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Roger Clarke's 'Netethiquette Cases'

NET-ETHIQUETTE
Mini Case Studies of
Dysfunctional Human Behaviour on the Net

Roger Clarke

Principal, Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, Canberra

Visiting Fellow, Department of Computer Science, Australian National University

© Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998

Available under an AEShareNet Free for Education licence

This document is at http://www.rogerclarke.com/II/Netethiquettecases.html


These instances have been selected specifically because they are instances of dysfunctional human behaviour on the net, or may be interpreted by some people to be so. I make clear that I'm an enthusiastic user and promoter of services available over the emergent information infrastructure. Indeed (along with thousands of other people), I've made a few contributions to its development. My purposes in this particular project are to address, and to contribute to the management of, some of the downsides of the networked world.

THIS PAGE IS WORK-IN-PROGRESS (and always will be ...)

Here's a reference list of some electronic and hard-copy materials.


Departments

Classifying these cases is a nightmare. The organisation below is fairly arbitrary, and intended to offer some appearance of structure among the chaos.


Information Overload

  1. Someone sends a message to an emailing list, which has very limited relevance to the purposes for which the list was established.
  2. Someone replies to the list criticising the person who posted the first message.
  3. A flurry of discussion ensues, which has nothing to do with the ostensible purpose of the emailing list, and everything to do with the list's management.
  4. Someone sees a message from a friend, and sends a reply. It transpires that the original message came not directly from the friend, but from an emailing list. The result is that the response is broadcast to the several thousand people on the list.
  5. Someone generates a 'chain letter', and lots of the recipients pass it on to lots of their friends. The standout example is the 'chain reaction' letter of July 1995, protesting about Chirac's resumption of nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll. The originators (postgraduate students in physics in Japan) were buried in thousands of replies, installed a web-page, and sent email messages chasing the chain, requesting people to stop sending them messages.
  6. Someone with an axe to grind sends a message to many mailing lists. The message is entirely irrelevant to most of the lists (this has been referred to as 'kook spamming').
  7. Someone who wishes to join or leave an emailing list sends an email to the complete list, rather than to the list administration address, and the list management software fails to filter the message out.
  8. Someone who needs to filter the data available in a database has no search tool available which is appropriate to a person of their particular educational background.

Rumour and Accidental Misinformation

  1. Someone sends a message which misleads readers into assuming facts that aren't. This may be because of the tense or expressions used.

Note that this most commonly arises where the originator of the message has relatively high credibility, and/or reflects a sentiment popular within the community/ies the message reaches. Here is a compendium and advice. Note that accidental misinformation and intentional misinformation can be very difficult to distinguish.

Negligent Defamation

  1. Someone sends a message to a person which contains assertions of a factual nature, about the recipient, that transpire to be misleading or false.
  2. The message is cc'ed to further people.
  3. The message is posted by one of the recipients to a newsgroup.

Note: To be defamatory in law, then, depending on the jurisdiction, the originator would have to have failed certain tests, e.g. to have not reasonably believed in the truth of the assertions, to have failed to take reasonable precautions, and/or to have intended that the assertions harm the person concerned. See Timothy Arnold-Moore's (somewhat legalistic) paper on defamation on computer networks.

Persistence

  1. A person leaves someone on a mailing list, or in a local nickname or alias, even though they have asked to be removed.

Minor Plagiarism

  1. While writing an assignment, a junior student seeks out material on the web, downloads it, and incorporates it into their answer, without taking sufficient care to provide appropriate attribution to their sources.

Inadequate Care with Data

  1. Someone sees a message from a friend, and sends a reply which includes confidential information, or comments highly derogatory about another person. It transpires that the original message came not directly from the friend, but from an emailing list. The result is that the response is broadcast to the several thousand people on the list.
  2. As a service to its local community, a University makes the identification details and contact points of its students available on the net.
  3. As a service to its local community, a University makes the identification details and contact points of its students available on the net. Some of the students have unlisted numbers, which they have disclosed to the University on the assumption that they will only be used within the context of student administration.

