Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Should Laws Protect Virtual Property?

With our lives being increasingly moving online, I've been left with the question of whether or not governments should be passing laws to protect our online property.   Especially, as we consider recent events.

For anyone that has been on Digg in the last couple of weeks you would have read the story of David Airey. How he went on vacation to India and found out that  someone had stolen his Domain for his business' website, using a vulnerability in gmail, and held it hostage for money. In the case of David he was able to get back his domain thanks to the Digg readers getting involved. But if they had not he would have had to go to court and gotten them to freeze his account, as his service provider Go Daddy wasn't going to return account without him going though the courts. Now in the real world, if someone steals your house you would call the police and they would investigate, but online it almost seems like a no mans land right now.  Where there is no set state of Law. Then again,  maybe in the case of David he would have had to go to court to dispute his case in the real world as well,  given the fact that the hacker, using David's e-mail address, actually followed Go Daddy's policy for transferring ownership of a domain over to someone else.

Another incident that happened recently online was that one of the host (Randy Deluxe) from The Instance World of Warcraft Podcast had his World of Warcraft account stolen from him by a hacker (probably using a key logger), who liquidated his characters and mailed all of his money(gold) and items to someone else on the server.  Which is kind of crappy, but this hacker (or cracker to be specific) also, liquidated his guild bank,  which contained money and items from not just him but other players in his guild also.  So not only do you lose control of your account, but he had to explain to all of his guild members why he emptied the guild bank.  

Now someone might be reading this and saying why should we protect virtual property since it isn't real?  Because there is real value to that property and when it is stolen (I believe) that psychologically it probably has the same effect that theft in the real world causes.  For David it was his business that was stolen from under him,  and thus his livelihood.   For Randy Deluxe, it was hours of his time that he spent on his characters to collect items and gold that was wasted.  Time that if measured could be turned into real dollars and cents based on what he feel his time is worth.  

In the future, we might primarily socialize and do business online.  At lest that is the way that we are heading.  So I feel that it is important to protect what is already up there. Then again,  maybe you disagree.

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