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University Networks Block Student Project 167

Posted by Soulskill
from the be-less-creative-next-time dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A computer science student at University College London put together FitFinder as a bit of a joke — it's been described as a cross between Twitter and personal ads, and it rapidly became very popular. The university took exception to this and started by blocking the site from being accessed on campus. Not content with this, a few weeks later it fined the student £300 and had him take the site down completely. Currently, the site is still offline, although there is a petition with several thousand signatures requesting its return. In the meantime, a site called PhitFinder has appeared, claiming to have no link to the original."
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University Networks Block Student Project

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  • PhatFinder (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tomhudson (43916) <barbara.hudsonNO@SPAMbarbara-hudson.com> on Sunday June 06, 2010 @02:06PM (#32476778) Journal
    Just release the code and let people play with it. The uni won't be able to block every site. Now that's Phat!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by SoVeryTired (967875)

      Judging by how badly the site got hacked within five minutes of being linked to Slashdot, I'd say people are playing with it enough already.

      • Talking to my Dad the other day, he describe a cousin of mine as "a good kid"... the problem? He's 31 years old! See, anybody who's had kids will always see the friends of their kids as kids. Which wouldn't be much of a problem except for the increasing longevity of people.

        See, the average age of people has been climbing for a long time, and is currently about 55. So, more and more, college students are "college kids". And the "legal age" of 18 becomes increasingly irrelevant as more power is wielded by an

  • Well, I'd say it sounds more like a cross between twitter and a creepy stalker organisation, but maybe I'm over-sensitive.
  • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @02:21PM (#32476904)
    If you are old enough to attend college/university you are old enough to do whatever you want. Stop "babysitting" and let students do whatever they please. Universities and colleges exist to educate people and hand them a piece of paper letting them get a job. Thats all they should do. Let students think for themselves, give them facts and have them make their own opinion and do what they want with them.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by maxwell demon (590494)

      Universities and colleges exist to educate people and hand them a piece of paper letting them get a job.

      No, they exist to educate people and hand them a piece of paper certifying that they successfully studied there. It happens that this paper helps them to find a job, and surely many want it only for that purpose, but it's not what the paper is for. It's up to the employers to decide whether they care about the paper or not.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by clustro (1811836)

        Universities and colleges exist to educate people and hand them a piece of paper letting them get a job.

        No, they exist to educate people and hand them a piece of paper certifying that they successfully studied there. It happens that this paper helps them to find a job, and surely many want it only for that purpose, but it's not what the paper is for. It's up to the employers to decide whether they care about the paper or not.

        While you are technically correct, you are ignoring the fact that the vast majority of the public believes that is what a university is for. 99.9% of people you were to ask "What is the purpose in getting a college degree?" would answer "To get a better job." The balance would say "To learn something new." Hell, I sure as hell didn't go through all those years in engineering to not be able to apply the knowledge. Nobody would spend the gobs of money and time a college degree demands if they didn't antici

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          The de facto purpose of a university is to prepare its students succeed in a competitive job market.

          No. The de jure and de facto purpose of a university is preservation and extension of human knowledge. The defacto outcome of university study is an improved job market prospect.

          The difference is important. It is not up to the university to improve students' chances of finding a job, it is merely a gamble most students make.

          • by clustro (1811836) on Monday June 07, 2010 @10:36AM (#32483614)

            What in god's name are you talking about?

            In my senior year of engineering, I had to work with a team on a design project, and we presented it not only to the faculty, but the industrial advisory board - big shots at companies. The sole purpose was to prove to the employers that the department was producing engineers worth hiring.

            I was visiting schools for doctoral programs this past spring, and met many graduate students whose professors had lined up a job or good post-doc for them afterward. That's one of the things that made the programs I visited so popular - they don't leave you hanging on welfare after you blow 5 years of your life on an advanced engineering degree. A good school helps you get a job - either by the prestige of the degree, or direct intervention by faculty and staff. This is the 21st-century, not the 16th.

