CyberTech Rambler

October 20, 2014

Don’t let PR got out of hand

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 11:08 am

Via TheRegister, it appears that the alleged leader of LulzSec only got community service for a relatively minor crime of defacing a nobody-knows-who council.

That is not to say that what the person do was wrong. Under TheRegister’s spotlight is the Police, or rather, its PR department, sensationalize the story, then have to see the case finished with a whimper.

Well, we all know the difference between what someone did and what can be proved in court. But to say our poor Aussie Federal Police was victim of this is an overstatement. In my opinion, they should had rein in PR rather than let it got out of hand. Police Forces deal with fact. I lost count of how many times the media says so-and-so was arrested but the Police only say “someone was arrested”. That is intentional on the part of the Police. It is partly to protect the person from unwanted media allegation and speculation but mostly to demonstrate that we the Police are a cut over the rest and deal with fact. To have the Police permitting their PR to publishing “allegations” simply because someone fancy himself as the leader of a hacking group that the Police force cannot prove later is an act not worthy of a reputable force.

Things like this tarnish the reputation of AFP. The long term repercussion is it makes it hard for them to argue for more power to fight terrorism and hacking.

July 8, 2014

Its all tactics and PR stunt

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 10:37 am

Two stories demonstrates Google is getting more and more savvy with PR. The two are the “postponement” of removal of Independent Label’s music content from YouTube and the other the so-called clumsy handling of the removal of BBC’s Robert Peston blog post.

On the surface both are bad news for Google. Actually, no. For the Independent Label case, it is good for Google/YouTube in the long term. When you dig into it, it is no different from what Apple or Amazon will do to those “poor” Independent Labels. The only difference is Google is more tolerant of criticism than the other two. If they did what they do to Google, they will be doomed, especially with Apple. Google tolerance of criticism is going to pay dividend in the future as that portray it as the gentle giant compare to ruthless dictatorship of the others. Moreover, I believe both sides realize that Google is just using the threat as a bargaining tool and never actually has the intention of implementing it, save for extreme cases. Independent Labels are using the PR as a leverage tool and both parties know it. So my prediction is when it comes to the wire, both sides will find a compromise both can leave with.


The second case involving Robert Peston’s blog post is a more complicated story. It is most likely to be a computer error, i.e., nobody actually hit the “Approve” button to remove the post from search history, the computer simply does it on its own. I believe Google is not alarmed that this type of mistakes happened. In fact, everybody, including the EU, knows it is going to happen one day. We all know it will happen sooner rather than later. The only unknown is who is the “victim”. From Google’s point of view the sooner the better as it can then put the blame on the teething problem. If you ask me I believe they know it will happen so soon that they can blame teething problem. It is not inconceivable Google is milking this as EU censorship go awry. Google PR stunt backfiring on it as TheRegister claimed? I will not be so hasty. It is too early to tell. I will say it backfires if Google is forced by EU or EC to sign an agreement specifically targeting situations like this. This can still happen. Google, however, should be more worry with the link to search (US search) which redirect users to its full, untouched by the ECJ judgement, search on its search landing page for EU countries. I am sure Google’s lawyer had approved that as legal, but I think there is a possibility that Google  will be sanctioned for bleaching that judgement.

July 1, 2014

Facebook Emotion Study referred to Data Commissioner

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 6:35 pm

Everyone can see this coming ….

TheRegister frames it as a “consent” problem. To me it is not a consent problem, however, having explicit consent would had help. The issue is the way the data is made available to the researcher. Did they got anonymized data? and more importantly, how is it anonymized?

I think anonymized data was provided, so the question how was it anonymized is the more important question. It does not matter if the research was conducted on Facebook’s computers or the researchers’ computer. It is the question of what the researchers see. Not being well versed in law,  I am not the question of what the researchers see extends to their computer program. In these days where computers are shifting through data,  I believe this should matter.

Anonymizing the data opens a big gigantic can of worms. The research shift through so much data and inevitably personal details slip through. It is difficult to completely stop non-anonymized data going through. For example, if I say “ctrambler is an idiot” then simply because ctrambler is my handle on the blog and it points to a person, i.e., me, the data is not anonymized. Recognizing the impossibility of total complete anonymization, one simply has to demonstrate one had taken the utmost care to minimize as much as humanly possible. Hoever, do you want to stand in front of the Data Commissioner trying to convince him you tried your best? I will avoid it if I can.

