11 October 2010

Speaking at the London School of Economics 19 October

If you are in London on Tuesday 19 October and want to hear more about my Internet Borders thesis, I'll be speaking at the LSE as part of a series on "staying safe online".

You can find information here.

7 October 2010

Is THIS where you are?

If you are wondering how effective systems are in determining your geo-location, here's your chance to find out. I recently experimented with a few sites that try to determine the answer. You're welcome to give it a go.

30 September 2010

Apple confirms that MY cloud is in the USA

A few weeks ago, I complained that I wanted to know where MY MobileMe cloud was geo-located. You can read my post here. After I posted the article, I decided to do the simple thing and ask Apple.

So I logged on to Apple's technical support page for MobileMe, opened a chat session with one of their support technicians, and asked "Where is my MobileMe Cloud?". I gave her a link to my article to explain the question a little better. The Apple support person was very polite, and freely admitted that my question was very unusual. What followed was about 30 minutes of very little chat while (I assume) she asked around trying to find the answer.

23 September 2010

Google legal chief wants open borders

Earlier this week, the International Herald Tribune (the global edition of the New York Times) ran an interesting Op-Ed piece by Google's chief legal officer, David Drummond. "Roadblocks on the Information Highway" is available here; mobile device users click here.

I love the title. It reminds me of a paper I wrote in the early 1990's that I wanted to call "Law and Regulation: Speed Bumps on the Information Super Highway". Alas, I acquired a more serious-minded (and more senior) co-author who dropped the highway metaphor and re-fitted our published work with a more pedestrian title.

In his well-reasoned piece, Mr Drummond makes what I call an "open borders" argument. This argument says that countries who keep their Internet Borders open tend to benefit from increased exchange of ideas, better trade relationships, etc.

20 September 2010

Cloud Computing discovers the Internet Border

Cloud Computing continues to take centre stage in the Internet Borders discussion, as now we see the New York Times getting the story (mostly) right. The NYT article, titled "Cloud Computing Hits Snag in Europe" is available on big screen here; mobile device users should click here.

The main problem under discussion is Data Protection law. The author mentions that a number of companies are working on technology-based solutions to comply with a blizzard of different rules, but only touches briefly on the number one challenge to Cloud Computing as we know it today: the "internationality" of a given "cloud".

14 September 2010

Hey, Apple, where is my cloud?

In keeping with my opinion that Cloud service providers will one day be required to specify geo-location of customer data, I decided to look through the web pages that describe Apple's MobileMe service.

MobileMe is a truly remarkable consumer cloud computing service. It syncs contacts database, calendar, etc, over multiple user devices. The data on your laptop, desktop, and iPhone all stay in perfect harmony with one another. It's been described as an "Exchange server for everyone". Cool.

But where, exactly, is this server for everyone?

8 September 2010

Birth of "Me Web" leads to "We Web"

Today's Internet is all "me, me, me". But counter-intuitively, the technology that creates this personalised web experience may give birth to a web that reinforces a sense of community based on state borders.

At the dawn of Web 1.0, every one of us who "tuned" to a specified URL experienced the same static web page at the other end of the link. Although the page occasionally changed, all of us experienced the same changed page. A bit like television, but with a theoretically infinite number of "channels". We talked about the advent of micro-communities, marketing to the long tail, etc. It was common wisdom that this divergence of content broke down a sense of community based on physical location.

But an infinite number of channels was, it seems, not enough.

24 August 2010

Estonia closes Internet border to gambling

I am grateful to one of my former graduate students who is from Estonia, who first made me aware earlier this year that Estonia had chosen to "close" its Internet border to many international gambling sites. Here's one report of the closing in a casino trade paper.

The method of border enforcement chosen by Estonia is (I believe) the shape of things to come in most countries around the world, because it is less cost-intensive than building and operating a national network gateway.

17 August 2010

What is this Internet thing and how do we shut it down?

One failed attempt to control the entire Internet in the 1990's sheds some light on why enforcing state borders on the Internet is an achievable goal.

In the mid-1990's I was a junior lawyer in the technology law group at the world's largest international law firm, based in London. A senior partner telephoned me from our litigation department. He came straight to the point:

"I understand that you know something about the Internet. Well, a client of ours has had a bit of a disaster. Some disgruntled former employee has walked out with a number of confidential documents and has published them on the Internet. Now, what is this Internet thing and how do we shut it down?"

