Sunday, 30 March 2008

Weekly roundup

There’s a lot making the news recently that I’ve felt the need to post about in the last 7 days, but haven’t had the chance. So, there’s nothing else for it but to release another ‘round-up of the week’ with 5 hot picks of unrelated, random stories that have caught my eye.

ICO re-states preventative not hard-line enforcement role - From 19.03.08

ICO Role The ICO said that it would concentrate more on the avoidance of this risk than strict enforcement of the law. "We are not seeking compliance with the law as an end in itself," it said. "Making our vision a reality means minimising data protection risk for individuals and society. The law is the main tool we have at our disposal to achieve this, but we go further and promote good practice."

"We cannot address all areas of data protection risk equally, nor should we attempt to do so," it said.

Maybe the ICO feel they are trying to do too much - to be all things to all people. Perhaps, they feel, you can’t wholeheartedly work as an advisory body for the public and data controllers as to the data protection law and actively enforce these laws as well.

But this isn’t a time for the ICO to start getting worried about being perceived as too hard line, police-like or even interventionist. Excuse me, ICO – if you start shying away from cracking down on data protection issues, who, exactly is going to pick up the slack? Perhaps, even, this announcement is more politically motivated; a bid aimed at increasing their budget. Who knows? Either way, with more data being created, processed and stored than ever before, the need for effective enforcement is greater than ever.

BMiss Bimbo Websiteimbo Game - Officially dubbed a ‘virtual fashion game’ this online atrocity has really hit the headlines in the last week or so. And seriously, this stuff just kills me.

People said that First Person Shooters and other action games are harmful for children - so what about this one?  Surely, this type of game could do an immeasurable amount of damage to young web users.  At least FPSs and other games of an extreme nature - such as the Grand Theft Auto franchise - are obviously dangerous. Still, at least you know what you’re getting with those. The risks presented by games such as Bimbo are more subtle and, therefore, arguably more hazardous. After all, gam es which play and even feed on people's insecurities, doubts and fears can never be a good thing. But by perpetuating the dangerous, misguided and unrealistic illusion of size zero body sizes via a game designed for kids makes it something all together worse.

Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised. If such things as Zwinky the toolbar exist, what’s more logical than a game where your slut-up your bimbo, sh*g your way to money and puke your way to a skeletal shell.

EULA slip-up prevents Windows users from installing safari

SafariApple got their act together after news of the EULA detail was embarrassingly bandied about the net and now have changed with wording to allow Windows users to legally install Safari. If you’re running iTunes, you might not even have a choice, given that Steve Jobs has seen fit to use the software update function to push out the latest version of Safari, Apple’s web browser. For what it’s worth, Safari does a nice job of text rendering but other than that, it’s a definite also ran behind Firefox and IE. Given the lack of customisation and innovative features Safari boasts, probably behind Opera, too.

Adobe finally release online version of Photoshop

Photshop ExpressDubbed Photoshop Express, this watered down online version of the best-of-breed graphics software was released this week. I heard about the project over a year ago and have been eagerly awaiting its release. Early signs are interesting, though not necessarily encouraging. I have to admit I was hoping for a slightly more full-featured offering than Adobe seem to have released at this stage. It’s clearly pitched more towards competing with Piknik and other such programs, tied closely with online storage and sharing of digital photos, rather than being a hardcore graphic manipulation program.


Data SecurityAnd finally, vnunet reports that “just one in 10 adults in the UK trusts the government with their personal information, according to a study commissioned by Data Encryption Systems (DES).” Well, tell us something we don’t know.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Macbook Air Parody

I expect most people have caught the Macbook Air ad on TV where it's seductively withdrawn from an A4 envelope to reveal its slenderness. 


In this parody, we're shown that the Macbook Air isn't the only computer that can be housed in a large envelope nowadays.

Forget Sugar - Donald Trump's the Daddy

THE_APPRENTICE_S2_D3-9 I've been reading a lot in the last couple of days about Nicholas De Lacy Brown - the first contestant to be voted off of the British version of 'The Apprentice'. 

Firstly, I should point out that I didn't watch the show, and I doubt I'll even bother catching it on iplayer.  There seems to be a general consensus of opinion out there as to how Nick B presented himself - pretty damn badly.  He didn't do himself, or the legal profession any favours at all. 

So what exactly did the blawging community make of it?