Having explicit consent will alleviate this concern a lot. One can write the consent form telling participants that it is inevitable that some snippet of data will slip through. Most people recognize this and will be fine with it. Without explicit consent, the Data Commissioner adamantly will not be fine with it.

Forbes managed to dig out that may be the blanket consent Facebook is relying on to justify itself was after the research was conducted. Oops, big foot in one’s mouth. Details like this matters in the law courts, but not to me. My bigger beef is Facebook says that what they did is in accordance to their data use policy which permits the use of data in “internal operations” including “research”. I don’t think joe public’s definition of “research” covers being manipulated. My definition, which I thinks matches joe public’s, is research is limited to the data already present on Facebook, not something FaceBook try to collect on top of it, i.e., my response to manipulated news feed.  Neither do I see this as a legitimate “internal operations”. I see this as public experiment that will need explicit informed consent unless a reputable ethics committee says otherwise.


June 30, 2014

The issue of consent …

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 5:09 pm

Via The Register, I learned about people getting upset with FaceBook manipulating their news feed for the purpose of a scientific study.

I understand why people are upset. I do not use FaceBook, but I will be upset if FaceBook manipulated my feed if I were on FaceBook, even if it is just one feed. It is an emotion  thing. In truth, the scale of manipulation, as experienced by an individual FaceBook, is very small, i.e. average out at most 5. It is not going to change your enjoyment of FaceBook. In fact, bugs and glitches in FaceBook system probably accounts for more feed lost than the experiment.

Most people pick up on the fact that there are several group of people that might have to answer for how they allow the study to proceed to publications. The obvious candidates are FaceBook, the authors themselves and the publishers. Less obvious is the role of  the University and Funding Body. We do not know who the funding body is although it might be FaceBook, so that leaves the two universities involved. Both Universities are represented in the form of Ethics Committee. For practical reasons, one of the ethics committee probably refers to the other. Nonetheless, the act of referring means the committee in question had considered and  approved the study.

As such, the researcher in me ask this question: Will I, if I am in the Ethics committee considering the research, approve the study?

Here is what I will consider:

First, I will completely underestimate the reaction to the fact that I am approving a project which does not require explicit consent.

Second, the fact that explicit consent is not given will mean I will think very hard about whether it should be approved. Explicit consent is an important pillar for participation in a study. However, it is recognized that explicit consent is not always possible or appropriate and there are specific rules and guidelines for it.

Third, here are the factors that I need to consider to waive explicit consent:

(1) What is the level of harm to the participants? This is the most crucial question. No explicit consent means participating in the experiment is compulsory and participant therefore do not have a choice. Researcher must satisfy me that the harm level is low. In this case, I tend to agree the harm level is very low.

(2) Is the experiment worth waiving explicit consent? I am not sure here. Let’s make it crystal clear, I will not grant waiver simply because it is more convenient for the researcher. I need to see explicit evidence that one cannot formulate a plan that incorporate explicit consent. Getting 155000 participants is one big task, so is managing them and manipulating theirs and only their news feed.  However, pit that against the skills and involvement of FaceBook means it is not difficult. The question is therefore whether can the applicant write consent form that the participants can give them informed consent? I think so.

Where I am wavering is will getting explicit consent itself will bias the outcome of the study. It is not unusual in psychological studies to be “economical with the truth”. A good example is the Milgrim experiment where participants had to press a button that will cause pain to another person while in truth, the other person is an actor who is unharmed by the experiment. In this case, I think we can formulate one.

(3) Is there an alternative to this experiment that is acceptable? For this question, I do not know because it requires knowledge about the topic being studied. The big issue here is can the manipulation of users’ news feed be avoided? Any researchers worth their salt will consider studying the news feeds  as they are instead of manipulating them. In this case, whether one can achieve the same aim by simply studying the emotional content of individual feeds. I think it can be done. I will much prefers this approach because the experiment step of omitting one feed can bias the result.

In all, I am not sure whether will I reject the study.

As an aside, if you look at Google News Search, it is interesting to see how a story turned sour (from the FaceBook and the paper authors’ point of  view) over a few days.

June 24, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 5:43 pm

Via TheRegister,  I found the link to Digital Music News where we can all see a leaked copy of YouTube’s proposed contract for Indie music providers.

