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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 01 December 2017, 5:33 pm

The Sky is falling

Sky TV has written to the major ISPs asking that they block certain websites because they carry materials that Sky says it has the rights to, locally.

It's drafted a note to take to court asking it for the power to do this.

The four ISPs named (Spark, Vodafone, Vocus and 2Degrees) cover the vast bulk of New Zealand's user base so any move to block access to these sites for those customers would in effect be a blanket ban on accessing those sites for the whole country.

Sky says this isn't censorship but there's really no other way to describe it.

The law, as it stands, does not allow for this. The section of the Copyright Act that Sky invokes (Section 92B, which deals with an ISP's liability) says ISPs can't be held liable for a customer's infringing but that "nothing in this section limits the right of the copyright owner to injunctive relief in relation to [the customer's] infringement or any infringement by the Internet service provider". There's nothing that says ISPs have to take this extraordinary step to secure Sky's rights.

And this really is where the problem really lies. Sky has bought the rights to this content for a geographically restricted area (New Zealand) but these days we live in a global economy where that same content is made available to other territories on varied and sometimes incompatible grounds. Sky's argument isn't really with the local telcos, it should be with the rights owners who have licensed the content but aren't enforcing those licences. I'm sure that taking Disney, Fox and Sony to court isn't something Sky relishes so it's turned instead to the local network providers to see if it can't make them responsible for the whole mess.

Piracy is a big problem and Sky clearly feels it is hard done by and needs to respond. But piracy is nowhere near the problem it was five years ago and is rapidly dwindling in the New Zealand ecosystem. Vocus says piracy rates have dropped by around 70%. Why? Because paid services are available en masse and customers are happy to pay $15 a month for a service that offers them hundreds of hours of content. I'm signed up with Amazon Prime and now that I've watched "Sneaky Pete" I should probably cancel but I'm paying about $3 a month for the service so…

This is, I suspect, Sky's biggest issue. Customers are leaving because paying $140 a month for HD, all the channels and a hard drive just doesn't stack up next to Netflix, Lightbox, Quickflix, Amazon and all the others. Competition has come to town, reset the price point and Sky has not responded well at all. Its online offerings have been slow and late to market, its service is costly and a channel-based system is no longer the standard that the customer wants.

Let's assume the court grants this injunction and Sky gets to force the ISPs in to blocking Pirate Bay and all the other sites they can find. What will happen then? Put aside for the moment the idea that the pirates will simply give up and not just launch another website and enter the amusing world of parallel importing and the Virtual Private Network.

The clever customer will simply add an extra hop to their internet connection and sign up for a VPN service and access content in another jurisdiction. Netflix NZ has a lot of content but Netflix USA has a ton of it, and there's BBC's iPlayer and all the rest as well. The ISPs won't be able to stop it because plenty of people and services use VPN capability and unless they want to get into DPI (deep packet inspection) and really breach everyone's privacy on many levels, this is a dog that won't hunt. And of course, it opens the door to other aggrieved businesses who will want to know why they can't demand similar actions from their internet provider. The slippery slope is very slippery at that point.

Sky needs to reassess its business model. It needs to offer a video on demand service similar to Netflix and it needs an interface that works as it's supposed to. It has to come to some agreement with the sport franchises about the future because without sport, Sky has no model at all and it's a long way down. It has to do that now and it has to stop blaming everyone else for the situation it is in. The market has moved on and Sky needs to move with it or be run over.

Techblog - Sky fires broadside in war on piracy

Stuff - Sky TV plan to get pirated material blocked on internet 'obviously bonkers', Vocus says

Stuff - Sky TV likely faces 'significant and costly' High Court battle

Consumer NZ - We're against website blocking

NBR - Spark: We're willing to fight Sky in court (PAYWALL)

RNZ - Piracy on the decline despite Sky TV fears, say internet providers

Newsroom - Sky TV calls the internet police 


An Apple a day

Oh I bet they had an entertaining day at Apple HQ yesterday.

Having not long released the latest update to its MacOS operating system, Apple found out the hard way that there was a slight problem with it. Log in with the user name "root" and no password and the machine gave you root access to the whole thing. Here you go, have the keys to my kingdom.


The company moved swiftly to fix it - a patch is now available - but the chap who caused the furore by tweeting to the Apple team only did so because the bug had been reported on a forum and Apple hadn't done anything about it.

