15 February 2011

Cyberspace March 2011

Better results

Google has launched an extension for Chrome named “Personal Blocklist”. It allows you to block certain domains from appearing in your search results such that if you regularly search for legal terms, and a useless or low quality site always turns up in the results, you can block it. Google will receive notification of the blocking, and may tailor its results to the world at large. The idea is simple - let the world edit out poor quality sites. No doubt people will attempt to abuse this by trying to block competitors or sites that they have a beef with, and I suspect Google has processes in place to detect this.

What are poor quality results? Sites that steal other people’s data, shallow aggregators, or those that use words caught by search engines but don’t deliver on the promise. Other descriptions are webspam and content farms. Content farms are proliferating and can be lucrative, as the idea is that a publisher pays writers to churn out (usually low quality) content that helps drive searchers to the site. The publisher makes money by placing advertising on the site.  Even reputable publishers are guilty of this type of poor quality from time to time, particularly when a ‘review’ of a product is nothing more than regurgitating a press release or release notes from a software update. Worse still, content is frequently simply copied from blogs and other sites (some of my pieces now appear on the internet under others’ by-lines).

Two factor security

Security is a hassle. Like being tidy, it involves more work than being slack - having strong passwords that are different for every site you use is a hassle. But the net is full of stories of the problems created when accounts are hijacked, such as the old ‘I was robbed in London’ story. An email account is cracked and an email is sent to the entire address book asking for a money transfer because of theft of wallet/passport/credit cards/etc. To prevent this you use multi-factor authentication. 

There are systems such as the RSA dongle my company uses for remote access, where I have to login using a username, password, and a 6 digit number from a keyfob that changes every 60 seconds. Even if you have my password you can’t do anything without the RSA device. Paypal also offers this facility, and Google is now offering two factor authentication for its accounts as well. The authorisation code is either an SMS, using an app on common phones, or even an automated phone call. Given that many businesses now use Google Apps for serious work this is a major enhancement to the platform.

Privilege and email

A recent USA case of Holmes v Petrovich Development Company, LLC (http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/C059133.PDF) noted that an email sent by an employee to her lawyer from her work computer was not a ‘confidential communication between a client and a lawyer’ within the meaning of the Californian legislation. i.e. there was no waiver of privilege, since there was no privilege in the first place. This particular legislation contemplates the use of email generally, and privilege is not affected by the general fact that third parties assist in the delivery of email.  However, the employee had acknowledged her workplace rule that communications are not private and may be monitored. The court likened this to claiming privilege when consulting her attorney in a workplace conference room in a loud voice with the door open.  The privilege legislation requires that the communication be transmitted by a means which... discloses the information to no third persons other than those who are present to further the interest of the client in the consultation...” It follows that even if she had been suing a third person there would have been no privilege in the emails since her employer had a right to read them.

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