One thing is true, YouTube is a very big player, it can bring on really big pressure on anyone, including me. As such, competition authorities should take a look at it.  Unlike the source quoted by TheRegister, I am not sure about the outcome.

I am not a lawyer, and the contract is full of legal speak. Skimming at the contract, looking at the points raised in TheRegister’s article, notably the Covenant Not To Sue, No Windowing, e.g., give exclusive rights to Amazon to publish a work ahead of the rest and royalty rate fixed by competition, a.k.a. big labels, I have to say while those is certainly one way of reading the contract, all  looks like an extreme view. Did YouTube drive a hard bargain? Threatening to remove content from providers who do not sign up means it is definitely a big YES. However, a few other things as well as history between content provider and YouTube, lead me to conclude that YouTube had not been unfairly strong arming them into signing the contract. The key word here is “unfairly”. On the other hand my view might be biased towards Google.

Without examining the context, the “Covenant Not To Sue” does appears to give YouTube’s user immunity to upload content if content provider sign up. The sentence reads [Emphasis Mine]

“[...] Provider covenants not to sue any Users who synchronizes any Provider Content in a User Video uploaded to the YouTube website, to the extent that the Provider’s Claim is based on the infringement of rights granted by Provider to Google herein

This italicized part is crucial. It basically restricted the immunity provided by content provider to only those they have granted to YouTube in the contract. The pro-Google way of seeing it is Google is also buying the rights for YouTube users to upload contents where it is compatible with the agreement. The key for me is it is a minor extension of what they would had given to Google when they signed the contract anyway. Google monetizing user uploaded content without paying the provider? Take a step back turn 180 degrees and one can argue that Google wants to buy that rights with this contract.

Most crucially, if YouTube’s user remixed a track and upload it, they are not covered by the immunity and is still liable to be sued. Under this contract, Google still does not have the right use the user content and therefore cannot monetize it. The scope for Google to monetize user-generated content without paying Indies is limited. One can argue that it is those user-generated content that creates the opportunity for  content providers to sell on YouTube.

Now, imagining this part is not in the contract, content provider will come back to YouTube and tell them the contract basically force YouTube to take their content exclusively from them. This creates additional liability for YouTube for user uploaded video on top of “Safe Harbor”. YouTube Legal Team of course see this and  acts to counter this.

Don’t like “Safe Harbor”? Ask the lawmakers to change the law. It was a compromise they stroke those years ago and will have to live by it. If any, the music Industry cannot even say it is unfair because they were were the weaker party when the law is drafted. The law to me is a good compromise: Nobody has the duty to protect your property. You have to do it yourself. The “Safe Harbor” approach give you a mean to do it.

I do not understand why TheRegister hinted that artists cannot sell album now, permit streaming service later. That  type of windowing is still permitted under this contract. To me, the paragraph in question is “b. Catelogues Commitment and Monetization”. In particular, the sentence [Emphasis mine]

“[...] Provider will provide Google with the same Provider Sound Recordings and Provider Music Videos on the same day as it provides such contents to any other similarly situated partners

This to me is the what is normally called the “Most Favoured Nation” provision. One cannot give iTune the rights to stream video ahead of YouTube. One cannot give Amazon the right to sell individual tracks instead of whole album before YouTube. Reason is YouTube is offering streaming service andto sell individual tracks and as such, both Apple and Amazon are “similarly situated partners” as YouTube in both context. While it is possible, I do not think Album Sales and Streaming Service as “similarly situated”. Finally I cannot see other big players like Apple or Amazon not insist on this type of clause themselves.

The fact that Indies are required to agree to the price agreed between YouTube and big label is a problematic one. There is a legitimate worry that YouTube will collude, knowingly or unknowingly, to unfairly assert monetary pressure on smaller producers. While I am not sure it is a “restrain of trade” as one source of TheRegister’s says, it is worth scrutiny.

On the other hand, requiring YouTube to negotiate with each and every producers might also be too difficult for YouTube to pull of. Perhaps the solution is to use some independent body to set the rate for everyone. The use of independent body to set rates is quite normal in the music industry. This is, however, one of the point which I do think Indies have a legitimate worry and need to be addressed.


Now, putting my pro YouTube hat on, here are some observations.

The first is that YouTube is a privately own walled-garden and it has the rights to choose who is coming in or out. If it says you have to sign a contract to come in and you do not want to, it has the right to say you cannot come in.

