31 October 2008

If you are a service provider, you better have a phone number!

Outlaw has recently commented on the ruling of the European Court of Justice ('ECJ') in the case of Bundesverband der Verbraucherzentralen und Verbraucherverbände РVerbraucherzentrale Bundesverband eV v deutsche internet versicherung AG.

The Plaintiff sued the Defendants on the ground that the latter did not provide its phone number to its potential customers before the conclusion of a commercial transaction. DIV did give policy buyers the phone number, but only after the conclusion of a contract.

The case was refered to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling on the interpretation of Article 5(1) of the E-Commerce Directive which provides that:

‘1. In addition to other information requirements established by Community law, Member States shall ensure that the service provider shall render easily, directly and permanently accessible to the recipients of the service and competent authorities, at least the following information:
(a) the name of the service provider;
(b) the geographic address at which the service provider is established;
(c) the details of the service provider, including his electronic mail address, which allow him to be contacted rapidly and communicated with in a direct and effective manner;

The ECJ was asked to adjudicate on whether Article 5(1) required websites which fell within the ambit of the Directive to provide any other additional means of contact other than their postal and emal address.

The ECJ ruled that companies have a duty to provide a means of contact on their websites in addition to their postal and email addresses. The ECJ further ruled that an acceptable means of contact includes a telephone number or a contact form that is answered within an hour.

This ruling will have a wide ranging commercial impact as it will force service providers to put in place a more advanced system to communicate with their customers than they currently do. This will have considerable financial impact on the business model of those providers.

27 October 2008

A possible sentence of 5 years for breaking, entering and killing a 'virtual' husband.

For those of us who still believe that actions on MMORPGs can never carry any repercussions in the offline world, the recent imprisonment of a Japanese woman who killed her 'virtual husband' online, should make us think twice.

The game in question, Maplestory, allows its players to participate in a number of games as well as social activities/relationships including marriage through avatars. The lady in question was virtually married to another player (who was not her husband in real life and lived 1000 km away from her). She was apparently angry when she discovered that her 'virtual' husband divorced her without informing her of the matter. She allegedly illegally accessed the log-in details of her 'virutal husband' and killed off his character.

According to BBC News, if the lady is charged and convicted, she is likely to face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5, 000. The BBC also reports that the lady has been imprisoned in a jail situated in the town of her 'virtual' husband.
On a technical plane, it would be interesting to find out how she was able to access his log-in details.

The legal issues posed by this case are even more interesting. Is the sentence in question proportionate to the crime? How is proportionality decided? Is the imposition of the sentence legitimate if the players are not aware of the possible consequences of their actions before / at the time they agree to take part in the game? Finally why does the town of the 'virtual' husband have jurisdiction over the matter? This case presents an interesting insight into the problems of legitimacy raised by the application of certain offline rules to virtual actions.

15 October 2008

One step closer to an Orwellian world.

What is the Government`s answer to the growing and multifold use of internet and mobile phones: a central database of the traffic generated by both technologies!! The Government justifies its proposal on the premise of 'keeping up' with new technologies. CyberPanda is shocked at this very weak and unpersuasive rationale for such a drastic proposal which is very much reminiscent of Big Brother watching you. Under the current proposal, the information about internet/mobile traffic will be kept for two years and will very likely be held centrally on a searchable database.

The Home Secretary, who unveiled the new proposal today, used all the right terminology: terrorism, sex abuse, murder, drugs trafficking to justify this unprecedented step. The loaded terminology used should not detract one away from the fact that the proposal is very much a threat against the privacy and freedom of expression of net/mobile users. There will be an opportunity for consultation before these proposals are incorporated in the upcoming Communications Data Bill. It remains to be seen what is the aim and scope of the consultation and whether it will, in reality, amend the current proposals in a substantial manner.
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9 October 2008

We give thanks for not blogging in the Italian waters.

The attention of CyberPanda has been caught by an interesting case from the Italian shores covered by The Register.

Mr Carlo Ruta has been found guilty by the courts of the offence of 'stampa clandestina' which means clandestine publication, in respect of publications of posts on his blog. In the judge`s view, given that the blog had a headline, it amounted to an 'online newspaper' and hence was regulated Law 62 (which regulates online clandestine publications). Mr Ruta was fined and ordered to take down the blog.