Lacklustre Lawyer wisely observes: "you can tell that this was a person who has spent a huge part of his life trying to be someone that he isn't".

Lost London Law Student recalls his Wednesday night viewing: "Then there is the apprentice with Nick the prick. A toff, who was actually quite good at art."

And Law Minx pitched in with "Speak NOT to me of this utter, utter TW*T!!! What he doesn't have and will never have is a flair for dealing with people. Which is why he will make a sh*t barrister.
Is it me, or were those glasses too big for his chinless face???"

Law Girl neatly sums Nick's performance up: "Such a damaging and pompous representation of a trainee barrister I hope never to see on television again. The exact example of everything I complain about, loathe, and hope never to replicate."

Amen to that.

While I've caught clips of the tawdry BBC version of the Apprentice, I've never watched a full episode through.  Haven't been able to stand it, quite honestly.  Don't get me wrong though: I like the Apprentice.  When it's done properly, of course.  For several years now I've had the pleasure of feasting luxuriously on the 'real' Apprentice - US style.  The original and best with none other than America's larger than life real estate mogul, Donald Trump.  I have most series of DVD, but I know that some are aired on BBC 2 - usually late at night.  Typical.  Still, it's well worth checking out.  If you haven't watched 'The Donald' in action, you'll be left wondering what you've been missing all these years.

The boardroom scenes with Trump's infamous firing forefinger are particularly classic moments. 

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Ofcom paves the way for mobile flight calls

Aeroplane Phone Calls From 26.03.08

Ofcom has given the green light for airlines to install mobile phone masts in aircraft following an extended consultation period.

The regulator stated that it has no objection to passengers making mobile phone calls, provided that the safety of the aircraft is not affected.

However, the technology will still need to be approved by the European Aviation Safety Agency and the Civil Aviation Authority.

Ofcom acknowledged that there could be other issues to mobile phone use on aircraft beyond aircraft safety.

"Some of the responses to the consultation also raised concerns about passenger welfare and the potential for discomfort, anti-social behaviour and 'air rage'," said Ofcom in its Mobile Communications Onboard Aircraft report.

Isn’t the prolific use mobile phones on public transport bad enough already? You can’t walk on a bus or train at any time of the day or night now without getting an earful of conversation from an over-enthusiastic phone user. The thought that mobile phones could soon invade this hitherto blissful sanctuary – one of the few mobile-less zones left in the world - fills me with dread, quite honestly. Can you imagine it though: a trans-continental flight sat next to some chav with a mobile clamped to his ear, sharing his life and troubles not only with the pesky caller but with every poor passenger in the vicinity as well?

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

More Facebook trouble afoot?

Facebook Community

From 25.03.08

Security researchers claim to have uncovered a new wave of attacks in which profiles on Facebook are used to post images of child torture.

The attack was reported by Chris Boyd, director of malware research at FaceTime Communications.

Boyd claimed in a blog posting to have discovered multiple instances of the attacks in which accounts were stolen and used to post photos on other pages.

"I am still trying to process this, but one of my close contacts has confirmed there is someone going around either hijacking, hacking or phishing user accounts on Facebook, then randomly uploading pictures of child torture to their funwall," he wrote.

I really wanted to put the series of Facebook-related posts to bed by now. It seems like I've been blogging my feelings about the social networking site and other news stories relating to it all too frequently in the last few months. That said, there's a lot that merits discussion when it comes to the darker side of Facebook.

Regarding this latest story, account hijacking is always a big risk for any large site with sign-in facilities. When you get so many users, trouble often ensues: you become a bigger target for hackers, users still insist on choosing insecure passwords, 3rd party applications often bring in unwanted security threats etc. Still, Facebook just seem to be making a bad name for themselves. What with Facebook's plan last year to sell their users' personal information and the multitude of privacy issues that I've highlighted previously on law actually, here's to hoping that the millions of users that flock to Facebook everyday, soon wake up and smell the coffee.

