Monday, April 27, 2009

Pull The Other One, It's Got Emails On It

Pangloss's fevered response to just watching Jacqui Smith on BBC News at Ten:

Yeh, Jacqui Smith, you're not creating the giant super-database of all our calls, emails, IMs, Twitters etc, all in one place run by the state AFTER ALL because you respect our privacy so much. Riiight.

And it's got nothing at all to do with being told repeatedly that (a) data mining across that huge pile of material is so inaccurate the results are not remotely worth the costs and can't anyway be used in court (b) the costs of the super-database were going to be super enormous at a time when the country is nosediving into bankruptcy (a former Government minister told me point blank, some months ago, that the government simply didn't have the money for this) and (c) the chances of a giant super-data breach from this single-point-of-failure multiple-authorised-access super-database - which would make the HMRC data breach look like a drop in an ocean of , er, excrement - were higher than the odds-on chances of the Tories winning the next election.

Yehhh. Right.

Alternately JC has woken up and smelt the roses of privacy after her own and her hubbie's little recent pecadillos were exposed by the press. But mostly, yeh, right.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pirate Bay climbs aboard Google!

Well, kinda.

As Boing-Boing says:

"When The Pirate Bay was ordered shut down by the Swedish courts because it linked to infringing torrents on the Internet, many people pointed out that Google links to whole mountains' -- whole planets' -- worth of infringing stuff. Now, to make the point, comes The Pirate Google, a Google mashup that finds torrent files:"

The Pirate Google (via Everything is Miscellaneous).

Pangloss sez: clever stuff. What it emphasises is how much is in the signals about intention that emerge about a site. The Pirate Bay case was a foregone conclusion, in practice if not in law, once it became apparent the defendants were not actually anarchic hippies but clever people making a living from the advertising on the site AND had had the audacity for several years to ignore and mock the recod industry's efforts to stop them connecting to torrent files, and generally made it plain they had no respect for the law of copyright.

Google, on the other hand, has consistently shown a willingness to be a business partner who stands by the rule of law. It is certainly trying to shift the law of copyright into channels more appropriate for the 21st century (essentially getting the rightsholders to opt into copyright protection, not out (see Google Library passim) and take some share of the work involved in getting copyright monetised (see the still running Viacom/You Tube debate) ) - but both of these strategies show an intelligence about how copyright could still operate successfully in a digitused world, rather than an intent to destroy the revenues of the content providers per se. In fact one might dare to say , it shows more intelligence than most the content providers themselves have:)

And incidentally for those out there who have decided Google is just as "evil" as the Pirate Bay or before it Napster or KaZaa , consider that exactly the same mash up trick could have been dome , sans the actual search engine, with any big news site , like the BBC; they have all had multiple links to the Pirate Bay and other torrent and P2P sites over the years.

Wonder if anyone will try to get the "Google" Pirate Bay site taken down, especially in Sweden? Now that would be interesting..

Also from various places: The judge in the case seems to have ties to the copyright industry. The lawyer for one of the defendants is calling for a new trial. Will this really happen? Pangloss doubts it, but watch this space..

Monday, April 20, 2009

GikII 3 - Amsterdam: call for papers

You've already had the date but here's the blurb.. Feel free to distribute this as widely as possible.

GikII Comes to Amsterdam!
17-18 September 2009

Institute for Information Law (IViR)
University of Amsterdam

GikII 4th Edition, a two day workshop on the intersections between law, technology and popular culture, will be held on September 17-18th, 2009 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
The chairs of the event are Joris van Hoboken, Doctoral Researcher at the Institute for Information Law, Ian Brown, Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, Andres Guadamuz, Co-Director, SCRIPT Law and Technology Centre at the University of Edinburgh and Lilian Edwards, Professor of Internet Law, Sheffield University. IViR is hosting GikII in partnership with Creative Commons Netherlands.

There will be no workshop fee. Lunch, coffee and a conference dinner will be arranged free of charge. We will limit registration to 40 participants, so register early!! Preference will be given to attendees who are providing a paper.

GikII - Not for the Lulz!?

GikII is a forum for the intersection of law, technology and popular culture. After previous editions in London, Edinburgh and Oxford, GikII has gained enough steam to hit the continent. Topics covered at the last editions included killer robots, virtual property, copyright online, the many lives and deaths of privacy, fandom, avatar culture, Roman slaves and knitted Daleks.

Last year’s presentations can be viewed here .

We invite all of you that have a paper on any aspect of law AND technology, science, geek culture, blogging, creative commons, wikis, science fiction or fantasy, computer games, digital culture, gender on-line, virtual worlds, series of tubes, or deep packet inspectors, to come to GikII 4 and join us for two inspiring days of cutting edge collisions of the worlds of law, tech and popular culture. LOLcats, robot scientists and cheezburgers are especially welcome.

