There are legal and ethical issues that need to be considered when designing Web pages and using the internet.
Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) guidelines
1999 the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) set up a project called the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), which created a set of guidelines to develop access for disabled users to the Web.
There are millions of disabled users and they are often presented with significant barriers when accessing the Web.
The premise of the WAI guidelines is that if all sites are correctly designed, developed and edited, all users have equal access to information and functionality.
The guidelines encompass all disabilities that affect access to the web – visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive and neurological.
It is important because the Web is an increasingly essential resource for many aspects of daily life such as education, employment, government, commerce, health care, and leisure. In some cases, the Web is replacing traditional resources and service delivery, therefore equal access and opportunity needs to be provided to people with disabilities to ensure they are able to interact fully with the Web. This basic human right is recognized in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which specifically mentions the Internet.
Organizations may also be required by law and policy to make their web content accessible to disabled users. The WAI website provides a comprehensive list of laws and policies around the world to help organizations in their legal obligations.
The basic guidelines laid out by the W3C to enable disabled users to successfully use the Web are as follows:
- Provide equivalent alternatives to auditory and visual content.
- Don’t rely on color alone.
- Use markup and style sheets and do so properly.
- Clarify natural language usage.
- Create tables that transform gracefully.
- Ensure that pages featuring new technologies transform gracefully.
- Ensure user control of time-sensitive content changes.
- Ensure direct accessibility of embedded user interfaces.
- Design for device-independence.
- Use interim solutions.
- Use W3C technologies and guidelines.
- Provide context and orientation information.
- Provide clear navigation mechanisms.
- Ensure that documents are clear and simple.
Copyright and the Internet
In essence copyright is a set of exclusive rights granted by the law of a jurisdiction to the author or creator of an original work, including the right to copy, distribute and adapt the work.
The author of the work in general holds copyright. If an employee in the course of work makes it, the employer is the owner unless other arrangements have been made.
Copyright is, however, a form of property that can be bought or sold, inherited or otherwise transferred, wholly or in part. So, some or all of the economic rights may subsequently belong to someone other than the first owner.
Copyright covers a wide range of works, for example: books, maps, dramatic works, paintings, photographs, sound recordings, film, and computer programs. Many such works can now be accessed via the web and this has impacted on copyright protection and enforcement.
In the UK material sent over the Web or stored on servers are in general protected by law in the same way as other material on other media.
Anyone who wishes to place copyrighted material on the web, distribute or download material others have placed on the web must do so with the owner’s permission unless copyright exceptions or defences apply.
Defences can include:
Material published in the public interest.
Permitted Acts under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 such as use of work for research or study.
Fair dealing. There is no strict definition of what this means but it has been interpreted by the courts on several occasions by looking at the economic impact on the copyright owner. Where the economic impact is not significant, the use may count as fair dealing.
Examples of fair dealing can be the use of another’s work for the purpose of criticism or review, the reporting of current events, making single copies of short extracts of a copyright work for non-commercial research or private study.
The law maybe different in other countries, so copyright material may have been put on Web in other countries without infringing copyright but may still be illegal to use (i.e. download that material) without permission in the UK.
An alternative to traditional copyright is Creative Commons which are copyright-licenses that are free of charge to the public. They were developed and released by a non-profit organisation based in San Francisco. They were developed to create a more flexible copyright model, replacing “all rights reserved” with “some rights reserved” and are an attempt to address what ‘intellectual property’ means in the information age and how it can be shared.
The licenses allow creators/authors to communicate which rights they reserve, and which rights they waive for the benefit of recipients or other creators/authors.
There are four major conditions of the Creative Commons:
- Attribution; which requires attribution to the original author;
- Share Alike; which allows derivative works under the same or a similar license
- Non-Commercial; which requires that the work is not used for commercial purposes
- No Derivative Works; which allows only the original work, without derivatives
Privacy and Crime on the Internet
Internet privacy is about the exercise of control over the type and amount of information a person reveals about themself on the Internet and who may access such information. Websites collect personal information through registration pages, order forms, and survey forms among others.
Most people accept there is a trade-off of information in order to be able to enjoy the benefits and convenience of using the Internet for activities such as online shopping. However a degree of care needs to be employed as to what is submitted and looked at online in order to keep information private.
Secure websites have been created to ensure customers have maximum security and privacy in their online transactions. These use encryption technology to transfer information from the user’s computer to the online merchant’s computer. The encryption scrambles the information, preventing hackers from obtaining it.
Social networking sites such as Facebook are phenomenally popular which means millions of people are giving their personal information out on the Internet. These social networks keep track of all interactions used on their sites and save them for later use (there is controversy that such information may be kept indefinitely).
Privacy measures are provided on these sites to try to provide protection of personal information. For example Facebook has privacy settings available for all registered users. These include the ability to block certain individuals from seeing your profile, the ability to choose your “friends” and the ability to limit who has access to your pictures and videos.
Cookies do get stored on users’ computer and assist in automated access to websites. However via some cookies, websites are able to track consumers’ online activities and gather information about their personal interests and preferences. They are often seen as a common concern in regards to privacy.
Internet users obtain Internet access through an Internet Service Provider (ISP). All data transmitted to and from users must pass through an ISP. This means an ISP has the potential to observe users’ activities on the Internet though they are usually legally prevented from carrying out such activities.
A topic of debate between privacy champions, civil libertarians and those who believe measures are necessary for law enforcement are the range of technologies used by government agencies designed to track and gather Internet users’ information. In January, 2009, the UK’s Home Office adopted a plan to allow police to access the contents of individuals’ computers without a warrant. This is called “remote searching”, and allows one party, at a remote location, to examine another’s hard drive and Internet traffic, including email, browsing history and websites visited.
Other risks to privacy may include:
- Web bugs: objects embedded into a web page or email, usually invisible to the user of the website or reader of the email. It allows checking to see if a person has looked at a particular website or read a specific email message.
- Spyware: ia piece of software that obtains information from a user’s computer without that user’s consent
- Phishing: a fraudulent process of trying to obtain sensitive information such as user names, passwords, credit card or bank information. This is an internet crime in which someone acts as a trustworthy entity in some form of electronic communication.
- Malware: a term short for “malicious software” it is software designed to cause damage to a single computer, server, or computer network through the use of a virus, trojan horse or spyware
- Pharming: a hackers attempt to redirect traffic from a legitimate website to a completely different internet address. It can be conducted by changing the hosts file on a victim’s computer or by exploiting a vulnerability on the DNS server.