Opinion

Try living in the real world

David Bicknell
Dotcoms should wake up to the fact that the cause of slow Internet take-up is its poor security and not a lack of consumer readiness

I read a particularly daft statement the other day in a piece on dotcom profitability in the Wall St Journal. The article, "Latest dotcom fad is old fashioned: call it profitability" was fine in itself, examining how, after the dotcom demise, some "survivors", such as LaNetro.com in Spain and Priceline.com, were now profitable, while others - Lastminute.com was suggested - might be profitable within a year.

The statement that got my goat was from Priceline's chairman and chief executive Richard Braddock, who came out with the gem, "The evolution of consumers is far slower than most people predicted. People are not yet ready to buy mortgages and new cars in volume over the Internet today."

Well, chum, I've got news for you - and I am not chief executive of a fancy-dan dotcom. The reason the evolution of consumers has been slower than predicted is that, rather than living in fantasy glass-bubble land, people are actually pretty cautious. They are cautious about their security and privacy, and they still don't trust the Internet. And let's face it: they have good reason not to.

Almost every other day there is another security scare. If it's not Code Red this week, it will be a new variant of it next week. Meanwhile, a string of incompetent financial services companies have released their customers' details to all and sundry and then hope that coming out with a mealy-mouthed PR statement will magically put it right.

Microsoft's Hotmail seems to have more security scares than a product from the world's most influential software company should reasonably have, but somehow the idea that the security in the company's products is unacceptable does not seem to have filtered through to the Microsoft's management.

To add to this tale of woe, the domain name system has gone through years of navel-gazing, and Icann, the organisation behind most of the familiar names that people will be aware of - not the national registries - still has little credibility or clout, and is usually at the centre of some row involving Netizens, registrars or the US Government.

Copyright and taxation issues have still to be sorted out and most ISPs seem to be locked in debates with their national governments over the onus on them over security matters. Witness the debate over the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill.

For their part, governments pay lip-service to driving the take-up of broadband, and telecoms dinosaurs such as BT seem to do their level best to restrict rivals' competitive efforts to create a Net-aware nation, and instead offer ludicrously expensive rates for "whenever-you-want" surfing.

And as for the mobile Internet, it is still pie-in-the sky stuff. When it came to Short Message Service messages, it was the consumer who got it right and the supply-side that missed the trick.

According to Braddock, consumers aren't buying. Well, has he ever considered the prospect that maybe the consumer is right?

Until all these players get their acts together and create a secure environment where credit card numbers are not made visible to all, where customer data is just that - customers' private data, unless they wish to disclose it - and where legal systems support Net-age business - they will continue to avoid buying mortgages, cars and whatever over the Internet.

Braddock, and it seems most of the Web community, should try living in the real world: the consumers' world.

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