With so many applications being written for Facebook now - coupled with users' propensity to litter their pages with them - it was only a matter of time before trouble reared its head. And let's face it: Facebook is a potential hotbed for all kinds of malware and vulnerabilities to thrive; a digital ambush just waiting for the millions of FB users around the world to sign in and join the party. Arguably, Facebook should be doing more to actively guard against vulnerabilities that its users are subjected to. It would be much better for security purposes if all Facebook apps needed to go through a strict verification process and be 'signed' by Facebook before release. Creativity and freedom for developers must sometimes take second place behind ensuring a safe and secure experience. For instance, what Apple have elected to do with 3rd party applications for the iPhone - since recently announcing they would officially release an SDK for developers - is a credible paradigm that Facebook would do well to mimmick.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Google Moon

Google Moon From Scenta 3.3.08:

In what's being described as the most wide-scale advertising attempt ever known, Google is planing to "brand" its logo into the surface of the moon so that it is visible from Earth, although presumably via telescope rather than to the naked eye.

The web giant is said to have paid the US government an estimated $1 billion for the rights to the lunar land.

I came across this story last week and initially suspected it might be another Google April Fools. Apparently not, though. I guess this scheme is somewhat in keeping with Google’s light-hearted and rather maverick corporate image. But the moon, seriously? Isn’t it a touch excessive and unnecessary? Google has become synonymous with the internet; there can hardly be a single person left in the civilised world who isn't aware of Google. However, with such a large market share in internet search and advertising, maybe Google are looking for a new customer base - extra-terrestrial web users. Yeah, that must be it.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Facebook Developments

Facebook Update From 19.03.08:

Facebook is to introduce new controls allowing users to create privacy distinctions between friends, family and colleagues.

The features will give users more control over who sees information stored on their profile pages, choosing which friends can view photo albums, mobile phone number or email address.

Thank God for small mercies. This type of functionality should have been built into Facebook from the word go. For me, this addition is too little, too late, especially given the massive number of users that Facebook now enjoys. The thing I find increasingly concerning is the fact that so many people consider themselves perfectly safe on Facebook; they just don’t see any risks. They consider it a safe place to be and are happy to throw up all manner of personal content with little or no regard to the consequences.

Facebook has been in the news a lot recently. An instant messaging (IM) feature is soon to be rolled out to users allowing real-time collaboration on the typically worthless junk that people post. Oh great.

Also, in this week’s TWiT, Leo Laporte reminded us that Facebook as a social networking site is an ideal means of collaboration for terrorist cells. Granted, the same could be said of many such sites and other online technologies but it’s a fair enough point. Obviously the company should and indeed does engage in some degree of monitoring of users’ content, ready to notify security services if necessary.

Then again, monitoring content for national security threats is one thing. Making use of user-generated content for any reason they see fit, is quite another. Lost London Law Student recently brought another fact to my attention. Quietly hidden away in their terms and conditions, Facebook grant themselves the right to make free with users’ content for virtually any purpose they see fit, including promotional advertising material for the company.

By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.

LLLS posed a reasonable question: whether such material features on the facebook/iphone advert? Who knows. But do other such sites do this - My Space, Bebo, Flickr and all the rest? Well, so far, I’ve been unable to uncover another social networking site that seeks to grant themselves far-reaching rights to utilise their users’ content in the same way.

Facebook then have the audacity to add later on in the terms and conditions: “We respect the intellectual property rights of others”. You what, Facebook? Hmmm, maybe you do, but clearly not that of your users when it comes to using content for your company’s own ends.

I suppose it’s not so much a major problem – the type of trashy content users typically post to Facebook is scarcely suitable to be used as a national ad – but it’s cheeky nevertheless. And, yes, it’s yet another reason for me not liking Facebook.

As if that wasn’t enough, I noticed that Facebook was mentioned in a news extract on CPD webinars 03.03.08:

Senior police officer, Inspector Chris Dreyfus, was denied promotion to chief inspector level after it was discovered he had previously received a disciplinary warning from his seniors at British Transport Police over posting personal information about his gay lifestyle on the social networking website Facebook.

Oh dear. Sharing information as to your free-time antics is often frowned upon by employers and maybe this was an example of poor judgment over anything else. But still, it remains another reason why Facebook can be more hazardous than helpful.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Calls for net addiction to be universally recognised

Internet AddictionFrom 19.03.08

Excessive gaming and email/text messaging should be added to psychiatry's official guidebook of mental disorders, according to an article in this month's American Journal of Psychiatry.

Withdrawal and an associated sense of anger or depression when users cannot reach a computer, the constant need for better equipment and the feeling of social isolation and fatigue are all signs of technology-related mental disorders.

The conditions are difficult to treat because internet addiction is "resistant to treatment, entails significant risks and has high relapse rates".

