Day 7 Predictions

From Cyberlaw: Difficult Issues Winter 2010
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In the spirit of today's issues, our collective "anonymous" predictions are set out below:

Reputation Defender

First of all, congratulations to Reputation Defender for raising $8.65 million last year (announced today, January 12, 2010).

Mr. Fertik will probably try to persuade us that Reputation Defender offers great advantages to improve our reputation (even promoted by Dr. Phil?!), and the service obviously has a lot of merit--assuming you have the ability to pay for it. It gives people a great way to remove defamatory, or potentially defamatory, content in a way where it harms nobody and helps those who it should. However, we hope that the students and guests will discuss the problems raised by this kind of business:

• Is Reputation Defender a tool to defend or artificially improve one's reputation? (And does it matter?)
• Does Reputation Defender's incentive to hide the methods they use to get content removed (sometimes as simple as a DMCA takedown) actually slow the evolution of civility on the Net?
• If Reputation Defender does intend to expand onto Facebook, as suggested in the article linked to above, would that be a privacy violation? Aren't individuals entitled to talk about each other in a social networking setting?
We'd also like to hear about the tactics Reputation Defender uses to increase Google page ranks (MyEdge) in a way that makes sure it doesn't get the Google Death Penalty, as well as what technological or legal tools Reputation Defender would add if it could (perhaps, specifically, how it would interact with Facebook).

Another apparent weakness of ReputationDefender is that while they are one company with a limited amount of employed people working for them, they might have to fight against a legion of anonymous people - which sometimes amounts to over 9,000 participants - that can be easily mobilized in certain image boards and forums. It would be also interesting to know how they would deal with this.

Reputation Defender will probably also emphasize how its product is "family-friendly" -- its website must have more mentions of protecting your family and children than the all of the other websites we've looked at in the class, combined. Is Reputation Defender profiting from a generational gap with regard to privacy? Parents may be horrified by what their children post online, and assume it will doom their career prospects, but by the time the children are adults, it may be normal to have that information freely available.

Additionally, we would be very interested to hear anecdotes from our guests about the most compelling use cases for ReputationDefender - where does the majority of their business come from? What are some surprising use cases they have seen with the product? How do they plan to expand with this new infusion of cash?

Anonymity

We hope our guests will not be too narrowly focused on the need to ensure accountability through identification and attribution. The democratic benefits of leaving an option open for anonymous contribution is important also, to help encourage frank speech and content. (As Dispute Finder discussed yesterday - their emphasis is not to resolve an issue in dispute, but to highlight for the public that there is a conflict, which cannot exist without vocalization of many different points of view, no matter how unpopular.) This made lead naturally into a discussion of how to work with governments who are much less protective of freedom of expression than the US government is, given strong First Amendment values here. In light of the well-publicized events surrounding Shi Tao and Wang Xiaoning, Ebele may express Yahoo's recent concerns with anonymity and its sometimes drastic importance outside the U.S. Continuing on the international theme, we would be interested to hear our guests' opinion about Google's dramatic announcement today about China, and wonder if it will have any effect on Mozilla.

In terms of anonymity on the Internet in the user's control, we think services such as Tor do quite a good job. We may also discuss whether it would be good or bad to allow less skilled Internet users to get access to these tools, and, if it would be a good thing, how these technologies could be built-in to the browser or bundled with the OS. There still are weaknesses associated with the exit nodes of Tor allowing hackers to access user names and passwords due to the lack of encryption technologies available. Our guests may also speak to what drawbacks are associated with anonymizing services like Tor or DomainsbyProxy which simultaneously maintain privacy for certain users, but are specifically designed to thwart disclosure requirements where they still exist.


Mozilla and Privacy

We expect Ryan and the people of Mozilla will show the great advantages of understandable privacy policies in the form of icons. This might encourage people to actually check whether a website upholds certain privacy standards. Even more importantly, it would allow users, in an easy way, to realize the diverse range of privacy policies (and the amount of information released to third parties) that various add-ons have (the Location Aware feature of Firefox version 3.5, for example, can tap into a wide range of information). The advantages of easy-to-understand privacy icons are straightforward, although we might wonder whether users will have a collective voice strong enough to cause change, or whether users will really stop visiting nytimes.com if it has certain unpleasant policies. The people from Mozilla will probably express the difficulty in creating icons that are simple enough to be understood at a glance and useable by a wide range of users when there is such wide variety in privacy policies. On the other hand, some core questions - such as if the information is "shared with a 3rd Party?"; "anonymized before being stored or used?"; "personally identifiable?"; "stored for more than x time?"; "monetized in any way?" - might be answered by relatively few icons.

As we discussed yesterday, the people at the Mozilla foundation can take any idea to improve the internet from a fanciful theory to a concrete reality very quickly. It seems likely, then, that they are deluged with causes to adopt and browser functionality to build in. It would be interesting to hear how they decided what to focus on, and why privacy rose to the top of the list. Mozilla has, in effect, the ability to bundle any plug-in that it desires with Firefox by making it core browser functionality. The guests are likely to justify why modifications to the browsers that we use are a necessary or desired way to implement them, and we should also address whether there is a happy medium between bundling functionality with Firefox and relying entirely on users tracking down and installing plug-ins (like DisputeFinder requires). Is there a possibility of a central plug-in repository that can allow useful plug-ins to take off more easily? Can the decision of which plug-ins/concepts could be "promoted" to core browser functionality be crowdsourced somehow?