Electronic Commerce – Strategies & Technologies


Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences

Department of Computer Science

Summer 2001



Meeting            Tuesdays from 6:00 pm to 8:20 pm

Instructor          Michael Lewis  (lewism@cs.nyu.edu)

Office               Warren Weaver Hall, room 401

Office hours      Tuesdays from 3:30 to 5:00, and by appointment



Pre-Requisites  -  Students should have previous course and/or practical experience with network protocols, database systems, and web interfaces.


Grading  -  Grades will be based upon a series of homework assignments and projects, one at mid-term and one for the end of the term.


Course Materials  -  Background readings will consist of on-line materials, primary sources, and original material. 


Course Context


The popular image of eCommerce is that of a splashy web page, full of products and advertisements.  In fact, that web page is the public façade to a remarkable system that connects front-end presentation of products and services, personalized to user preferences, to a back-end of databases used to manage product inventories, customer profiles, transaction histories, payments, and more. 


The permeation of Information Technologies throughout the eCommerce transaction and the internal business practices of the organization have become more generally known as eBusiness.  The transformation of the Internet and related protocols to support such practices is what we will investigate in this course.


Commerce was not a design goal or even a remote consideration of the early Internet.  What we are observing is a fascinating, historic high-stakes technical re-tooling of the underlying protocols and practices of the Internet to support robust and secure digital transactions, and their subsequent use within core human activities in business, government, education, and beyond.  We have moved from an environment that emphasized casual communication and file sharing to one that supports the electronic transfer of funds, and the expectations have changed accordingly. 


There is now a demand for comprehensive user authentication, encrypted communication, and digital certification that provably connects people to on-line actions.  The subsequent need to balance the required security with an acceptable level of privacy remains as a challenge.  How much privacy are users willing to sacrifice in exchange for security and convenience features? 


The global scope of the Internet, readily crossing national boundaries, exacerbates such issues.  How can uniform standards and governing legislation be enacted and enforced?  This is particularly nettlesome, given the relatively anarchic early governing structure of the Internet.  While the technical issues of the protocol transformations are challenging, the political issues can be even more difficult to manage.  We will restrict ourselves, for the most part, to the more comprehensible technical issues, pointing out social, legal, or political problems that hinder development along the way.