The two topics 1 in legal issues and 1 in ethical issues are in bold

In this assignment you will write a short report on the legal and/or ethical issues related to running a modern web application. The assignment requires that you carry out your own research on this topic and summarise it in your report.  There will be two submissions. In the first you will nominate a few resources that you will use and identify the focus of your report.  In the second you will submit your full report.

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Background

I am involved in a small startup company developing FlowTow which we hope will revolutionise the world of online images and make us very rich (this is just imaginary, by the way :-).  The technical team is almost finished with the main features that will launch as version 1 of the application. I have been asked to review the ethical and legal issues that might impact on the company’s launch and management of this application.  The rest of the team is a bit vague on what is required, but they’ve heard that some startup companies have got into legal trouble because they didn’t understand what they were required to do by law or where there legal responsibilities lie.   They are also very keen to be seen as an ethical company and so want to understand what best ethical practice is in this context.

This is a big topic and there’s no way I can do this all myself within the timeframe. Luckily I have a team of interns (you) who are keen to show off their research skills and attack part of the problem for me.  Your job is to take some aspect of the legal or ethical landscape and write a summary report on the possible impact on our operation.

The functionality that will be part of our system is as follows:

·         FlowTow is a web service that supports users uploading images and making comments on images

·         Users must login to post images and comments, all images and comments are associated with a user and their username is displayed alongside the images and comments

·         When users register we require that they give us their email address, full name (no pseudonyms), age, gender and the city and country they live in

·         We have been very thorough about security, no HTML content is allowed in comments to prevent cross-site-scripting attacks.

Your Task

Listed below are four legal and four ethical issues relating to running the FlowTow web application.  There might be some overlap between these two as the ethical questions might have legal implications and vice versa.  Your task is to take one issue from each list, research them and write a summary report on your findings. 

Your report should be evidence based – I don’t just want your opinion on these issues, I want to know what the real legal position is. In the case of the ethical issues, your opinion will come across in your report but you should still reference what other companies are doing in your report.    

Note that you won’t find answers to these questions in the notes for COMP249. This assignment requires you to do your own research and find relevant resources and interpret them for your report. This is a learning exercise as much as an assessment task.  I will provide some initial pointers but your job is to go beyond them to find the answers.

 

 

Legal Issues

1.    Copyright. What policies do we have if users upload images where the copyright belongs to others? Do users waive their own copyright over images so that the images can be freely used by others? Is copyright on images retained by uploader, or assigned to our site? Who is responsible for copyright infringements, either uploading or downloading from the site? Is a copyright notice required somewhere?

2.    Requirements for data privacy given that we will be keeping personal data on our users and website owners.

3.    Any issues relating to our liability if there is a defamation case arising from a comment posted on our system.  That is, what happens when someone insults somebody else in a comment – what are our responsibilities and how can we best protect ourselves against litigation.

4.    What contracts may be needed with third parties who want to pay us for services such as advertising, etc.

Ethical Issues

1.    How should we deal with complaints about comments made on our system? Complaints might come from website users or organisations that are mentioned in them.  Complaints might request that certain comments be removed or modified.   Who is responsible here – is it FlowTow or the client website?

2.    What policies do we have for the uploading of offensive images, whether violent, vilifying, or pornographic? Do we need to restrict access according to age or other criteria?

3.    There are other things we could do with the user information we have since we have large numbers of comments made by users that might give clues to their interests etc. This would be valuable information to any marketing organisation. What can we do and what should we do?

4.    We’d like to provide an option to run custom advertising based on the user profile derived from our user comment database.  Is this ok? What is best-practice in using client data to generate customised advertising?

Preliminary Submission

To get you started and allow us to provide feedback you will submit a very preliminary report first that just contains:

·         the topics that you have chosen to write about

·         references for at least two resources (papers, web articles) that you think are relevant to the topic

·         some very brief comments on the resources that you have found (e.g. how is it relevant, what conclusions do you think it will help you make)

The preliminary submission is due before Sunday, 25 May 2014, 11:55 PM.  There are no marks for this submission but you must submit this in order to submit the final work.

Final Submission

Your report should be 1-2 pages (800-1500 words) on each of the two topics you choose, 2-4 pages all together.   Your report should be evidence based and you must include citations of all of the resources you use in putting your report together.  Further, your report should provide summaries of resources that you have found that are relevant to the question under discussion; so, for example, if you find an article describing a case of litigation against a company running a web application, include a summary of that article in your report as well as providing your interpretation of the implications for FlowTow.

The final submission is due before Wednesday,  28th May 2014.

Report Structure

A suggested structure for each part of your report is as follows:

·         Introduction, a brief expansion on the question that you’ve addressed

·         Resources, a summary of the resources that you’ve found that are relevant

·         Discussion, a discussion of the question with reference to the resources – this is the main part of your analysis or argument as to what we have to or should do

·         Summary, a brief recap of your main points

You can write the two sections separately but it would be an advantage if you could draw them together in an overall conclusion/recommendation.

Marking Criteria

This assignment is worth 15% of the final marks for COMP249.  The marks will be assigned as follows:

·         Quality of writing – is the report readable and understandable, good grammar, spelling, presentation

·         Use of resources – how relevant and useful are the resources that you’ve identified, have you cited them properly

·         Completeness – did you address one legal and one ethical issue fully, does your report add to my understanding of the issue

·         Interpretation – did you understand the resources that you found, does your report provide a good interpretation of their relevance to FlowTow

·         Argument – does your report provide a good, cohesive structure that embodies a useful argument for or against a particular way of doing things – that is, does it give us enough information to make decisions on how to proceed.

Each of these criteria will be given up to three marks each to make 15 marks in total.  I expect that the later criteria would be harder to score good marks in.