Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Your posts could be misused to settle scores

Most countries have enacted laws to police online publications that are libellous, criminal and violate national security interests. Publishing and republishing such posts and tweets is against the law. Cybercitizens and journalists need to be aware that republishing posts by “liking”, “retweeting” or copying the contents in news reports or blogs can also constitute a crime. Unfortunately, the drafting of these cyber laws have introduced a level of subjectivity in their interpretation and execution (Redefining Section 66 A of the IT Act), which can be conveniently misused by third parties to settle scores and for their political interests.

Last week there was a huge uproar in Mumbai, India when two young girls were arrested for a Facebook post questioning the shutdown in Mumbai to mourn the death of a popular political leader.  One girl was arrested for writing the Facebook post and the other for liking it. Both were charged for hurting religious sentiment, a section which can attract three years of imprisonment. Both these incidents led to a widespread public condemnation on the way the police interpreted the law, took action and the failure to dismiss these cases by both the police and judiciary. The political pressure from the people’s movement resulted in the suspension of the police officer who registered the case and the transfer of a magistrate who allowed it to proceed without sufficient assessment of its merits.

From what it appears, the current case in Mumbai will lead to the adoption of a set of procedures by the police to filter out frivolous complaints through a process of validation of such complaints with their legal cell.  

Cybercitizens should bear in mind that the openness of the Internet allows posts to be seen by a wider audience who may interpret their contents with a vastly different perspective and motive than your close friends.  They may also use this opportunity to file complaints to further their political interests, and in the process ensure complete disruption of normal life for the person who wrote the post. It may be wise to bear in mind that your posts can be misused by a person you trusted to settle scores or by strangers for their political interests.

Appropriate privacy settings and judicious review of what you post and tweet is essential.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Safe surfing at cybercafés

In cybercafés, where computers are shared by many users, there is a high probability of the presence of malware. Malware can be used to steal user credentials and later takeover your
account. Safety tips to keep in mind for a safer browsing experience from the convenience of a cybercafé are:

  1. Avoid carrying out online financial transactions and using websites that may reveal your personal details and financial status
  2. Restrict the use of cybercafés to internet surfing.
  3. Cybercafés are primarily used for chatting and emails. Consider alternatives like the use of smartphones for this purpose.
  4. For emails, consider setting up a dummy account to which emails from your primary accounts can be forwarded. In case of a compromise, your primary email accounts will remain unaffected.
  5.  Have different passwords for all your online accounts. This can prevent the compromise of one account from affecting your other accounts.
  6.  Change all passwords regularly after use in cybercafés from a trusted personal computer.
  7.  Logout of each account manually and ensure that your passwords are not automatically stored on the computer.
  8.  Ensure privacy of your surroundings when entering your password; people may watch you type your password in.
  9.  A cybercafé which allows you to download software onto the desktop is probably unsafe. Other users could potentially download malware too onto it. Where necessary, use only those cybercafés that restrict users from having administrative access to their computers.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sites that allow anonymous posting of your intimate pictures

Entrepreneurs abound on the Internet. Even those that set up sites which allow an anonymous individual, to repost your intimate pictures (nudes or seminudes) without your permission along with your telephone number, location and Facebook profile link. It is a sure shot recipe for reputation damage, emotional trauma and depression.  Such sites allow ex-partners, jealous friends and blackmailers an easy opportunity to publish such pictures to a wide audience of people looking for casual sex and even send email links to your friend circle.  Intimate photos may be introduced online in many ways as outlined in 3G,Cell Phones, Social Networking and the not so Innocent Obsession.

These shady sites are able to exploit sections of the law that protect sites from legal action for contents posted by users. And in countries where pornography is legal, it allows publication of such pornographic content. Copied below are some of the guidelines for submission for one such site, which I do not wish to name to provide it popularity it does not deserve.

·    You must send at least 2 pictures with your submission. At least one must be a full or partial nude image.

·    You must send a phone number or Facebook link with your submission.

·    You must be 18+, and the person you are submitting must also be 18+, they also must have been 18+ at the time that the pictures were taken.

·     In the event of any legal, criminal or civil action you agree to indemnify (the Site) and its owners from involvement.

·     Anything that happens to you, legally, or otherwise, as a result of your submission/use of this website, is not our fault or responsibility.

·    By submitting you are forming a ‘contract’ with (The Site) (an agreement to the terms listed here) and allowing us to repost your content. You are considered to be the actual poster of this content and we are simply reposting it for you.