CyberPanda is surprised by the ruling of the italian courts and does not see how a blog can be compared to a newspaper. In addition, the argument used by the courts to reach this conclusion (namely that the blog was a newspaper because it had a headline) is logically flawed. It remains to be seen whether this very illogical and harsh ruling will be followed in the future or whether this ruling was reached solely on the basis of the content of the blog in question (politics and mafia). This ruling is a step in the wrong direction as it not only curtails freedom of speech online but also the curtailment of this right, can not be supported by a logical legal/factual argument.

Brace yourself for your encounter with Geode.

BBC News Technology has reported that Mozilla, the creator and developer of the Firefox browser has launched Geode, which is a geolocation technology. As most of Firefox`s features, Geode is an add-on feature which users add if they wish to avail themselves of this technology. It is important to point out that Geode is still at a pilot stage and Firefox is at the moment focussing on how users respond to this new technology.

One of the encouraging features of Geode is that it leaves the user firmly in control of what information is transmitted about their location. It remains to be seen how this will be achieved on a technological plane. CyberPanda agrees with the BBC that asking a person whether or not s/he wants to reveal his/her location might not be the best way forward. It would be best to find a way to gain the consent of the individual through a different means (e.g. opt-in options).
On a deeper level, CyberPanda questions the utility of personal geolocation information: it is one thing finding out where Cafe Pasta is found in Soho quite another to find out where John Doe is up. In addition, CyberPanda struggles to see how disclosure of such information (for the individual) can be justified: what greater public interest is being served by this disclosure and is the fact that the user consents to such disclosure, enough to render such level of surveillance legitimate?

8 October 2008

Patent protection for online music file systems?

Seer Systems, a US company, has been awarded patent protection for a system and method of merging various types of data, distributing the data over the internet and playing the media file. The EFF has filed a reexaminiation request with the US Patent & Trademark Office on the grounds that the system in question does not fulfill the requisite elements needed before patent protection is granted. This is an interesting case and CyberPanda agrees with the EFF that patent protection is not appropriate in this case due a lack of novelty. Another important consideration is the impact of such IP protection on technological innovations and the interests of consumers.

4 October 2008

Beware of conversations with users of TOM-skype

The Information Warfare Monitor has published damning evidence of a series of worrying acts related to TOM-skype (the Chinese version of Skype) which are taking place in China. The evidence shows that TOM-skype blocks keywords from chat conversations and more worryingly spies on (and reports!!) the contents of the messages passing between Skype users. The evidence gathered, so far, indicates that 'extensive surveillane' is taking place with 'little regard' to the privacy and security of Skype users.

TOM-skype is a joint venture between eBay and the Chinese company TOM-Online. Skype denies any knowledge of and involvement in TOM-skype's additions but it has aware of the censorship features introduced by TOM-skype.

Now this is not only a concern for skype users in China but also for any other skype user who engages a conversation with a skype user in China.

CyberPanda agrees with the EFF that Skype and Ebay have to take decisive actions to put an end to such activities. In particular, Skype has a marked responsiblity towards all its users and can not evade liability by flashing the 'We did not know it' card. Finally, it should be determined to what extent the concerned parties (Skype, TOM online and eBay) have been actively backing this extensive level of surveillance.

Disclaimer: The logo used above belongs to Skype.

1 October 2008

To pay or not to pay, that is the question.

Blizzard has won $6m in damages in the trial it brought against MDY earlier this year. In a nutshell, Blizzard brought a claim against MDY on the grounds that Glider, a software produced by MDY infringed the copyright of Blizzard in the World of Warcraft ('WoW').

The US District Court ruled that Glider did in fact break the terms of the licence which users of WoW agree to before playing WoW. Commentators have argued that the award of damages could have been more substantial if MDY did not succeed on some of the grounds it presented to the Courts. It remains to be seen whether MDY will appeal against the judgement. Readers of CyberPanda will remember the reservations advanced by CyberPanda in an earlier post on the legal reasoning used by the Courts to reach its ruling. These concerns are still very much present at the moment and in the view of CyberPanda, MDY should seriously consider appealing the ruling as the legal reasoning used to determine liability in this instance is very much overstretched and illogical.

The case is far from over as MDY is due to appear in court again at the start of 2009 when the Courts will rule whether or not has breached the provisions of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act and whether Mr Donnelly will have to pay the damages from his own pocket.
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