Legal Archive

Facebook and Google algorithms are secret – but Australia plans to change that

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.

Russia targeted election systems in all 50 states, Senate concludes

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 requires police to shill surveillance cameras in secret agreement

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 $5 billion FTC fine is an embarrassing joke

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?

Trump officials weigh encryption crackdown

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.

Hackers, farmers, and doctors unite! Support for Right to Repair laws slowly grows

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, 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.

Lyrics site accuses Google of lifting its content

“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 US DOC gives Huawei a 90-day window to support existing devices

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.

Apple is telling lawmakers people will hurt themselves if they try to fix iPhones

In recent weeks, an Apple representative and a lobbyist for CompTIA, a trade organization that represents big tech companies, have been privately meeting with legislators in California to encourage them to kill legislation that would make it easier for consumers to repair their electronics, Motherboard has learned. According to two sources in the California State Assembly, the lobbyists have met with members of the Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee, which is set to hold a hearing on the bill Tuesday afternoon. The lobbyists brought an iPhone to the meetings and showed lawmakers and their legislative aides the internal components of the phone. The lobbyists said that if improperly disassembled, consumers who are trying to fix their own iPhone could hurt themselves by puncturing the lithium-ion battery, the sources, who Motherboard is not naming because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said. Apple employing the ever effective think of the children argument. In typical Apple-fashion, anti-consumer, scummy, and full of lies.

Report: 26 States now ban or restrict community broadband

A new report has found that 26 states now either restrict or outright prohibit towns and cities from building their own broadband networks. Quite often the laws are directly written by the telecom sector, and in some instances ban towns and cities from building their own broadband networks—even if the local ISP refuses to provide service. Everything about this is disgusting. It goes to show corporatism and unfettered capitalism are cancers upon out society that must be exterminated.

Apple, Qualcomm agree to drop all litigation

From the company’s joint press release (at either Apple’s or Qualcomm’s website): Qualcomm and Apple today announced an agreement to dismiss all litigation between the two companies worldwide. The settlement includes a payment from Apple to Qualcomm. The companies also have reached a six-year license agreement, effective as of April 1, 2019, including a two-year option to extend, and a multiyear chipset supply agreement. And just like that, one of the possibly most expensive lawsuits in technology is a thing of the past.

US Congress is about to ban the government from offering free online tax filing

Just in time for Tax Day, the for-profit tax preparation industry is about to realize one of its long-sought goals. Congressional Democrats and Republicans are moving to permanently bar the IRS from creating a free electronic tax filing system. Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee, led by Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., passed the Taxpayer First Act, a wide-ranging bill making several administrative changes to the IRS that is sponsored by Reps. John Lewis, D-Ga., and Mike Kelly, R-Pa. In one of its provisions, the bill makes it illegal for the IRS to create its own online system of tax filing. Companies like Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, and H&R Block have lobbied for years to block the IRS from creating such a system. If the tax agency created its own program, which would be similar to programs other developed countries have, it would threaten the industry’s profits. This is straight-up corruption.

European Commission demands Valve stop geo-blocking games inside the EU

The European Commission (EC) has been looking into how PC video games are bought and sold within EU Member States, and it doesn’t like what it’s seen. Issuing an official statement of objections today, directed at Valve, whose Steam online portal is the biggest store for PC games in the world, and five game publishers — Bandai Namco, Capcom, Focus Home, Koch Media, and ZeniMax — the Commission takes the view that they’ve all engaged in antitrust violations by putting geographic restrictions on the games they sell. Good. Geofencing digital goods is clearly not allowed, but a lot of companies still try and get away with it.

Death by a thousand clicks: where electronic health records went wrong

The U.S. government claimed that turning American medical charts into electronic records would make health care better, safer, and cheaper. Ten years and $36 billion later, the system is an unholy mess: inside a digital revolution gone wrong. It seems to be a recurring theme all over the world that governments are absolutely terrible at doing anything related to the digital world. I’m sure insane bidding requirements set by special interests play a huge role in this problem, but that doesn’t mean politicians tend to be terrible at properly understanding the digital world.

Europe’s controversial overhaul of online copyright receives final approval

The European Parliament has given final approval to the Copyright Directive, a controversial package of legislation designed to update copyright law in Europe for the internet age. Members of parliament voted 348 in favor of the law and 274 against. A last-minute proposal to remove the law’s most controversial clause — Article 13 or the ‘upload filter’ — was narrowly rejected by just five votes. The directive will now be passed on to EU member states, who will translate it into national law. The United States Congress doesn’t have a monopoly on stupid decisions – especially when you take into account that said five vote difference was… A mistake. A group of left-leaning MEPs voted in favour… By accident.

