Tag: law

Privacy and Piracy: Investigating Unauthorized Online Gaming

Editor’s Note: This is the third post in our Law in Computation series. When we play an online game like World of Warcraft, where are we? This is not just a metaphysical question—are we in the fantasy world of Azeroth or in front of our computers—but a legal one as well. And there are multiple answers to that legal question. We might take a look at the space of intellectual property at the level of code and creation, whether corporate or by the players. There is also the space of law within the game, of the rules and norms guiding play (De Zwart and Humphreys 2014). What I’m concerned with here, though, are the servers, located in physical places, that connect players through infrastructures of connection whose worlds are sometimes disconnected by proprietary and computational decisions of game world owners. Servers keep online games alive. When online gamers talk about a game world being disconnected, they often point to the server as being “unplugged” or “turned off.” While official game servers are typically owned by game developers and corporations, players are now harnessing this power themselves, using privately-owned servers (“private servers”) as a viable solution for restoring and sustaining older versions of online games previously consigned to oblivion. But why? (read more...)

From Law in Action to Law in Computation: Preparing PhD Students for Technology, Law and Society

Editor’s Note: This is the inaugural post for the Law in Computation series, a collection of blog posts from faculty and graduate student fellows at UC Irvine’s Technology, Law and Society Institute. Leading up to a summer institute in 2018, the series provides examples of research and thinking from this interdisciplinary group and elaborates how sociolegal scholars might address new computing technologies, like artificial intelligence, blockchain, machine learning, autonomous vehicles, and more.  In 2015, a robot buying illicit items off the “dark web” was confiscated by the Swiss authorities along with its haul of Ecstasy pills, a Hungarian passport, counterfeit designer clothing, and other items. Dubbed Random Darknet Shopper it was a bot programmed to shop on the dark web using Bitcoin, the pseudo-anonymous cryptocurrency that, at the time of my writing, is experiencing an enormous bubble. Previously assumed to be the domain of criminals or drug dealers, the Bitcoin bubble has made it more mainstream, even on popular television shows like The Daily Show and is being discussed at policy forums worldwide. It increased in value from just over $1000 to over $8000 between February 2017 and February 2018, with a peak at over $19,000 in mid-December 2017. While it was pretty obscure just a few months ago, you probably have a cousin or uncle currently “mining” Bitcoin or trading in similar digital tokens whether you know it or not. (read more...)

The Migrant’s Right to a Digital Identity

Editor’s Note: This is the second post in our Law in Computation series. According to the World Bank, over 1 billion people live without a formally recognized identity. With funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, Accenture and Microsoft, and motivated by UN Sustainable Development Goal 16.9, to “provide legal identity for all” by 2030, the ID2020 Alliance is a UN sponsored public-private partnership with plans to make “digital identities” more accessible for refugees, stateless and displaced populations through biometrics and blockchain technology. As an executive at Accenture explains: “Digital ID is a basic human right.” (read more...)

Locating Servers, Locating Politics

When we think of servers, like web servers and Amazon servers, we don’t usually think of them as occupying physical space. We might think of a remote data center, thanks in large part to images that have been circulated by companies like Facebook and Google. But still, these only visualize unmarked buildings and warehouse rooms, showcasing a particular tech aesthetic of colored wires and tubes, and neatly assembled rows of blinking machines (Holt and Vondereau 2015). Such imagery is hardly meant to provide the public with a sense of where servers are actually located. For most day-to-day computer users, it often doesn’t matter at all whether servers are in the U.S. or China or Russia, so long as they work.     But server location matters, and many groups of people value certain material benefits and effects of the placement of servers and their own proximity to servers. It matters (read more...)

Unpredictable Technologies: The need for thick description in regulatory decision-making

I call myself a scholar of information, communication, and technology with a view toward influencing law and policy. To that end, my motto over that last few years has been “Social Science matters!” And by that, I really mean that qualitative research, or research aimed at understanding how people and organizations actually use technology, is important for creating good law. To this end, ethnographic study, the kind that produces thick descriptions of people and culture, should be MO of any body tasked with writing regulations. Recently I was asked to participate in training a group of telecommunications regulators who want to conduct a regulatory impact assessment (RIA). A RIA is a thorough investigation of the possible impacts of a proposed or revised regulation. In the most basic sense, the investigation is used to forecast whether the new rule will achieve what it’s supposed to, and what else could happen. Countries around the world use RIAs to evaluate regulatory needs and possible interventions. US federal agencies have been required to conduct and submit RIAs since the early 1980s, and President Bill Clinton codified this requirement in 1993 with Executive Order 12866. A second executive order, 13563, requires that agencies use “the best available techniques to quantify anticipated present and future benefits and costs as accurately as possible.” (read more...)