Since my departure from the world of full-time academia, I have dedicated noticeably less time to writing new content for this site – however, not for want of subject matter. In the course of my recent work on AML (Anti-Money Laundering) and CFT (Countering the Financing of Terrorism) I have been deeply engaged with an old favourite topic of mine – digital payment methods. Specifically, both e-money and virtual currencies have cropped up on numerous occasions as innovative, though oft ill-understood, developments, which are raising a number of issues for AML/CFT and regulation more broadly. In this post, I will attempt to give a quick overview of virtual currencies from a prospective regulatory angle, focusing on the importance of clear and logical definitions (where possible), but leaving any more technical analysis of individual virtual currencies or underlying blockchain or distributed ledger technologies to another day. Continue reading The Virtual Currency Gold Rush and the Regulatory Wild West
If you are a video game enthusiast, a fan of DC’s favourite parentless posterboy, or simply a person who has paid attention to Twitter, Facebook or one of the various platforms through which we crowd-source our real-time news, you may have heard that a little, hotly-anticipated game, entitled Batman: Arkham Knight was released this week… You may also have heard that a number of people were rather less than delighted with the quality of said game at release – particularly the PC gaming community, a difficult community to placate at the best of times. What seems to have happened is that Warner Bros, the publishers behind this game, have released a PC-port (meaning the game was primarily designed for console and then adapted for PC) which is laughably unfinished, riddled with graphical issues, and plagued by problems with stuttering and freezing (OK, I’m not quite out of Batman villain references, but this could go on for days). In the wake of this debacle, they have been quick to suspend sales of the PC version, pending further invesitgation. Continue reading Batman: Arkham Knight – The Video Game Refund You Deserve
Good afternoon one and all. I know it’s been rather quiet on here the last month of so, but I’ve been tied up with a number of projects, in addition to the fact that the glorious Bavarian summer is playing havoc with my hibernian homeostatic balance. But I’ve decided to give you a quick update on the latest in a line (previous additions to your online privacy arsenal can be found here, here and here) of handy online tools for protection of your personal data – Privacy Badger. Privacy Badger is the excellently-named brainchild of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). If you’re not familiar with the EFF, I suggest you become so, as they are a particularly laudable digital rights non-profit who get up to such activities as; defending individuals and new technologies from misdirected legal threats, organising political action and mass mailings (on issues such as net neutrality), supporting new technologies which it believes preserve personal freedoms, whilst exposing technologies and companies who encroach on such freedoms, supporting fair and open copyright policies, keeping an eye on patent trolls, and much, much more. Continue reading Fire-Foxes and Privacy-Badgers
So far 2015 had been looking like a good year for proponents of net neutrality, with the somewhat unexpected victory in the US that came with the FCC passing new regulations, strictly enforcing net neutrality on a 3-2 vote. However, there was a bit of an upset last week in the European battle over net neutrality when some of the widely-praised and popular proposals for telecommunications reforms were back-tracked upon by the European Commission and the majority of the national representatives of the Member States in the European Council. As WIRED UK puts it;
Less than a year after the European Parliament voted to enshrine net neutrality in law, the principle has come under attack by the European Commission.
I admit it, from the title, and most likely from my excited writing style in the rest of this post, it will very much seem like I’ve been paid to write this by the bank. But the truth of the matter is much more mundane: I’m simply childishly excited by new toys, and my newest toy at the moment is the bank account I just opened with the new completely-online bank NUMBER26. At the moment, the service is only available to customers in Germany and Austria, but there are plans to roll out to other countries relatively soon.
While it has come across my radar before, a colleague of mine at the Forschungsstelle für Verbraucherrecht reminded me today of a pretty handy, though perhaps under-utilised, tool for digital consumers, namely the website www.YourOnlineChoices.com “A Guide to Behavioural Advertising”. The front page offers a wide range of different countries and languages to choose from (including Romansch, though not Irish… even though the latter is an official language of the EU, but the former not), and this cheery message:
Welcome to a guide to online behavioural advertising and online privacy.
