14 November 2010

Cyberspace December 2010

Classified adverts

The theory isn’t new, and the tactic is really just a development, not evolution, but the government is interested in your online boasting. Ars Technica (http://arstechnica.com) recently published a document said to be from the USA Department of Homeland Security. Social networking “provides an excellent vantage point for FDNS to observe the daily life of beneficiaries and petitioners... Once a user posts online, they create a public record and timeline of their activities.” It’s easy to see that these sorts of things will weed out fraudulent engagements, marriages, social security dependencies and so on. I despise people who carry on these sorts of activities, but for the rest of us: do you really need to do the modern equivalent of taking out a classified advert to tell the world at large what you did on the weekend? Do you?



New Zealand has the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill 2010 before parliament at the moment. It aims to solve the problem of “lack of public knowledge that file sharing may infringe copyright” by amending the Copyright Act 1994! Yep, that’ll fix it. Three notices to the account holder may be issued, noting that infringing activity will be logged by their ISP (yes, the ISP are now the police). After three notices are issued the copyright holder may apply to the Copyright Tribunal for a compensation award (up to $15,000) and the District Court may order suspension of internet access for up to six months. “Claims will generally heard on the papers” but a hearing may be requested. Lawyers are only allowed with leave, which looks unlikely to be given. There is a mechanism for challenging notices, and they expire after 9 months.

So the account holder will always suffer the penalty. I wonder how that will affect group house arrangements for uni students, or parents with teenagers? At least with camera speeding offences you can nominate the responsible driver for the penalty. ISPs can charge the copyright holders for any extra work but the regulations may prescribe those rates, which may be uncommercial.

It seems to ignore the problem of actual damage. File sharing is where material “is downloaded, made available, or transferred to another.” Infringment means an incident of file sharing. A song costs AUD$1.69 on iTunes usually. Are we going to see these proportionate awards for damages? And “made available” may mean that no damage occurred at all. Will damages be awarded for no damage?

Some parts show some thought, such as enforced delays between the notices to give the account holder time to try to stop the problem. However the challenge procedure is a problem, since it must be done within a week (bad luck if you’re travelling or busy, and your kids and housemates are at home all day on holidays...). And if you lose your internet for six months be careful you don’t have your online accounts closed for lack of use.

What makes this Bill completely unacceptable is the ability to suspend an internet account. It is, for many people, the removal of a basic utility just as important as electricity. Tough if you’re a small business operator with kids or enjoy working from home every now and then, or share a group house and study using the Internet, or even just store your documents “in the cloud”. You’re going to have think very very carefully about who is using your internet and for what purposes. Perhaps we’ll see some decent routers with built in protection, but that will definitely be at a cost. Of course, if it does make it into law then there will be the obvious temptation to bring it here.

Cyberspace November 2010

Domain name security

A blogger, Ben Metcalfe (http://benmetcalfe.com), announced that his domain name vb.ly was cancelled by the Libyan domain registry in September 2010. This was one of his organisation’s main domains, and it was seized apparently because his content ran afoul of Libyan Islamic law. The site merely converts long URLs into much shorter ones (which is why he registered this particular domain), and according to Metcalfe was in compliance with the Registry’s rules. The domain name was made available, along with other short names, for re-registration by Libyans.
Domain names can be a significant asset, and some emerging markets have produced interesting domain names, such as .fm and .am for radio stations, .it for IT professionals, .me for personal sites, .mo (a product site for the mower fly.mo?),  and someone already has calv.in, yet these are all actually country top level domains.

The lesson here is that some registries may be heavily influenced by their respective governments or other bodies, and simply don’t behave in ways that you might expect - but is perfectly in accordance with local custom. If you don’t know the country and its customs well, then investing heavily in a domain there may be as risky as investing in real estate without local advice.


This advice false into the category of “I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but...” Facebook recently introduced “Places” (http://www.facebook.com/places/) and I promply forbade my daughter from using it (it turned out I didn’t have to - she worked it out for herself). If you have a mobile phone such as an iPhone that has a GPS in it, you can just click a button to share on your Facebook feed exactly where you are at that moment. Conversely “When you use Places, you'll be able to see if any of your friends are currently checked in nearby and connect with them easily.” But you know what? If your friends are out and about without you then there might be a reason why you weren’t invited...

There are many other services like this, such as foursquare and GoWalla (Google introduced Latitude some time ago to deafening silence). While there are some fun or even useful possible scenarios for this (“I’m in a castle in Bacharach, Germany”, “Now I’m in a spa in Finland”), the opportunity for it to work out to your detriment is immense. It would be fun to brag on holidays but for a teenager who’s “friended” 500 people she’s never met, as well as a few enemies and stalkers, it’s a recipie for bullying and harrassment. Another problem with these products is that they are not always accurate - my phone sometimes shows me in the Sheraton across the street from my office. When I’m in the MLC centre, am I at a law firm, having lunch, shopping at Harvey Norman, or at my dentist? When I’m having a drink with a mate, why does it look like I’m at our competitor which is next door to the bar?

Careless friends

Friends can be unintentionally careless with information; “... when you share your information with a network, you’re trusting everyone on that network to protect your privacy ... there’s always the potential when using location-based social media that someone you don’t want to see could find your exact location.” (http://goo.gl/9boD). Unless your friends list is limited to a truly trusted set of people (assuming they care where you are anyway) then there is no reason to share anything at all. Being burgled while on holidays just isn’t fun.

If you really want to brag in style, set up a blog, snap a photo of that chateau and mail it to your blog with a few carefully chosen words. For more information read the EFF’s take on it (http://www.eff.org/wp/locational-privacy).