Nov 22, 2006

Bid Shot

THE marketing, advertising and media buying sectors are banding together to form a single lobby group to give the combined $25 billion marketing communications industry more sway over government regulatory policy and even media merger rulings.

Yesterday the Australian Association of National Advertisers - whose members control about $20 billion of the marketing dollars spent annually - said the sometimes fragmented industry risked losing ground if it didn't present a united front.

In Britain last week, the advertising watchdog banned junk food commercials in children's television programming and dedicated children's TV channels, but in Australia the combined industry has lobbied successfully in favour of a self-regulatory system.

Sources said the AANA and the Advertising Federation of Australia (which represents agencies) had also jointly lobbied for a say over mergers that might occur under the Government's media reforms in an effort to prevent unreasonable advertising price hikes.

Nov 21, 2006

$66,000 fine to protect privacy

It is three years since the Australian Communications and Media Authority raised concerns about misuse of data in the Integrated Public Number Database, a complete and always up-to-date electronic directory of all listed and unlisted phone numbers and contact details. It is used by emergency services, telcos and producers of public number databases, but only emergency services are authorised to access silent lines. Some marketing and directory companies use the information to wash their data and to reverse-search for names and numbers. AFTER three years of delays, a massive database containing personal information on every Australian with a phone number could soon be protected. A Bill before federal Parliament includes fines up to $66,000 or two years imprisonment for anyone misusing personal information in the Telstra-managed phone directory.

Nov 19, 2006

Is Scotland turning into a call centre nation?

IF YOU think call centres are a blight on modern life that leave you boiling with anger and on the verge of throwing the phone through the window, press ONE.

If you believe they are a shining example of quality customer service and have breathed new life into Scotland's unemployment blackspots, press TWO.

If you need more information, press THREE and listen to Songbird by Kenny G for a few minutes until an adviser eventually becomes available.

Those who pressed TWO may be among the estimated 105,000 people in Scotland who work in call centres, an industry worth £2.2 billion a year.

Those who pressed ONE may cling on to a different statistic - on average, every UK adult spends 24 hours every year on the phone to a call centre. There are more than three million complaints annually - from waiting times to the "aggressive" manner of call centre staff.

Nov 17, 2006

Security firms clash over phishy e-mails

Banks and security experts cannot agree if it is safe for banks to use e-mail for communicating with their customers because the medium has been hijacked by criminals who try and fool online banking users into divulging their log-in details.

Last week, ZDNet Australia reported that an e-mail sent by Citibank confused both customers and security experts because neither group could distinguish the genuine e-mail from a phishing attack.

Security experts criticised Citibank because its e-mail asked recipients to update their online bank log-in details due to an update of the company's security system. Experts claimed the bank had contradicted its own security guidelines and confused its customers.

In response to the story, antivirus firm Sophos on Thursday highlighted the increasing number of phishing attacks but claimed that even though there is "little room for error", banks could safely continue using e-mail for contacting customers -- as long as they take precautions.

Ron O'Brien, senior security analyst at Sophos, published an article that said: "58 percent of business PC users receive at least one phishing e-mail each day, while, alarmingly, 22 percent receive more than five a day, according to a recent Web poll conducted by Sophos."

"Those numbers, combined with today's more strategically targeted attacks, leave little room for error. If financial institutions have proper network security in place and are consistent in their messaging, customers will not have to guess whether they are dealing with a phishing attack," said O'Brien.

But this statement was slammed by Neil Campbell, the recently appointed CEO of e-mail security specialist Network Box. Last week, while still working for Dimension Data, he advised banks to stop sending e-mails to customers in order to "reduce the effectiveness of phishing".

On Wednesday, he told ZDNet Australia that Sophos' response was unrealistic.

"The approach that Sophos recommends breaks one of the basic tenets of security; keep it simple," Campbell said.

When planning information security controls you need to take the computer-literacy of your users into account. You have to ask yourself if it is reasonable to ask the average Internet banking user to trust some e-mails that are apparently from their bank but not others that are also apparently from their bank."