11 August 2010

The case of the persistent salesman

At our law office in London, we were just given a stunning reminder of how easy it is (sometimes) to know where end-users are located.

A couple of us spent some time earlier today looking online for a particular type of networking equipment. We found multiple references to one specific piece of equipment, including web sites of distributors here in the UK.

A few hours later and the phone rang. It was a sales representative calling us from one of the distributors, who asked to be connected to our IT department. The salesman then said, "We noticed that you have been looking at the [equipment name] on our web site. I thought I would call to see if I could answer any questions or offer you a chance to try one of these devices."

8 August 2010

Where is my Cloud?

Cloud Computing. A brilliant approach for data handling. Want to process a large data set (like client details) accessible in all of your firm's offices without the messy expense of buying and maintaing a data centre? Host it in "the Cloud".

But what, and crucially where, is "the Cloud"?

4 August 2010

Google location data - someone knows where you are

Google faced heavy criticism recently when data privacy regulators discovered that Google Street View survey cars had been surveying with more than just cameras. As we now know, they were also collecting data relating to local WiFi routers - both public and private. A lot was written (and much heat generated) about the possibility that Google might "sniff" content in transit: snippets of emails, or web browsing traffic, or whatever else they could collect in the few seconds that a car was in range of a WiFi point.

But most people missed the bigger story. The (seemingly benign) purpose of the data capture was to get MAC codes of WiFi routers and develop a database of their geo-locations.

2 August 2010

RIM faces more international hurdles

I don't really want this blog to become "the Blackberry Report" but clearly RIM is a hot item in the news right now.

I think it's important to state that again for clarity: "RIM" is a hot item. That is to say Research in Motion, the company that provide the global secure data communication service, is in the news. Like reporters around the world, I have been referring to this story as the Blackberry story. I want to highlight that Blackberry is the device and trade name, while RIM is the "legal person" (i.e., the company) providing a back end service.

1 August 2010

Blackberry problem spreads to Saudi

Earlier today when discussing the problem of RIM/Blackberry vs the UAE, I mentioned that RIM should not ignore this problem because "... the risk here is that other countries could (and I believe will) follow the UAE's lead on this and threaten similar shut-downs."

When I wrote that, I figured that other countries would follow suit in a matter of months. Now it seems that it took less than 2 hours for news to leak that Saudi Arabia is planning a similar move, and for similar reasons.

Reports are sketchy, but here's an interesting source. The Saudi threat put an additional 700,000 subscribers (and 700,000 subscribers' revenue) at risk.

The stakes are now that much higher for RIM.

UAE Blackberry tension rises

Wow. Less that a week after I wrote about the UAE and Blackberry, and they're in the news again. Only this time it looks like the gloves are off.

Reports indicate that the United Arab Emirates (a sovereign federation of seven Emirates including Abu Dhabi and Dubai) has announced they will suspend "messaging, e-mail and Web browsing" services to Blackberry users in the UAE with effect from 11 October 2010 "until a solution compatible with local laws is reached". Here are the reports from the BBC, Bloomberg, and the AP courtesy of Google.

Here is a statement from a service provider in the UAE with their understanding of the shut-down order, which includes helpful added details. They make it clear that domestically managed services, such as voice telephony, SMS, MMS, and carrier-provided web browsing, will continue as normal. The shut-down order relates only to value-added services provided by Research in Motion (RIM), the Canadian company that designs Blackberry devices and operates the back-office service that makes them all work so smoothly. These are the services that really make the device a hit with customers such as Blackberry email and Blackberry system web browsing. Without those services, the device becomes just another web-enbled mobile phone - and not a great one. (I'm a biased iPhone user.)

So here is the problem in a nutshell.

26 July 2010

UAE and Blackberry

I was interested to see this story on BBC online. It explains that the United Arab Emirates may wish to monitor or restrict use of BlackBerry devices inside the country. What really caught my attention, however, was the concern about BlackBerry data being "stored offshore".

It should not really be that surprising that the UAE has flagged this as a national security issue. With an estimated 140,000 subscribers inside the UAE, they want to know that their legal system can enforce orders that might relate to this data.