      • by AK Marc (707885)
        The employers have already generally decided, so the paper doesn't grant a job, as you indicate, but it is a requirement for many, and so the paper, regardless of what it says, is required. So it is just a piece of paper letting people get a job.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by noidentity (188756)
      But the university is educating students about the world out there, also full of control-freaks who don't want you thinking for yourself.
    • Universities and colleges exist to hand people a piece of paper letting them get a job.

      There, fixed that for you. ;)
    • That would mean students are old enough to know that they should buy an account at an ISP for their site. This means the students can enjoy freedom from University policy/control, own the domain name and site code, and keep the site up after the student is no longer affiliated with the University. In the US one can get this level of service for under $10/month; it's hard for some university organizations to economically justify competing with that low price.

      I don't know UCL's complete logic here, and I do

      • The Timesonline server took too long to respond for me (now it works) and I missed the quote at the end of that article where the unnamed Univ. spokesman said that "UCL has no jurisdiction over the site, as it is not UCL-hosted.". Now I see that that aspect of the issue isn't the center of this debate. It's good that Martell hosted his site elsewhere.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by binaryspiral (784263)

      If you are old enough to attend college/university you are old enough to do whatever you want.

      Wrong on so many levels.

      If you attend a college or university, chances are you are held to a standard of behaviour that prevents you from making the learning institution look like a fool.

      Admissions papers are full of "Sign here on the X", one of them was your agreement to not be a jackass and accept the college's rulings on your behavior.

      Don't like it? There's the door.

      • by ultranova (717540) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @05:27PM (#32478128)

        If you attend a college or university, chances are you are held to a standard of behaviour that prevents you from making the learning institution look like a fool.

        Held by what authority? Please explain the logic that justifies the university - or, for that matter, any organization - demanding complete control over its students lives?

        Admissions papers are full of "Sign here on the X", one of them was your agreement to not be a jackass and accept the college's rulings on your behavior.

        Do you honestly think that you are bound to university's will just because you signed a paper? That they can simply decide that they don't like something you've done so you have to pay them 300 pounds? Seriously?

        Don't like it? There's the door.

        Except that, as you yourself noted, the student and the university have a contract.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by forkazoo (138186)

          Do you honestly think that you are bound to university's will just because you signed a paper? That they can simply decide that they don't like something you've done so you have to pay them 300 pounds? Seriously?

          They don't have the ability to jail you, but they can certainly sue for breach of contract. If you want to stay a student there, then they naturally have more authority over you and can put all sorts of extra terms on. I don't know if he would be liable for the fine if he decided to walk away from

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by mdwh2 (535323)

            and abandon whatever he already paid in tuition.

            Now there's a thought. Until recently, the UK didn't have tuition fees - so historically Universities might fine students, but the point was the alternative option was to be kicked out. I don't think they'd sue you (unless it was something that you could be sued over - that doesn't seem to apply in this case; I'd like to see what contract he signed that prohibited him from running a website, and even there, it's up to a court to decide if a contract is reasona

  • by Adrian Lopez (2615) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @02:24PM (#32476938) Homepage

    Not content with this, a few weeks later they fined the student £300 and had him take the site down completely.

    There's a university with far too much power.

    • by Luke has no name (1423139) <fox&cyberfoxfire,com> on Sunday June 06, 2010 @02:36PM (#32477020)

      That's what I'm thinking. UNLESS the site was being hosted on campus... then it falls within their TOS probably.

      If not, that's total bullshit and lawsuits should ensue.

    • Sounds an awful lot like breach of contract -- he agreed to pay a certain amount of money in exchange for the university's services, but now the university is refusing to deliver those services unless he pays more than originally agreed upon.
      • by jimicus (737525)

        It probably is, but you're starting to go down a rabbit warren where the only way out would be to find a judge who would grant an injunction forcing the university to forget about the £300 and let him graduate.

        As a lay person, this is something I wouldn't feel comfortable with unless I had some serious legal assistance - and for the sake of £300 it might be as well to put it down to experience. It would certainly be a lot cheaper.

        • by TheSpoom (715771)

          Not to mention that if he did this, he'd likely suddenly start getting a lot of unexplained Fs on his grade report.

          • and British University has been smacked silly by the courts during the last 12 months for giving arbitrary low marks to a student in retaliation for earlier legal action. I doubt that UCL would be so foolish.