Nov 16, 2006

Melbourne prepares for G20 Forum

Many of the world's financial leaders will attend the conference, creating huge logistical and security problems for Victoria Police. While police say they have no specific information on any terrorist threats, they are warning that groups of protesters may try and occupy inner-city buildings, and they want big corporations to consider hiring extra security. Finance ministers and leading bankers from 20 nations, as well as the head of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, will converge on the city for the world's biggest financial conference... On Friday, a number of protesters plan to split up into small groups and occupy the foyers of large corporations in Melbourne, and we'd certainly like to get that message out to the business managers and property owners in the CBD (central business district) that just review your security plans and you may even consider putting extra security on, on Friday.

Race for better dipstick in big dry

TECHNOLOGY will play a major role in dealing with the nation's big dry, but scientists, politicians and public servants are still grappling with how to take quick, cheap snapshots of the country's water resources.

Race for better dipstick in big dry
Reducing waste: Analysts favour location-specific systems to improve use of water resources
"If you can't measure it you can't manage it, so this is a critical and urgent issue," the National Water Commission's Colin Chartres said.

Politicians gathered in Canberra last week to discuss the critically low levels of water stored in the Murray-Darling basin.

Victoria is in the midst of fighting an election centred on the subject and NSW is set to follow suit.

The federal Government has a $2 billion fund to help finance innovative water projects.

The time is right for technology to come to the rescue - if it can.

There will be no single solution to the water crisis, but myriad location-specific approaches, analysts and scientists say.

Study links red meat to breast cancer

A Harvard Medical School study has discovered a link between red meat consumption and breast cancer.

The researchers found that women who consumed more than one serving of red meat per day almost doubled their risk of developing some types of breast cancer, compared to those who ate fewer than three servings a week.

The epidemiological study assessed the diets of more than 90,000 pre-menopausal women in their 20s, 30s and 40s over 12 years.

The findings come after years of advertising promoting the health benefits of red meat and telling Australian women, in particular, to eat more iron-rich lamb and beef.

Research leader Eunyoung Cho says this is the first study to find an association between breast cancer and the amount of beef, pork, lamb or processed meat women consume.

"Pre-menopausal women who ate more than 1.5 serves of red meat per day experience almost double the risk of hormone receptor positive breast cancer, compared to those who ate less than three servings of red meat per week," she said.

Hormone receptor positive breast cancer is a type of cancer stimulated by female hormones such as oestrogen, and Dr Cho says there are several possible causes for the link.

"There are several possibilities - carcinogens found in cooked or processed red meat, hormone treatment of beef cattle and the type of iron found in red meat may be responsible for the association," she said.

Although Dr Cho concedes more research is needed to replicate the findings, she says the study provides some grounds for reconsidering the amount of red meat consumed.

"[There are] several reasons for women to reduce red meat intake - [it's] also associated with increased risk of colon cancer so I believe our findings provide another reason for women to reduce their red meat intake," she said.

Popular diets like the Atkins program and the top-selling CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet have been pushing the benefits of protein.

David Thompson, spokesman for Meat and Livestock Australia, which partly funded the CSIRO's study, says there have been many studies looking for a link between red meat and breast cancer and until now, none have found one.

"It is a concern because it's fuelling what will ultimately be shown to be unfounded community concern," he said.

"The recommendation of [eating meat] three to four times a week doesn't come from MLA, it comes from the National Dietary Guidelines, and these are the result of work by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care that take into account all of the scientific research in a whole range of foods."

Diabetes poised to 'wipe out blacks'

AUSTRALIA'S Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population could be wiped out this century as European-style solutions to addressing diabetes - exercise and diet - fail to cut through in indigenous communities. Diabetes expert Paul Zimmet has warned that type 2, or adult-onset, diabetes affected one in four indigenous adults and was increasingly being diagnosed in Aborigines as young as 10.

