Sunday, December 28, 2008

Cinema-style age ratings coming to the Internet?

In the history of bad ideas and misguided Internet regulation, I do not think that I have come across something as ludicrous as the latest proposal from the Rt Hon Andy Burnham (Labour - Leigh), the Secretary of State for Culture. Mr Burnham (I'll dispense with the honorific for now) believes that websites should contain some sort of cinema-style classification system to flag those places of the web not friendly to children. He states that:

“If you look back at the people who created the internet they talked very deliberately about creating a space that Governments couldn’t reach. I think we are having to revisit that stuff seriously now. It’s true across the board in terms of content, harmful content, and copyright. Libel is [also] an emerging issue. There is content that should just not be available to be viewed. That is my view. Absolutely categorical. This is not a campaign against free speech, far from it; it is simply there is a wider public interest at stake when it involves harm to other people. We have got to get better at defining where the public interest lies and being clear about it. I think there is definitely a case for clearer standards online. More ability for parents to understand if their child is on a site, what standards it is operating to. What are the protections that are in place?”
So, the Internet is a big nasty place, we get it. Apparently, children are being harmed by it all the time, I guess that they suddenly find themselves in porn sites, or websites advocating terrorism, drug-abuse, communism, atheism, and maybe even links to My Chemical Romance's Myspace page. Children must be protected! But how to do it? I know! propose a thoroughly unworkable classification system! That should do it?

Let's talk smple math here. There are 186 million servers online, serving at least 1 trillion pages. I would like to know how does Mr Burnham propose to classify all of them. If he intends to classify only .uk pages, that is still a crapload of pages, but also sort of defeats the purpose as the entire web would still be available for view, unless he intends to create a big firewall China-style that will somehow filter the web for us.

As this process will take ages, not to mention an army of censors, I'll get the ball rolling and self-classify my pages. This blog is rated PG.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

SCRIPTed December Issue 2008

(2008) 5:3 SCRIPTed 449-629


  • Artificial Intelligence
    Rebecca Junkin
  • AI & Law on Legal Argument: Research Trends and Application Prospects
    Henry Prakken, pp.449-454
Reviewed Articles
  • Os Novos Meios de Tutela Preventiva dos Direitos de Propriedade Intelectual no Direito Português (The New Means of Preventive Protection of Intellectual Property Rights in Portuguese Law)
    Miguel Lourenço Carretas, pp.455-481

  • Describing Identity Fraud: Towards a Common Definition
    Bald de Vries, Jet Tigchelaar & Tina van der Linden, pp.482-500

  • Regulating Patent Offices: Countering Pharmaceutical Hegemony
    Peter Drahos, pp.501-514

  • Potency, Patenting and Preformation: The Patentability of Totipotent Cells in Canada
    Gregory R. Hagen, pp.515-552

  • The Right to Privacy in the Information Era: A South Asian

    Althaf Marsoof, pp.553-574

  • Medical Research Governance in Korea: The New Bioethics
    and Biosafety Amendment Bill (Draft 17-8353), or ‘Inertia
    Shawn H.E. Harmon and Na-Kyoung Kim, pp.575-582

  • Patentability of Biological Material(s) - Essentially, Therapeutic Antibodies - in India
    Swarup Kumar, pp.583-593

  • Norwegian Research Center for Computers and Law (NRCCL)
    Dag Wiese Schartum, pp.594-599

  • The ESRC Centre for Social and Economic Research on
    Innovation in Genomics (Innogen)
    David Wield, pp.600-605

Book Reviews
  • Rights, Regulation And Technological Revolution
    By Roger Brownsword
    Reviewed by Nupur Chowdhury
    , pp.606-609

  • Human Rights And Healthcare
    By Elizabeth Wicks
    Reviewed by Octavio L M Ferraz
    , 610-613

  • Gene Patents And Public Health
    By Geertrui Van Overwalle (ed)
    Reviewed by Shawn Harmon
    , pp.614-618

  • Intellectual Property: The Many Faces Of The Public Domain
    By Charlotte Waelde and Hector MacQueen (eds)
    Reviewed by Mathias Klang
    , pp.619-622

  • Fundamentals Of Patent Law: Interpretation And Scope Of

    By Matthew Fisher
    Reviewed by Krishna Ravi Srinivas
    , 623-625

  • Medical Ethics And Medical Law: A Symbiotic Relationship
    By José Miola
    Reviewed by Alexios Tattis
    , 626-629

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

IE security flaws

The BBC is reporting that there is a new fatal flaw with Internet Explorer that allows hackers to gain access to a computer and steal passwords. In other news water is wet, politicians lie and Windows Vista is a huge disappointment.