Companies like customers to talk to them. They like them to say "gosh you're super" and "wow, my life would be dull and pointless without your product" but it's quite hard to get customers to just stick to these key messages. Instead, they're more likely to say "this sux" and "why doesn't your dumb thing do that thing I wanted". Smart companies know this will happen and set up forums and chat rooms and all manner of contrivances to encourage customers to say these things but in a safe and controlled location, not in the wilds of the internet where any passing journalist might stumble upon them.

But inherent in that design is the idea that someone will actually see these comments and do something about them, doubly so when your forum is one about reporting bugs and security issues and so the learning I take from this is if you're going to let customers talk to you then you have to listen and act on those discussions. Even if you say "we're not going to build a KFC bucket holder onto this new motorbike we've built because that's just silly and the grease makes it hard to work the clutch lever" at least you've read it and thought about it.

And that's all any customer can ask really.

Techblog - Got root?

NZ Herald - Apple's macOS High Sierra has a simple security flaw that lets anyone log into your Mac

The Guardian - MacOS High Sierra bug: blank password let anyone take control of a Mac


The Hell Mouth

One of my various clients is Paymark, the digital payments company and so I've become immersed in the world of retail spending to a degree which sometimes shocks me somewhat. I am not one of nature's keenest shoppers and if I can avoid it I do.

And so it is that I have discovered this phenomenon known as "Black Friday" and no it's not anything to do with Buffy the Vampire Slayer but rather is a shopping day in the US so named because of its proximity to Thanksgiving and the sales that simply driving shoppers wild with antici…. pation.

It's like the Boxing Day sales of yore but with more hoopla, if you're like me and unfamiliar with it all.

In the US it's big. Really big. Bigger than Texas big. So big, the news headlines this week are all about how Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is now worth $100 billion due, in no small part, to the outrageous sales that take place on the day (the selling kind of sales not the "on sale" kind of sales).

Locally, shops are now latching on to this opportunity and are hard at work convincing us to go and shop for Christmas ahead of time. This is good because frankly we're all a bit slack about Christmas shopping. The single biggest shopping day of the year is usually Christmas Eve which tells you how well prepared we are for Christmas Day (hint: It's on December 25 every year). Spreading the load about a bit would be nice, if only for the poor retail assistants.

This year, Black Friday has started to really take off and sales were up by almost a third over the Friday of the week before. Some shops were up by around 50% on their usual Friday sales and while we've still got a way to go to catch up with the Americans' $5 billion shopping spree, the tills were certainly ringing. If you still had tills and bells that is.

But there's a fly in this shopping ointment. In 2014 InternetNZ and Google commissioned a report ("The Value of Internet Services to New Zealand Businesses") that showed New Zealand retailers are slow to embrace this whole internet thing. I have no reason to believe anything has changed terribly much in the mean time and that's a real concern. Retailers seem to view the internet as a threat, one that brings uncertainty and competition to their market, and so they avoid it as much as possible. Sadly, ignore threats generally don't make them go away - if anything, they only make it worse when the threat becomes reality and they do enter the market. Much better to get there first and have a plan I would have thought, but that's just me.

From the report:

"On our numbers, it is highly unusual for retailers to be selling a lot online at this point, with only 3% of firms reporting that more than a quarter of their sales are made online, although retailers are heavy online purchasers. The most e-commerce enabled firms are smaller firms. We see from other Business  operations Survey data that 27% of retailers allow ordering of their goods and services via their websites, and 18% accept online payments."

Hopefully by now, nearly four years later, the numbers are a lot stronger but the clock is definitely ticking. Amazon is setting up shop (well, warehouse) in Australia and once the the battle station is fully operational, our plucky band of rebel retailers will have a real fight on their hands. Retail shopping is moving swiftly to an online model and New Zealand retailers need to keep up.

Stuff - Black Friday sales up by more than 50 per cent for some retailers

CNN - Jeff Bezos Just Reached Another Huge Money Milestone (autoplay video warning)

NBC - Jeff Bezos Worth Over $100B After Amazon's Black Friday Rally

NZ Herald - Retailers slow getting to grips with Internet (from 2014)

Sapere Group-  The Value of Internet Services to New Zealand Businesses


Black Friday.jpg


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