Privacy concerns could stunt Net growth

Speaking for the first time Thursday at the National Press Club, the 35-year-old entrepreneur says the public's growing fears over online data collection could be the one stumbling block in the internet's path. A recent Dell Computer survey finds 90 percent of customers think online privacy concerns could affect the internet's growth, he says.

"The consumer deserves to be informed" of the data being collected about them online, Dell says.

Dell recommends the industry take more responsibility to protect its consumers' private information. He supports the recent Federal Trade Commission recommendation that that Congress pass legislation to protect consumers' personal data.

Dell addressed the press club audience just a day after Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's ruling that Microsoft should be split in two. Inevitably, he was asked for his reaction to the decision.

Customers who prefer Microsoft products will continue to purchase them, Dell says. But beyond that, he did "not wish to comment on the merits of the case."

Instead, he spoke of how Dell Computer has harnessed the power of the Net to grow into a $US30 billion enterprise. Dell claims a 292 percent return on investment in the last quarter.

But many businesses aren't using the internet to its full potential to cut costs and increase productivity, Dell says. Companies too often view it as simply an outlet for sales. But the internet should be integrated into every aspect of business, from customer transactions to technical support to inventory control, he says.

Companies should combine bits and atoms, or digital information with physical information, to serve their customers best and improve their businesses, he says.

Consumers will continue to demand better network performance, especially as more of them frequently transmit video and sound files. The 56K modems of today will quickly be replaced by fiber optic networks that are linked globally, he says.

And a key to promoting the Internet's global growth is helping the government understand that e-commerce is increasingly taking place country to country and not state to state, Dell says. He expects the US will need to simplify its tax system to facilitate worldwide commerce.

Dell adamantly shot down rumours that the PC industry has passed its prime.

"I am happy to say the reports about the death of the PC have been greatly exaggerated," Dell says.

New, popular electronic products, such as Palm Pilots, are mainly used in conjunction with PCs, not instead of them, he says.

"These devices are totally linked," he says, asking the audience if anyone had noticed that the tiny screen on a mobile phone could never present as much data as a computer monitor.

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