CyberTech Rambler

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.

October 8, 2013

EU storing Telephone Records too …

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 6:57 am

The news world is just about getting calmer after the revelation that NSA capture basic information about telephone calls such as which number called which number, where, when and for how long. Before European get outraged, let us not  forget American are not the only one doing  that. EU is doing that as well.

How do I know? In an emotive case, UK police had just revealed that they are following up leads by combing telephone records. Definitely with the NSA saga in mind, the Detective Chief Inspector in charge said that this is not a  general trawl.  Unfortunately, as far as I am concern, if it quark like a duck, it is a duck.

Two big pieces of information here. One, at least the Portuguese is storing telephone records for more than the two years companies are required to store the records for financial/claims purpose. No offense to the Portuguese but they do not have one of the most well-funded technology country for storing records. If they are capable storing telephone records, we can infer that other countries, notably those in the EU, are doing the same.

Second, the justification here is it is a criminal investigation. That is a red herring. My proposition here is either we are fine with our telephone records being combed by authorities or not. For the record, I am fine with it. If we are going to allow the authority to  use criminal investigation as an excuse, then we are at the minimum consenting to allow our telephone records being stored. Why? Crime happens everywhere and cannot be predicted, so the only way telephone records can assist in criminal investigations is to put a dragnet, a.k.a. storing them, on all records and figure out which subset one wants to use later.  In reality we also accept that the authority can comb through the data whenever they want as it is the limit of current technology and resources  the reason why the records are not combed through for all reported crimes, and this limitation is being relaxed by the day.

So fellow netizen, mobile users and telephone users beware, your records are being combed through every day. The bigger the city you are living in, the more frequently your record is being inspected. Am I worried? Not really. Tesco probably know me better than me myself and I allow this to happen for a few penny. Police and other authority know me less than Tesco so why should I worry. Of course, perhaps after I hit “Publish” button, they will take the trouble of knowing me better than Tesco.

September 3, 2013

Farewell Nokia

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:46 pm

As this Wired article says, nobody is surprised that Microsoft bought Nokia. Everyone sees it on the card when Nokia decided to go with Windows Operating System for its mobile phone relaunch. Although most people, including me, think it is a folly to go with something untested, but Elop’s (Nokia CEO) explanation on why he choose Windows do make business sense. Most, including me again, sees it as oiling the path for Microsoft to buy Nokia and we were proven right. I am pretty sure the same cloud agrees with me that going with Windows Operating System  was Elop’s big gamble for Nokia that, if it had been successful, will pay back handsomely. I think nobody will know which was the priority, i.e., oiling the path to Microsoft or risk it all in hope of a big payback.

The big winner here is the Nokia CEO. Even bigger if he got picked to be Microsoft’s next CEO. That is a distinct possibility. A lot of people thinks he was Microsoft Trojan Horse to get Nokia when he left Microsoft for Nokia. If you subscribe to the opinion that his job was to oil the path the Microsoft than you will take Microsoft Nokia’s buy as the evidence to proof your case. I am not so sure. If I was Nokia’s CEO I would not had bet so heavily on Windows as my mobile operating system, but would had made the Microsoft buy my backup strategy. May be, just may be, going for Windows was the price to pay to have the backup strategy. If so, would I go for it? May be.

Will Microsoft benefit from buying Nokia? Technically yes. It gets mobile phone hardware expertise. Nokia’s is still very good in making good phone hardware, just pity about the software. Google bought Motorola Mobile Division for its expertise in making mobile phones. I am pretty sure Google figured out  that to be a pure operating system company is difficult in the mobile business because you really need knowledge on the hardware and that is not something easy to do without getting one’s hand dirty on hardware. Microsoft obviously realized it. Belatedly? I do not think so. I think they thought their vast experience in designing PC software without dabbling in PC hardware will carry them through. To a certain extent, that is true. However, I believe the mobile phone is different from PC because there is practically no standardization on high end phones. Sure, they almost all use ARM architecture. However, that about said all for standardization. Break it up you can see that things you cannot exactly swap out one part of the system with another without doing a major software rewrite.

I still haven’t gone into the business part yet. I have no doubt Microsoft will use Nokia portfolio to beat down Android further. At least this time they have some solid muscle to back up their claim that Android “infringe” Microsoft Patent. Will they dare to sue Motorola Mobile, a.k.a. Google, now with this buy? I still doubt we will ever see this happening.

Setting aside  the unsavory side of business practice, how about normal business?Good part is Microsoft is in a better position to understand the Mobile Phone market, something it  fails to crack so far. Hopefully we start seeing good Windows Phone now. Its strategy of having a unify Operating system marrying servers, desktop, tablets and mobile has legs. No other companies, except puny Apple (who struggles in the servers market and whose aloofness means it is no threat at all) has such an advantage. If it can pull this off it can only be good for the company.