Note: In relation to the first case, this depends on the setting of the Reply-To variable, which is controlled by the list-owner. Many list-owners assume that their community is network-savvy, and set the variable to reply-to-list rather than reply-to-originator. Generally, however, network communities are not mature enough to take this risk.

Netsearching / Trawling / Spidering

  1. A person makes comments in what they assume is a restricted context, such as a specific newsgroup. Software tools (generically referred to as indexing or concordance tools, search-engines, robots, wanderers, and more vividly as 'spiders') crawl around the web building cross-references. People discover these comments remote from the original time, space and context.

Note: For an authoritative source on the topic, try Martijn Koster's page. The latest, most powerful, and therefore most accidentally threatening tools are Deja News (for newsgroups) and Alta Vista. In the spirit of spidering, I offer an html'd version of a relevant message by Tim May on the cypherpunks mailing list.

Intentional Misinformation

  1. Someone spreads a rumour which they know is unfounded, or distributes seemingly hard information which is incorrect, and which is intended to cause difficulties for someone else.

Note: See the Apple/Sony rumour, and a story that suggested that a particular virus can be propagated by email - the so-called 'Good Times' Virus. See also one 'Good Times' Virus FAQ, and another (I'm not sure which is the original ...). This subsequently re-surfaced as PenPal Greetings.

Note that intentional misinformation can be very difficult to distinguish from accidental isinformation.

Flaming

  1. Someone sends an email message containing foul and/or abusive language about the person to whom it is addressed.
  2. A participant in a synchronous 'chat' session uses foul and/or abusive language about another participant.
  3. Someone sends an email message containing foul and/or abusive language about one of the addressees of a message.
  4. Someone sends an email message to a small group of people containing foul and/or abusive language about another person relevant to the group.
  5. Someone sends an email message to a large number of people using foul and/or abusive language about another person who is only moderately relevant to the group.

Intentional Defamation

  1. Someone sends a message to a person which contains assertions purporting to be factual, about the recipient, that the sender knows, or reasonably should have known, to be false or constructively misleading.
  2. The message is cc'ed to further people.
  3. The message is posted by one of the recipients to a newsgroup.

Note: See Francis Auburn's paper on the Western Australian Rindos v. Hardwick newsgroup defamation case. Timothy Arnold-Moore has made available a (somewhat legalistic) paper on defamation on computer networks. There's also the Interactive Services Association's views on the Stratton Oakmont libel case against Prodigy.

Harassment

  1. Someone sends a succession of email messages to someone else, although it is clear that the recipient does not want to maintain the conversation.
  2. Someone implements a program to intercept a person's email traffic. The purposes the interceptor has in mind are to block some or all messages, to send an automated response to the sender, to send a copy to some other person, and/or to modify and re-transmit the message.
  3. Someone sends an email message to someone else, suggesting various acts of violence, which the sender would like to, or intends to commit on the message-recipient.
  4. While participating in a multi-user dungeons and dragons game (or MUDD), someone depicts a highly graphic rape of one of the other participants.

Note: In relation to case 4, the article was first published by Julian Dibbell in 'The Village Voice' (Greenwich, presumably), December 21, 1993, p.38.

Mail-Bombing

  1. Someone sends many email messages to someone else's mailbox, with the intention of causing at least inconvenience in sorting out real mail from nuisance mail, and perhaps a disk-overflow and therefore even more serious inconvenience.
  2. Someone organises many people to despatch email messages to someone else's mailbox, etc.
  3. Someone sends very large messages to someone else's mailbox, etc. This is usually performed by attaching very large files, such as the source-code for a Microsoft product.

Note: In relation to case 2, a notable example was the campaign to fill Jacques Chirac's mailbox after he announced the Mururoa Atoll tests.

Obscenity

  1. Material is made available over the net which some people find objectionable.
  2. Unsolicited material is sent over the net to various people, some of whom find it objectionable.
  3. Material is made available over the net which infringes the obscenity laws of some jurisdictions.
  4. Unsolicited material is sent over the net to various people, which infringes the obscenity laws of some of the jurisdictions in which they are located.
  5. Solicited material is sent over the net to various people, which infringes the obscenity laws of some of the jurisdictions in which they are located.