I think many of the bloggers out there are all net addicts of varying degrees.  Some are more predisposed to it than others, of course. Still, I don’t count myself as a suffer - I just like the internet.  I can stop any time I like. No, seriously - I can.

Porn deserves same respect as Hollywood movies

Digital Rights - PornFrom Torrent Freak 18.03.08:

The legendary Ron Jeremy has had enough of video streaming sites such as YouPorn and PornTube, that host pirated versions of his epic movies for free. Jeremy says adult content deserves the same respect as Hollywood’s majors do, and is happy that Vivid Entertainment is going after these sites.

The public needs to understand that piracy is killing the adult industry, Jeremy said: “What harms the industry is the Internet.

“Now Vivid is suing them, while demanding the same treatment as his colleagues in Hollywood. You wouldn’t see YouTube play a full-length feature of a Steven Spielberg film. But they think that it’s just porn so they can get away with it. So now Vivid is striking back. Piracy is piracy, whether the film is PG, R or X. We deserve the same respect.”

Now the world is firmly in the midst of the digital creative-content era – of which the internet plays a massive part in distribution - piracy and abuse of IP rights is at an all-time high. This is largely unavoidable: as access to all manner of creative material is increased, naturally the abuse of intellectual property rights will rise too. Some insiders have argued that the internet has ripped the heart out of the porn industry; others have claimed that whilst the business model has just undergone a massive change, business is booming.

More formats for the material, larger audiences and greater ease of distribution must be balanced against a an increasing number of IP rights being infringed. The porn industry can't have its cake and eat it, I suppose. The quantity of and access to pornography has undoubtedly skyrocketed in the internet age. Competition in the industry, too, has never been higher. Indeed, you could even argue the industry has changed out of all recognition. Ron Jeremy's moustache and medallion days are gone, it seems. Nowadays, every other 22 year old with a webcam is a potential porn star.

Whatever your views on X-rated material, though, Ron Jeremy makes a worthwhile point: why shouldn't adult movies be afforded the same respect and protection as mainstream Hollywood films? Creative content is, after all, creative content. Whether it takes the form of hardcore porn, he argues, is neither here nor there. And if certain internet activity is infringing the content owners' rights, it should be tackled head-on. Nevertheless, the industry faces up uphill battle. At best, the general public views such content in a rather light-hearted manner and would likely consider that the IP rights in X-rated material to be less worthy of protection than, say, a Hollywood movie. Others, adopt a dimmer view, believing porn to be a bane of the internet. Either way, society is unlikely take Ron Jeremy's message to heart, leaving the content owners to take on the hosts of pirated material through legal channels.

Monday, 17 March 2008

The grape slip-up

Shoe Grape From BBC News 17.03.08:

An accountant who claimed he injured himself by slipping on a grape in a Marks and Spencer car park has lost his High Court bid for damages.

Alexander Martin-Sklan, 55, from Golders Green, north London, was claiming £300,000 over the incident in his local store car park in June 2004.

He said a piece of fruit found on his shoe after the fall could have been picked up inside the store or car park.

The judge ruled in favour of the retail giant which was contesting the action.

I nearly choked to death on a grape once so I appreciate better than most just how hazardous this fruit can be. But slipping over because of one? Seems like the claimant didn’t even know if the grape was to blame or not. Maybe the mushy mess he found on his shoe after he bit the dust wasn’t actually a grape at all – perhaps it was a big ground beetle.

So the judge didn’t find in his favour? Wow, I certainly didn't see that one coming.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Weekly Roundup

Download Speed From Personal Computer World 14/03/08:

"Broadband speeds don't live up to hype" (and since when was this new?)

Only one in 25 people subscribing to broadband services claiming data rates of 'up to' 16Mbits/sec get the full rated speed, according to a new survey. Just over seven in ten people with 512Mbit lines reported getting full speeds, with the figure trailing off to 23 percent at 4Mbit, 15 percent at 8Mbit and 4 percent at 16Mbits.

Is anyone surprised at this? Actually, call me a cynic, but I thought those figures were pretty good considering the shocking state of the broadband market. The timing of this story is bit ironic, really, given that an email from ’10 Downing Street’ dropped into my inbox on Friday morning. It was sent to bring my attention to the Government’s response to an online petition I signed on requiring ISPs to advertise the ‘actual’ download speed a customer can expect from their broadband package, not a theoretical maximum. Unsurprisingly, the official response was sufficiently vague, unspecific and non-committal to quell the immediate furore without committing themselves to any particular action.

