The European Commission has announced plans for new “right to repair” rules that it hopes will cover phones, tablets, and laptops by 2021. If successful, these rules will mean these devices should remain useful for longer before needing to be recycled or ending up in landfills. The plans were introduced as part of a wide-ranging set of product initiatives that also cover textiles, plastics, packaging, and food with the aim of helping the trading bloc become climate neutral by 2050. As well as introducing new “right to repair” rules, the EU also wants products to be more sustainably designed in the first place. Under the new plan, products should be more durable, reusable, upgradeable, and constructed out of more recycled materials. The EU’s hope is to reward manufacturers that achieve these goals. Finally, the EU is also considering introducing a new scheme to let consumers more easily sell or return old phones, tablets, and chargers. Good. One of the most important aspects of these rules is that the EU wants to force companies to provide spare parts to third party repair shops, which is something that’s entirely normal in, for instance, the car industry, but so far hasn’t been implemented in the technology sector yet because tech companies are special because reasons. EU-wide right-to-repair legislation will force companies like Apple and Samsung to take device longevity and repairability seriously, and these benefits will spill over to other parts of the world, such as the US, Canada, and maybe even the UK.
On Tuesday, Sonos sued Google in two federal court systems, seeking financial damages and a ban on the sale of Google’s speakers, smartphones and laptops in the United States. Sonos accused Google of infringing on five of its patents, including technology that lets wireless speakers connect and synchronize with one another. Sonos’s complaints go beyond patents and Google. Its legal action is the culmination of years of growing dependence on both Google and Amazon, which then used their leverage to squeeze the smaller company, Sonos executives said. “Google has been blatantly and knowingly copying our patented technology,” Mr. Spence said in a statement. “Despite our repeated and extensive efforts over the last few years, Google has not shown any willingness to work with us on a mutually beneficial solution. We’re left with no choice but to litigate.” Sonos executives said they decided to sue only Google because they couldn’t risk battling two tech giants in court at once. Yet Mr. Spence and congressional staff members have discussed him soon testifying to the House antitrust subcommittee about his company’s issues with them. I’ve said it many times before – companies like Google and Amazon have simply become too large, too powerful, and too invulnerable, and this is simply yet another example in a long string of examples. Break them up.
iFixit details Apple’s copyright lawsuit against Corellium: Despite a lack of apparent interest in enforcing their copyright to iOS software, in this specific case Apple has decided to exert control over iOS. And they’ve crossed a red line by invoking the most notorious statute in the US copyright act, section 1201. This is the very law that made it illegal for farmers to work on their tractors and for you to fix your refrigerator. It’s the same law that we’ve been whacking away at for years, getting exemptions from the US Copyright Office for fixing, jailbreaking, and performing security research on everything from smartwatches to automobiles. Enter Apple with the latest terrible, awful, no-good application of 1201. Apple claims that in making virtual iPhones for security and development use, Corellium is engaged in “unlawful trafficking of a product used to circumvent security measures in violation of 17 U.S.C. § 1201.” In other words: Corellium sells a way to use iOS that works around the way Apple intended it to work. Apple knows that you can’t use Corellium’s software to create your own knock-off iPhone. But they can claim that Corellium’s software is illegal, and they might technically be right. That’s terrifying. I hope the lawsuit ends with a loss for Apple, but I wouldn’t bet on it,
Google has told its Turkish business partners it will not be able to work with them on new Android phones to be released in Turkey, after the Turkish competition board ruled that changes Google made to its contracts were not acceptable. Totalitarian governments are increasingly using their subjects’ smartphones as tools for exerting their totalitarian control. Don’t be surprised if the Turkish government will soon mandate Turkish-made software on smartphones sold in the country, just like Russia mandated not too long ago.
Ars Technica reports: The Supreme Court has agreed to review one of the decade’s most significant software copyright decisions: last year’s ruling by an appeals court that Google infringed Oracle’s copyrights when Google created an independent implementation of the Java programming language. The 2018 ruling by the Federal Circuit appeals court “will upend the longstanding expectation of software developers that they are free to use existing software interfaces to build new computer programs,” Google wrote in its January petition to the Supreme Court. In a sane world, this idiotic ruling would be overturned and Larry Ellison cries in his huge pile of money. Sadly, this world is far from sane, so this could really go either way.
The U.S. government has launched a national security review of TikTok owner Beijing ByteDance Technology Co’s $1 billion acquisition of U.S. social media app Musical.ly, according to two people familiar with the matter. While the $1 billion acquisition was completed two years ago, U.S. lawmakers have been calling in recent weeks for a national security probe into TikTok, concerned the Chinese company may be censoring politically sensitive content, and raising questions about how it stores personal data. TikTok – Wikipedia link for those of us who have no idea what it is – is incredibly popular among younger people, but since it’s an entirely Chinese platform, there’s concerns about what, exactly, the data it stores is being used for.