The next thing is the contract can both be interpreted in the extreme by YouTube or Indies putting their own colored lense on. Any legal system will have to use a transparent, colourless lens and use common sense. So far, there is no evidence that YouTube or Google normally play hardball and interpret everything to its selfish interest to the detriment of everyone else like some other companies. When you take that into account, the contract is not that bad.

I think the regulator should get involve here. YouTube is a big market place and potentially make or break music providers, especially smaller one (read Indies). As a dominant market player it has responsibility normally not associated with simply  being a market player. Big contracts like this, especially one that has a David vs Goliath complex like this one, should be routinely scrutinized to make sure regulations are followed.

However, I see several points against the Indies which are difficult to overcome if it goes to regulatory scrutiny. First and foremost is YouTube has the rights to decide what comes in to its walled garden. Denied entry into that walled garden is being most likely equal to being denied the most efficient way of distributing content, but as Judge Jackson in the original Microsoft Trial noted when he had to make a decision on whether Microsoft’s deal with PC makers to exclusively install IE on new computers, it is not an antitrust matter to deny the competition the most efficient way of distribution. In this case, Google is not even a competitors to the Indies. Moreover,  the presence of at least one other bigger wall garden known as iTune means Indies has another efficient way of distribution. In other words, nobody, Indies included, has the rights to insist YouTube let the them in.

Second, YouTube’s decision to exclude them from YouTube is a business decision it is entitled to take. In fact, it can argues that without a contract, it is at risk of being accused of infringing the rights of Indies by hosting any of their content at all and it is a risk it refuses to take. It can even take the moral high ground by saying the reason it does not want to host those content is because it wants to be clean of infringement claim.

Third, even if the regulator accepts that YouTube had exercised  strong armed tactics, the deal as it stands could had easily come verbatim from iTune or Amazon. Sure, we hear the same noise as well from the same parties, but they finally still sign on the dotted line. So what is so different here that YouTube should be singled out?

All these are of course hinged on the fact that YouTube is not ruled to have extremely strong market power that it can bring monopolistic behaviour to bear. If it can, then regulator must step in to make sure it does not. I find it difficult to build such a case against YouTube, particularly with iTune being a very big if not the biggest player in the music market, and Amazon hot on  the heels of Google if it is not YouTube’s peer or bigger than YouTube. There are also a lot of other video services that wants ot replace YouTube.

In all, I think YouTube is in the clear, the threat to Indies is overstated. But regulators should make a quick decision for everyone’s sake to see whether YouTube is anything to answer. What I do not want is a drawn out damp squib we have with the Search anti-trust case in EC.

One of the source of TheRegister’s article claims that this is one of the contract ” .. so bad that you would never sign it in normal circumstances. But Google has a gun to your head”. The first part may be true, but I doubt Google has put a gun to one’s head.

April 25, 2014

It all boils down to trust …

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 2:49 pm

Huawei has a point when it says that it will committing commercial suicide if it let the Chinese put a spy back door.

My take is all the issues about Chinese Spying via Huawei gears are protectionist/scaremongering  move. In other words business strategy dressed up as bogus national security concerns.

Western agencies are perfectly capable of vetting the gears without having to do what NSA did, i.e.,  hacking into Huawei to examine the source code.

It is, however, possible that Huawei’s relative lack of experience means their products is more vulnerable to hacking and so anyone, western and eastern spy agencies alike, can hack into it more easily than gears from established player.

Also there is nothing to say another Western Intelligence Agency did not plant anything on their gear when they are shipped off to friendly countries.

Therefore, Huawei’s gear is no different from similar gears from other supplier.

After so much ranting, I am getting to the reason for this post: While Huawei “commercial suicide” theory has a point, and after stripping away the protectionist interest and look at the gears in a more rational approach, Huawei still have a problem:  people just don’t trust the company.  That is why accusation like these has legs.

Huawei probably does not have a choice but to grin and bear it for now. I do not think it can ever get out of this trust issue, but the distrust will dilute away with time, especially if there is no scandal along the way.

