30 September 2008

Phorm is coming to a webpage near you today!!

BT will launch its trial of Phorm on the 30th September 2008. Avid readers of CyberPanda will remember the concerns of the Panda on the roll out of Phorm which were covered in earlier posts( here and here).

The sample users will see a special webpage when they start surfing online and they will be asked whether they want to opt in, opt out or need more information about the Phorm. BT anticipates that the trial would run for at least 4 weeks and the size of the sample is expected to be in the region of 10, 000. In the view of CyberPanda, it would have been much more effective if opt out was the default option rather than opt in as users often do not pay attention to what they are agreeing to online given their haste to start browsing. In addition, the Panda will keep an eye on how informative the educational materials (for the users who wish to learn more about the scheme) is and to what extent it really educates the users on the nature of what they are agreeing to.

If the outcome of the trial is satisfactory to BT, Phorm will be rolled out across the entire customer base of BT using broadband. This would be a worrying development especially as it is not clear at this stage whether customers would be given the choice of opting out of the scheme.

29 September 2008

The panda is back!

CyberPanda is back online after a week of holiday: well more hard work than holiday!! News worthy of mention is the launch of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety today. Its aim is to provide a safer online environment for minors by educating children about the dangers online, dealing actively with harmful content online and create a code of conduct for relevant websites.

This is right step but only time will tell whether the new council will have enough teeth to fight back against harmful content online.

17 September 2008

Phorm is being rolled out.

The Government has stated that Phorm, the online ad system, will be rolled out in the UK. Avid readers of CyberPanda will remember that this issue was covered earlier this year when the EU questioned the lawfulness of Phorm especially in the context of data protection laws. The EU asked the Government to clarify the manner in which the system tracked the web habits of net users.

The Government has now clarified the manner in which the tracking will be done. In a nutshell, trials of the tracking will only be done with the consent of the net users being tracked. In the words of the Government to the EU: 'Users will be presented with an unavoidable statement about the product and asked to exercise choice about whether to be involved. Users will be able to easily access information on how to change their mind at any point and are free to opt in or out of the scheme (my emphasis).'

The Office of the Information Commissioner has already issued its response to this statement and is in the process of analysing the reply as well as undertaking a legal assessment of the situation in the UK. So the situation is far from being resolved. It seems that the better solution would have been for the UK government to wait for the response of the Commissioner before proceeding to roll out the system here.

Phorm argues that the system is legal: profiles of the users are created on the unique ID of the user rather than the identity of the user. Phorm also argues that it does not have any information which would enable it to link the user ID to the user. One still wonders what the ID of the user reveals about the identity of the user. Surely it must contain some unique characteristic of the user in question.

Another issue is the legality of the trials which were carried out without the consent/knowledge of the net users before the EU intervened. Police investigation is currently been carried out on this matter following several complaints by tracked users, so this matter is also pending.

Phorm raising a series of complex legal and commercial issues including data protection, rights of other content owners and privacy and the Government should have awaited the final determination by the EU before proceeding forward with the launching of the project here. But yet again, it seems to be a situation of act now and take it down later if it offends.
Disclaimer: The rights to the logo used above belongs to Phorm.

16 September 2008

The internet rumour mill.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, has told BBC News that measures should be taken to ensure that users of the internet are able to separate 'rumour' from 'real science' online. He is also concerned about the use of the internet to spread 'disinformation' (we all remember the rumours circulated online about the dangers of the MMR vaccine). He has made these comments whilst launching the World Wide Web Foundation whose aim is to ensure that the web is truly worldwide and also help users to know if websites are trustworthy/reliable sources of information.

It will be interesting to see what innovations will be made by the Foundation over the years and to what extent it will fulfilled its aims. CyberPanda is all for ensuring that sensationalist rumours do not float around in the online world, it is also equally anxious that the freedom of net users to express themselves in an online context is not curtailed.

