can process.

That problem is worsened by how deeply open-source code is integrated throughout the software supply chain. With no single source of code development, even proprietary products contain open-source code modules.

At Black Hat USA last month, cybersecurity threat intelligence provider Cybersixgill announced a new solution to reduce risk by accelerating companies’ time to respond. It delivers what could be the cybersecurity industry’s first end-to-end intelligence tool to combat the CVE lifecycle.

“Given the high volume of attacks using vulnerability exploitation as the initial means of infiltration, companies require vulnerability management solutions that give them the data and context they need to understand where their greatest business risks lie fully,” said Gabi Reish, chief business development and product officer for Cybersixgill.

Underground Smarts

This new Dynamic Vulnerability Exploit (DVE) Intelligence platform provides automation, and adversary technique mapping. It also uses rich vulnerability exploit intelligence to streamline vulnerability analysis.

Cybersixgill figured out an unusual approach to doing this process. It dives deep into where bad guys hang out to snoop on their snooping.

The company’s cyber sleuths tap into deep and dark web surveillance to find what hackers are plotting before they strike. The DVE Intelligence platform refines vulnerability assessment and prioritization processes by correlating asset exposure and impact severity data with real-time vulnerability and exploit intelligence.

This approach arms IT teams with the critical context needed to prioritize CVEs in order of urgency and remediate vulnerabilities before they can be exploited and weaponized in attacks, according to Cybersixgill.

This method brings a new element to traditional cybersecurity platforms. DVE Intelligence provides comprehensive context directly related to the probability of attack exploitation. As a result, IT workers have the ability to prioritize CVEs in order of urgency and remediate vulnerabilities before they can be exploited and weaponized in attacks.

Blocking Cyberattacks

According to IBM’s X-Force Threat Intelligence Index 2022, vulnerability exploitation has become the most common attack vector for cybercriminals. It is one of the top five cybersecurity risks businesses face today.

To properly address this situation, organizations need to be aware of their vulnerabilities and the level of risk each poses to prioritize remediation activities. Companies also must understand how the risk of any trending vulnerability can impact new applications or hardware investments.

The DVE platform offers these chief features and capabilities:

  • The interface enables customers to identify and scope the particular assets, CVEs, and Common Platform Enumeration (CPEs) that pose the most significant risk to their organization.
  • Automated mapping of products to relevant CVEs brings a critical tool for reducing false positives so IT teams only have to focus on those vulnerabilities that affect their existing IT assets and infrastructures.
  • Mapping of CVEs to MITRE ATT&CK framework provides vital insight into the higher-level objectives of the attacker, as well as the likely method and potential impact of exploitation.
  • DVE Intelligence continuously monitors vendor sites and MITRE CVE records to present comprehensive remediation information, instructions, and links directly within the DVE interface, dramatically reducing Mean Time to Remediate.

Most vulnerability prioritization technologies rely on external data sources. This often slows the ability to rate new threats. The DVE Intelligence platform equips security teams with its own real-time intelligence and context.

Fending Off Cyberattacks

The biggest questions organizations face are knowing where to focus and how to respond, according to Reish. Potential attackers have near limitless resources from their underground sources to forge an attack.

“We are collecting a lot of information about what are they sharing, what they are trying to exploit, and what malware they are trying to get,” he told The E-Commerce Times.

The bad actors build exploit kits to weaponize these vulnerabilities. Based on our regular conversations with sources, we think that there is a high likelihood of being exploited on any given day through vulnerabilities that are published on a daily basis. This is where cybersecurity and governance play, Reish offered.

“We’ve taken all of our data that we are collecting, and we turned it into actionable insights by enabling customers with tools and mechanisms to prioritize which vulnerability they need to take action upon based on the computers and software that they are running,” he said.

Cyber Diving

Cybersixgill does this with automatic tools they developed to collect information from all the different locations and spaces where threat actors work and hang out in the dingy regions of the dark web.

The company’s researchers are present in the forums cybercriminals are building to transact between themselves and sell malware and exploit kits.

In most cases they do not develop their own ransomware malware. They buy it. They buy access to a company, and they buy a ransomware kit or malware kit to do their crimes, Reish elaborated.

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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