Household appliances will become easier to repair thanks to new standards being adopted across the European Union. From 2021, firms will have to make appliances longer-lasting, and they will have to supply spare parts for machines for up to 10 years. The rules apply to lighting, washing machines, dishwashers and fridges. Decent start, but we still have a long road ahead of us on this issue.
The Internet is forever, we tell social media users: be careful what you put online, because you can’t ever take it back off. And while that’s gospel for US users, there’s some nuance to that dictum across the Atlantic. In Europe, individuals have a right to be forgotten and can request that information about themselves be taken down—but only, a court has now ruled, within Europe. The Court of Justice of the European Union, the EU’s highest court, issued a ruling today finding that there is no obligation under EU law for a search service to carry out a valid European de-listing request globally. I think this is a logical, common-sense ruling. I’m not entirely sure what to make of the right to be forgotten, since I can see valid uses for it, but it’s also very open to abuse, and one has to wonder just how effective it really is.
Japan’s Fair Trade Commission is investigating Apple Inc over its pressure on Japanese parts makers and whether it abused its power in violation of antimonopoly rules, the Mainichi newspaper reported on Tuesday. The investigation is the latest by the country’s regulators against the tech giant after they found last year that the company may have breached antitrust rules on the way it sold its iPhones in Japan. Apple illegally pressuring smaller companies into doing its bidding? Surely such is preposterous.
Companies that embed Facebook’s “Like” button on their websites must seek users’ consent to transfer their personal data to the U.S. social network, in line with the bloc’s data privacy laws, Europe’s top court said on Monday. According to the European Court of Justice ruling, a site that embeds the Facebook “like” icon and link on its pages also sends user data to the US web giant. Hopefully this will lead to the systematic removal of Facebook buttons from websites that serve the EU. Facebook’s buttons are trackers, and should be treated as such.
Remember the deal Apple made with Amazon that killed all third party repair services and used Apple product sellers that aren’t specifically approved by Apple, thereby increasing prices for consumers sharply? Turns out the FTC isn’t too happy with this deal. Last year, Amazon cut a deal with Apple to bring direct iPhone sales to its platform for the first time. Now, that deal is coming under scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission, The Verge has learned. Good. This deal is about as clear cut an example of monopolistic, anticompetitive behaviour as you can possibly get
British, American and other intelligence agencies from English-speaking countries have concluded a two-day meeting in London amid calls for spies and police officers to be given special, backdoor access to WhatsApp and other encrypted communications. GCHQ, the UK agency which monitors and breaks into communications, has suggested that Silicon Valley companies could develop technology that would silently add a police officer or intelligence agent to conversations or group chats. The moment these fascists turn the backdoor into a legal requirement and manage to steer it through their respective legislitave bodies – by calling it the If You Do Not Support This You Are A Pedophile Act or whatever – the game is pretty much over. The technology companies will roll over and implement these backdoors overnight – just look at how happily technology companies work with the Chinese government. In fact, Facebook is already testing a backdoor in this style today: To solve this problem, Facebook announced earlier this year preliminary results from its efforts to move a global mass surveillance infrastructure directly onto users’ devices where it can bypass the protections of end-to-end encryption. In Facebook’s vision, the actual end-to-end encryption client itself such as WhatsApp will include embedded content moderation and blacklist filtering algorithms. These algorithms will be continually updated from a central cloud service, but will run locally on the user’s device, scanning each cleartext message before it is sent and each encrypted message after it is decrypted. This is going to happen, and it’s going to be a disaster.
Among the 23 recommendations is a call for the government to set up an office in the commission to scrutinize the algorithms used by Google and Facebook to rank news and advertising. The report said the office would have the power to order Facebook, Google and other tech giants to hand information over to regulators. “This particular branch of the will be able to be approached by various companies who believe that the algorithms have been misused,” Mr. Frydenberg said. He promised the government would “lift the veil” on how tech firms made money out of user data they collect. No proper person who believes in freedom, democracy, and an open society would ever advocate for the government to tell newspapers and TV stations what they can and cannot print and broadcast. Yet, plans like this Australian one seem to advocate for complete control over Google, Facebook, and others to do pretty much the same thing. Somewhere, a line has to be drawn between what constitutes the free press on one side, and non-press websites on the other. Current laws and lawmakers seem quite inept at drawing this line in a consistent, safe way, but you can’t really blame them for that – we’ve entered a new era, and the lines are ever fuzzier and more difficult to discern. Even if lines can be properly drawn, we have to worry about the potential for government abuse. Especially in countries with winner-takes-all two-party systems – such as the United States and the United Kingdom – where one party tends to have pretty much total control over the branches of government, the potential for abuse towards the opposing party is incredibly tempting. Many countries will be facing this issue head-on over the coming years, and don’t be fooled – it will have a tremendous impact on how societies in those countries function.