Note: I maintain a page of pointers to key sites concerning regulation of the net, most of which are stimulated by pornography concerns. The recent switching-off by Compuserve of access to USENET newsgroups was also stimulated by the same concern, in that instance by German authorities. The story about Compuserve switching it back on again is also interesting.

Incitement

  1. Someone posts to a bulletin board explicit instructions on how to make letter-box bombs, pick locks, make plastic explosives in one's garage, or make an atom bomb.
  2. Someone posts to a bulletin board a list of valid credit-card numbers, to demonstrate the insecurity of a computer installation.
  3. Someone posts to a bulletin board a list of valid credit-card numbers, and suggests that they be used to perpetrate financial fraud.
  4. Someone sends emails to one, a few, or many people, criticising some class of people (e.g. those of a particular ethnic origin, or of a particular religious persuasion), and urging that action be taken against such people, their property, or their meeting places.

Check out EFF's page on 'hatespeech', and Harvard Law School's 'Guide to Hate Groups on the Internet'.

Impersonation

  1. Someone uses the security weaknesses inherent in an email package or systems software to send a message which appears to come from someone else. The message says something highly derogatory about someone.
  2. Someone uses the security weaknesses inherent in an email package or systems software to send a message in such a way that it appears to come from the Lecturer-in-Charge of a unit of study, and advises that the current assignment has been cancelled.
  3. A male participant in a chat session or an electronic conference represents themselves as being female, and attracts the trust of other females, with the result that some of them confide sensitive information with the impersonator.
  4. A participant in a multi-user dungeons and dragons game (MUDD) represents themselves as a person of the opposite gender.

Note: In relation to case 3, the perpetrator was a New York clinical psychologist. For some background in this area, try the Electronic Frontier Foundation's FAQ on anonymity, and material and pointers in my dataveillance page.

Surveillance

  1. An employer openly monitors the senders and recipients of email traffic to and from their employees.
  2. An employer openly monitors the content of email traffic to and from their employees.
  3. An employer surreptitiously monitors email traffic to and from their employees.
  4. An employer surreptitiously monitors email traffic to and from their employees, but, when challenged, denies that they do so.
  5. A law enforcement agency takes advantage of loopholes in existing law to demand information about net-users' behaviour from their Internet Services Providers, without a warrant or other form of external control.
  6. A provider of a software product builds into it a means whereby data about client-workstations and their users can be captured and made available to distant servers that they communicate with.
  7. Teams of people developing enhancements to Internet architecture intentionally build in means whereby servers can monitor behaviour and data on remote client-workstations.

Cases 6 and 7 are modelled on Netscape's Cookies, and an emergent generalised feature of forthcoming Internet services. Note that surveillance by marketing organisations may be linked with spamming.

Spamming

  1. An organisation sends an advertisement for its services to many mailing lists. The services are in some way relevant to the topics which some of the lists address, but are entirely irrelevant to most.
  2. Many people reply, the vast majority expressing very negative sentiments. The organisation's mailbox overflows.
  3. A few people attach 8MB files to their replies. (This is referred to as ' mail-bombing'). This results in an overflow of the disk-drive of the network services provider who provides the organisation with its electronic mailbox, and seriously inconveniences the provider's hundreds or thousands of other clients.

Note: These cases are modelled on the Cantor & Siegel case in early 1995. (They offered legal services relating to applications for green cards). Unfortunately I can't many net-reference for the history of the case. See, however, http://www-math.uni-paderborn.de/~axel/BL/#list.

Here's my standard reply to spammers.

Here's my separate paper on spamming, which pursues the analysis much further. Note that the effectiveness of spamming is dependent on the effective implementation of consumer surveillance .