If you’re wondering, “Ofcom has expressed concern to the ASA, and is in discussion with industry and consumer organisations to look into the other options that might be available to provide greater clarity for consumers and reduce the possibility of them being misled.”

Mac Book Air While listening to the Macbreak Weekly podcast earlier I heard a great anecdote involving a user of the gorgeously svelte but functionally-limited Macbook Air. Michael Nygard was at a US airport checking in and had taken his laptop out of its case to go through security. The advisor on duty saw something that he thought looked like a laptop but was impossibly thin. It didn’t have an optical drive, had no conventional ports at the back, no replaceable battery but featured a ‘couple of lines’ where the hard drive should be. It caused consternation between several of the security staff who examined the X-ray images of the suspicious item. After eventually realising it was in fact a computer and not a ‘device’, Nygard was cleared by security. Not before, though, the flight he was scheduled to catch had taken off.

You can read the full story on Michael Nygard’s blog post: “Steve Jobs made me miss my flight”.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Newspapers soon to be a thing of the past?


From Personal Computer World 14/03/08:

The younger generation of internet users are more likely to avoid traditional print media and get all their news online, according to research from comScore.

Meanwhile, heavy newspaper readers are more likely than average to engage with traditional print news brands online.

But the internet represents a significant opportunity to extend and improve existing news brands and reach out to new consumers with living, breathing, real-time content.

Just because print circulations are declining does not mean there are fewer news consumers. In fact, just the opposite is true.

For the past several years, I’ve relied increasingly heavily on the net to keep up to date with news. Save for the odd train journey, say, I never actually buy a hard copy newspaper now – and why would I? You can get the same content for free, faster, in a format that’s vastly superior, doesn’t degrade or get dog-eared and is readily searchable with a couple of keystrokes. As if that wasn’t enough, it’s eco-friendly and doesn’t leave your hands grubby with newsprint. So everyone’s a winner, right?

I suspect the majority of people in my age bracket have similar consumption habits for news and I think it’s clear that the world is fast heading towards an almost paper-free news delivery solution. As a consumer of news it’s an exciting time; there has never been such an array of choice for the delivery of news, nor has there ever been a faster service or greater convenience in obtaining it.

Nowadays on the net, news is everywhere, and in a whole manner of formats on an ever increasing amount of hardware. Of course, as well as sources relying on the written word, presenter-fronted and podcast formats are becoming just as ubiquitous on the internet, too. What with mobile computing growing at an alarming rate, it seems clear that the days of newsprint-stained fingers are definitely numbered.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

'Rate my Cop' website causes a stir

Rate My Cop From 9/3/08:

Police agencies from coast to coast are furious with a new website on the internet. has the names of thousands of officers, and many believe it is putting them in danger.

Kevin Martin, the vice president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, agrees. "Will they be able to access our home addresses, home phone numbers, marital status, whether or not we have children? That's always a big concern for us," he said.

Creators of the site say no personal information will be on the site. They gathered officers' names, which are public information, from more than 450 police agencies nationwide. Some listings also have badge numbers along with the officer's names.

Rebecca Costell says, in a statement, that the site helps people rate more than 130,000 officers by rating them on authority, fairness and satisfaction. She adds, "Our website's purpose is to break the stereotype that people have that cops are all bad by having officers become responsible for their actions."

At first glance, this is disturbing on so many levels. Having said that, seeing how many other ‘rate my..’ sites are around, maybe it was only a matter of time before something like this reared its head. While it could represent a security risk, I suppose, many will argue that if the information is limited in scope and available from other sources anyway, there can’t be too much harm in it. It all comes down to the extent of the information available. Names and numbers are one thing; photos, home addresses, vital statistics and the school their kids go to is quite another.  Still, the perceived security risk that the website poses has got Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness considering letting his officers use aliases when on duty. 

But why shouldn’t they be rated – it goes on internally to some extent? Regular police officers are hardly operating clandestinely, hold a position of high responsibility and authority and are directly accountable for their actions. What’s more natural, then, for them to be rated by the public they serve? You never know, it might even help members of the public to re-establish a connection with the police and get the local community rallying behind their local bobby. Then again it might just alienate the local constabulary even more than they were before.  The biggest question, though, is whether people would ever care enough to vote.  Unless an officer was spectacularly bad, I can't see anybody taking the time and trouble of rating a name on a website. 