The call for papers

If you would like to participate, email your abstract of no more than 500 words.

This should be sent to by July 1 2009.

We will confirm acceptances by August 1.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cheese eating surrender monkeys did it!

For those who like an end to their stories, a plausible answer to the #amazonfail kerfuffle I blogged yesterday has emerged : it seems the French did it!

Or at least most bloggers are reporting an inside source at Amazon to this effect.

"Well, this is the real story: a guy from Amazon France got confused on how he was editing the site, and mixed up “adult”, which is the term they use for porn, with stuff like “erotic” and “sexuality”. That browse node editor is universal, so by doing that there he affected ALL of Amazon. The CS rep thought the porn question as a standard porn question about how searches work."

In other words, a French programmer got mixed up and wrongly edited some keywords so that books that were merely in some way coded as sexual - such as LBGT works - ended up being coded as "adult" - which apparently in Amazonspeak means "porn" , and were thus removed from sales ranks. The error was then spread through every database Amazon uses in every country it operates, as they all update and syncronise.

My tech journalist mate Simon Bisson has written a useful post (slash dotted by being linked to by Neil Gaiman on Twitter - ha - but now hopefully recovered) about how we can expect this sort of glitch to happen more and more in large database operations and how cock up is much more plausible than conspiracy.

Of course there are numerous other explanations floating round the Web including clever code bombing by right wing Christian fruitcakes over a quiet Easter holiday weekend, etcetera. But I think there's a poetic simplicity about this explanation.

Last week the more nationalistic wing of the French government (ie Sarkozy) got unexpectedly beaten out in its bid to set up a "3 Strikes" system to protect the French recording industry. What better revenge to take than to mess with the rep of the biggest purveyor of Anglophone books in the world? :)

Phun times ahead for Phorm

The European commission has decided to go ahead with taking action against the UK for failing toproper;y regulate the targeted advertising system Phorm. Their press release notes:

"The Commission has opened an infringement proceeding against the United Kingdom after a series of complaints by UK internet users, and extensive communication of the Commission with UK authorities, about the use of a behavioural advertising technology known as ‘Phorm' by internet service providers. The proceeding addresses several problems with the UK's implementation of EU ePrivacy and personal data protection rules, under which EU countries must ensure, among other things, the confidentiality of communications by prohibiting interception and surveillance without the user's consent. These problems emerged during the Commission’s inquiry into the UK authorities’ action in response to complaints from internet users concerning Phorm."

Vivianne Reding, the EU telecommunications commisioner adds:

“We have been following the Phorm case for some time and have concluded that there are problems in the way the UK has implemented parts of EU rules on the confidentiality of communications. I call on the UK authorities to change their national laws and ensure that national authorities are duly empowered and have proper sanctions at their disposal to enforce EU legislation on the confidentiality of communications. This should allow the UK to respond more vigorously to new challenges to ePrivacy and personal data protection such as those that have arisen in the Phorm case. It should also help reassure UK consumers about their privacy and data protection while surfing the internet.”

This is excellent news for anyone who has followed the Phorm story. First, the EC action will be based on problems with the legality of the general way Phorm works, not the one off blunder of starting trials without getting proper consents last year. In essence the charge - which was explained in a clear memorandum from FIPR by Nicholas Bohm over a year ago - is that Phorm intercept communications between users and websites on the basis of consent from the user, but not from the website. This is wiretapping and/or spyware by any other name, which is why the EU objection is based on Art 5(3) of the ePrivacy Directive, which deals with the confidentiality of electronic communications.

Secondly the EC action clearly contemplates not just the UK's misinterpretation of Art 5(3) but also its failure to provide a proper institution to supervise unauthorised interception by the private sector. The Interception Tribunal established under RIPA 2000 is empowered only to look at police and public sector interception of communications. Responsibility should fall to the UK Information Commisioner, but he has seemed unwilling to take up that role vis a vis Phorm to date.

All in all this is excellent news. See more on Phorm in my chapter on targeted advertising in the upcoming (really) Edwards and Waelde eds Law and the Internet (3rd edn) but for the moment see ORG blog on the issue.

All this is ironic as only a week ago, Phorm announced they were really finally about to go live in the UK. With proceedings for illegality from the Commision hovering on the horizon, it will be a brave ISP who launches Phorm right now on their worried customers.

Monday, April 13, 2009

From Twitter for Geriatrics, to #amazonfail

Following on from my post on Facebook stats, here's an interesting set of factoids that came out over the Easter weekend about Twitter.

"The number of people using Twitter in February jumped a dramatic 700% compared to the same month last year, reported ComScore. And who's largely behind that huge increase? Well, it's not the teen set. It's not even twenty-somethings or thirty-somethings, according to the online researcher.