Hence the Foundation should keep this tension in mind when considering which innovations would be helpful to prevent the net to become just a rumour mill. CyberPanda can see the merit of such innovations for websites which disseminate information mostly (e.g. websites dealing with medical conditions, news etc) but it struggles to see how such innovations can operate in other contexts where the content consists mostly of the views/opinions of the users (e.g. blogs, forums etc).
Another significant point also is who decides which information is actually misinformation. This point also needs to be kept in mind when dealing with websites which disseminate factual information (e.g. Wikipedia). CyberPanda is concerned that drastic innovations may in the long run put the brakes on online applications similar to Wikipedia.
Disclaimer: Click here to access the image used in its original context.

13 September 2008

Oink, oink is due to appear in courts.

The Guardian has reported today that the founder of Oink, a filesharing site, has been charged with conspiracy to defraud. In addition, four users of the site have been charged with copyright infringement. Oink has been closed since eleven months and the case is due to be heard at the Cleveland Magistrates Court later in September.

Oink has reportedly been one of the biggest file sharing sites online (a reported number of 200,000 users) and did not host any infringing material. On the contrary, it was a 'tracker' for BitTorrent files and allowed its users to share music. Membership to the site was free and the only way in which the site generated revenue was through occasional donations.

CyberPanda is very keen to find out what evidence led to the allegation of conspiracy to defraud. It requires a stretch of imagination to say what acts may have led to such an allegation in such a context. In addition, it will be interesting to see how the case will evolve in September and to see whether additional users are also sued.

Disclaimer: The rights to the image used above belong to the rights owner. Please click here for the use of the image in its original context.

10 September 2008

The latest P2P case in the US.

I have come across an interesting US P2P case namely UMG Recordings Inc. v. Doe (N.D.Cal. September 4, 2008).

The facts of the case are fairly simple. The Plaintiffs discovered the IP address of the Defendant (a John Doe) who engaged in illegal file sharing and sued the latter for copyright infringement. As the Defendant was only known by his/her IP address, the Plaintiffs sought a court order authorising them to issue a subpoena to the ISP of the Defendant. The order was granted subject to an important caveat.

In this case, the evidence pointed to the fact that the Defendant was in fact a student at the University of California. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act at 20 U.S.C. § 1232g, provides that a college generally cannot disclose 'any personally identifiable information in education records other than directory information.' The only exception to this rule is when a college is answering a lawfully issued subpoena. However in such circumstances, the parents and students should be notified of the subpeonas in advance of compliance by the college.

The caveat of the court in this case was to require the return date of the subpeona to be calculated in such a manner as to allow the university to notify the Defendant and his parents.

This is a very interesting case concerning disclosure of the details of the infringing parties in P2P cases and CyberPanda is curious to know whether such afeguards are in place in the UK.

The lack of sophistication of Spore`s DRM.

The latest wave of controversy washing the shores of the games industry is called Spore. The latest video game developed by Electronic Arts consists of a number of anti-piracy restrictions which prevent the users from downloading the game for more than three times after purchase.

Users of the game are understandably unhappy about these restrictions and my latest visit of Amazon shows that users have rated the game one star out of five.

The disgruntled users have been complaining rather noisily on various forums including Amazon itself. The game developer argues that the DRM is common practice and will affect less than 1% of players.

Spore allows players to create beings and follow their evolution from single-cell creatures to becoming part of sophisticated civilisations and conquering space.

9 September 2008

Google now stores your personal data for only nine months.

BBC News has today reported that Google will reduce the period of time over which it stores the personal data of its users from 18 months to 9 months. The move follows the continuous pressure Google has been facing from the EU`s Article 29 Working Body ('Working Body'). The information usually stored includes the serch query, the IP number and web browser used. Google justifies the storage of such information by using the very dubious reason of product improvement and security reasons.

The move still leaves Google lagging behind the recommended 6 months storage period recommended by the Working Body. It is dubious whether the recent move by Google will be enough to assuage the concerns of the Working Body as the reason for storing and processing personal data has still not been sufficiently explained by Google. The very general reason given by Google appears to be no more than hogwash and it will be interesting to see what their response will be when they are queried over the new storage period (ie. why is it 9 months rather than 6 months).