Seriously though, this is usually the perfect opportunity for the blogger to pontificate about the evils of Microsoft and recommend readers to switch to Firefox/Safari/Opera/Chrome as of yesterday. Another tactic is to smugly admonish poor sods still using Internet Explorer to realise the folly of their ways and learn to love open source development. And then there is even a chance for Apple-heads to unleash a wave of self-righteousness and claim that this would not happen on a Mac. I will forego the temptation to fall into the aforementioned stereotypical actions, although I am truly fighting the urge to utter the predictable "I told you so", or the always-satisfying Nelsonian "HA HA!"

Instead of any unbecoming haughty displays, I notice that this exploit was designed to steal game passwords. As I've mentioned earlier, one of the fastest growing areas of cybercrime is the theft of virtual goods on games like WoW, where the in-game gold has acquired real currency value. It should be quite telling that this exploit is not being used to purchase things on eBay or Amazon, but to steal virtual goods. Perhaps the payout is not as big, but the risks seem much less. I don't think a cop is going to prosecute a hacker for stealing magic items on WoW.

Monday, December 15, 2008

FBI scam

As a long-time watcher of Nigerian 419 scams, I felt obliged to pass this beauty on. Enjoy.

Anti-Terrorist And Monitory Crime Division.
Federal Bureau Of Investigation.
J.Edgar.Hoover Building Washington Dc

Attn: Beneficiary,

This is to Officially inform you that it has come to our notice and we have thoroughly Investigated with the help of our Intelligence Monitoring Network System that you are having an illegal Transaction with Impostors claiming to be Prof. Charles C. Soludo of the Central Bank Of Nigeria, Mr. Patrick Aziza, Mr Frank Nweke, Dr. Philip Mogan, none officials of Oceanic Bank, Zenith Banks, Barr. Derrick Smith, kelvin Young of HSBC, Ben of FedEx, Ibrahim Sule,Larry Christopher, Dr. Usman Shamsuddeen, Dr. Philip Mogan, Paul Adim, Puppy Scammers are impostors claiming to be the Federal Bureau Of Investigation. During our Investigation, we noticed that the reason why you have not received your payment is because you have not fulfilled your Financial Obligation given to you in respect of your Contract/Inheritance Payment.

Therefore, we have contacted the Federal Ministry Of Finance on your behalf and they have brought a solution to your problem by coordinating your payment in total USD$11,000.000.00 in an ATM CARD which you can use to withdraw money from any ATM MACHINE CENTER anywhere in the world with a maximum of $4000 to $5000 United States Dollars daily. You now have the lawful right to claim your fund in an ATM CARD.

Since the Federal Bureau of Investigation is involved in this transaction, you have to be rest assured for this is 100% risk free it is our duty to protect the American Citizens. All I want you to do is to contact the ATM CARD CENTER via email for their requirements to proceed and procure your Approval Slip on your behalf which will cost you $260.00 only and note that your Approval Slip which contains details of the agent who will process your transaction.


Do contact Mr. Daniel Wilson of the ATM CARD CENTER with your details:


So your files would be updated after which he will send the payment information's which you'll use in making payment of $260.00 via Western Union Money Transfer or Money Gram Transfer for the procurement of your Approval Slip after which the delivery of your ATM CARD will be effected to your designated home address without any further delay.We order you get back to this office after you have contacted the ATM SWIFT CARD CENTER and we do await your response so we can move on with our Investigation and make sure your ATM SWIFT CARD gets to you.

Thanks and hope to read from you soon.


