Denial-of-service attack takes out Dutch government websites

Many websites of the Dutch government were hammered by a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, the government said on Wednesday. In a statement, the government said the attack targeted the hosting service Prolocation, also knocking out other websites such as that of the satirical publication GeenStijl. It began 10am local time on Tuesday and apparently lasted into the evening. The Dutch National Center for Cyber Security is now coordinating with the government to investigate the attack. Ironically, as GeenStijl pointed out in its own statement, the DDoS took place on Safer Internet Day.

Dutch and Slovenian regulators nail carriers over net neutrality

While the European Union dithers over EU-wide net neutrality, some European countries are marching on regardless. On Friday Slovenia’s regulators nailed carriers Telekom Slovenije and Si.mobil for violating net neutrality principles, and on Tuesday Dutch regulators fined KPN and Vodafone for similar violations.

The latest ruling, by the Dutch consumer protection agency ACM, saw [company]KPN[/company] fined €250,000 ($283,000) and [company]Vodafone[/company] €200,000. KPN was caught for blocking some VoIP services on its free Wi-Fi hotspots, and Vodafone was zero-rating the [company]HBO[/company] Go app – that is, it was providing free traffic for that service in particular, a practise technically known as “positive price discrimination”.

ACM’s statement read in part:

In addition to the ban on blocking, internet providers may also not charge differing tariffs for the use of services and applications on the internet. This contributes to an open internet. An open internet is important for freely disseminating information and increasing choice on the internet.

The Slovenian ruling was also about zero-rating: [company]Telekom Slovenije[/company] has been providing free data for the music streamer [company]Deezer[/company], and [company]Si.mobil[/company] for cloud storage service [company]Hanger Mapa[/company]. Those carriers now have two months to stop breaking the rules.

The European Parliament voted for strong net neutrality rules in April 2014, but since then the legislative process has stalled, largely due to some member states demanding vague principles rather than strictly-defined terms. The European Commission is dead set against this development, so it and the Council of the European Union, which represents the states, are currently negotiating a compromise.

However, even if that legislation’s strong definitions survive, it doesn’t ban zero-rating, which some argue is not a net neutrality issue because users can still access services other than those being zero-rated, even if it means using up their data allowance.

Those who argue that it is a net neutrality issue maintain that it violates the principles because it favors particular services and apps over others. That includes regulators in the Netherlands, Slovenia, Norway (not part of the EU but part of the European Economic Area, where EU net neutrality legislation would apply), and Chile (definitely nowhere near the EU.)

Last week the Latvian Presidency of the Council indicated that proposals to include an explicit ban on zero-rating in the EU-wide net neutrality legislation would not gain enough support among the states. Some had also suggested making selective blocking a self-regulatory matter, but those proposals seem to be sunk as they would conflict with existing EU legislation and fundamental rights.

In other words, the current situation – where zero-rating is banned in some European countries but not others – looks set to continue into the foreseeable future, whether or not a broader ban on blocking and throttling comes into force.

Secondhand ebook outfit Tom Kabinet races to purge illegal wares

The Dutch secondhand ebook marketplace Tom Kabinet has been ordered by a court to shut up shop this week, and is currently scrambling to get rid of possibly illegal stock so it can keep going.

As you may recall, Tom Kabinet started up in June 2014, predictably causing consternation in the country’s publishing industry — this is not how things currently work with digital goods, as terms tend to say people are buying only licenses to consume ebooks or audio files or what have you.

In July, a court refused to give the publishers an interim injunction against Tom Kabinet. However, on Tuesday the Amsterdam Court of Appeal produced a mixed ruling that said the site had to close down within three days or pay a daily fine of €1,000 ($1,160) – but also that Tom Kabinet’s business model appeared to be legal in principle.

Tom Kabinet’s justification for existing is the tantalising UsedSoft v Oracle ruling of 2012, in which the Court of Justice of the European Union (the EU’s highest court) ruled that customers who had bought a license for downloadable software could sell it on, just as if they had a boxed copy, no matter what the terms and conditions say.

The few European local courts that have subsequently tackled the issue have struggled with the implications of the ruling, particularly its reach. A court in Germany ruled in 2013 that it doesn’t cover ebooks and audiobooks. So far the Amsterdam courts have tentatively disagreed, saying that it’s certainly not clear that the CJEU ruling doesn’t apply to ebooks, and arguing that the CJEU may have to clarify its position in some future referral.

However, the appeal court did agree with the publishers this week about the fact that Tom Kabinet didn’t have sufficient barriers to people “reselling” illegally downloaded books through its platform. That’s why it told Tom Kabinet to shut down – much to the delight of the publishers — at least until it can shape up.

Therefore, Tom Kabinet co-founder Marc Jellema told me on Wednesday that the site is currently cleansing itself of all ebooks that it cannot prove are 100 percent legal. Tom Kabinet already watermarked the books it sells (which are all in the DRM-free ePub format) so that no-one can try selling the same thing twice through the platform, but now it’s going to have to ask sellers for paperwork.

“Technically there is no watertight way to differentiate between a legal and an illegal ebook,” Jellema said. “In order to guarantee only legally owned ebooks are on Tom Kabinet, we have to revert to ask a proof of purchase from our users. We are currently working to get that in place asap.”

This will probably have a significant impact on Tom Kabinet’s stock, though how much is yet to be ascertained. According to Jellema, so far Tom Kabinet has managed to convert more than 6 percent of its traffic to account sign-up and revenue, and its collection covers over two thirds of the Dutch Top 100.

“After the court ruling, that number is bound to change to a lower percentage,” he said. “We are now actively working on plans to get the number of relevant titles back on a respectable percentage.”

Google could face €15M privacy fine in the Netherlands

Google has been threatened with yet another fine in Europe over its cavalier approach to EU privacy laws. However, while previous fines levied by national data protection regulators have maxed out at around €1 million, the Dutch privacy watchdog is talking about a fine of up to €15 million ($19 million) for Google’s illegal combination of user data across various services without properly informing users of what’s being done or asking their permission. It’s still enough for the company (2013 revenues: $16.86 billion) to shrug off, but at least it no longer qualifies as chump change. Maybe it will actually start complying with the law. Or maybe not.

Dutch hosts decry court-order-free “jihadist” material takedown requests

Dutch hosting providers are complaining about law enforcement calls for them to take down jihadist material that isn’t necessarily illegal. Michiel Steltman, director of the Dutch Hosting Provider Association, told Het Financieele Dagblad on Tuesday that public prosecutors are increasingly asking for content to be removed on the basis of criminal suspicion, but with no judicial review. He cited the recent example of a video of men celebrating around a campfire, accompanied by Arabic text, where it was unclear that they were definitely celebrating jihadist activity. “The government has a perfectly legal tool to remove content, but chooses not to use it [regarding] jihadism,” Leaseweb legal chief Alex de Joode added in the article.