Disclaimer: The rights to the logo used above belong to Google.

Thou shalt not upload content related to the Church of Scientology.

The EFF has reported that 4000 DMCA takedown notices have been sent to YouTube on the basis of copyright infringement related to videos containing footage and content related to the Church of Scientology. YouTube responded by suspended a substantial number of user accounts.
YouTube users have responded with their own DMCA counter-notices which means that some of the suspended content is now available again on YouTube.

It will be interesting to see what the next step of the American Rights of Counsel (the mysterious entity acting in this case) would be. CyberPanda is concerned about the liberal use of the DMCA takedown notices by the Church of Scientology and its impact on free speech.

5 September 2008

Topware Interactive and the ISP6

It has been reported that Topware Interactive, a computer game developer, has obtained a high court order compelling ISPs in the UK to reveal the identities of users who are suspected of illegal file sharing online.

CyberPanda is eager to know which ISPs other than BT and Virgin Media are involved. In addition, CyberPanda is also eager to learn what specific information will be disclosed and on what facts are taken into account, before a decision is made that a specific user might be involved in illegal file sharing. The danger here of course is that orders might be obtained against users on the basis of very flimsy factual evidence. CyperPanda is not suggesting that this happened here but it might very well happen in the future unless the necessary caveats are drawn out when the order is made, relating to how the determination of whether or not a user is a suspect, is made.

It will be interesting to see how this matter progresses and whether users will accept settlement offers or would prefer to go to trial despite the hefty award of damages that might be made against them. It will also be interesting to see which companies (and in particular from the music indsutry) will follow suit.
Disclaimer: The rights in the image used above are owned by a third party. Click here to access the image in its original context.

4 September 2008

Google Chrome EULA Take 2!!

Proof that the big suits do sometimes listen. Google has now reworded the EULA of Google Chrome and deleted its highly controversial provision concerning copyright licence which CyberPanda covered in an earlier post. The new provision rightly leaves the rights to any content posted on or through the browser to the Chrome user.

The monumental gaffe was explained by Google as being caused by the use of its Universal Terms of Service across its different offerings for the highly dubious and slightly incoherent reason of keeping 'things simple' for users. The spokesperson of Google went further to say that at times this may mean inclusion of term which do not apply 'well' to the product in question. One has to question the due diligence, expertise and legal skills of the lawyers employed by Google, if they actually leave terms and conditions which do not sit 'well' with a product in a contract governing its use. It is even more surprising that this gaffe occured given that a similar situation occured last year when Google launched Google Docs.

Disclaimer: The rights to the logo used above are owned by Google.

3 September 2008

The audacity of Google Chrome!

CyberPanda has been riled by the EULA of the newly launched web browser by Google. Section 11.1 of the EULA of Google Chrome provides, inter alia, that by submitting, posting or displaying content, users of Google Chrome give to Google 'a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free and non-exclusive licence to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute' any submitted content. The aim of the licence is to enable Google to 'display, distribute and promote [its] services' and may be revoked for certain services. The user is, of course, not paid a dime for granting this perpetual and irrevocable licence to Google.

This provision poses a number of legal issues including what is the situation if the user posts materials that are owned by third parties (this remains an issue despite section 11.4 of the EULA pursuant to which users undertake that they have the right, power and authority to grant the licence to Google)? Is this clause fair to the right owners? Is Google doing enough to bring this clause to the attention of its users?

The gut instinct of CyberPanda is that such a clause should not be incorporated within the EULA unless it has been specifically brought to the attention of the user. In addition, CyberPanda is strongly opposed to the very notion of 'perpetual, irrevocable and royalty-free licence' as it leaves the right owner in a vulnerable position.

Disclaimer: The rights of the logo used above is owned by Google. Click here to access the logo.