Visit to Stanford Law School: Wifi and the law

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I was down in the Bay Area two weeks ago mostly in order to meet some people to discuss research. My first stop was at the Stanford School of Law where I was hoping to get some more literature on the legal aspects of telecommunication laws related to WiFi. After spending a couple of hours at the library, I (and the librarian) figured that the information I was looking for was not yet publicly available.

My goal was to find as much information as possible on the case Richard Dinon vs Benjamin Smith III for WiFi trespassing (more info here or here). I believe this case is the first of the kind where somebody get sued for trespassing because he is using somebody else open WiFi connection without permission. The case may be still in progress or has been settled but there has apparently been no update available anywhere since last July.

I was also hoping to find more regulation and legal literature about wireless networking but it looks like I already found most of the ones specifically related to WiFi (there is not that much yet).

Since I was on site, I passed by the Center for Internet and Society to see if I could get some more information. I ended getting an appointment with Professor Lawrence Lessig, who gave me some really good pointers and was especially helpful in sorting through some of the issues and reducing the complexity of my project.

One of the problem I was facing was: how can I design a system where people can retrieve information about whether or not they are allowed to connect to a wireless network while they are offline. The easy way felt like a Catch 22: To know if you were allowed to connect, you would have to connect and get the information from the Internet. Therefore, you could possibly be breaking the law for the sole purpose to know if what you are doing (or planning to do) is legal.

But apparently if the intent and only purpose of the initial connection was to retrieve information on your right to connect then this would not be considered illegal. Professor Lessig recommended me to read Order without Law : How Neighbors Settle Disputes which should give me a better understanding of how this would work.

He also recommended me to look into RDF and the InfoCard research on an identity metasystem to use in my design.

So , even if I didn’t have time to really visit the rest of the Stanford campus, the trip was more than worth it.


Stanford Campus – Flickr Album

Fon Wi-Fi gets support from Google and Skype to build a (sort of) wireless freenet


As I am doing research on the interaction design issues with wireless networking, I have been particularly interested in seeing how the story with Fon will evolve. I first reported on Fon in October before they launched and I have seen that the movement was gaining some momentum even before being officially launched. but then, I figured out that the solution they were offering was not that novel — Robert Cringely reports on a micro franchisee business model that looks pretty similar — . Experts in the field of wireless and broadband were questioning it too (see Om Malik, Glenn Fleishman).FON wireless

Now that Fon has get major financial backing by company like Google or Skype, this changes the situation. Not only are they getting money but also a lot of free marketing with nearly any major publications talking about Fon. Glenn and OM Malik have posted a nice update on the situation.

I believe that we need to come up with a solution to offer an unified and enriched user experience in regard to wireless networking. The question that stands is not if it is going to happen (I believe it will) but how and when it will happen.

Fon has definitely an opportunity to get it right and has partners that can help it . But there are still major obstacles for it to become successful.


The number of hotspots is not directly linked to the value of the network. While Metcalfe’s Law

The value of a network equals approximately the square of the number of users of the system (n2) (Wikipedia)


IT@Home: Unraveling Complexities of Networked Devices in the Home

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My position paper has been accepted for a second Workshop at CHI: IT@Home: Unraveling Complexities of Networked Devices in the Home .
I will present the interaction design side of my research on end-user networking and the issues and opportunities with multiple channels to access information.

CHI 2006 - Montreal

  • How can we move from a device (or connectivity) centered approach (for ex: using a mobile phone, TV or Wi-Fi ) to a activity centered approach (watching a video, accessing securly a bank statement)?
  • How can we help turn network connectivity consumers into producers (similarly to what has been done in digital media for example)?
  • How can we help users have an optimal unified experience despite technologies like DRM, network neutrality,….
  • How do we design networking technologies to better account for information asymmetry or bounded rationality..


CHI Workshop on Public Policy

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My position paper “Public policy impact on interaction design in networked environments” has been accepted for the workshop organized by the SIGCHI US Public Policy Committee (SIGCHI is the Computer- Human Interaction special interest group (SIGCHI) of the ACM). I need to make some changes to the paper but it basically talks about the possible changes on the Internet infrastructure that could affect the end user experience.

CHI 2006 - MontrealSome of the topics worth discussing:

  • Network neutrality (see previous post)
  • How network neutrality (or the lack of it) would impact user experience with his activities online
  • the opportunity to give more information about the network connection and more control to the user
  • Do we need new laws and what should these laws say?

Network neutrality and the state of broadband

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There has been a lot of talk about the state and the future of broadband Internet lately. Since I am looking into the design of ubiquitous systems for my research and the legal perspective, I looked at the concept of network neutrality and its possible impact on wireless network infrastructure design. This year, the US Congress will probably enact legislation about network neutrality that could change the way Internet is, and not just in the US. Because of that, there has been a lot of activity and discussion about what network neutrality should be and how it should be protected.
But first, what is network neutrality?

[Network neutrality] suggests that (1) to maximize human welfare, information networks ought be as neutral as possible between various uses or applications, and (2) if necessary, government ought to intervene to promote or preserve the neutrality of the network. (Wikipedia)

Network neutrality basically means that whatever content you want to transmit over the network, this content will be treated in the same way as any other content by the network infrastructure. The Internet was built on a the principle of best effort delivery, which means it can guarantee you that it will deliver your content but it will do its best.

Best-effort delivery describes a network service in which the network does not provide any special features that recover lost or corrupted packets. These services are instead provided by end systems (Linktionary)

The 2 concepts of network neutrality and best efforts are usually associated to a third concept: common carrier.

A common carrier is an organization that transports a product or service using its facilities, or those of other carriers, and offers its services to the general public. (Wikipedia)

The best example of common carrier are post offices. A post office usually pick up and deliver letters and packages regardless of their content (unless the content is deemed dangerous to transport).

When Internet took off, telephone companies were considered common carriers and will transport the traffic from and to their clients to the Internet Service Provider (ISP) that the client has chosen.

When dial-up was still prevalent:

  1. The phone companies like BellSouth, Qwest or Verizon would provide the phone line (the “pipes”)
  2. ISP like Earthlink or AOL will provide the Internet service on top of the phone line.

But with broadband technologies like DSL, phone companies could better control both the pipes and the service .

And this is where the problem lies.


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