On this website you’ll find information about how behavioural advertising works, further information about cookies and the steps you can take to protect your privacy on the internet.
This website is written and funded by the internet advertising industry and supports a pan-European industry initiative to enhance transparency and control for online behavioural advertising.
Happy New Year ladies, gentlemen, all in between, and none of the above! As always a new year brings new resolutions to be broken, new goals to be abandoned, and, of course, new hoaxes to be unmasked like a particularly tiresome episode of Scooby-Doo. Once again, and while 2015 is still knee-high to a grasshopper, our latest digital hoax and viral spread of legal misrepresentation comes to us from the realm of The Facebook. Much as with our last round of myth-busting, “Digital Panic! No, Facebook Is Not Spying on You Through Their Messenger App“, this time my, and no doubt your, Facebook news feed is a blaze with well-intentioned warnings about the depths to which Facebook has descended in its quest to steal Copyright, identities, souls and more than likely candy from babies. As much as this makes fascinating, if somewhat depressing reading, and as much as it pains me to take on the role of spoilsport in this micro-drama of the Erin Brockovich-esque user who first uncovered and took a stand against Facebook’s perceived changes in its Terms of Service, I must sadly inform you that this is once again nothing more than a not-particularly-elaborate-but-worryingly-effective hoax.
I was recently lucky enough to be asked to give a short presentation at the 2014 Edinburgh Postgraduate Law Conference, entitled “Innovation in the Law: New Challenges, New Perspectives“. The organising committee, in conjunction with the Edinburgh Law School and the Institute for Academic Development put on a great two-day event, creating a brilliant opportunity for PhD students, early career researchers, established academics and interested parties to swap ideas, talk at length about their personal obsessions, bemoan the constant struggles that are funding, exercising the power to say “no”, and engage in ample usage of the term “interdisciplinary”. I’d like to thank again all involved in the organisation of a thoroughly enjoyable event, and of course the Forschungsstelle für Verbraucherrecht for continuing to finance my wanderings around Europe in the name of digital consumer protection.
The talk I gave in the panel on “Technology and Law: Confronting Uncertainty, Testing Promises“, was entitled “2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Back: The Problematic Protection of Consumers of Digital Content“, the article and slideshow for which you can find below. Rather than the traditional (and oft beset by delays) practice of publishing conference proceedings in a printed version, the conference chose the novel approach of asking the speakers to present their ideas in a 1,000-word blog post, which was then made available on the conference website for anyone who wanted to read up on the topics in advance on the talks. I thought this was a particularly useful tool in preparing for the panels I attended. Continue reading 2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Back: The Problematic Protection of Consumers of Digital Content
Exactly one month ago, on the 29th of September 2014, I gave a talk in the LVR-LandesMuseum in Bonn at the International Conference on Consumer Research 2014 – “Challenges for Consumer Research and Consumer Policy in Europe”. This was also the event at which I had the pleasure of hearing Professor Armin Falk’s talk on mice, morals and marketplaces (which I wrote about in “Of Mice and Markets“). I would like to thank Dr. Christian Bala and the Kompetenzzentrum Verbraucherforschung NRW again for the opportunity to talk at this conference, and bore a captive audience with my thoughts on the future of net neutrality policy in Europe. Continue reading A More European Approach to Net Neutrality
As some of you might remember, a few months back I wrote about imminent reforms to UK copyright law exceptions, including finally allowing users to create backup copies and ‘personal copies for private use’ of their digital media (such as burning a CD onto your computer, or transferring music to your MP3 player or phone…. yes, up ’til now this wasn’t actually allowed), and all-importantly introducing a parody exception to copyright law in the UK. In March the UK Intellectual property Office (IPO) also issues a guidance paper on copyright exceptions, which can be viewed here. However, these changes were significantly delayed from their original implementation goal of June, as the Parliament continued to debate the exact scope, wording and effects of these changes. Continue reading Reforms to UK Copyright Exceptions FINALLY Come Into Effect