I think that the future for BlackBerry (and, by the way, for anyone who provides a "Cloud" computing service) will be to re-architect their system so that it is possible for individual customer data storage and processing to take place in a defined physical jurisdiction. I suspect that the UAE (and others) will increasingly impose laws and regulations that take the form: "All communications data for subscribers who reside in our country, must be processed and stored within our country."

Lesson for business: If you want to run a successful online data business, you should already be designing your online border enforcement strategy.

24 June 2010

Facebook to strengthen geographic borders

I've been interested to read about Facebook's plans to offer "location based services". Like so many other online experiences today (especially embedded advertising), this is part of the meta-trend to customise one's experience of the Internet based upon end-user geo-location.

Wow that's a lot of jargon. Let me try again.

This is another side of how the Internet now "works": what you see on "the" web depends on a combination of what you put into your browser plus where you are physically when you do it. Your physical location has become a significant factor in determining what you see.

So while I am certain that Facebook's roll-out of location based services is being done for the best of business reasons, they are creating one more piece of the infrastructure that will enable better enforcement of sovereign borders upon the Internet.

Think of it like this: now that Facebook will "map" the geo-location of its end-users, how long before the sovereign government of Ruritania issues an order to Facebook to "block" the content of certain FB pages to all persons who are geo-located in Ruritania?

Now that we know the Internet has borders, the race is on to develop technologies that will assist in enforcing them.

22 June 2010

BBC makes money using Internet borders

I have written about this topic before, but it never ceases to amuse me that the BBC News web site includes paid-for advertising. At least it does whenever I'm geo-located outside of the UK.

I was returning from my home town of Dayton, Ohio last week, and was doing some rush client work from my laptop in airports.

Geo-location 1: Dayton airport. Browser pointed at: BBC News web. Appearance: paid-for advertising embedded in my page aimed at US consumers.

Geo-location 2: Toronto airport. Browser pointed at: BBC News web; Appearance: paid-for advertising embedded in my page aimed at Canadian (specifically aimed at Toronto area) consumers.

Geo-location 3: my apartment in central London. Browser pointed at: BBC News web; Appearance: NO paid-for advertising, and this is the right result. After all, if the BBC "broadcast" paid-for advertising to me while I am inside the UK then the BBC is arguably acting in violation of its charter.

I wonder how much money the BBC makes because they were willing to ignore the "standard" advice that the Internet has no borders?

Lesson for businesses: if your tech support team tells you that you can't make money because "the Internet has no borders", then it's time to get a more creative tech support team.

31 May 2010

Pakistan opens door to Facebook after a change

A court in Pakistan has ruled that Pakistan's telecommunications companies should once more allow access to Facebook traffic. Reports can be found in many locations including the Guardian,  CNN, and Al Jazeera.

The reporting is slightly confused about what exactly has happened. Everyone seems to agree that the court has dropped a requirement to block all Facebook traffic, and that the court has made clear that it will order whatever blocking it deems necessary to avoid the importation of illegal content.

20 May 2010

Pakistan tightens its Internet Border

Another day, another Internet Border story. This time Reuters reports that Pakistan (or to be precise the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA)) has ordered all Pakistan ISP's to disallow domestic access to Facebook. PTA have a history of ordering similar interdictions. For the purposes of my commentary the reason for the blockade is not critical. But for those of you who who want to know and don't want to click the link and read the Reuters report, basically the block has been ordered due to specific content on Facebook that is deemed illegal (to be specific, blasphemous) under the law of Pakistan.

As with the BBC Click news story concerning the UAE that I described here a few days ago, it's interesting to see that the journalist merely reports the circumstances of the site block. No hysterical reporting about how "but the Internet doesn't WORK that way" or anything else of the sort.

16 May 2010

BBC journalist describes online border

I was watching a television show this morning called BBC Click. It's a charming show that does a good job reviewing consumer information technology, mostly online services.  (In a spirit of full disclosure I said some negative things about one of their episodes last year.)

Today's Click programme was a special filmed in Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates. The presenter, Spencer Kelly, showed us what happened when he attempted to connect to a few well-known web sites. Nothing outrageous. I think he mentioned Flickr and a few others.

