Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Day of the Dead and Facebook

WARNING: potentially inadvertent insensitive commentary about the dead

A little off topic, but I have been thinking about this for awhile. Two of my friends, who were also friends on Facebook, passed on within the last 6 months. I see their profiles pop up on my page now and again and sometimes Facebook even reminds me about them through various prompts. I have been wondering, lately, what should happen to their pages?

For one of my friends, after she passed on, people posted kind words and memories of her on her page. It really was a lovely and an immediate way to participate with the community of people who lost her, acknowledging that loss. But it has bothered me, as the months have gone on, to see her picture pop up and have Facebook ask me to suggest friends for her.

This morning, I saw a BBC article on this exact thing. Facebook has decided to address the matter by allowing the pages to remain as a memorial to the former Facebook member. Only friends will be able to visit and see the memorialised page. Nowhere in the article did Facebook announce that family members could ask that the page be removed. Indeed, the head of security of Facebook, Mr. Max Kelly, went as far as to say, "When someone leaves us, they don't leave our memories or our social network." http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8327607.stm

Uh, yeah, the dead actually do leave our social network. There may be some people in society whose social network include the deceased but I believe that is a minority of the population and they probably do not have Facebook pages. WTF??

I think Facebook is amazing. It allows people to re-connect, stay in touch with friends who live far away, and socialise in this new way that is playful and instant. Having said that, in any social gathering there are downsides-stories of people bullied, complaining about work and then getting sacked. Beyond that, there is something else that is happening. The keeping dead people in our social network provides a glimpse of Facebook's greedy but successful underbelly.

Last week, a US District Court judge in San Jose, California approved a settlement for Lane. et al v. Facebook, Inc., N.D. Cal., Case No. 5:08-cv-03845-RS, a class-action filed by Facebook users. The suit concerned Facebook's Beacon system that tracked member's online buying activities-activities that occurred while members were NOT on Facebook. The tracking took place without member's knowledge. Those purchases were then detailed on the member's page through a news feed along with a related advert for a similar item. For example, the main plaintiff of the class action bought a ring online as a gift for his wife. That purchase was posted on his Facebook page and his wife saw it. The claims were for violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Video Privacy Protection Act and the California Computer Crime Law.

The $9.5 million settlement pays plaintiffs, anywhere from ($1000-$15,000), but most of the monies go for plaintiff attorney fees ($3 million) and the funding of an Online Privacy Foundation ($6 million). The Foundation will promote online privacy and security. Promoting online privacy and security is something Facebook is already required to do under Federal Trade Commission mandates and California law. See www.digitalmedialawyerblog.com/2009/09

The settlement negotiated by lawyers resulted in Facebook having to do what it is legally obligated to do and pay the lawyers for the privilege. This is Social networking at its finest.

We old, middle-aged. cynical, and skeptical observers, waiting patiently for reply messages from college students on Facebook or the newly employed in cities far away, know nothing of this kind of situation. After all, it is not possible that Facebook is really a marketing scheme intended to use our personal data to target us for the appropriate product. It is all fresh and new and about Social Media and people over 40 are so clueless.

Wake up Generation X & Y-you sheep!! This is the same old thing, just a different day. No one is protecting your privacy and only the lawyers are getting paid.

Dead people still have pages because Facebook wants to keep track of their friends and relatives for marketing reasons. Grief is intensely personal.

Let's show some class and reject this thinly veiled attempt to have a community who may or not may not care watch our pain so they can make a buck.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Zim Exchange

It does seem absurd to talk about, given that the ‘unity’ government is on the verge of collapse, but what will be the structure of the new securities regulation governing the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange?

Rather than focus on the negative, I think we should all just embrace Zim as representative of every relationship in our lives that perhaps involved a domineering figure or some dysfunctional union where other people were for it but you were sceptical of its success in the long run. This is in line with the way I see France as someone’s former lover who was once young and urbane but is now just old-in an endearing way.

On the other hand, the stock exchange of Zim is like the one thing you did right in the particular relationship…it made money and might just make more…AND it has this fabulous electronic board that displays the ticker and all the quotes. Seriously, often in times of turmoil, the best medicine is to contemplate the minutia.

The Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE) is currently governed by the Securities Commission. The Securities Commission came in to being through the Securities Act [Chapter 24:25] (Act No. 17 of 2004). It has had some difficulty gaining respect. In March of 2009, after the ZSE re-opened, the Commission attempted to have a meeting to inform brokers of the role of the Commission in securities regulation. It was poorly attended. This indicated more about habit and tradition perhaps than any intention to snub the new regulator. there is little information on what has hapenned with the regulator since.

By August of 2009, AllAfrica.com reported that the ZSE was going to de-mutualise and trade as a company on the ZSE. This is permissible under the Securities Act.

I just wonder why a Securities Commission structure was chosen to govern the exchange as opposed to a Financial Services Authority (FSA) type of regulation as in the UK-where one regulator governs all financial related industries…? The single securities regulator is very American in style-such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the US. It is a popular structure and can streamline governance since the Commission will be singualr in focus.

De-mutualisation will introduce a new way of regulating. The Commission would regulate the exchange under securities law, but the exchange would be a company and will have a Board that is responsible for the exchange as a company. The will be Corporate Governance issues. All de-mutualised exchanges continue to have a public function. They are symbolic and some can continue to be self-regulatory organisations (SRO’s) even after de-mutualisation. They are responsible for continued market surveillance and broker regulation-how this will take place can differ. A separate organisation can be established such as Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) in the US.

Often in emerging economies, de-mutualisation can simply mean that the exchange wants to be competitive within the world of exchanges. De-mutualisation is therefore not significant in a regulatory sense, rather it is an economic move.

In Zim, it is difficult to know why things are done. It is most likely seen as a way to compensate for the lack of funding and resources. Understanding, why things are done may assist in predicting how regulation will work or not under the regulatory regime.

Excitingly, things happen without an answer to the question WHY in Zim. We will continue to monitor the regulatory developments and try to determine is some sense can be made. Regardless, the exchange will most likely de-mutualise and regulation is most likely of little concern to the authorities. It will however need to be sorted in order for the exchange to be competitive in a global way. So, we will continue to monitor the news, even if it is quite focused on bad men and big men, for news of exchanges, and try to determine how the ZSE will be regulated moving forward-despite the nagging political problems.

End Notes

The Herald, 17 March 2009, Business Section pg 5.

Allafrica.com 14 August 2009, Zimbabwe:Government to End ZSZE Monoply

Jennifer Elliot, IMF Working Paper, Demutualisation of Securities Exchanges: a Regulatory Perspective, WP/02/119, September 18, 2002.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Africa ADR

There is a new Arbitration ‘authority’ in Southern Africa this week. It is Africa ADR www.africaadr.com. This new arbitral forum was launched this week. It is a collaborative project between the Arbitration Foundation of Southern Africa (AFSA) with assistance and support from a variety of groups international and domestic.

To begin with the venues for Africa ADR are Mauritius, Mozambique, The Democratic Republic of Congo and three cities in SA. Instrumental in establishing the new arbitral forum were IOD which is the Institute of Directors, South Africa. This organisation is thoroughly English as in English, not British but English. It was started by a King and that makes it really old and important-like cognac. Sorry, is that too impertinent? I have been told that my bad attitude about royalty is because I am American and I am jealous. Seriously??

International commercial arbitration is resorted to when cross-border contracts go pear shaped and there is a clause in them that says, parties cannot sue for damages under this contract, they must go to arbitration. Well-drafted arbitration clauses within contracts can specify the forum or group that will assist in the dispute resolving. Now, with the help of Africa ADR parties can use the clause provided on the website and ensure that their disputes are heard by an African panel of arbitrators. This is invaluable.

If parties have a problem abiding by a contractual obligation, the matter becomes a dispute and goes before an arbitral panel run by Africa ADR. The parties have to pay a forum fee and pay for administration costs. Parties will pay their lawyers and then pay for the cost of renting space at the venue for the arbitration. Parties will pay the arbitrators fees and costs as well. Parties will pay costs al throughout the hearing-then they will get an Award which needs to be enforced by a court.

The Africa ADR announcement encourages potential African states to adopt the New York Convention in order to smooth the way for arbitration in Africa. The New York Convention is a UN sponsored code that can be adopted by governments that orders the judiciary of a nation to enforce awards made in international commercial arbitration. This would ensure that awards are respected and upholds the integrity of the arbitral process. But what if countries do not like the New York convention?

The New York Convention was created in the 1950’s with little or no African influence. It was crafted in 1958 and it for this reason that many African states have not adopted it.

