Brett King

Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Could SOPA kill a bank website?

In Internet Banking, Media, Strategy on January 17, 2012 at 21:50

The PROTECT IP Act (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011), is a proposed law with the stated goal of giving the US government and copyright holders additional tools to curb access to “rogue websites dedicated to infringing or counterfeit goods”, especially those registered outside the U.S. Both of these “Acts” would have massive impact globally, and could create absolute chaos. The PROTECT IP Act is a re-write of the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act which failed to pass in 2010.

SOPA builds on PIPA. Known as the Stop Online Piracy Act or SOPA, is a bill that was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on October 26, 2011, by House Judiciary Committee Chair Representative Lamar S. Smith and a bipartisan group of 12 co-sponsors. The bill, if made law, would expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods.

As proposed, SOPA would allow the U.S. Government the power to block any website from both a DNS Lookup, and eliminate it from search engine results – without needing any court order. Due to the vague nature of the bill being passed through, this could create significant chaos. So what about for banks? Would SOPA/PIPA impact banks at all? Is it in the interest of banks to support or push back against these bills?

Enforcement process

The key problem with SOPA is around enforcement actions available to copyright holders and the US Department of Justice (DoJ). The enforcement actions are unilateral, brutal and extreme. Violators face immediate action against their site and/or business, and up to 5 years in jail for infringement. The fact that you might be in another country and not subject to US law, doesn’t really factor in this process.

If a violation is lodged by a copyright holder, or as SOPA defines it “the owner or operator of such Internet site is facilitating the commission of [copyright infringement]”, the site in question can be blocked at the DNS (Domain Name Server) level and removed from all websites. Payment providers (section (b)(1)) and ad networks ((b)(2)) are required, upon receiving a claim against a site by a copyright holder (section (4)(A)(i)), to cut off all services to the accused site within five days, unless they receive a counter-notification from the operator of the accused site. Note that there is no requirement that the accused be actually notified of the accusation, and thus, they would have no opportunity to provide a counter-notice. Probably the first you’d know about it is when your email stops working, or customers start calling letting you know your site is down.

The only way to provide a counter-notice to a claim or breach is to agree to submit to U.S. jurisdiction (section (5)(A)(ii)) if you are a foreigner, and to state under penalty of perjury that your product does not fit the definition of an “Internet site…dedicated to theft of U.S. property.”

The definition of SOPA around offensive ‘copyright violation’ behavior is as follows:

An `Internet site is dedicated to theft of U.S. property’ if [a portion of the site is US-directed] and is used by users within the United States and is primarily designed or operated for the purpose of offering services in a manner that enables or facilitates [copyright violation or circumvention of copyright protection measures].

This means that YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, Gmail, Dropbox and millions of other sites would be “Internet sites…dedicated to theft of U.S. property,” under SOPA’s definition. As far as being ‘US-directed’, any contact form that enables a US consumer to enter their details, would be in violation from this perspective.

There’s an excellent review of much of these specifics around the law and how it ties in with enforcement action on Mashable.

Scenarios to think about?

So what does this mean? To illustrate simply, lets say you post a video of your baby dancing to Beyonce’s new song, filming your kids song and dance routine of their favorite bands song, you post a review of a restaurant or show a photo of a new gadget you’ve purchased. The site you hosted it on would be banned from search engines, advertising companies would not be able to do business with that company and internet providers will be forced to block their customers from accessing those sites and you the uploader would be fined and sentenced to jail for 5 years on a 1st offense.

What about in respect to banks, banking content and possible SOPA violations?

Here’s a few banking specific scenarios that I identified from SOPA that could be problematic for banks:

  • A bank promotes an iPad or iPhone giveaway as part of an offer – unless you had Apple’s permission, you’d be in violation
  • The use of an image of a car or car brand in a motor vehicle insurance advertisement
  • Credit Card Loyalty programs that promote rewards using products would be in direct violation of SOPA
  • A contact form that allows a US citizen to apply for a pre-paid Visa Debit Card on a foreign website before they travel overseas on a trip.

Let me illustrate how ridiculous this is.

HSBC in Hong Kong offers a program of rewards for cardholders they call “RewardCash“. Their RewardCash e-Shop shows products like a Mophie Juice Pack, a Panasonic Rechargeable Shaver, Targus USB powered Travel Speakers, Victorinox 22″ Carry-on luggage, etc. Let’s say that one of those companies was trawling the web and found ‘image’ violations of their product, it could be interpreted that HSBC was using credit card ‘rewards’, miles or points as an alternative currency to sell those products and circumvent US distribution chains, and a complaint could be lodged with the Department of Justice. A similar complaint could be lodged if a brand owner feared fake products were being given away from this site. They wouldn’t need proof, just the ‘threat’ of potential impact to a US IP owner.