    • Or too little bandwidth?

      Or wanting to avoid having to deal with ad revenue generating sites run by students?

      There's a bunch of stuff here that could easily point to 'reasonable request'.

      However, the Uni are a bunch of sissies. Back in the day we would have just rm'd his site, blocked it on the border routers and claimed a server crashed.

  • by zogger (617870) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @02:30PM (#32476962) Homepage Journal

    That's a zillion buck idea he had up and running! He should have told them to stuff it. That would have made the site even more popular as word of his telling "the man" to f off spread around his users and their friends. Plenty of time later to go get all the degrees ya want once you are rolling in dough.

    • Plenty of time later to go get all the degrees ya want once you are rolling in dough.

      Yeah, that worked out really well for Mark Zuckerberg, didn't it? Oh, wait...

  • So, he violated the university's disciplinary code, correct? Well, either he did violate the code, or he didn't. In either case, I hope he fights it. If the former, the code needs to be changed.

    Wait, does the UK have free speech like America?

    In any situation, it's defaming to his character.

    • Wait, does the UK have free speech like America?

      Yes, but not to the extent the US does. Ask Simon Singh.
      .
      .
      .
      .
      .
      .
      .

      (Yes, I know he won out eventually after a great deal of time and legal expense. Not every particle physicist has bestselling books, BBC documentaries, newspapers, and international networks of supporters behind them)

      • I beg to differ, but no - we have no guaranteed freedom of speech whatsoever. We are assumed to have freedom of speech unless that freedom is explicitly taken away (libel, slander, encouraging terrorism, etc), just as we are assumed to be able to swing our fists as long as that swinging isn't specified as being illegal - for example, if I swing my fist into your face, that would not be allowed.
      • But, in the Singh case, the BCA (afaik) will be paying for his costs too (boy, will this be expensive) and Mr Justice Eady has been roundly lambasted again.

        The UK has more extensive free speech in some areas, firstly in the fact that more things count as 'speech', and secondly because the Convention places a positive burden on the government to provide for the exercise of those rights.
        (This is, of course, in theory, but then so is the US situation)

    • America still has a right to free speech?
  • I can see the University taking it down, I wouldn't want to be hosting that either. But as far as the fine goes, what the hell. I really do wonder how that would stand up in court, presumably this is being called some kind of disciplinary measure, but it's a hell of a weird form of academic discipline, and one that I would suspect opens them up to bias accusations (what with limited ability to way and all).
  • by jamesbulman (103594) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @02:39PM (#32477036) Homepage

    A university spokesman said: “UCL does not approve of or condone this site. We therefore advised the student to take the site down, but he declined to do this. UCL has no jurisdiction over the site, as it is not UCL-hosted. We have, however, taken disciplinary action against the student for bringing the college into disrepute and he has been fined.”

    Another triumph for Slashdot accuracy...

    • never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

      Even calling this thing a "project" in the headline and "a bit of a joke" once it's suckered in the readership reeks of the kind of deceitful tactics we don't expect (or want) on /. It would be nice to see better judgment and control over the stories - even on the weekend. Better no news than stuff like this.

    • They are "taking actions to seriously discourage the project", which is certainly not "blocking" in an IT sense, but is arguably MORE significant.
  • The solution for every censorship problem of websites and software. =)

  • by jimicus (737525) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @02:54PM (#32477122)

    From TFA:

    Dean of Welfare (Students), wrote: “Following the serious complaints brought to this institution regarding the contents of the site and your association with it, I find myself having to bring a charge under UCL’s Disciplinary Code of Bringing the College into Disrepute. Therefore I am fining you £300.”

    IANAL but AFAIK private organisations in the UK cannot enforce fines - that's a privilege open exclusively to the government. And the nation's universities are essentially private institutions (albeit receiving heavy state funding).

    Having said that, if the university I went to was any guide they'll probably have something in their rules which states that if you owe them so much as a penny on graduation day, you don't graduate. And though they may not be able to get a judge to force him to pay, I have no idea if he'd be able to get a judge to force them to write off the £300 "fine".

