5 December 2009

Payment refused based on where I am

My wife just encountered an increasingly common example of private sector Internet border enforcement. From our living room in London, England, she decided to purchase a gift for a US-resident family member. She logged into a US retail web site and entered her order. She specified a US shipping address. She then went to "check out" and tried to use her US credit card (i.e., a card issued by a US domiciled bank) to pay. Her credit card address of record is our family address inside the US.

So here she was: sitting in London, visiting a US web site for a US retailer, purchasing a product for shipment to a US address, and paying with a US credit card linked to a US address.

The result: an unhelpful error message stating "Unsuccessful authorization". Payment declined. Frustration ensued.

Deciding to test my "Internet Borders" hypothesis, my better half telephoned the US retailer help line. The help desk person confirmed that her payment had been denied for one reason only: the web server had (correctly) guessed that she was physically located outside the US when she entered her card details and made the payment request.

7 October 2009

Unwelcome Blogger localization


Here's a funny one for you. I have just delivered a speech at the GOVCERT.NL conference on this Internet Borders theme. You can find conference details here.

I decided to log into this blog and post a few thoughts. Working from the speakers lounge here in Rotterdam, I entered the URL for my blog (www.internetborders.com). Not surprisingly, I was directed to this blog. To my surprise, the small "ribbon" above this blog that tells you I am using the "Blogger" system was written in Dutch. On the one hand, you could argue that that this is a value-added service. Blogger clearly understands that I am sitting in the Netherlands and dynamically changes the ribbon language based on a best guess of where I am.

My knowledge of Dutch is non-existent. It took me a moment to figure out a work-around that enabled me to log-in. The quickest work-around was "guess the meaning of this Dutch word".

(BTW, yes I know that I can change the HTML of my blog template to get rid of the Blogger ribbon.)

26 September 2009

I can't watch HULU from outside the US

Here's a quick one. While reading Huffington Post, I was referred to a video of Saturday Night Live available via Hulu. Instead of a video, I was given a black "death screen" telling me that this video is not available outside the US. The site's helpful explanation can be found at http://www.hulu.com/support/content_faq#outside_us

This says:
For now, Hulu is a U.S. service only. That said, our intention is to make Hulu's growing content lineup available worldwide. This requires clearing the rights for each show or film in each specific geography and will take time. We're encouraged by how many content providers have already been working along these lines so that their programs can be available over the Internet to a much larger, global audience. The Hulu team is committed to making great programming available across the globe.

What I find interesting is the assumption by HULU that content distribution can be controlled by geography.

Still believe that the Internet has "no borders"?

29 July 2009

I can't order British groceries from Asia

The first time I gave a public lecture about "Internet Borders", one of my former students in the audience shared a story about his recent experience with online borders. He and his wife had been traveling extensively in South East Asia and they were preparing to return to England. They had been away for a long time and knew that their kitchen was empty. They also knew that they would be exhausted after the long-haul flight.

So they had a brilliant idea: they would log on to the web site of their (very well known) UK grocery store, and place an order for some groceries. They could schedule delivery late in the same day that they landed. Anyone who travels long-haul over multiple time zones will see the brilliance of this plan. Here is an opportunity to stay in-doors and recover without the need to go out shopping.

One problem: the UK grocery store web site was strangely inaccessible. The web browser and net connection was working, but it became clear that this specific traffic was being refused. Once my student and his wife landed in England they were able to connect immediately.

I have not been able to confirm this with the grocery store in question (and thus I will not identify them) but my working hypothesis is this: someone who runs the web site reasoned that people outside the UK do not need to order home-delivered groceries from a grocery store in the UK. (Perhaps the traffic was only refused from points originating outside Europe?) Therefore such "foreign" traffic was likely to be a nuisance (at best) or a prelude to fraud (at worst).

WHAT ABOUT YOU? Have you ever tried to order something online "back home" while away on a trip and found that you could not? If so, please place a comment here explaining your encounter.

28 July 2009

There's no such place as cyberspace

Every year I start my course at the Information Security Group, Royal Holloway University of London by explaining how laws (even really old laws) apply to the use of the Internet. There are only three basic rules, and the first of these is: There is no such place as "cyberspace".

This shouldn't be too surprising. The word "cyberspace" was created by author William Gibson in the early 1980's. He explained that "cyberspace" exists in our imaginations. In his fiction he described it as a "consensual hallucination" shared by billions. I'm pretty happy with that as a working definition.

Laws exist in the real world and define relationships between people who live in the real world. Laws also define the relationship between a given state and the people who have an impact on people in that state. Enforcement of law is carried out by people who use varying degrees of force with respect to other people. The common denominator? People. People who live in a real and physical world.

There is no "state" of cyberspace. It has no meaningful existence as a "place".

There is a lot more to say about this, but not today.

27 July 2009

Advertising on the BBC?

Have a quick look at BBC News online. You will find it at news.bbc.co.uk.

Here's a question for you: do you see commercial advertising? The answer will very likely depend on WHERE you are when you look at the web site.

Those of us who live in the UK do not see advertising, and there is an important legal reason that we do not see advertising. Here in the UK every household with a colour television set is required to pay an annual "television license fee" of about GBP145 (about USD240). This money is collected and given to: the BBC! Since we are paying for the BBC anyway, the BBC is (by law) not allowed to sell commercial advertising in its UK broadcasting. The BBC has taken this mandate into its online activity, and so BBC News Online does not advertise. Or does it?

The BBC is not allowed to show commercial advertising in its UK broadcasting, but it is very much allowed to sell its content to international markets - and those international outlets are allowed to charge for commercial advertising broadcast in THEIR market. So I'm very sorry for all of my friends in the US who watch BBC North America. You are not in the UK, you don't pay a UK license fee, so you can struggle through television commercials like everyone else in North America.

But what about the online operation? A few years ago while traveling in the US I noticed something unusual when I logged into BBC News Online: advertising!

So here's the thing: if you look at news.bbc.co.uk while you are located in the USA, you will probably see paid-for commercial advertising. (It doesn't always work. Try it and see what happens. Post your results here as a Comment because I'd like to know what you see.)

SAME URL leads to DIFFERENT content, depending on where you are in the physical world.

Do you still believe there are no "borders" in cyberspace?

24 July 2009

Content not available in your region

Isn't it interesting how often we now encounter this message. What do you mean "my region"? The web site operator means "where you are physically sitting and using a web browser". So when sitting in Europe it is increasingly difficult to obtain video feeds from US television network web sites. For those of you in the USA, you may similarly find it difficult to "see" video posted on the BBC web site here in the UK.

We all type in the same URL: what we actually "see" depends on which country we are in at the time we type.

Internet borders.