Advertising, Promotion and Soliciting

  1. An organisation sends an advertisement for its goods or services to mailing lists whose subscribers can reasonably be expected to have some interest in the products.
  2. An organisation which provides a gratis or very cheap service on the net devises a way to offer space on the page to sponsors or advertisers. The ads do not intrude unduly (e.g. the images occupy a relatively small proportion of the page, and they are displayed after the content of the page appears and hence their display can be interrupted without loss of content).
  3. An organisation provides the same kind of service, but in such a manner that the advertising intrudes on the function.
  4. The advertiser stores the addresses of replies to its ads.
  5. The advertiser consolidates the information from the replies to its ads with other data it has on the individual.
  6. The organisation runs on off-list, or what is sometimes referred to as an an 'opt-out' mechanism, whereby anyone can nominate that they do not wish to receive any further ads, and they will be removed from the list.
  7. The organisation runs an 'opt-in' mechanism, such that the only people who receive ads are people who have expressly nominated to join the service.
  8. Here's Spam.htmlmy separate paper on spamming.

Secondary Use of Data

  1. An organisation uses net transactions as a basis for developing or improving a mailing list.
  2. An organisation seeks out and acquires data from net transactions to which it was not a party, and includes them in its database of customers and prospects.

Note: Check out EPIC's documentation of the Avrahmi case.

Here's my separate paper on cookies.

Serious Plagiarism

  1. While writing an assignment, a senior student or researcher seeks out material on the web, downloads it, and incorporates it into their answer, without providing appropriate attribution.
  2. The database the material is drawn from is a set of previous student-written assignments, together with model answers written by lecturing staff, which is maintained by students as a service to students throughout the world.

Abuse of Intellectual Property Rights

  1. An author intentionally makes material available on the net and intentionally cedes copyright, placing it in 'the public domain'.
  2. Someone appropriates copyrighted text (such as this document), or a cartoon, or an image, or video, or software, and fails to provide a reference to the source, thereby implying the work is their own. (Note that some uses are considered 'fair dealing', such as quoting less than 'a substantial portion' of the work and providing attribution to the source).
  3. Someone incites others to appropriate copyright materials, on the grounds that the Internet is common grazing land and property rights are morally unjustifiable.
  4. Someone argues that the law should be changed to delete all forms of intellectual property in the context of the net, because it is not in the economic interest of society to create large numbers of micro-monopolies.

Note: See Gillian Dempsey's guide to the application of copyright on the net. There have been lively debates raging, e.g. Ron Newman's page on the Church of Scientology's attempts to protect its restricted-access, money-earning documents;

Hacking

  1. Someone exploits a security weakness in an installation, and leaves a message for the system administrator, identifying the weakness.
  2. Someone exploits a security weakness in an installation, and writes a report to the system administrator's boss.
  3. Someone exploits a security weakness in an installation, and uses resources (such as processor-cycles, disk space and communications links) for their own purposes.
  4. Someone exploits a security weakness in an installation, and accesses data stored in that installation.
  5. Someone exploits a security weakness in an installation, and damages data stored in that installation.
  6. Someone exploits a security weakness in an installation, and gains access to another site [followed by any of the above].

Note: This is well-travelled territory, which pre-dates the Internet. Statutory laws have been amended and created in many jurisdictions intended to proscribe some or all such activities. They vary greatly in their sensibleness and effectiveness. I'm looking for an authoritative site which examines, and provides links to copies of, such laws.

Viruses and Worms

  1. Someone writes software which 'infects' other software by inserting or appending some additional code (generally including copies of itself).
  2. Someone accidentally creates an environment in which a virus or worm will propagate.
  3. Someone knowingly creates an environment in which a virus or worm will propagate.
  4. Someone creates a virus or worm which accidentally causes significant harm to data stored in installations which are infected by it.
  5. Someone creates a virus or worm which is intended to cause significant harm to data stored in installations which are infected by it.

Note: Here's an FAQ on viruses. And here's the story on Robert Morris's Cornell worm in 1988.