For years, contracts have been drafted by lawyers at white shoe firms whose interests were to ensure that any dispute was resolved in London of New York so that their colleagues could handle that matter. If African businesses begin to put the Africa ADR clause in their contracts then dispute will be handled by this forum, in Africa, before a panel of experts that presumably is African. That would be cool if we could be sure.

Another organisation that supported Africa ADR is 39 Essex Street Chambers-an English Chambers based in London. All helpful no doubt because business is good and they are feeling charitable......right? Unlikely, there is money to be made in this venture. These barristers make money ok, but there is real money in international arbitration. They can represent parties or be an aribtrator, either way there is money to be made. Having an English Chambers involved gives arbitration street cred but it is African…..how exactly? Surely, there is enough arbitration expertise in Africa to have all African support for this forum-African arbitrator, African counsel.

There needs to be a forum for African commercial dispute resolution, for sure. A place, closer than NYC, Paris or LONDON. This forum or several forum--should be where African business can resolve an international dispute based on an arbitration clause in a contract, on their own terms. This is the true nature or arbitration-to select dispute resolution on agreed upon terms.

I like Africa ADR. It has great potential. It is just that once you get outsiders involved, they are not going to want to give up $ to the newly trained African team. There is no transition step in the arbitration business. It is all about getting your foot in the door and never removing it until you can fit yer whole self in in the room. Once this thing gets up and running and making money, the English barristers will not move on and make way for the African. Some parties to disputes may want that English presence. And this is fine...but this makes Africa ADR the choice for parties who like the 'old world' and its lawyers.

This is the beauty of Arbitration. Parties get to choose how they want their dispute resolved.

This new forum for dispute resolution is a hopeful thing. Many disputes will be facilitated and resolved in this forum to be sure. But it should be a beginning of lots of other forums for dispute resolution throughout Africa with support from various sources or none. This is the true nature of Arbitration- consensual and as the parties choose.





Sunday, October 4, 2009

SA apartheid case in US Courts

In the case of In re African Apartheid Litigation, 02 MDL 1499, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan), Judge Shira Scheindlin in April of this year ruled that claims could go forward against Ford, General Motors, IBM and other companies for aiding and abetting torture by the apartheid government. Judge Scheindlin inherited the case from Southern District Judge John Spizzo who passed away in 2008. The plaintiffs are thousands of South Africans seeking damages for harms inflicted by the white majority under apartheid. The specific claims are brought under the Alien Tort Claims Act 28 U.S.C. §1350 (ATCA) the plaintiffs jurisdiction in US Courts for harms committed by US corporations abroad.

At first, the government of South Africa was against the suit. It filed a Motion to Dismiss. Judge Scheindlin rejected the defendants’ motion to dismiss under the doctrines of comity and political question. In early September that situation changed. Under Thabo Mbeki the SA government was against the case moving forward stating that it would discourage foreign investment in SA. The President Jacob Zuma government is all for the case moving forward. The South African Justice Minister Jeff Radebe wrote a letter to Judge Scheindlin expressing support for the case.

The quote at the beginning of Judge Scheindlin’s opinion reads: “The Truth about apartheid-about its causes and effects…about who was responsible for its maintenance-continue to emerge. This litigation is one element if that emergence.”Archbishop Desmond Tutu. And Commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. The claims are a violation of international customary law by the aforementioned corporations. The case against IBM is particularly interesting.

IBM sold software and technical assistance to the SA government that allowed the government to carry out geographic segregation and denationalisation. This case is important because of how the court defines the ATCA and how it defines international law as well. There is very little precedent in international law for third party liability. The court relies on standards of secondary liability set by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, the decision of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda as well as the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court-which all serve to better define the cause of action applicable for aiders and abettors based on the quality of assistance they provide. For IBM, the training and technical support provided for the use of its software is particularly condemning under customary international law. The computers sold to the SA government were used to register individuals and deprive them of their SA citizenship. This software also was used to create identity cards which further facilitated the denationalisation.

This is an unusual case and one of a new breed brought under the ATCA. I am not sure this case belongs in the US court system. However, perhaps the truth is that these cases belong wherever they can best better define international law. If that is in the US then ok. Perhaps, the dollar is no longer king but the US Courts may still provide some kind of leadership in international law. I will follow the case and report its progress.

See http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601116&sid=a2xm_iMWNc7g