I was going to go with “Morals, Mice, and Markets” as the title for this post, but I just couldn’t resist the rare chance at a weak Steinbeck pun. These morally relevant mouse markets I speak of are those described wonderfully by Professor Armin Falk at his keynote speech at the International Conference on Consumer Rights (at which I gave a somewhat less gripping talk on European Net Neutrality). His talk, though somewhat less creatively named than I would have done, was an absolutely fascinating look at the potential effects of markets on moral behaviour and investigating whether people make decisions in a market situation which they would, for moral reasons, never make in a more proximate individual situation. Continue reading Of Mice and Markets
UPDATE 05/01/12: For those of you searching for information about the “Copyright Meme” hoax of January 2015, I have written a new post dealing more specifically with that incident, but also drawing heavily from the warnings and advice I give here regarding having a healthy level of skepticism when it comes to Facebook status updates, and how to actually protect your digital self, see “Digital Panic 2.0! Facebook Are Still Not Going To Steal Your Copyright / Identity / Soul!”
Just because the fourth instance of people reacting to the changes regarding the Facebook app and Facebook messenger app has come to my attention, I think I should make this clear; Articles and posts saying that Facebook can now spy on you and take pictures of you are sensationalist nonsense. There are a lot of people deleting the Facebook messenger app, and exhorting their comrades to do likewise in a fit of data-security-conscious zeal…. Perhaps missplaced zeal though, as to people like me, the “changes” in these app permissions don’t seem all that new or nearly as evil as they have been portrayed. If you already use the normal Facebook app, or even use Facebook at all, the permissions you are giving for the messenger app are really nothing new. If you’re truly worried about data protection and misuse of data, don’t use Facebook. My first piece of advice is that you read the Snopes.com page on this latest situation – “Facebook Messenger“. Indeed, any time you read something online which you think sounds a bit over the top, you should most definitely check Snopes to get a better idea of how well researched these ideas are. Continue reading Digital Panic! No, Facebook is Not Spying on You Through Their Messenger App
This will be another post based on work I did during my time at the University of Edinburgh last year – this time covering the weird and wonderful topic of “augmented reality”. While it may sound like a rather sci-fi idea, augmented reality is posed to become more and more a part of our everyday life, especially in our interactions as consumers. I’d like to thank the excellently titled “Professor of Computational Legal Theory” Professor Burkhard Schafer for his fascinating, and at times bizarre, course on AI, Risk and the Law, in which we discussed sex robots, virtual reality courtrooms, penguins living on landmines and many other “you-had-to-be-there-to-understand-why-it’s-relevant” topics, and for giving me the chance to research this emerging and most likely problematic area of law.
Continue reading An Introduction to Augmented Reality and the Law
Korea seems to have taken a rather forward-thinking stand on digital consumer protection, particularly the rights of consumers of directly downloaded digital content such as apps. This is a protection sadly lacking in the recently transposed Consumer Rights Directive in Europe, which goes a short way towards harmonising rules on digital content, and defining what digital content is, but falls short of giving it the protection of “goods” or extending full rights of withdrawal to digital downloads. This Korean move, made by Korea’s competition watchdog the Korea Federal Trade Commission, forces app-stores to revise their policies, amongst others, on refunds, changes to terms of service, and prohibitions on automatic billing after a free trial period.
See Shin Ji-hye, “Google, Apple ordered to revise unfair App store terms”, (6 July 2014), The Korea Herald, available online at http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20140706000270
I was recently asked by my boss to prepare a short paper on the functioning of “Super Complaints” as a form of consumer protection enforcement in the UK. This was of particular interest as many regulatory systems, as well as many academics (particularly in Germany), primarily see private law as the main vehicle for consumer protection. Continue reading Is It a Bird? Is It a Plane? No, It’s a Super-Complaint!