Online researcher ComScore found that people between 45- and 54-years-old are 36% more likely than other age groups to use Twitter, making them the highest rated age group, followed by 25- to 34-year-olds, who are 30% more likely to Tweet out updates about their life and work.

What's notable about this is that traditionally, the people who first populate social networking sites - think Myspace and Facebook - are, well, younger. Much younger. Teens talking about school and dating, and posting pictures of pool parties and proms got Myspace off to its meteoric start.

But older users - you know, the ones who've been able to vote for 15 years or more - are now diving into social networking. Just last month, Hitwise Pty., which measures online traffic, reported that Facebook's audience of people over the ripe old age of 35 increased by 23% in February compared to February 2008. While the social network was launched to serve college students, Facebook has broadly expanded that audience over the past year to include many middle-aged folks.

"The skew towards older visitors, although perhaps initially surprising for a social media site, actually makes more sense than you might think at first," wrote Radwanick. "With so many businesses using Twitter, along with the first generations of Internet users "growing up" and comfortable with technology, this is a sign that the traditional early adopter model might need to be revisited. Not only teenagers and college students can be counted among the 'technologically inclined', which means that trends are much more prone to take off in older age segments than they used to."
Twitter traffic skyrockets, thanks to middle-age tweeters | ITworld "

Some of this ties in rather interestingly with some papers I've seen and discussions I've had at various conferences lately. According to US privacy researcher Jean de Camp (among others), older people are risk averse, reluctant to give up privacy without tradeoff, and untrained in how to use unfamiliar technology effectively and without fear. I would add that adults are nowadays time poor, at least before retirement.

FB appeals to young folk who like tagging themselves in photos, embarrassing themselves and their friends and letting it all hang out if it gets them new dates and new party invites. "Real" blog sites like Live Journal and er, Blogger, appeal to those with time on their hands, or a least, thosd who'd like to be distracted from their actual proper work :) and those who find writing fun not a chore. Second Life appeals to - I don't know, who *does* Second Life appeal to?

But Twitter is deliberately restricted to 140 character "tweets", making it (like texts) swift, economic as to the point, mobile-optimised and thus actually useful - as was said this weekend, it actually has a higher signal to noise ratio than any other SNS (unless you have Geeklawyer on your Friends list ..) - no cat photos, no emo angst - just good info and links. It is unsurprising therefore that it is being swiftly adopted as the SNS of choice by older, more busy, more business-inclined users. It is also lacking in the endless bloatware and (so far) ads of most sites - another plus for the older busier user with no time for a learning curve.

But Twitter also has a killer app - namely, hashtagging - the use of tags like #websci09, #g20, #drwho, etc, in tweets, to aggregate comments by people who may not know each other and not be on each other's "Friendslists". Twitter thus has the ability to provide broad "zeitgeist" coverage of a major event, conference, festival, creative work or even "issue". This, as I and other legal commentators have mentioned lately, has made Twitter suddenly immensely popular at recent academic and techie conferences, where it can provide a running mobile distributed real time annotation and microblog of the events of the conference.

One excellent use Pangloss has seen of this lately was at Wealth of Networks, a low budget London day event which was free to the public and deliberately aimed to include an online audience as well. WON 09 simply had a large screen at the back of the hall where #won09 tweets where streamed in real time, visible to audience and answered from time to time by speakers. (This can be facilitated using TwitterFall.)

And this Easter weekend, when traditional news outlets downsize and the news is mainly of Popes and chocolate, Twitter's users have exposed in stunning style Amazon US's rather clumsy attempt to render invisible multiple bestselling LGBT classics by removing them from their various rankings charts. While none of the traditional UK media outlets except Channel 4 have even picked up in this yet (according to a quick Google), #amazonfail has become the top tag on Twitter, and dragged Amazon into the so-called "court of popular opinion" in a remarkable show of web 2.0 distributed global viral action. Most impressively perhaps, Twitter has mobilised a global work force who have not just passed news on, but combed Amazon's database trying to compile lists of what words have and have not been filtered out.

Whatever you think of Amazon or Twitter's respective politics, this is another clear landmark in the domain of politics, digital activism and distributed "strong" democracy. Pangloss is intrigued to see what happens next..

Thursday, April 09, 2009

French Reject Three Strikes!

This is stunningly unexpected but wonderful news.

"French politicians have unexpected voted against a law that would have forced ISPs to disconnect any one accused of copyright infringement. No proof that would stand up in court would have been need. The final vote was 25 to 15 in the poorly attended National Assembly session."
French government nukes crazy Internet law in open revolt against Sarkozy - Boing Boing

Even better (ha) , Pangloss now has Internet in a Box which works (ie a Vodafone mobile broadband dongle - happy to advertise it as (a) he O2 one I bought first didn;t work and (b) it's the only PAYG on the UK market with non expirable data - so, there may be slightly more frequent updates in future.

Happy Passover/Easter/etc , folks!!