The camera focused on Mr. Kelly's screen displaying a friendly-looking cartoon character and a warning in both Arabic and English. I did not get the full text, but the "gist" of it was something like: "The Internet is a wonderful tool for research and communication, but you have attempted to reach a web site which includes content that is forbidden by the law of the United Arab Emirates."

1 March 2010

The Diffie-Carolina non-key exchange

I chose to announce my theory that the Cyberspace Frontier is Closed as part of an alumni program at the Information Security Group, Royal Holloway University of London. In the Q&A that followed, I found myself in a strong exchange of views with fellow part-time staff member, Professor Whitfield Diffie (famed cryptographer and crypto policy expert). Whit was not an immediate believer. After nearly two years I hope that I am wearing him down.

I was happy to find a (moderately blury) picture of that show-down discussion, taken by Bhavin Desai on 23 July 2008 and posted by him to Picasa Web.

I am the short-haired lawyer-guy behind the podium. Whit is the long-haired dude in the cream color suit who has decided to come out to the virtual frontier and "call me out", rather like a cryptographic John Wayne who still believes in a borderless Internet.

So how about it, Whit? Do you believe me yet?

The original picture with copyright information, etc is here.

26 February 2010

"Google will not survive* " (Prediction v2.0)

My post on this topic generated some interesting and thought-provoking feedback. In my post, the asterisk-footnoted qualification said: "* in its current form". An engineering-minded friend wrote to me and asked if there is anything that ever truly survives "in its current form". Having considered questions of entropy, biology, philosophy, and law, I suggested that perhaps a Hydrogen atom might.

This forced me to re-think, so let me re-state my proposition and follow-up with some additional detail. Here, then, is my Google Prediction (v2.0):

     Google will not survive*
          *as a thriving multinational enterprise with global business presence and global business interests unless and until it decides to undertake a major restructure of its corporate assets, its operational methods, and its technical architecture.

Now let me spell out what I predict will happen, unless Google decides to change all of the above.

24 February 2010

"Google will not survive* "

" *in its current form"

I have been speaking publicly about my "Internet Borders" thesis since the summer of 2008. Starting in 2009, I added a concluding slide to my presentation which said, in total,

   Google will not survive*
         *in its current form

When delegates ask me about this prediction, I have explained that it is my opinion that Google's current operating structure will not be able to survive the increasing stresses of Internet de-globalization. Google's basic problem is that its business consists of operating a single massive database of, well, EVERYTHING.

If you want to know anything, then ask Google. Google itself tries valiantly to "do no harm" as they interpret this. So when I ask Google questions using their public interface Google places limits on what I can learn. But sometimes governments of various description ask deeper and more intrusive questions than Google wants to answer. Other times, Google is criticized by governments for answering too many questions and giving up too much information.

This creates a huge regulatory "sheering" force where Google is increasingly caught between conflicting laws and regulations imposed by different national governments.

22 February 2010

Political news - political advertising

Today I tuned into www.fivethirtyeight.com, one of my favourite sources for quantitative analysis of US electoral trends.

What do I see in the top-of-page banner advertising? An advertisement for the British Liberal Democratic Party. Clearly the advertising system has made an (accurate) guess of my geo-location and served up content to match. Although my subject matter interest is US politics, the advertising market is segmented by geo-location of end-user rather than the geography of the subject under discussion.

My point is this: if the Internet is truly "borderless" then this should not be possible.

Conclusion: the Internet has borders.

6 February 2010

Facebook Country Restrictions: Your social network border patrol

Here's a quick observation. I decided to start a Facebook Page for Internet Borders. (It's called Internet Borders. I have very little imagination.)

As I started to play around with the "Edit Page" feature, I found that it was (surprise!) possible to create a list of countries where the Page can be seen. I can, if I wish, make my page viewable only in "Ruritania" thus excluding the remainder of the world.

If you want to see this feature, and you are the Admin for a Page, you can find it within the Page at: Edit Page>>Settings(edit)>>Country Restrictions.

The feature works on an "opt-in" principle. The Admin enters countries that should be allowed to see the Page. It is not a country "exclusion".

Now here's my dilemma: should I enforce borders on my Internet Borders Facebook Page? Stay tuned, and see if I decide to become parochial.

Oh, the new Page is located here.