Security Breach

  1. Someone writes and publishes a book which explains many 'known' (but not very widely known) security weaknesses in common operating systems.
  2. Someone writes a program which checks whether 'known' (but not very widely known) security weaknesses are present in the operating system installed on a local machine.
  3. Someone writes a program which checks whether 'known' (but not very widely known) security weaknesses are present in the operating systems installed on any machine anywhere on the net.
  4. Someone publishes the program.

Like almost every other case listed in this document, this series is real, not imaginary. The program is called SATAN (Security Administrator Tool for Analyzing Networks).

Circumvention

  1. Someone establishes a web-server in a tax haven, and offers merchants a service whereby net-facilitated sales are legally made in that location, thereby avoiding paying tax in which the buyer and/or seller operate.
  2. Ditto, but the action is rendered illegal by a law in a jurisdiction in which the buyer and/or seller operate.
  3. Someone stores hard-core porn and paedophilia on a web-server in a jurisdiction whose law or law enforcement is less restrictive than that of some of the service's clients.
  4. Someone scans a banned book into machine-readable form, and replicates copies in various locations around the world.

Note: An instance of case 4 is the book by Mitterrand's physician, banned and re-published electronically within hours.

Anonymisation

  1. A so-called 'anonymous remailer' receives email addressed to a third party, removes the sender's identification, and forwards it to the intended recipient. The service provider ensures that the service is genuinely anonymous (by keeping no records of the identity of the originator of the message; or by participating in a chain of remailers, and handling messages which have nested levels of encryption - if that sounded complicated, you can check out a paper on the topic).
  2. The same service is provided, but the 'anonymous' remailer maintains an index of the relationship between the originator and the message, and is able to provide that information to law enforcement agencies in exceptional cases. This would be more correctly described as a 'pseudonymous remailer'.

Note: I have some relevant material and pointers in my dataveillance page.

Obscuration

  1. A sender encrypts their messages, and only provides the decryption key to the intended recipient.
  2. A sender encrypts their messages, but registers the encryption key with a government authority.
  3. A sender encrypts their messages, but registers the encryption key with a key escrow agent of their choice. This agent is subject to legal compulsion to disclose the key to law enforcement agencies under exceptional circumstances.
  4. A sender encrypts their messages, but registers various parts of the encryption key with various different people and organisations, such that the messages can be decrypted provided that several of them collaborate.

Note: This is actually the deepest of all of the mini-cases here, and has enormous ramifications for the future of society. For one view, see Tom May's 'crypto-anarchist manifesto'.

Compound Cases

  1. Someone sends a message to someone else, containing information about a third party which turns out to be wrong. The recipient includes it in a message to someone else. That person sends it to a relatively small mailing list. A recipient posts it to a newsgroup. Along the way, some of the associated text is removed, to shorten the message; and in the process some of the context is lost. Unbeknowns to many of the participants, some well-meaning soul archives all traffic which occurs on the emailing list and/or the newsgroup. Deja News quietly goes about maintaining a comprehensive concordance of newsgroups, and Alta Vista on, among many other things, emailing list archives. As a result, the information is locatable, for the foreseeable future, by search on the wrongfully-accused person's name. Correcting information may or may not have been circulated, chasing the erroneous message. The person concerned may or may not know about it all.
  2. The Time Magazine 'Cyberporn' article of 10 July 1995, pp.48-55 (at least, that's where it was in the Australian edition) raised a whole raft of issues, primarily about the perpetrators of the article. I haven't seen the Time article on the net, but here are some sources:
  3. Someone posts on a newsgroup a fictional account of a violent rape. The name of the 'victim' transpires to be the same as that of a person in the same university class as the author. Someone brings the story to the attention of the 'victim'. See Jake Baker's personal Information Page on the matter.

Acknowledgements

The first version of these mini-cases was originally intended as preparatory reading and deliberation for participants in a session on what I referred to as 'net-ethiquette' at the University of Southern Queensland on 26 April 1995. My thanks to several people for their contributions, especially Ooi Chuin Nee and Kevin Jeffery.



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Created: 10 April 1995 - Last Amended: 4 September 1998 by Roger Clarke - Site Last Verified: 15 February 2009
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