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The Cutting Edge: Computing / Technology / Innovation : FORUM : Business on the Internet: Readers Comment

August 31, 1994

Last week, The Cutting Edge solicited readers' views on the issue of whether the government-supported Internet was an appropriate medium for commerce and what might be done to overcome some of the barriers--such as lack of security for credit card numbers--to doing business on the Net. Following is a sampling of the responses.

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You paint too negative a picture of doing business over the Internet. . . . There is risk in the use of credit cards; however, there are also risks when using them via phone or in restaurants and anywhere else. The risks on the Net can easily be made negligible by use of public encryption keys. It might be a good business opportunity to write a simple step-by-step instruction manual for businesses to use in setting up a public key system.

A large part of the Internet traffic is now handled by other-than-government-supported systems. There are many commercial providers of Internet access, and each provider pays for their own share of costs of the Net. These facts make it quite appropriate for business to be conducted over the net. However, that business should be confined to the biz. news group hierarchy so that sites that don't want to, or government supported sites, would not have to carry such news groups.

I would like to be able to buy most things over the Internet, provided it is done as an expansion of the current biz. hierarchy.

RICHARD FOY

Redondo Beach

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This (lack of security) is serious. I don't send my Visa number over the Net, (but) public key encryption can overcome this limitation. The key is to make this convenient as well as secure. Here's one way it might happen:

An enterprising company creates a mosaic-like Internet "Yellow Pages" program. This is free to consumers; businesses pay to be listed. On-line services and bulletin board software vendors pay to include this program, (which) contains a database of companies doing business on the Net.

You order some books, you ask the program for a list of booksellers. Select one--the program downloads their catalogue and order form. They are "signed" with the vendor's public key to authenticate them, and the program checks this. Make your selections. The program fills out the order form (you typed in your name, address, Visa number and a password when you received it), computes the total, sales tax, etc. and asks for your password for confirmation. It then encrypts the order with the vendor's public key and sends the order to the vendor. You get confirmation when the order is received (encrypted to protect your privacy).

This will be even easier than mail or phone order, since the program fills out the order form and the catalogue is received on demand. Welcome to the Internet shopping network!

RICHARD A. FOWELL

Culver City

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Put me in the column that opposes using the Internet for commerce. We have enough advertising and selling in other forms of communication: billboards on the side of highways, underwear ads in the L.A. Times, an abundance of commercials on television. . . . Keep the communication on the Internet uninterrupted by such distractions.

RALPH BIGELOW

Placentia

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Commercial advertisements on the Internet are fine if they are confined by three criteria:

1. They must be informational. There is already too much information on the Internet without forcing people to wade through "junk ads."

2. Commercial advertisements must be limited to Usenet groups designated for that purpose.

3. No ads in our e-mail. It would be way too easy to collect the names of individuals interested in a topic from the Usenet groups and mass-mail them to advertisers.

DAVE CALHOUN

Ellensburgh, Wash.

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Defining the Internet is like defining the universe, or at least that is the way many dedicated users perceive it. Everyone who has enjoyed it for some time realizes that its potential is boundless and that its resources are a mere fraction of what they could be.

It is remarkably free of censorship and commercialism. . . . Because it is growing, it needs an influx of cash, however, and this is where business looks to be a source of future strength. Yet, like the universe, its beauty lies in the anarchic freedom it fosters. Certainly if businesses want to jump on board the Net, that's great. Let 'em have at. I haven't heard of anybody decrying Pizza Hut for their new Internet pizza service.

The Internet is organic. It lives, it grows, it thinks and it evolves. If businesses enter into it, and they will, let them understand that the rule remains computador emptor : Let the user beware.

STEVE SCANLAN

Huntington Park

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