Thomas (boggyb) wrote,

Professional Issues in Computing, and p2p networks

So, I had to stop procrastinating and along with ptristan give a presentation on Professional Issues in Computing. All things considered it went quite well. ptristan wrote some stuff on the blackboard, and I managed to get Blay Whitby going. And ricold helped as well by hijacking the seminar a couple of times.

Anyway, we did the presentation on p2p networks (Kazaa, Morpheus, the old Napster, BitTorrent) and the legality of them (it was originally going to be a role-play-type-thing based around a RIAA lookalike attempting to ban p2p technology, and looking into the ethics of such, but that got canned when it turned out ptristan had no idea of how to run that). So, we wrote "Peer to peer" up on the blackboard, and asked people what it got used for. Popular uses inculded anime, music, warez, TV shows, etc. Then we asked them if they could think of any legal uses for it.

Now, I can think of perfectly legal uses for Kazaa and such - distributing large public domain works would be one. Creative Commons works would be another good use for Kazaa. BitTorrent is even easier - a recent example is the Star Wars fanfilm Revelations, which is available as a torrent as well as a raw download. But thses are rare in comparision to the various illegal uses. In fact, a couple of weeks ago a lecturer in Spain got chucked out of the university he was lecturing at for giving a presentation on the legal uses of p2p networks (apparently the Dean was pressured by the Spanish equivalent of the RIAA to block it).

Of course, this discussion then meandered on to other topics, such as the university's network policies. Some thought that file sharing would be banned over the university's wireless network, but the only thing explicitly banned is IRC (games are also prohibited unless you have permission from the relevant people). The fun part is that it's not blocked at the firewall, so you can still use IRC even though you're not supposed to. Someone then suggested that the university block port 6667 ('the' IRC port) at the firewall, and then run their own internal IRC server for students. Good idea, but The Powers That Be are moving away from this sort of thing. What with the new Sussex Direct system and all, lecturers are finding it harder to be able to do admin tasks and stuff. Some examples: when filling in the course feedback forms we use OCR forms (the sort where you fill in a box to indicate your choice). This is designed to be anonymous, but if there are few people taking the course you can quite easily work out who's who from the handwriting. This could quite easily be done through an online system (two tables: one lists results, and one lists users. User table marks if they've answered the questionaire, and results table contains the results. No link between the tables, and it's near-impossible to match them up as well as being easier and less error-prone to analyse the results), and be almost completely anonymous (you could work out what results someone gave by taking before-and-after snapshots of the database, but it'd be tricky to achieve). In fact, it used to be done this way, but The Powers That Be ruled against it for some unknown reason.

Another example is that lecturers now are not allowed to reveal students email addresses even to other students on the same course or in the same seminar group (so they have to bcc email addresses). I'm not sure what this is meant to achieve, as about 2 minutes with google revealed a complete list of names, usernames and position for the Informatics department, and another minutes with google showed it to be linked to from the Informatics web pages. Hey presto, I can ind out the email address of anyone doing a computing degree or working in that school. I resisted the temptation to try a social engineering trick based on that information, but I'll have to remember it to possibly try it as a third-year project. Should be fun to see how people respond to it.

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