Reading between the lines …

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 2:34 pm

From theRegister: “Tim Cook: Apple’s ‘closer than it’s ever been’ to releasing new product range”. Here’s what it means between the lines

  1. We haven’t released anything new for some time.
  2. Too bad for fans. They still willingly part with their money so it is not an issue.
  3. However, it is also starting to bother our investors. That is not good.
  4. So we better tell Tim Cook to say something non-specific, extremely vague to reassure the market. The technique used will be “forward statements” that Federal Reserve and Bank of England use to “guide” market

February 25, 2014

Nokia embracing Android?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 7:45 am

One of the big technology news to day is Nokia releasing a line of Android-based mobile phones.

As the BBC’s coverage noted, Microsoft is in the process of buying Nokia and Nokia, under old (Elop’s) management, had publicly bet the company on Windows Operating Systems and Windows Operating System only. As such, I believe a lot of people will be surprised. BBC noted that this Android-based mobile phone line was expected. I suppose it meant people familiar with the mobile phone market. I am not familiar with the market and was not expecting it, but is not surprised either.

From a technology viewpoint, despite what its own management said, I always know it will be surprising if no one in Nokia’s R&D department continue experimenting with Android continuously. If it did not, then I will call that department incompetent. It is their duty to work out what the competition is doing and to learn from them. If they were directed by top management to not do it, then that decision is suicidal because Nokia is not in such a dire state that it has to conserve cash by sacrificing R&D.

Putting on my technical hat, if I were Nokia R&D, to study Android I will  build an Android phone. I have the expertise to build phones so the best way to study one is to build one. Again, because I have the expertise, I will experiment with customizing and modifying the Android software. Even if I do not ever plan to use Android, experimenting with Android is essential work. Where in the world where your competition will give you the full blueprint to its software except in Android? Moreover, one can learn a lot from it and use that knowledge to enhance one’s product.

The surprise therefore is that they decided to bring to production this R&D effort. I had said I will build an Android phone in R&D, and even customize it. However, let’s not forget that for R&D, this is a technical experiment to study the an Android phones. all phones constructed this way are not ready for production. A few  are not going to be able to make it into production either.

Thus, to bring a phone to production is still a big effort. From a hardware perspective, for a box-standard Android phone the fastest way is to put it on an existing phone design. It will still be at least 2 months from the day management give the go ahead. This is Nokia first Android phone and they decided to customize it. The customization will take at least an extra 3 months to design and perfect. I will hazard a guess to say that the decision to make an Android phone was made a year ago at least.

The big question is is Nokia abandoning the Windows Only approach? I am not sure. First, after buying it, Microsoft is going to use it to showcase Windows on mobile phones. Will Android survive as a side show? I must confess I cannot see Microsoft using Android, even for low end system.

I think the decision to produce Android phones was made before Nokia sold the mobile phone business to Microsoft. In fact this might had been used to encourage Microsoft to buy it. Microsoft share of the mobile phone market is small. It has the cash to splash out, at least to preserve that market share.

I think this line of Android phone is a last hurrah for Nokia. It is used to showcase its R&D expertise on Android and to ensure effort made on bring an Android mobile phone line not wasted. This is likely to be the only line of Android phones from Nokia.

This line of Android phones actually might give me a dilemma if I decided to replace my phone this year. I like Nokia mobile phone for its technical performance, i.e., it is one of the best when it comes to mobile signal reception. I have no confidence on Windows Operating System, and since I do not really want another iOS device, I will go for an Android. I would had preferred a dual SIM card phone but Nokia’s signal reception performance can make me sacrifice that. However, I do not really want a phone that is a bastard child of its maker. It does not have the attention the other siblings get from the parent and this is a problem for me. I want my phone to have the same attention as the other siblings!

January 20, 2014

Blame the data limit …

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 3:13 pm

Happy New Year!

I know I haven’t been posting for two months now. Not because there was nothing interesting, but I could not find the time to do so.

This news about AT&T sponsored data plan is interesting. Basically companies can pay AT&T so that access to their services do not count towards your data limits. It is interesting because it looks like and smell like an updated version of  toll-free telephone number service. This fact is of course not lost on commentators.

With toll-free telephone numbers, one do not pay for the call. It gives companies a mean of differentiating their services from their competition. It is generally regarded as an innovation. Move the clock over to today, AT&T “sponsored data plan” looks so much like toll-free telephone numbers that I think I am going to call it “toll-free data plan” in this post. This plan, however, draw critics. Part of me think the plan is not good for the consumer. The other part says that the plan has merits.

