This blog posting represents the views of the author, David Fosberry. Those opinions may change over time. They do not constitute an expert legal or financial opinion.

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Apple Facilitating Theft

Posted on 18th September 2018

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I was simply gob-smacked when I read this report on Forbes.

Apple are deleting content such as movies from the iTunes media libraries of people who had bought that content, without warning and totally without permission.

Apple claim that they are not responsible, because they are only a "store front", and the media providers are the ones to blame. This is a flawed argument. Apple facilitated the original purchase (as a store front); now they are facilitating theft: they are accessories to a crime.

To make matters worse, Apple's attitude when people complain and ask for compensation is simply not acceptable. If you complain quickly enough, you might get partial compensation, but if you wait too long you will get nothing. If I had a movie that I purchased deleted by Apple, I would have called the police; it is just the same as if someone had broken into my home and stolen a DVD.

This kind of problem is exactly why I don't ever buy things on iTunes, although my girlfriend often buys music that way.

I don't think that Apple and the various movie copyright owners understand the likely result of this theft: they are discouraging people from legally purchasing movies and music, and pushing them towards illegal downloads (which, if they want, they can load onto their portable devices with third-party software such as MediaMonkey).

Anyway, for most people this is just another reason not to use iTunes (anyway a horrible piece of software), and indeed any Apple products. Unfortunately, Apple will probably not long remain the only offenders: as more people become more connected online, the uncontrolled access to the data on your systems will be more and more abused, both by companies and by hackers.

DRM On Your Browser

Posted on 20th September 2017

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There is something very worrying going on. DRM (Digital Rights Management) is being rolled out, apparently to all the main web-browsers. This is an attempt to ensure that web-visitors do not steal and re-use people's IPR (Intellectual Property Rights - copyrighted, patented and trademarked material). It is being done by the W3C, the body that manages web-related standards, as a result of lobbying and other influences by large corporate members.

These two articles will give you an idea about what is going on:

  • This is an open letter from Cory Doctorow, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), to the W3C Director, CEO, team and membership, summarising the history of the battle about the EME standard (created to enforce DRM on all browsers), ad reiterating their objection. The EFF has now resigned from the W3C in disgust.
  • This is an article from Andreas Gal of Mozilla (the creators of Firefox) explaining how the EME standard is totally at odds with Mozilla's principles about a free and open Internet, why they decided to compromise those principles, and what they have done in their EME implementation to protect users.

The article from Mozilla is fairly long, and you may not want to read it all, but it does describe what they have done to prevent the EME code, which is from Adobe, from leaking your identity information to organisations whose web-sites you visit. One of many things that I find totally irresponsible about the W3C's actions is this choice of Adobe to provide the EME code; as Andreas Gal points out, Adobe have a dreadful reputation in the area of computer security, and have many times delivered code (mostly as part of Flash) which opened up users to hacking attacks; they are also nearly as notorious as Microsoft for collecting (usually secretly) about users, and of leaking that information.

It is probably too late for objections to do any good; you may already have EME on your computer. If not, then you might consider turning off automatic updates, but that will probably mean that you can't access DRM material in future. You should certainly consider switching to Firefox, so that at least your identity remains secret (and use a proxy server when accessing sites that are DRM protected).

Maybe the EFF's promise of continuing lawsuits on the matter will eventually yield results.

Advertisements Slowing Web Access

Posted on 15th October August 2015

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This BBC story highlights a growing problem with web access, especially from mobile devices, and puts the spotlight on the implicit deal that we all make in order to get "free" service from many web-based services.

We have all experienced how frustrating it is trying to access web-sites, with all the advertisements vying for your attention. As the BBC report describes, sometimes ads block the content you want to view; sometimes the control to dismiss an ad doesn't work, or is hard to find; the time to load pages is increased by the time needed to load the ads (especially as the ad servers are often very slow); but also, very importantly, the ads are using up our (sometimes very expensive, e.g. when roaming) bandwidth.

The deal that we have, by default, agreed to is that, in exchange for a free service (whether it is the use of Facebook, a news service, messaging, or whatever) we have agreed to receive ads. If you check a site's Terms and Conditions, it will usually say "By using this site, you agree ....". So I can understand why the providers of free services don't want us using their service when we have ad-blockers installed.

Well, here are my Terms and Conditions:

  • The ads must not stop the service working. This means no pop-ups which block the content I am trying to view, and should not reduce the screen real-estate of my device to unusable amounts.
  • The data overhead of downloading the ads should be limited. I would suggest no more than 50% of the total bandwidth be used for ads.
  • The ads must not prevent me from being socially responsible when using the web in public places. This means that videos should not play unless I click them, or at least not auto-play with sound.

These Ts & Cs should hold true for all devices that I use.

I suspect that web-service providers and advertisers cannot all be trusted to stick to such rules, so I think the answer is regulation. The problem, of course, is that the Internet is international, and no one jurisdiction is able to regulate it, but I think this problem has to be able to be solved (in the same way as for the less socially acceptable types of porn, and for money-making scams).

Net-neutrality under threat

Posted on 3rd August 2014

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This BBC story is deeply troubling. It describes how Netflix, one of the the big names and trend-setters in video streaming, has agreed to pay telecoms operator AT&T to ensure its content is delivered to users smoothly. Netflix has already reached similar agreements with Verizon and Comcast. The agreements are despite Netflix being opposed to paying fees to broadband providers for priority service, since it believes in net neutrality, the principle that all usage of the Internet is treated by carriers with the same priority.

Many people do not really see what all the fuss is about. The fact that Netflix has agreed to pay shows that it believes many carriers do not (or soon will not) have enough capacity to provide an adequate Internet service for video streaming users, without implementing a priority policy. So why do so many people believe, like me, that it is wrong to pay for priority service?

This other story, also on the BBC, illustrates the downside. The extra money that carriers are receiving through their priority deals with the likes of Netflix is not being used, as we might have hoped, to increase overall Internet capacity; probably the extra funds are not enough to improve service for everyone, and non-priority customers would certainly not be happy about also paying more for less of a share of the total capacity. In order to provide Netflix and other streaming users with the quality of service that they need, carriers need to downgrade service to other users: in this case, subscribers to a 4G "unlimited data" plan which Verizon no longer want to sell (but there are already quite a number of subscribers to this plan).

I have similar issues with my own ISP in Germany. At certain times of day, some kinds of high bandwidth usage are throttled back, to ensure adequate service for priority traffic.

In the USA, the regulator, the FCC, tried to enforce net neutrality, but a court ruled that it doesn't have the authority. This means that US Internet users can look forward to their service being downgraded so that ISPs can support their premium streaming customers.

As far as I can see, the best way to address this is for a collective law suit (a class-action suit) by ordinary subscribers against their ISPs for breach of contract. The main problem with this is that all subscribers' contracts are full of caveats and limitations to subscribers rights, all heavily biassed in favour of the ISPs and their financial interests. The good thing is that there is such a thing as de facto terms of contract: if a service or other benefit or right has been consistently granted in the past, for a significant time, it can become an enforceable term of contract; a certain quality of service or amount of bandwidth is, for many subscribers, just such a de facto term of contract, and if ISPs reduce the quality of service, it could be enforced at law.

Lets just hope that some subscribers have enough sense to get together and sue, using a law firm that really knows their law.