"Without urgent action there certainly is a real risk of a major wipe-out of indigenous communities, if not total extinction, within this century," Professor Zimmet said. The foundation director of the International Diabetes Institute and academic at Monash University in Melbourne said indigenous life expectancy was "low and dropping".

Anti-depressive food doesn't work on fish

ADDING fish oil to the diet is the most promising supplement-related treatment for depression, a new review has found.

Sydney University dieticians have trawled recent research to judge the benefits of a range of dietary supplements for relief from depressive symptoms.

The review, published today in the Australian journal Nutrition & Dietetics, rated vitamins B6 and B12, folate, the chemical S-Adenosyl Methionine (SAMe) and the essential amino acid tryptophan as showing some promise in the field.

The herbal extract St John's Wort was also reviewed positively.

But researchers found omega-3 fatty acids, found naturally in oily fish and some grains and nuts, to be the "most promising" nutrition-based treatment for the condition.

"We have found evidence of the potential therapeutic benefits of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid incorporation in the diet which may contribute to an eventual recovery in the long term," said lead author and dietician Dr Dianne Volker.

"This is definitely a valuable add-on to the psychosocial and pharmacological treatment therapy depression-sufferers undergo."

The polyunsaturated fatty acids have been found to have cardiovascular benefits and a role in brain development and mental health.

The review found that three meals a week of oily fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel or fresh tuna, or the equivalent in fish oil supplements, was optimum.

Nov 15, 2006

Trust me. I'm an online encyclopedia

"DO YOU want to know the intellectual and cultural trends for which 2006 will be remembered?" asked the Zeitgeist.

"Sure," I said. "But isn't it a bit early? It's only November."

"It's late, actually," the Zeitgeist said. "That, you see, is a defining characteristic of our times: the premature prediction."

Out of the blue, the Zeitgeist had called and offered an interview. It was a rare honour and I was thrilled. In a nondescript cafe, I ordered a latte and he ordered a cappuccino. I wished I'd ordered a cappuccino.

"I've been thinking about information," said the Zeitgeist. "This is the information age, right? Then why is so much information out there merely duplicating and reinforcing the same perspectives?

"What promised to be a symphony of knowledge is turning out to be a monotone of static. When a computer and a search engine are considered as good as a degree, the result is a culture of shallow knowledge.

"You heard what happened at UNSW in August, when all those old law journals were dumped in a skip? The new law library didn't have space for its 350 journals, so uni staff chucked out the hard copies, which have been superseded by online equivalents. I was surprised the staff didn't light a bonfire and burn the old tomes."

Better built organisms last longer

A STRONG grip, a good education, a wife, and not becoming overweight were key to a long life for middle-aged men who wanted to grow old in good health, a US study said today.

Nine factors were good predictors of which middle-aged men would live healthily into their 80s and beyond, concluded a 40-year study of nearly 6000 Japanese-American men living in the US state of Hawaii. The factors: not being overweight, low blood pressure, low blood sugar levels, low levels of bad cholesterol, not drinking alcohol excessively, not smoking, having a strong grip, achieving a high level of education, and being married.

Grip strength, which can be measured by a test, is a strong indication of upper body strength. It is further proof "that it is important to be physically robust in midlife ... consistent with theories of aging that suggest that better built organisms last longer", the study said.

The men in the study were an average age of 54 when it began in 1965. Those who managed to meet all the healthy criteria had an 80 per cent chance of living to age 80, and also were much more likely to attain old age while avoiding illness.

Of the 5820 original study participants, 2451, or 42 per cent, survived to age 85, and 655 participants, or 11 per cent, reached that age without suffering serious health problems such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.

"Your chances were more than 60 per cent of being healthy at that age if you avoided these risk factors, yet if you had six or more of these risk factors you had less than a 10 per cent chance of living into your mid-80s," said study author Dr Bradley Willcox of Pacific Health Research Institute in Honolulu.

The over-85 age bracket was the fastest growing in industrialised countries, but it also comprised the biggest consumers of health care resources, the study said.