I was struggling to understand why I am OK with toll-free telephone numbers but not toll-free data plan. I do not believe that this was brought by the change in expectation over the years. If so, I would have the same disdain I have for toll-free telephone numbers as I have with toll-free data plan. I believe the difference is how they are being  charged from a consumer point of view. With telephone  calls, one is charged by the seconds and still is. Every time you make a call there is an expectation that you have to pay for by the minute. If you call a company you pay to call the company. If you call its competition you pay exactly the same to call the competition. But if the company has a toll-free number you can avoid the cost of  calling them. To borrow a modern metaphor, it is pay-as-you-go.  Crucially, if you choose not to call either, you are not charged. This  fact is important in this discussion.

However, with the internet, the norm is to pay for a quota of data over a charging period (the data limit). In that sense whether I direct my traffic to or none at all, I pay exactly the same. That differentiate it  from toll-free telephone number because I do still pay same whether I make the data connection to companies or not. If I do not use up my quota the amount that I did not use does not get carried forward to the next charging period. I am not paying for the amount I used in very small increments, e.g. by the megabytes. (I take megabytes as equivalent to charging by seconds on telephone calls).  Instead, I take a big lump of data over a fixed period of time to use as I pleased. AT&T data sponsor plans looks like an exploitation of the big lum sum data plan in order to make money out of it by attempting to reshape my behaviour. The danger to the consumer is they are going to artificially tighten the quota in order to drive traffic to their data sponsor. That in this day and age is unfair competition. AT&T is a critical facilitator of commerce. This is an important public function. While we are happy with them running its public obligation on a commercial basis we  cannot allow them to abuse their power to choose the winners or losers.

Simply because of the different way we are charged, both telephones and internet subjected to different market dynamics and comparing the two are like apple and orange, i.e., very similar but not the same in crucial aspects.

Could companies like AT&T charge by the megabytes? Yes, but they choose not to. . If they had been selling services by finer details, say charging per MB on a pay-as-you-go, that would had made toll-free data plan more palatable. However, they choose to sell using a time-based quota system, that makes it looks like they are milking the scheme for money.

Is the toll-free data plan necessarily evil? No. Some commentators is worried that it will favour companies with big budget. It will of course. However this is no different from what we have now in all fields of business. Having a large money pot always put you at an advantage. We already accept that. This can favour small companies as well. A small company can use toll-free data plan as a leg up to help it establish itself. Toll-free is a differentiator. It works for small company as well as big company. Remember back in the days where we have to pay for per-minute modem charges? Having a toll-free number does not necessary means there is no competition from others that does not have toll-free numbers.

At the end of the day, AT&T’s plan only work because there is an artificial limit to the amount of data. Sooner or later competition will likely dilute this quota into insignificant consideration for the consumer, if not get rid of it altogether. It does not mean we should not be wary of this sort of data plan. In the short term,  this can hurt us because it shape the winners and losers in this game and shape the future to come. In the long run, this problem will fade away.

October 11, 2013

How not to send a DNS take down request

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 6:41 pm

Via TheRegister, I found the City of London Police’s request to EasyDNS to voluntarily take down the DNS registration of a torrent site a case study in how not to do it. It is so bad that it is worth EasyDNS doing a song and dance over it. Normally I would had left it at that, but it is that bad that it is also worth me analyzing their work. If, after reading my rant you find it worthwhile for you reading through it, then it is certainly a  very entertaining episode for all indeed.

I believe EasyDNS is correct in insisting that City of London Police  get a court order before it takes down the domain. It has a duty to its customers to make sure any request like this has the appropriate evidence to back it up. Being the requester, City of London Police has the duty to supply evidence to EasyDNS.

I do not condone Intellectual Property theft, but I do feel City of London Police’s action via the newly formed Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) is extremely ill-advised. More later but first, let me clear something up that I initially got confused. I believe a lot of UK residents are in the same boat. As for all you international reader, you do not stand a chance. That something is City of London Police is not the same thing as Metropolitan Police. Most of the time, when you mention Police in London, one think of Metropolitan Police. In fact, this is the first time I heard about City of London Police. I had initially thought that it is a branch of Metropolitan Police. According to Wikipedia, Metropolitan Police is in charge of Greater London with exception of the financial district known as the Square Mile where it ceded authority to the City of London Police. Wikipedia believes the City of London Police is the smallest Territorial Police Force in UK.