I doubt we’ll have to worry about it; I can’t see the idea taking off in the UK somehow. But, still, you never know.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Young females making the net their own

Girls Online From The Times 09.03.08

A recent study by the Pew Internet Project in America on teens in social media found that blogging growth among teenagers is almost entirely fuelled by girls, whom it describe as a new breed of “super-communicators”. Some 35% of girls, compared with 20% of boys, have blogs; 32% of girls have their own websites, against 22% of boys.

Girls have embraced social networking sites on a massive scale, with 70% of American girls aged 15-17 having built and regularly worked on a profile page on websites such as MySpace, Bebo and Facebook, as opposed to 57% of boys of the same age.

Girls will browse, take a real journey around the site. Social networking has really captured a young female audience.

Matthew Bagwell, editor of My Kinda Place: “I put this down to girls being open to communicating, having longer attention spans and more widespread interests. We have to be inventive and diverse in our female content. Boys are easier, they will download pictures from galleries, viral ads and videos, but they’re in and out again.”

This survey confirms what I have suspected for a long time: females spend more time online now than ever before and have just about surpassed males in terms of logged internet hours per week. Females and teenage girls in particular are flocking to the internet and pushing out creative content in a way that males just never would. The fact this is happening could be deemed good or bad, depending on your viewpoint. Personally, I don’t believe it’s a bad thing in itself.

After all, how a person uses the internet is just an extension of their personality and lifestyle.  It's a modern medium for expression and should be openly welcomed and embraced as such.  Equally, there's a lot to be said for the educational and developmental value that a person gains from producing written or graphical content.  Surely allowing a person to explore their own creativity and produce thought provoking material as well as reading that produced by others is a positive thing?  Computer skills and knowledge gained in actively embracing a Web 2.0 lifestyle is yet another reason why a well-balanced, online life should be encouraged, not shunned. 

I don't like or agree with social networking sites per se - the types that promote the mindless generation of worthless material and shove it down your throat – yes, I’m referring to Facebook, My Space and all the rest here. Still, all things are healthy in moderation, I suppose and there’s no doubt that it’s a useful form of expression for young people. But when grown adults ceaselessly flock to Facebook every spare minute of their day, well, that just kills me.

None of this, of course, does anything to detract from the potential dangers faced by young people on such sites, but I don't want to 'spoil the Facebook party' for young people too much.  Kids will always be kids and have always had a natural ability to seek out danger from a seemingly benign activity.  You can argue all day over the pros and cons of young people embracing an online life but one thing is clear: the net is here to stay and will only keep on growing in importance. What's more, the disadvantages associated with getting left behind in this new, hyper-connected information age far outnumber the possible advantages of remaining overly reticent in embracing the internet. And that goes for young people as well.

Getting back to the article, it seems there are certain domains that are still more male oriented – such as online video sites like You Tube. That being said, females are very much the driving force behind the social networking revolution that is so much of what the Web 2.0 concept is all about. Another thing is also clear from the study: the actual innovations behind the technologies that are used to push out all of this creative content are almost invariably created by males. By extension, it is males who are generally using the internet as means of making money. That’s perhaps not all that surprising and in line with the perceived stereotypes of male and female skill-sets. The male, with his technical flair and innovation - offset with a lack of artistic temperament and short-attention span - engineers the technology in use. The female, on the other hand, makes best use of that technology and uses her artistic ingenuity, cultural wisdom and social aptitude to enjoy life to the full.

Well, something like that.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Illegal downloads revisited

Download copy Today, I finally got around to listening to the podcast of Charon QC interviewing Geeklawyer regarding the proposed legislation to target internet users who download content illegally. The podcast raises a lot of interesting points. Geeklawyer, as ever, had some deeply seated views on the issue, many of which echo my own sentiments documented in my February 16th post. Most notably, as well as the technical and logistical difficulties in requiring ISPs to monitor their customers’ downloads, the prospect of banning a person from the internet – something that is fast becoming an increasingly vital utility - just because, say, his son inadvertently downloaded a couple of dodgy MP3s is grossly unfair. As I commented in my aforementioned post, someone who flouts a ban on hosepipes during a hot summer does not have his water supply cut off at the mains.