 The site in question, also offers a takedown service for a fee. This is one of the ways, they profit.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Best practices for safe social networking

Stay safe and better aware on social networks by following these simple tips:
  • Familiarize yourself with the privacy and security settings on your social networking site and set your desired level of privacy protection.
  • Protect your online reputation by being careful about what you post. What you post online stays online. Besides possibly causing reputation damage, the more information you post, the easier it is for someone else to use that information to steal your identity, track movements, or commit other crimes, such as stalking.
  • Be prudent, say no, and select only people you would like to invite onto your social network. Once you invite friends, their posts on your page can be viewed by your entire friends’ circle and vice versa. What they post could have an impact on your reputation.
  • Do not invite unknown strangers merely because they display an attractive photograph. This is a common technique used by spammers and those with malevolent intentions to gain access to you and your friend circle.
  • If someone is harassing or threatening you, remove them from your friends’ list and report them immediately.
  • Be cautious about posts which have embedded links, even if sent by your close friend, who may himself or herself be a victim. Spam or malicious links are couched in attractive posts to ensure they go viral.
  • Do not circulate objectionable content. Report such content if you come across it.
  • Do background profile checks and be wary of suspicious behavior of unknown people or friends of friends you invite on social networks.
  • Withdraw from suspicious groups or block people you begin not to trust.
  • Do not go unescorted to meet a stranger. This applies to you whether you are an adolescent, teenager or adult. There have been cases of men who went to meet a "pretty girl" from Facebook ending up being brutally beaten and robbed.
  • Any request for money from unknown persons you befriended online should be met with the greatest of scepticism.
  • Any request for money from a friend or a friend's friend should be verified first by a phone call or through other means.
  • Avoid revealing or sexually-attractive photographs in your profile, as it will draw the wrong kind of attention. But do put a recent photograph of yourself so that others can verify who you are.
  • Limit the dissemination of sensitive personal information, as technical flaws and advertising may reveal it to an unintended audience.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Redefining Section 66 of the Indian IT Act

The use of Section 66 A of the Indian IT Act to arrest a businessman, who tweeted that a cabinet minister’s son was corrupt, drew sharp condemnation from twitter users and the national press as it appeared Orwellian. The main issue was ironically not on the use of the law, but on its definition which allowed its use in lieu of other provisions to tackle defamatory statements. People feared that the current definition would be used to instill fear and censor free speech online.

Section 66A of the Indian IT Act 2000 amendment 2008 states “

 Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,—

(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or

(b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device,

(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.

As a layman reading the law, I felt the definition to be comprehensive enough to address a wide range of cybercrimes, but not specifically able to distinguish between the very petty and the more severe cases without going to the courts.

Laws are made to accommodate the normal behavior and misbehavior of people and should not be so encompassing that the definition in itself is difficult to interpret. There is an anti social part in all Internet communication that all netizens are willing to live with, such as those messages which results in annoyance, ill will and inconvenience.

I believe that the section could be furthered refined to target cases where people are unduly harassed by vicious and relentless online messages which affect the emotional behavior of victims, leading to depression, fear and suicides. Such communications which include vulgar emails, death threats, blackmail, hate, sedition, and the posting of a victim’s obscene pictures must be exemplified.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Cyber Trolls are sadistic Anti Social Networkers

The issue of cyber trolling shot into online prominence with the tragic suicide of the 15 year old Amanda Todd. Innocent and trusting Amanda, then 13 was convinced to flash her breasts by a smooth talking stranger over a webcam. The stranger captured this image and tried to blackmail her for more private sessions. When this failed, he mailed the picture to her friends and set off a relentless and vicious cycle of cyber bullying. So persistent was the cyber bullying which followed, that it ousted her from her school and locale, and even a full year later when she was trying to put her life together in another place and school, it caught up with her - leaving her nowhere to turn.

Wikipedia define a troll as “someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”

The anonymous nature of social networks limits individual accountability, and fuels the resultant breakdown of social norms and rules which allows a small percentage of netizens called cyber trolls to indulge unchecked in vile and deviant behavior. Cyber trolls prowl social networks anonymously for every opportunity to post slanderous or downright insulting remarks on people both living and dead, who they may know in real life or are just strangers. They display no morals when writing demeaning comments on RIP pages, hurling hurtful taunts and issuing death threats to children, teenagers and even celebrities.

If individuals try to fend off their vitriol, they retaliate in packs often encouraged by others who apparently laugh at their jokes; fuelling their sadism and egging them on.

Every person expects a certain amount of abuse as part of everyday social networking, but when it crosses a threshold, both children and adult have been driven to depression, drugs and ultimately attempt suicide, triggered by the ensuing feeling of helplessness. Help is not at hand from social networking sites as they refuse to police these messages and mediate content, regardless of whether it was "potentially" offensive or controversial unless it violates their terms of service.

One of the better options for victims is not to retaliate and try their best to ignore these comments. If they attempt to fight back, it is seen as a weakness which is exploited by the pack mentality of trolls and their supporters inviting a further barrage of spite.

Cybercitizens should not support cyber trolls by agreeing with them or egging them on. Not feeding these trolls and condemning their activities will help rein in their deviant behavior. While incidents of cyber bullying may be widespread, they vary in severity. Serious cases are few, but concerns due to the potential of the problem do exist. It is also important for parents to be aware if their child is a victim or a perpetrator of cyber bullying.