This confusion is unfortunate, but it is not City of London Police fault. It does, however, explain why the whole operation lacks the professional standard one expect of a big police force. Their handling of the issue has the appearance of the Police doing the bidding of the overzealous Intellectual Property Owners. A larger force might had noticed this but a smaller force might not.

The other thing we should note that PIPCU is a newly formed unit (Sept 12). This is probably its first major operation. While we can laugh at it swallowing more than it can chew, we probably should give it time to find its feet and work out teething problems such as this. In the interest of seeing it grown into a more professional outfit and establish itself as an independent  body and not IP owners’ lackey, I will frame my hash words as  (unsolicited) advice:

First and foremost, get your website in order. According to your “About PIPCU” page, you specialize in ” tackling serious and organised intellectual property crime (counterfeit and piracy) affecting physical and digital goods (with the exception of pharmaceutical goods).” so handling a website should be easy for you. However, read that page carefully and you find a very obvious problem. You cannot say you are “launched” (past tense) on Sept 12 when the page was written on Sept 9th. Either you have a time machine (and in this case you should had noted how EasyDNS made a fool out of you) or you implied you were launched close to a year ago, i.e. Sept 12 2012.

Second, rework your take down request. The one posted by EasyDNS is weak and extremely unprofessional for a police force. It looks like, and reads like something the overzealous Intellectual Property Owner send out. My biggest grievance is your failure to to say what it really is.  That document is filled to the brim with the air of legal authority to compel but in reality is simply a request for help. As a police force you should had made it clear it is a request and that the  recipient has no duty to grant the request. Cloud it in legal sounding language is unbecoming of a police force.

Second biggest grievance on the take down request is, for a police force used to deal with evidence, there is no evidence of wrongdoing. What we get is simply a few sentences alleging wrongdoing. The allegations are beyond vague. The same way a police force should not send unsolicited letter to someone’s employer alleging that someone is a suspected thief, City of London Police should not be sending unsolicited notices to a person’s DNS service provider on vague allegation wrongdoing unless it is prepared to back it up. Section 3 is particularly laughable. It is just hot air. The title is funny too, why say “The grounds on which PIPCU is making the request” where  “The grounds on which we are making the request” or simply “The grounds for making the request”will do. Given it is on police stationery and it is carefully explained which part of the police force send the request, so who else is making the request? Could it be the result of someone rather than the police had prepared the document?

Next, how do you feel if someone comes into your office and tell you someone else is naughty and you should take action against him? Furthermore, that someone had carefully studied your rules and conveniently suggests grounds on which you can take action on. It put you on guard on what that person’s motive is. At best, you think he has an axe to grind. At worst, that someone is trying to ue you to bully someone else. Sometime, the person is desperate for something to be done. This is preciesly what City of London Police is doing when they alleged wrongdoing in section 3 then took the trouble to study EasyDNS Terms and Conditions and suggests to EasyDNS how to justify the action it wants EasyDNS to take. I will not go so far as saying City of London Police has an axe to grind or is bullying the domain name owner. However, it smack of desperation on behalf of the police: We cannot do anything so can you please please please help us out by doing something. It also looks like the Police is seeking an extra-judicial way of achieving something. That is dangerous ground.

I do not like the veiled threat of taking the registrar to ICANN. It is conduct unbecoming of a Police Force to even suggest that. Smells like bullying. If it came from a third world country we would had called it Police Intimidation.

Last point about the take down request makes me laugh out loud: THERE IS A DISCLAIMER ! ! The City of London Police asks you to take action. Never mind the flimsy excuse, they are not going to back you up if you ran into trouble! My take? The City of London Police know their request has no legs to stand on, and their lawyers try to minimize the damage with this disclaimer…

… Or is it that someone else written the document on their stationery and they just rubble-stamped it? My gut feeling says they did not write the document themselves. Too many things that just simply do not sound right for an official police document written by the police. For a start, it would not read the way it did. i.e., insisting on only one course of action. They normally spell out alternatives, set out appeals and complain procedure for the recipient (EasyDNS) and the persons affected, i.e. the domain name owner.

My final advise is for them to take a clue sheet from FBI: Instead of showing a generic logo on the redirected site, point it to a dedicated page tailored for the particular site. It does not cost much to create a page and maintain a page like this. Also, with exception of links to themselves, they should make sure there is no links to other websites. Those links are rightly dimly viewed as commercials and the Police favouring particular establishments. This is best avoided.

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