Geeklawyer particularly pointed to the fact that the ‘problem’ complained of is based on flimsy and nonsensical arguments. The content producers and those who own the associated intellectual property rights have wildly quantified the extent of the perceived copyright infringement problem via ‘illegal downloads’.

Charon referred to his previous podcast on the issue in which he interviewed Ed Vaizey MP, Shadow Minister for Culture. Ed was of the opinion that the proposed legislation had little or no chance of being passed but rather it was merely a heavy-handed way of getting the ISPs ‘to the table’ to discuss a unified strategy going forwards in dealing with copyright infringement problems. Interestingly, that was Android’s first reaction in response to my initial post on this ‘asinine’ (to use Geeklawyer’s word) proposal for legislation.

I certainly hope they’re both right.

BTW: I also listened to Charon QC’s new feature ‘Charon after Dark’. It’s certainly an interesting concept, in which Chazza effectively interviews himself, bringing his own, quirky take on the week’s less-serious news items interspersed with amusing – and sometimes rather rude – song choices.

Maybe the ‘After Dark’ feature is phase 3 of Charon's plan to position himself as the ultimate blawging-DJ, producing ‘musi-law’ podcasts in his own, inimitable way. The London Underground song he plays is well worth checking out, though not, perhaps, if you are of one of nervous disposition or are offended by extremely strong language.  Great stuff.

Wasting police time – US style

Police Officer Have you ever forgotten where you parked you car? Chances are, you probably have at some point or another. It’s an easy thing to do at times – particularly when you have a lot on your mind and you’ve parked in a multi-storey car park, say. Less easy to do when you park in a street with definite landmarks around you but even so. Some people can manage it.

But have you ever been so convinced it’s not where you left it you’ve called not only the local authorities to see if it’s been towed and but put through an emergency call the police also? Then, when the police finally turn up and drive round the area with you trying to spot it, you’ve suffered the ignominy of having to admit that there is your car, untouched and undisturbed, right where you left it in the next street over from the one you were looking in?

No? Well, just such an incident happened this week to a certain person I know all too well. He was the host I mystically referred to during my Philadelphia trip in December 2006 as Mr Walter. Given some of his earlier exploits - such as Christmas and the new computer incident - perhaps it should come as no surprise.

Serial Spammer loses appeal

SPAMMER From Virus Bulletin 07/03/08:

US spammer Jeremy Jaynes, the first spammer convicted in a felony case, has had his last appeal against the conviction, brought on freedom of speech grounds, turned down by a Virginia supreme court.

After a 2003 spamming spree accounting for several million messages in a two-month period, Jaynes was convicted under Virginia state anti-spam laws, which specify a maximum of 10,000 emails in a day before the case reaches felony levels, and was sentenced to nine years imprisonment. The case preceded the introduction of federal CAN-SPAM regulations.

You’ve got to hand it to him for trying that line of defence, I suppose. But he and his legal team must have always known that it was going to be a long-shot. Let’s face it: the argument that a conviction against his spamming antics was an infringement to his right to free speech was never going to stick, regardless of what angle it was approached from. Not even in America.

Spam is widely regarded as one of the banes of the internet and naturally, a spammer is never going to garner much public support. Quite rightly, too; they are a menace to the internet and society as a whole. Spam clogs up inboxes, thwarts productivity and, perhaps most importantly, represents a major source of online crime in which a shockingly high number of people are taken in by the bogus messages and defrauded out of money. As well as educating the public and technological advances designed to combat spam, going after the source of such crime is absolutely the right way to fight it. The fact Jaynes’ latest, fanciful appeal was shot down in flames by the US court can be celebrated as (minor) victory in the fight against the scourge of internet junk mail.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Nintendo Wii helps burns victims

Nintendo Wii From Computer Active 26/02/08:

Burns victims and those with hand injuries are being offered time on a games console to help with their recovery.

The Nintendo Wii is being used in hospitals across the south east of England after doctors found it could help bring back flexibility to these patients.

This is because it makes users act out all the physical movements involved in sports such as tennis, golf and boxing.

I’ve never been a particular fan of the Wii, from a technological standpoint at least. It’s certainly inferior to the much better offerings out there such as the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Still, as a console it can be a lot of fun and, of course, is dramatically cheaper. And if it helps burns and other victims into the bargain, then great – I’m all for it.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Call into Starbucks for a .... kidney?

