Good News: Violating Terms Of Service Is Not Hacking; Bad News: Circumventing Weak Tech Blocks Might Be

from the some-good,-some-bad dept

We've been covering the ridiculous lawsuit that Facebook has been pursuing against Power.com for a while now, specifically worrying about how, if Facebook prevailed, it could mean that violating an online terms of service in accessing your own data, could make you a criminal. That outcome seemed ridiculous, but the way Facebook read federal computer fraud statutes, it was possible. Thankfully, the court has shot down that argument.

But it's not all good news. In the same ruling, the court did say that Power.com (an aggregator of data from various social networks) still may have violated computer hacking laws by changing its IP address. That's because Facebook had blocked Power.com's old IP address to try to block the site from accessing user account data. As the EFF explains:
In other words, it may be a crime to circumvent technological barriers imposed by a website, even if those measures are taken only to enforce the terms of service through code. There's nothing inherently wrong or unlawful about avoiding IP address blocking, and there are valid reasons why someone might choose to do so, including to sidestep anticompetitive behavior by other Internet services. As long as an end user is authorized to access a computer and the way she chooses doesn't cause harm, she should be able to access the computer any way she likes without committing a crime.
Of course, given the way the DMCA handles circumvention for copyright (it's not legal even if for legal uses), perhaps there's some precedent for this kind of ridiculous, totally counter-intuitive outcome.
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Filed Under: circumvention, fraud, hacking, terms of service
Companies: facebook, power.com


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  1. icon
    Andrew (profile), 23 Jul 2010 @ 1:29pm

    So if I prohibit people from saving the photos on my site locally with my TOS and then 'enforce' this by disabling the right click menu with JavaScript, does this mean anyone running a browser without JavaScript enabled, or who has chosen to stop the right click menu being disabled through JavaScript (an option in Firefox and probably other browsers too), is potentially breaking the law? Yikes.

    Good news on the other part of the ruling though.

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