Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Computer and Internet Law Terms and Definitions

Deconstructing a Web transaction

What really happens when you go to a Website and look at a Webpage? Say you type http://www.google.com/index.html in to your browser. Basically you send a request to the computer (or computers) that host the website at http://www.google.com/ asking "Can you send me the file index.html?" Assuming all goes well, the server does just that. It sends your computer the file index.html. Where does the file go? Typically, it goes in to your web browser's cache folder. This transaction is called a client-server transactions. Your computer is the client. The computer running http://www.google.com is the server. The cache folder is a simple folder on your hard drive that stores the files from the sites you have visited. The intent of a cache is to prevent the need to go out to the web and re-request the same file that you have already received from http://www.google.com. This gives us a better user experience (especially if you are using a modem).

Here is a diagram of a typical client-server web transaction. CLient-Server
What does this have to do with the law? Good question. The first issue with potential legal implications is privacy. The sites you have visited on the Internet can be reconstructed from your cache or a proxy server. The files in your cache provide a "virtual paper trail" of the places you have been on the Internet.

The second issue with legal implications is one of copyright. When you receive a file from a Web sever you get a digital copy or a clone. The Internet is successful, in part, because it is based on open standards. We can all participate in this open network. Preventing someone from getting copies of pages from your site on their computer is very difficult. Even if I want to require that you pay a subscription for my Website and login with a password, you will still get a copy in your cache. It is nearly impossible to make a closed transaction in a system with an open architecture.

How is this different than purchasing a book? In a web transaction you get copies of the files from a Web site; when buying a book you receive a copy of a book. The difference is you are on a open system where you have not only the book, but the source material and the "printing press". There is nothing technically preventing you from copying entire Websites and republishing them on your own server.

Peer to Peer (P2p) File Sharing Systems
If you are the curious type, you may wonder what prevents you from making your computer a server on the open network called the Internet. The answer is not much. Go to the Apache group Website, download the most popular Web serving software in the world free of charge, install and start it up. Obviously I am oversimplifying this point (this does require some technical knowledge to configure properly), but it is basically true.

Peer to peer networks operate on the idea that every computer on its networks are clients and servers at the same time. In the peer to peer model you are simultaneously a consumer and a producer. Peer to Peer

This diagram is a more accurate representation of peer to peer networks. Many Peers

One of the more recent kinds of peer to peer networks is called Bittorrent. (See Wired article on Bittorent and it's creator Bram Cohen). Bittorent aims to solve the problem of bandwidth scarcity and network bottlenecks for distributing large audio and video files over the Internet by breaking large file into several smaller ones distributed between peer computers. If only one (or a handful) of servers are distributing large files, the servers quickly run out of network bandwidth capacity if several clients are requesting a popular file. In the Bittorent model, a large file is broken into smaller ones and each peer requesting the large file also distributes one or more smaller files. Once a peer receives all the smaller files they are stitched back together into one large file. The end result is more peers downloading a large file results in faster downloads because each peer adds network bandwidth to the pool. In the traditional client/server model each additional peer diminishes available bandwidth.

Unfortunately, Bittorent is often used to trade copywritten material. So the Motion Picture, Recording and Television Industries are able to cry foul and receive a lot of sympathy from politicians. I don't condone illegal trading of copywritten material, but piracy is used as an excuse to mask a more fundamental issue: control of content. Let me explain: the economic barrier to entry for producing radio (audio) has been reduced to the cost of a microphone for your PC and the cost of producing TV is now a $300 digital camcorder.

If this sounds far-fetched see podcasting (an Internet-based open radio network), John Stewart's appearance on CNN (watched by more people over the Web than on TV), moblogging, rebroadcast TV over Internet, etc ....

Hackers and Crackers
The term hacker has two connotations. The first is synonymous with cracker or someone with trying to illegally break into a computer information to steal something like credit card numbers or trade secrets. Here is a link to typical Hackers media story where the hackers are the bad guys.

The other connotation of hacker is similar to the person who likes to tinker with their car or "hotrod" their care. Many programmers call themselves hackers referring to creating or modifying source code for a computer program to modify or extend it's utility. This is particularly true of Open Source programmers for whom hacking means extending or changing.

Search Engines
The basic function of a search engine is to create a search index of the Web. Most search engines use a robot or crawler to do this. A robot in this case is simply a program, which follows all the links on a given Web page, updating an index as it goes. The robot repeats this process for every page it encounters on the Internet. Robots or bots can be used for simpler purposes as well. such as copying a Website to your hard drive to read offline.

Metatags are information embedded into an the html source of a Web page. If going to view -> source a browser will show the underling html markup which will likely include metatags.
Here is an example:
<meta name="keyWords"> Hamline University School of Law, HUSL, Law,

Hamline, St. Paul, Saint Paul, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, Minnesota, MN, USA, legal,

education, research, college, international, graduate, undergraduate, JD, LLM,

(from http://www.hamline.edu/law/school_of_law.html).
The purpose of metatags is to provide a search engine with information about the contents of a page. Site authors include metatags to in an attempt to achieve a higher ranking in search engines. Metatags alone, however, do not usually do enough to create a good ranking. Typically, the content on the page itself must contain extended information about the keywords and descriptions used in the metatags. Addtionally, a good search engine ranking requires other sites provide a number of links to your site. Links are the lifeline of the Internet. Without links there is no Web.

Spam and Spyware
Spam is unsolicited email. You probably have first-hand experience with spam.

If you use Microsoft Windows you probably have first-hand experience with Spyware as well (although you may not be aware of it). From Wikipedia:

Strictly defined, spyware consists of computer software that gathers and reports information about a computer user without the user's knowledge or consent. More broadly, the term spyware can refer to a wide range of related malware products which fall outside the strict definition of spyware. These products perform many different functions, including the delivery of unrequested advertising (pop-up ads in particular), harvesting private information, re-routing page requests to illegally claim commercial site referral fees, and installing stealth phone dialers.

Spyware as a category overlaps with adware. The more unethical forms of adware tend to coalesce with spyware. Malware uses spyware for explicitly illegal purposes. Exceptionally, many web browser toolbars may count as spyware.

Over 80% of Windows PCs have some form of Spyware. Running an Anti-Spyware program has become a necessity in the Internet age.
Links to Anti-Spyware software (all free)
In some cases it may be possible for users to benefit (or at least not be harmed) by software that sends usage information back to the software developer. This is controversial to say the least. Do you trust company X this much? If you trust them now, will you trust them in a year, 2 or 5?
Google Desktop Search is one example of this slippery slope.

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Thursday, February 10, 2005

My Boys

Originally uploaded by ghankstef.
Reason to get up in the morning. I can't put into words how much I love these guys

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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Stewart Copland interview on IT Conversations

Former Police drummer talks about his career as a film composer and
how he uses technology for creating music for films.

It's an entertaining presentation. See

By the way if you haven't checked IT Conversations - I highly
recommend it. Great stuff I listen multiple times per week.

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50 Gmail Invites

I have a gmail (google email) account. They have given me a few invites to share in the past. When I invite someone they replenish the invite later with another invite or 2.

Now all of a sudden I have 50. If you would like one, please send me an email at ghankstef@nospamplease-gmail.com

remove nospampleasefrom the email address of course

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Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Waste Time Even Faster

Firefox tweek to speed up browsing the Web (broadband only -we're not talking miracles here).

1.Open Firefox and type about:config in the address location bar
2. Scroll down to network.http.pipelining double-click and change to true
3. Double-click network.http.pipelining.maxrequests and change the value to 10
4. Have fun wasting time faster than ever before!

I really found this speeds Firefox up for me. Your mileage may vary

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