Starbucks Take 1 Starbucks, add two women - one, a kind, benevolent character with a kidney to spare and the other, a sick, polycystic kidney disease sufferer, mix them together and you have a whole new kind of service being offered at everyone's favourite coffee shop.  Yes, Starbucks worker, Ms Andersen offered regular customer Ms. Ausnes her left kidney when it was discovered the former was a blood match. Certainly over and above the line of duty for a worker who, ironically, is said to have taken the job largely because of the corporate health benefits the company provided.

Ms. Andersen, 51, has worked at Starbucks for more than four years quipped: “My husband said, ‘Next time someone comes in and says they don’t feel good, don’t give away another body part.”

The duo are set to go under the knife on March 11th.  You can read the full story here.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Privacy Act?!? I’ve never heard of it.

clip_image001The other day, my girlfriend forwarded an email on to me, one that she was surprisingly eager for me to read.

It turned out it was an email concerning data privacy and how it related to driving licences. When I discovered it originated from her somewhat notorious ‘Uncle John’ I should have probably smelt a rat. Thinking she was showing me because of my penchant for this type of thing, though, I was prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt.

Anyway, the subject line read: New Drivers License and the Privacy Act. “Privacy Act - - I’ve never heard of it”, I snapped, worriedly. Was I really this ignorant? Had the existence or, even worse, the passing of such an Act in England and Wales occurred without my knowing? For someone who likes to feel that they have their finger at least partially on the IT and privacy law pulse, if this should have passed me by unawares, I was going to look like a prize turkey. And that's putting it mildly.

A quick search on Google for privacy act allayed my fears. “See, there’s no such Act”, I calmly stated. My faith in my knowledge and the general order of the world was at least partly restored. “What are all those, then?” my girlfriend questioned, pointing to a long list of hits. “Look, they’re all Canadian, Australian and American”, I retorted, almost angrily.

Still, somewhat intrigued, I read the through the body of the email:

Did you know that this was happening?

Check your driver's license information on-line.

Now you can see anyones driver's license on the Internet, including your own!

It asks for U.S. Info, but unfortunately it works for Canadian, English,

Australian and New Zealand licenses as well.

Just searched for mine....putting in England as the city and there it is, picture and all.

This is really scary. I removed mine. I suggest you all do the same.

Go to the website and check it out.

So that explained the American spelling of licence in the subject line, I thought to myself. It’s clearly an American site but they claim drivers’ details from several countries are available. Given the shocking state of the nation’s data security – many incidents of which have been documented on this blog - I couldn’t rule out completely that this wasn’t a bona fide situation being brought to the world’s attention.

It was, of course, a harmless spoof, albeit one that created a cheeky and somewhat ignominious copy of a US driver’s licence.

To my girlfriend, Sarah’s credit, she played the part well. I was surprised she was ostensibly taking it so seriously – particularly as it was from her ‘Uncle John’, and I really should have caught on sooner. It was unlike her to be so trusting of anything like this. After all, this is the girl who I’ve described on more than one occasion as being ‘suspicious of ‘everywhere, everything, and everyone’. Still a forensic science degree is wont to have that effect on a person.

So, children, the moral of the story can be summed up like this: bad as the data privacy situation is in the UK, it’s not quite at this stage yet. That being said, it might not be long until this type of thing is for real.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Urgent need for internet security review

Internet security From Computeractive 21/02/08:

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has announced a follow-up inquiry to its Personal Internet Security report.

It is taking the measure after its “disappointment” with the way the Government dismissed the vast majority of its recommendations last October.

The report, published in August 2007, called on the Government to take strong measures to protect against internet crime. It branded the web as a “playground for criminals” and made 23 recommendations it said would help instill public confidence in the internet.

They included a kite mark scheme for internet service providers and security software. It also wanted to make software manufacturers legally responsible for security flaws and establish a central e-crime police unit.

These recommendations were dismissed by the Government, which led to Committee member Lord Erroll accusing it of "putting its head in the sand".

The Committee plans to release its new report soon after Easter

Good though (some of) these recommendations are, I don’t see any of them coming to fruition anytime soon. It’s going to take a massive shake-up, change of culture and approach for some of them to ever be seriously considered, let alone implemented. Short of a massive internet security disaster, most won’t ever see the light of day. Still, we watch and wait in vague anticipation.