There is however one bad part of this purchase. Like Google when it bought Motorola Mobile, Microsoft is now in direct competition with its phone hardware partners. They are going to be worry that it is going to favour its Nokia subsidiary over them. So far, for Google, the anxiety is easing but is still lingering in the background. However, Google has the advantage that it does not have any history of favouring itself over competition. Microsoft, being at least double the age of Google, carries the burden of history and it does not bore well if you are it partner. However, in the next year we might see a change in the company, as the company bid farewall to its final old guards with Steve Ballmer departure. How exactly will  the new management (Elop or not) behave is an unknown. What is not in doubt is it will be a new chapter  for Microsoft. What does it means for you if you are a phone hardware manufacturer? Nobody knows. It will be interesting time.

August 5, 2013

US Trade Representative used his veto unwisely

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:57 pm

In vetoing ITC’s decision to ban certain iPhones and iPads as requested by the ITC because they infringed Samsung’s Patent, I think the US Trade Representative got it wrong.

His reasoning is wrong. He reasons that owner of Standard Essential Patents (Samsung in this case) should not be readily given a ban because of their commitment to the Standard Body. However, this is wrong. ITC ‘s argument is Apple is doing a “reverse hold-up, i.e., delaying negotiations unfairly to get an advantage over Samsung. By not giving Samsung the ban it rightly deserved simply to drive home the principle of no easily available ban for Standard Essential Patent holder, he exaggerated the problem of reverse patent hold out. My

The good news is, even if it allowed the ban, the impact is negligible as it involves older products.

I hope Samsung takes the case further and this will result in a bigger financial lost for Apple over its bad behaviour.

My other hope is he is working on an 6 months old thinking, i.e., Standard Essential Patent holder should not be allowed to get a ban. FTC changed its view on preventing Standard Essential Patent Holders to get a ban based on those patent after consulting the public in the case of Google Motorola.

I also cannot help but to think that Apple is reaping benefit from its misbehavior over patents: It is one of the first to start litigating patents through ITC. That rightly generates negative reaction towards patent holders from all quarters, including the US Administration. It is now wrongly benefiting from the negative reaction because it was on the receiving end of the ITC case. That’s plainly unfair.

June 14, 2013

So you are surprised that someone is monitoring your communication?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 7:28 pm

REALLY?

For the past week or so, the world is abuzz with the news that the National Security Agency in America is trying to listen into every conversations in the world. I do not think it surprised any techie that NSA is trying to listen into every conversations, or indeed it is trying to develop the capability to do so. As for the fact that big tech companies might be lending them a hand? That is not news either.

What strike me is the reporting from BBC News I believe, that the reason NSA is trying to get big tech companies to give it a hand is because we are getting increasingly good at protected our communications, i.e., we are encrypting our data. This means it is difficult for them to find out what we know. Unfortunately for us but fortunately for them, our love for big tech companies means all our information are centralized in a few big silos, and the keepers to the silos have the keys to our encrypted information. Thus, if they are bed fellows with our beloved tech companies, they can get a lot of information through digital “pillow talk”. This, I believe, is what NSA is very very good at. ;-)

What is the consequence of this revelation? I think we will start to see decentralization of information. It is true that NSA and other spy agencies will find modern encryption a hurdle, so one who seeks to evade them will stop using the data silos. Therefore, we will probably see more truly pear-to-pear communication which does not use a central authority, just in case the central authority is compromised. At work I already see a variation of this but for a different reason: We rejected a few proposals to use web-based services because the people who proposed it cannot be sure that the data do not hop to the United States because the PATRIOT act will make us fall foul of EU regulations.

Patents …

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 7:07 pm

In this few months a lot had changed in the patent world. Except for one incidence, it appears to be for the good.

The bad incidence is it is reported that Dutch scientist patented the MERS virus discovered in Saudi Arabia.  At least that is how some media outlets choose to report it. In reality, from New Scientist, the patent is on a test detecting the virus. The Dutch defends themselves by saying that this is routinely done. That is likely to be true. However, using Intellectual Property or any legal means to put hurdles into effort  to stop a virus from wiping the human kind out is to me unethical behaviour. Remember during the bird flu epidemic Indonesia refuses to provide samples because of fear that it would not get the vaccine it needs from research conducted on the samples? Couple it with this I do not see why someone wants to share their virus sample in the future. I know the research centre itself is feeling the heat and find it hard to defend themselves, since the only defense it can mount in the New Scientist article is to divert focus from the topic to other things that it is doing such as offering their tests to Saudi (under undisclosed terms) and to claim that they distributed the samples to others who requested it. The former probably insulted the Saudis and the latter is probably something they were required to do anyway.

Now the good news: The latest is the victory at the Supreme Court who had decided that naturally occurring DNA is not patentable in the Myriad case. Normally this would be the highlight for the two genes, BRAC1 and BRAC2. However, it would appear this two genes has been in the limelight lately. The peak of its fame is likely to be when Angelina Jolie announced her double mastectomy as the two might be the genes that drove her to the decision. I must commend Ms Jolie for her courage to go through the procedure and to announce it in public.