5 days later, HSBC.com (and other domains) would be removed from the DNS databases in the US and around the world, becoming totally inaccesible. While HSBC would have the right of recourse, the damage would be massive and very, very expensive. Internet banking would be down. The main website would be down. Staff email would be down.

Now, could this scenario really happen? It’s unlikely, but the point is that SOPA would allow such an action to be taken.

Imagine how much fun legal and compliance would have with this legislation?

A disaster

All in all, SOPA simply is a disaster for the future of business, free commerce and innovation. The Whitehouse Administration cautioned in a blog post last week that it would not support any bill that did not “guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small.” While this is not a direct condemnation of the proposed act, it seems probably that President Obama would veto this bill if it was passed into law – and he’d be right to do so.

The MPAA and RIAA lobby groups that have driven this law to Capitol Hill, should not be in a position where foreign banks could be brought to their knees by nonsensical legislation. This is very one-sided legislation.

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Forget greater regulation, social media will force transparency (HuffPost)

In Retail Banking, Social Networking, Strategy on May 10, 2010 at 09:53

See the original post on Huffington here

As President Obama was gearing up last month to push further reforms for the finance sector through congress, the sector lobbyists were also gearing up for a battle of PR wits to try to prevent changes that threaten the status quo.  Senior industry players like Jamie Dimon were extremely vocal in challenging the president’s push for greater regulation.

The mantra of “too big to fail” was the protection the big banks were all hoping to fall back on, and this call was certainly an underlying foundation of the bailout and TARP initiative in the US. The fear that if the biggest banks fail, the economic repercussions would be so serious that it is less costly and more economically prudent to bailout big banks so the economy didn’t get hurt further. Such sector lobbying and grandstanding is a fairly standard reaction to such government intervention, as we’ve seen time and time again.

But there is something more powerful than regulation or reform which looks like it will be a much more powerful force for creating change that even politicians will learn to fear – social media. In the recent UK elections, voter turnout was at the highest level in 13 years, largely due to the influence of social media in creating interest and driving participation in the election.

We’ve seen social media act as a force for small business and consumers in breaking the back of long held bank policies that have been unyielding even in the most regulated markets, with active ombudsmen or watchdogs. In February of this year Citibank was forced to very publicly back down from a policy-based decision on blocking the business account of a web start-up called Fabulis. In September of 2009 Ann Minch, a long and faithful BofA customer, posted a YouTube video documenting the interest rate increase on her BofA credit card from 12 to 30%. In the video Minch comments that she “could get a better rate from a loan shark”. Bank of America was unmoved by her social media efforts, at least initially. But after more than half a million views in just a few weeks, BofA was forced to reverse their interest rate increase and in doing so set a very public precedent for other customers.

Corporations are under the watchful eye of social media

This is a trend more and more questions by customers, more reversals in policy decisions that were once held as sacred and unmovable by the biggest corporations globally – basically they were too big to be challenged.

The largest corporate bankruptcies in history (see great infographic) largely occurred due to either lack of adherence to existing regulations (Lehman Bros), unbridled greed (Enron), lack of innovative thinking (GM) or just poor management. Even though Enron and Worldcom’s collapse resulted in the creation of the Sarbanes-Oxley act, it is generally believed that it is not lack of regulation that resulted in what were the biggest bankruptcies in US history at the time, but the intent of the management to circumvent existing regulations to create ‘arbitrage’ opportunities.

Great infographic on largest corporate bankruptcies (Source:www.good.is)

Goldman Sachs is being targeted for similar practices, this time around CDOs and the sub-prime crisis. Calls for Lloyd Blankfein’s resignation are sounding around Wall Street as Goldman’s shares have plummeted 19% since April 15, knocking $15 billion from Goldman’s market cap. The issue at hand is Goldman’s active strategy to make money from the collapsing sub-prime market, such as the so-called “Big Short”.

We saw the same shenanigans during the Enron debacle with empowered traders coming up with trading strategies they gave nicknames such as “Get Shorty”, “Fat Boy”, “Death Star”. This represents an institutional, wall street embraced, increased appetite for driving speculative bubbles or exploiting regulatory weaknesses to make extraordinary profits. Traders argue that arbitrage is just an ability to read risk and hedge appropriately, but when the traders have enough clout to create the bubble that generates the arbitrage opportunity, it takes on a different life – and creates lots of ethical questions.

We are coming to a point in time where such speculative, hedging and arbitrage strategies, or even outright fraud, are going to be a lot more difficult to execute because of the force of public opinion powered by social media.

We have come to an age where those organizations who are transparent, open and engaging with their customers will be rewarded. Those who don’t understand social media, refuse to participate in the conversation, and who don’t easily integrate customer needs, opinions and issues into their organization, will be punished – publicly and without mercy.

We often talk about the privacy implications of social media, but when it comes to large corporations – you most private, sacred issues will be played out on the public stage unless you are on top of social media and it’s impact on the voice of your customer.

Get ready for open, transparent customer engagement, 2.0 style!