Facebook’s data deals are under criminal investigation

Federal prosecutors are conducting a criminal investigation into data deals Facebook struck with some of the world’s largest technology companies, intensifying scrutiny of the social media giant’s business practices as it seeks to rebound from a year of scandal and setbacks. A grand jury in New York has subpoenaed records from at least two prominent makers of smartphones and other devices, according to two people who were familiar with the requests and who insisted on anonymity to discuss confidential legal matters. Both companies had entered into partnerships with Facebook, gaining broad access to the personal information of hundreds of millions of its users. Good.

Spotify files antitrust complaint against Apple in the EU

Spotify, the popular music streaming service from Sweden, has filed an official antitrust complaint against Apple at the European Commission. In a blog post announcing the move, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek writes: It’s why, after careful consideration, Spotify has filed a complaint against Apple with the European Commission (EC), the regulatory body responsible for keeping competition fair and nondiscriminatory. In recent years, Apple has introduced rules to the App Store that purposely limit choice and stifle innovation at the expense of the user experience—essentially acting as both a player and referee to deliberately disadvantage other app developers. After trying unsuccessfully to resolve the issues directly with Apple, we’re now requesting that the EC take action to ensure fair competition. Apple operates a platform that, for over a billion people around the world, is the gateway to the internet. Apple is both the owner of the iOS platform and the App Store—and a competitor to services like Spotify. In theory, this is fine. But in Apple’s case, they continue to give themselves an unfair advantage at every turn. I don’t think I have to explain to anyone here why Spotify’s CEO is right. In the App Store, Spotify can only make use of Apple’s payment system, and for every Spotify subscription purchased through the iOS application, the company is forced to hand over 30% to Apple. To make matters worse, Spotify is not allowed to include a link to, say, a website where users can sign up for Spotify, nor can the company include any language even hinting at where users can sign up. On top of this, Spotify also states that Apple has blocked new features Spotify wanted to introduce including “locking Spotify and other competitors out of Apple services such as Siri, HomePod, and Apple Watch”. Furthermore, Apple limits the ways in which Spotify and other App Store developers can communicate with their users. This seems like the perfect moment to go after the big technology giants, and I hope something comes of this complaint. Any handle we can use to limit the power of megacorporations is a handle we should grab with both hands.

Here’s how we can break up big tech

Elizabeth Warren, Democratic presidential candidate for the 2020 elections, has said that she intends to break up the big technology companies. Today’s big tech companies have too much power — too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy. They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else. And in the process, they have hurt small businesses and stifled innovation. I want a government that makes sure everybody — even the biggest and most powerful companies in America — plays by the rules. And I want to make sure that the next generation of great American tech companies can flourish. To do that, we need to stop this generation of big tech companies from throwing around their political power to shape the rules in their favor and throwing around their economic power to snuff out or buy up every potential competitor. That’s why my administration will make big, structural changes to the tech sector to promote more competition — including breaking up Amazon, Facebook, and Google. Warren later added that Apple, too, should be broken up. Another Democratic presidential candidate, Amy Klobuchar, suggests taxing companies who profit off user data, and of course, there’s people like Bernie Sanders, who wants to limit the power of corporations in American politics in general. This poses an interesting conundrum for the American tech giants: they always pretend to be quite left-wing, and up until recently, that’s been an easy thing to do. Now, though, public support for Democrats might actually be to their own detriment. Let’s see how long these companies can maintain their left-wing dog and pony show.

FTC launches task force to monitor monopolies in technology sector

The Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition announced the creation of a task force dedicated to monitoring competition in U.S. technology markets, investigating any potential anticompetitive conduct in those markets, and taking enforcement actions when warranted. This is music to my ears, but only time will tell if this new task force has any teeth. The current US administration is held together by string and spit and barely able to even stumble out the door in the morning, so one has to wonder how effective any FTC actions can even be.

Oracle v. Google and the future of software development

Google’s Kent Walker, SVP of Global Affairs & Chief Legal Officer, in a company blog post: Today we asked the Supreme Court of the United States to review our long-running copyright dispute with Oracle over the use of software interfaces. The outcome will have a far-reaching impact on innovation across the computer industry. Standardized software interfaces have driven innovation in software development. They let computer programs interact with each other and let developers easily build technologies for different platforms. Unless the Supreme Court steps in here, the industry will be hamstrung by court decisions finding that the use of software interfaces in creating new programs is not allowed under copyright law. This is one of those rare cases where pretty much everyone I know stands firmly behind Google. Oracle’s lawsuit is scummy, dirty, destructive, and spiteful – Larry Ellison was one of Steve Jobs’ closest friends, and Oracle’s lawsuit started right around the time Jobs vowed to go “thermonuclear war” on Android. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put two and two together here. I hope the United States Supreme Court shuts this case down in favour of Google and common sense once and for all.