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by 91degrees (207121)
      Yes, but universities aren't private institutions. And UK law can be quite specific when it comes to legal status of universities. Not sure whether this affects anything, but you can't draw conclusions based on the legal status of a typical privately owned establishment.
    • by selven (1556643)

      They can't enforce fines in the sense of sending men with guns to take it from his house if he doesn't pay up, but I don't see what prevents them from just adding $300 to his tuition.

      • 1) Because tuition isnt set by the university
        2) Because, even if it was, it would be breach of contract

        Now what you have instead is the archaic "we withold your results unless you pay up" - however a FoIA request should clear that up, if pressed.

        • by AK Marc (707885)
          FoIA request should clear that up, if pressed.

          Those reports won't work for getting into grad school and such. You need an official sealed transcript, and nothing else will work.
    • by DaveGod (703167)

      No they cannot enforce it in terms of sending in the bailiffs. But they can withhold the degree, which is substantially more threatening. Maybe you could get it back via the courts, but I wouldn't bet on it and it really will not do you any favours when your next potential boss calls for a reference.

      Universities (the good ones anyway) in the UK are about the research and the students are a pest they tolerate for the funding. Departments are ran on egos and committee politics. Bow to the egos and pay the fi

    • Every week you hear about football clubs fining players for bad behaviour. This guy accepted the University's terms and conditions when he signed up for his course. So if that makes provision for this sort of punishment for this sort of activity he can either pay up or get out.
  • by binkzz (779594) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @03:03PM (#32477168) Journal
    I was playing around with PhitFinder and I totally accidentally made it forward to slashdot.

    Sorry.
    • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

      by ae1294 (1547521)

      I was playing around with PhitFinder and I totally accidentally made it forward to slashdot.

      I sew what u did ther... Now Bobby, what did we teach you about that sort of thinking? http://xkcd.com/327/ [xkcd.com]

      Note: Anyone wanting to do any phishing or click fraud should probably hurry up before someone perm redirects the site to goatse...

  • degree may be put in jeopardy? just shows what joke schools have become.

    Just Stand for your rights and who cares if if you list you have a degree but just they are holding it over some non course work stuff. What if you got a job and they later found out you failed the swim test and did not fully get the degree over that?

    • by jimicus (737525) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @04:44PM (#32477792)

      Standing up for your rights is one thing, but I'd also argue: Choose your battles wisely.

      In any situation where there is a huge imbalance of power (which there is in this case - the student has paid his tuition fees for the year and there's no obligation for the university to actually hand over the degree certificate), the one thing you do not do if you're in the less-powerful position is piss off the person in the more-powerful position - unless you want to wind up being thoroughly crushed. You make sure the balance of power is restored and then you start pissing them off.

      I'm wondering - if you were to pay under protest and then sue for the money back at a later date (which is quite possible to do in the UK if you're over a barrel), the statute of limitations is six years. Hypothetically (and IANAL), he could pay up under protest now and sue once he's graduated.

      • and then sue the UK government under the human rights act (\the convention if he has to go to strasbourg) for not protecting him from it in the first place.

  • We did overcome this and EW-TOO based talkers are STILL alive!

  • by GregNorc (801858)

    CMU had a similar site pop up entitled "Before We Leave [beforeweleave.com]", which to my knowledge has not garnered any scorn from the administration.

    From their FAQ page:

    Life should be lived with no regrets. Undoubtedly there are people that you know (or know of) that you've always wanted to 'encounter' physically. With graduation right around the corner, these final weeks are your last chance. This site is devoted to facilitating those encounters.

    So... you enter the andrew IDs of the top five people you have always wanted to get with. If they also list you in their top five, we will email both of you-- the rest is up to you. If nobody matches with you, c'est la vie-- at least you tried. It's as simple as that.

    Your top five are safe: your desires will only be revealed if the other person also desires you. Otherwise they will be kept secret forever.

  • " We have, however, taken disciplinary action against the student for bringing the college into disrepute and he has been fined.”

    A similar line has been used by our local university recently. They can catch you any way they like using this. Its much like a bad EULA - you just agree because you are progressing thru university after high school. Next thing its biting you in the ass for that slightly too raucous 1st year party, or that thesis that, while your are not a Holocaust denier, your thesis que

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