Note: Do disregard any email you get from any impostors or offices claiming to be in possession of your ATM CARD, you are hereby advice only to be in contact with Mr. Daniel Wilson of the ATM CARD CENTER who is the rightful person to deal with in regards to your ATM CARD PAYMENT and forward any emails you get from impostors to this office so we could act upon and commence investigation.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Science Commons videos

Here are a couple of videos explaining Science Commons and Neurocommons:


Monday, December 08, 2008

Censorship UK

Today Britons have woken up to the fact that they are also browsing the Internet behind a firewall similar in some ways to the much maligned Great Firewall of China. Every news outlet is reporting that Wikipedia has been censored in the UK. Several UK ISPs are accused of filtering an article featuring the cover art for the Scorpions 1976 album Virgin Killer (pictured non-offending cover, unless you sufer from extreme hairtyle consciousness). Customers of several UK ISPs found out that they would get a 404 error when trying to access the page (a list of affected ISPs here). I'm in Costa Rica, so I can see the offending image, but plenty of users have complained they cannot.

As it is common with any hint of censorship on the internets, the virtual post-digestive refuse has hit the rotational air-propelling device, and the collective British geekdom has risen up in arms to protest the action. To me one of the most interesting aspects of the whole thing is that it has uncovered the underlying architecture of control that rests underneath the everyday workings of the UK's network connection. There is a little known UK watchdog called the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), which is the "UK Hotline for reporting illegal content specifically: Child sexual abuse content hosted worldwide and criminally obscene and incitement to racial hatred content hosted in the UK". What a remit! The IWF does not have direct power to censor the web, but it can issue notices to participating ISPs, which can voluntarily add the offending website to a blacklist (called Cleanfeed). If a user tries to access any of the blacklisted URLs and IP addresses, he/she is redirected to an HTTP proxy server that blocks the offending content. Any other traffic goes through the proxy filter. The IWF has admitted doing the filtering:

"A Wikipedia web page, was reported through the IWF’s online reporting mechanism in December 2008. As with all child sexual abuse reports received by our Hotline analysts, the image was assessed according to the UK Sentencing Guidelines Council (page 109). The content was considered to be a potentially illegal indecent image of a child under the age of 18, but hosted outside the UK. The IWF does not issue takedown notices to ISPs or hosting companies outside the UK, but we did advise one of our partner Hotlines abroad and our law enforcement partner agency of our assessment. The specific URL (individual webpage) was then added to the list provided to ISPs and other companies in the online sector to protect their customers from inadvertent exposure to a potentially illegal indecent image of a child."
Nice of them to decide for us. However, this type of hamfisted approach tends to have some other consequences. ORG reports that because one page in Wikipedia has been blacklisted, all of the customers of the filtered ISPs appear to Wikipedia to come from the same IP address (that of the proxy server). The other consequence of course is that censorship online usually backfires spectuacularly (the so-called Streisand Effect), as web users are made aware of the attempt to censor, the offending content goes viral and becomes more popular than it was before the actions. As evidence of this, the Virgin Killer page averaged 500 visits during the previous months (with a peak view of 4,000 views during November. However, the page received 126,000 views yesterday.

So, panGloss warned us about the potential problems of Cleanfeed some time ago in a SCRIPTed editorial. I hate slippery slope arguments, but in this case they are justified. Today it is one page in Wikipedia, tomorrow Google? Facebook? Our much-touted freedoms are slowly being eroded, and the comparison with China is not an exaggeration. We tend to look at the Chinese web and feel a misplaced sense of superiority and smugness. The words mote, beam and eye come to mind.

So, now I leave you with the flowchart that regulates what you can view on the internet in the UK. Enjoy your freedoms.

Update: Interesting bump in sales for the album.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Pirates of the Amazon

Habitual and casual readers may have noticed my love of all things piratical. I've been a fan of pirates way before Johnny Depp donned the colourful bandanna and tricorn hat, mostly thanks to the great novel On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers. Granted, pirates have been getting a bad name recently due to their failure to look anything like Johnny Depp, and their relinquishing of romantic swords and muskets in favour of more deadly and proportionally less romantic AK-47s. Similarly, there is not one single parrot to be found in modern pirate speedboats and zodiac inflatable boats.