The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded that election systems in all 50 states were targeted by hackers linked to the Russian government, according to a heavily redacted report released today. And — as previously reported — the report says that Russia could have actually tampered with election systems if it wanted to: “Russian cyber actors were in a position to delete or change voter data,” the report reads. On a related note, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell blocked two bills designed to secure the voting process and prevent more Russian meddling. At this point, one has to wonder what kind of videos the Russians have of McConnell. In any event, securing the voting process against foreign interference should be the number one concern for any democratic society – it’s why The Netherlands went back to paper voting several years ago – regardless of political affiliation. Treason is a real thing.
Amazon’s home security company Ring has enlisted local police departments around the country to advertise its surveillance cameras in exchange for free Ring products and a “portal” that allows police to request footage from these cameras, a secret agreement obtained by Motherboard shows. The agreement also requires police to “keep the terms of this program confidential.” In any functional democracy, this would be highly illegal.
Facebook’s stock went up after news of a record-breaking $5 billion FTC fine for various privacy violations broke today. That, as the New York Times’ Mike Isaac points out, is the real story here: the United States government spent months coming up with a punishment for Facebook’s long list of privacy-related bad behavior, and the best it could do was so weak that Facebook’s stock price went up. Facebook was one of the most important tools that Russia used to interfere in the US presidential elections. Do you really think that the regime profiting from said interference is going to punish their golden ticket?
Senior Trump administration officials met on Wednesday to discuss whether to seek legislation prohibiting tech companies from using forms of encryption that law enforcement can’t break — a provocative step that would reopen a long-running feud between federal authorities and Silicon Valley. The encryption challenge, which the government calls “going dark,” was the focus of a National Security Council meeting Wednesday morning that included the No. 2 officials from several key agencies, according to three people familiar with the matter. On a related note, just today head of the American regime, Donald Trump, joked about murdering journalists with the head of the Russian regime, Vladimir Putin. Gosh tootin’ darnit, I wonder what profession relies on encryption.
Slowly but surely, though, consumers and third parties outside of vendor-sanctioned circles have been pushing to change this through so-called “right to repair” laws. These pieces of proposed legislation take different forms—19 states introduced some form of right to repair legislation in 2018, up from 12 in 2017—but generally they attempt to require companies, whether they are in the tech sector or not, to make their service manuals, diagnostic tools, and parts available to consumers and repair shops—not just select suppliers. It’s difficult to imagine a more convincing case for the notion that politics make strange bedfellows. Farmers, doctors, hospital administrators, hackers, and cellphone and tablet repair shops are aligned on one side of the right to repair argument, and opposite them are the biggest names in consumer technology, ag equipment and medical equipment. And given its prominence in the consumer technology repair space, iFixit.com has found itself at the forefront of the modern right to repair movement. All repair information for mobile devices, computers, etc. ought to be publicly available and free for everyone to use, no exceptions. The behaviour of companies like Apple is deeply amoral, unethical, anti-consumer, and just generally scummy.
“Over the last two years, we’ve shown Google irrefutable evidence again and again that they are displaying lyrics copied from Genius,” said Ben Gross, Genius’s chief strategy officer, in an email message. The company said it used a watermarking system in its lyrics that embedded patterns in the formatting of apostrophes. Genius said it found more than 100 examples of songs on Google that came from its site. Starting around 2016, Genius said, the company made a subtle change to some of the songs on its website, alternating the lyrics’ apostrophes between straight and curly single-quote marks in exactly the same sequence for every song. When the two types of apostrophes were converted to the dots and dashes used in Morse code, they spelled out the words “Red Handed.” This is such a clear and shut case – but I do wonder, can anyone other than the actual copyright holders even claim ownership over the lyrics? I mean, neither Genius nor Google wrote these lyrics in the first place, and yet, here they are fighting over ownership. Posting lyrics online may fall under fair use, but I doubt you’d be able to make a fair use appeal if you have a massive library of lyrics online, paid for through ads.
The Trump administration is working to ban Huawei products from the US market and ban US companies from supplying the Chinese company with software and components. The move will have wide-ranging consequences for Huawei’s smartphone, laptop, and telecom-equipment businesses. For the next 90 days, though, Huawei will be allowed to support those products. The US Department of Commerce (DOC) has granted temporary general export license for 90 days, so while the company is still banned from doing business with most US companies, it is allowed to continue critical product support. Meanwhile, ARM has also cut ties with Huawei. This story is far, far from over.