Whenever justifying to myself and others precisely why I spend several hours a week taking part in online classes with Coursera rather than actually working on more pressing responsibilities, such as my job as a research fellow at the German research centre for consumer law or my nascent PhD thesis, I inevitably turn to the excuse that these courses are part of a broader continuing education, as well as being of interdisciplinary (such a useful term) relevance. Imagine my pleasant surprise then recently, at a conference co-organised by our research centre (Forschungsstelle für Verbraucherrecht) on consumer protection and investors, to find that not only once, but at multiple points during the conference my most recent sources of undisciplined distraction were of direct relevance to the talks being given. In a room packed with legal academics, practising lawyers, economists and various consumer protectors it is perhaps not that surprising that my new-found interest in behavioural economics, thanks to Dan Ariely’s fascinating “Beginners Guide to Irrationality” class, became extremely useful; furthermore, and somewhat surprisingly given the reputation of us legal-types for being amoral argumentative robots, my recent experiences of Paul Bloom’s “Moralities of Everyday Life” turned out to be relevant. The latter was discussed in reference to Daniel Kahneman‘s dual process theory of human reasoning – (1) intuition, and (2) reasoning – which I first encountered as a way of judging how and why we initially judge something as moral or immoral, but which of course is also of the utmost relevance when discussing how consumers reach decisions in a behavioural economics world. The former was discussed repeatedly as speakers discussed the failings of current preconceptions about the behaviour of “rational” consumers. Continue reading Homo Irrationalis: Consumer Policy, Information and Irrationality
UPDATE: The text of the Regional Court of Berlin’s dismissal of the vzbv’s case has been published by Spielerecht.de. As suggested below, the vzbv’s focus on Steam accounts themselves rather than individual licences for games may have been unhelpful, but in addition the court seemed unconvinced that video games were merely software, but rather a mix of a number of elements, and as such Usedsoft may not be directly applicable. A helpful update, in English, of these developments and the court’s reasoning has been provided by Felix Hilgert and Konstantin Ewald of Spielerecht.de “Update: Valve May Prohibit Steam Account Transfers – German Judgment Published”
“Network Neutrality”, more commonly referred to as simply “Net Neutrality” is the concept, coined by Columbia media law professor Tim Wu, that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially based on user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication. Continue reading Why Consumers Should Be Worried About Net Neutrality
John Walker, of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, recently wrote a very interesting (not to mention comprehensive) article entitled “Why Games Should Enter the Public Domain” on the place of Public Domain in the video game industry. His argument is particularly interesting in that he goes even further than the standard pro-public domain and pro-creative commons attitudes of many gamers and consumers of digital media. He argues for a radical restructuring of how intellectual property rights are handled in this area, with a suggested strong reduction of the length and strength of intellectual property protection for creators. Furthermore, Walker does not simply write this from the standpoint of an ‘everything-should-be-free’, unrealistic consumer, but rather also as a man who has benefited economically from his own video game journalism. One of the key points to take away from Walker’s argument is that the lengthy protection currently afforded to most works in this industry do not in fact end up benefiting the “creators” themselves (a tricky group to pin down at the best of times, as the core development team can span from solo undertakings to the hundreds), but rather the large publishing and media giants who retain the rights to such games. Continue reading Rock, Paper, Public Domain
Recently, whilst doing some research on the concept of ownership and licensing in the video game industry, I came across a very interesting paper by Christopher J Cifrino entitled “Virtual Property, Virtual Rights: Why Contract Law, Not Property Law, Must Be the Governing Paradigm in the Law of Virtual Worlds“. In this paper, Cifrino argues (unsurprisingly if you read the title) that contract law might actually be the best and fairest way to continue dealing with the legal relationship between the gamer/consumer and the developer and/or publisher. Continue reading EULAs and Online Gaming – Simply a Better Fit Than Property Law?