One of the welcome developments of the renaissance of maritime pirate activities off the coast of Somalia has been that finally there seems to be a much welcome backlash against the use (and abuse) of the word "pirate" to describe copyright infringement. Nasty-looking men with semi-automatic weapons who hijack oil tankers are in an entirely different league of wrong-doing to teenagers downloading music on torrent sites. In other words, criminal pirate activity tends to put copyright offences into perspective. As David Vaver said once, piracy is nowhere near equivalent to copyright infringement, just try to release a movie called "Infringers of the Caribbean", and not even Keira Knightley will draw the crowds into the cinema.

Why the pirate musings? Well, it seems like not everyone is happy with the state of affairs, and some people seem intent on maintaining the good (or bad, depending of where you stand) name of online piracy. Net Pirates are back with a vengeance as some bright sparks have created a Firefox plugin that adds a large "Download 4 Free" image to the Amazon website. This image is a link to the page in the Pirate Bay where the user can look at the torrent file with which to download the content for free, as advertised.

There are all sorts of opinions about this hack. The overwhelming response seems to be negative, going by the comments in a torrent-friendly site like Torrent Freak. Granted, this is a clever hack, and the authors claim that their application is "artistic parody", although I am lost as to the artistic value of such an act (call me a purist, but I do not think that pickled sharks and urinals are either artistic and/or clever).

Amazon sent a notice of take down to the makers of the plug-in, and they have complied by removing it, although I am reliably told that it can still be found in several torrent search sites. In my opinion, the legality of the issue is rather less straightforward. For example, the add-on does not deface the origianl website in any form, the changes to the way the site looks are done directly inside the user's computer by modifying the downloaded HTML code, an action akin to that performed by other Firefox plug-ins like Greasemonkey. As such, the user is simply modifying locally the way the page looks by adding a link to Pirate Bay. Similarly, I am not sure if this could somehow fall foul of trade mark law, as the actual modification is done upfront by the user downloading an add-on to the browser. It would be difficult to argue that the user who has installed the plug-in would be confused and would believe that Amazon offers links to Pirate Bay. In my opinion, this is a legal grey area, and it would be interesting to get a ruling on the subject.

A more interesting legal question is that of whether users have the right to make local modifications of HTML code. I cannot think of any exclusive right protected by copyright that would be infringed by this action. Given that temporary and cached copies of pages fall under exclusions in various copyright jurisdictions, I believe that such plug-ins are legal.

We are then left with a moral question, and there I agree with most critics. While I admire the chutzpah and impish nature of the plug-in, I agree with many people who have said that this may be counter-productive, and may give ammunition to copyright maximalists.

Please let the image of the Internet pirate go to its well-deserved place in the Recycle Bin of history.

Thursday, December 04, 2008 offers DRM-free MP3s

Finally! The DRM-free revolution has crossed the Atlantic, and Amazon's UK site will now offer files without pesky technological protection measures in their brand new MP3 store.

iTunes began the revolution with the inception of the iTunes Plus store, but I have noticed that the choice of music has not increased since it began, despite being a success. I will certainly be trying the Amazon store. Will this be the beginning of the end of DRM?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

To twit or not to twit

I've just read a shallow article in this month's Wired that has me thinking about blogging. The article is entitled "Kill Your Blog" in the magazine version, a title that has been changed in the online version. The article declares the death of blogging as a fresh and active medium, and advocates the use of Facebook, Flickr and Twitter as a replacement. It says:

"The blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge. Cut-rate journalists and underground marketing campaigns now drown out the authentic voices of amateur wordsmiths. It's almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers. And why bother? The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter."
Call me old-fashioned, but how can a 140 character twit contend with a blog post? While it is true that most of the blogosphere is filled with hot air and inanities, it is still a great place to find updated information and good analysis on a variety of topics.

New blogs will not make it to the top of Technorati, so what? Will a twit suffice? I'm sceptical. I constantly get tired of the obsession with Twitter from some media types and cool-hunters, it is an interesting tool, but the thing I dislike about Twitter is that it seems to favour the self-obsessed and their need to showcase their boring lives. I suspect that there are legions of people walking around thinking of doing something only because it will make for a great Twitter entry.

Granted, it is possible that I don't like Twitter because I suffer from chronic un-coolness.

Monday, December 01, 2008