The next good news is Obama’s move to tackle software patents. Some people see it as breaking new ground on software patents, particularly the part where functional claiming is going to be disallowed or curtailed. I do not want to see software dealt with as a special case in any law, including copyrights and patents. As such, initially I was alarmed when commentators claims that this is recognizing the fact that software is special. However, upon reading the directive itself, I feel that is is not treating software as a special case, but pull software back to the established norm that patent on function is not allowed. This is a good move, and the fact that Obama can use a directive to move it there means we do not have wait for years until eventually, the Supreme Court do this for mankind. Yes, I do believe the Supreme Court will rein in these functional claims eventually.

May 14, 2013

German users of Hackathon beware … You might be infringing trademark!

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 7:03 pm

Via GrokLaw, I learned that someone managed to trademark Hackathon in Germany!

Am I surprised? Partly no and party yes. I am not surprised because the (1) It is arguable that English speaking countries’ Trademark Office will be aware of the common use of the word ‘Hackathon’ to reject the trademark application let alone a German speaking one;  (2) An argument can be made that ‘Hackathon’, when used in a meaning rather than Hacking + Marathon, can qualify for trademark protection; and (3) A word common in one language might be judged unusual enough to another language/culture setting to be granted Trademark. Don’t believe my argument #2? Just look at how many “Princess Diana” trademarks got registered when the poor princess died in a car accident back in the 1990s. To add salt to injury, it is her own countryman registering them in her country.

I am surprised that in this day and age they think they could get away with it, especially with a word that will irk the people most apt with the very new  technology that make mass pressure easy!

We should fight the trademarking of the word Hackathon in Germany. In fact, on first reading, I thought it is time to raise the money to fight rather than waiting for the company to fulfill the promise to cancel the mark which is PJ’s preferred way. Then I gave it 10 minutes and agree that PJ’s way is better. Lets give the company the benefit of the doubt that it is going to do that. However, as PJ implied, we have to be vigilant and check in a latter date that they do. If not, lets take a stand and see where  the law stands.

April 18, 2013

No mate, LSE did not put you in danger, you did

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 8:10 pm

A few days ago I said that by providing cover for a journalist, LSE students put academics working in danger zone at risk. Universities UK had issued a Press Release on similar line.  I am glad I am not the only one who noticed this as an big issue. [Declaration of Interest: Universities UK provided a large part of my tuition fees for my PhD studies back in the late 90s to early 2000]

I also noted that the LSE students involved claimed that by going public, LSE put them at more risk. I disagree with them. Their affiliations will be public knowledge once BBC broadcasted the Panorama programme. There is no way to hide it even if the BBC footage avoid showing them at all. With a bit of research, People will put two and two together. That is assuming that nobody choose to ‘leak’ the information. As LSE’s reply to them clearly indicated, at least one party already threaten to release their affiliation details. Smarter ones among them would had realized that there is no way to hide their affiliations once they see John Sweeney and know that it is a Panorama programme.

As for their claim that there is informed consent, I do not think they are best-placed to judge it for themselves. It is a complex issues and they are  stakeholders in it. Only an disinterested bystander familiar with the issues of informed consent and the situation can make a judgement. For example, if it is very important for them to be on the trip (and I have to stress that it is not the case here), then one can easily make the case that they cannot give informed consent. Period. It does not matter whether the decision to allow Panorama to come along rest on majority or unanimous decision because one have to assume they are under undue pressure, whether they realized it or not.

My cursory examination of the issue says that if  Mr Sweeney’s identity and the Programme name where made available to them in the UK before they left then we have informed consent. They are adults and I do not think there is undue pressure on them. Mr Sweeney and Panorama is in a different league than say, a correspondent from another BBC programme. In this case I would argue the identity of the reporter and programme is an important parcel of the informed consent process. Thus, knowing the identity of the journalist and program only when they are in China means  the students have too much committed to be able to give informed consent.

I also cannot believe the how naive the students are when they wrote in their letter that “nothing happened… which would indicate that we were put in danger”. They were lucky. There won’t be anything hint that indicate you are in danger. Even if there was, there will be no escape route.  It would take the British Embassy there days if not months to work out where you are let alone getting you out of the country.

The sad thing is, and there is no way the student would know before hand, except for video footage that looks like someone went for a tour in a third world country, nothing in the Panorama programs that indicate it is worth the risk. People says it contain nothing that a tour trip to North Korea would not show, and I tend to agree. All it did is to provide enough video footage to make up a TV program. There is nothing much in there that North Korea do not want tourist to see. As for BBC claims of public interest? After watching the program, I think the only justification for it being “in the public interest” is because since North Korea is in the news, anything BBC shows about North Korea would automatically qualify as Public Interest.  In m opinion, it is there is the content of the program that make the public interest claim. It reveals nothing here that makes the risk of the trip worthwhile.

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