Legal Archive

New bill aims to ban US gov from using Huawei, ZTE phones

US lawmakers have long worried about the security risks posed the alleged ties between Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE and the country's government. To that end, Texas Representative Mike Conaway introduced a bill last week called Defending U.S. Government Communications Act, which aims to ban US government agencies from using phones and equipment from the companies.

Almost all phones and electronics - including most "American" or "European" phones - are made in China. This seems more like a battle in a wider trade war than something related to spying.

The FCC just killed net neutrality

Net neutrality is dead - at least for now. In a 3-2 vote today, the Federal Communications Commission approved a measure to remove the tough net neutrality rules it put in place just two years ago. Those rules prevented internet providers from blocking and throttling traffic and offering paid fast lanes. They also classified internet providers as Title II common carriers in order to give the measure strong legal backing.

Today's vote undoes all of that. It removes the Title II designation, preventing the FCC from putting tough net neutrality rules in place even if it wanted to. And, it turns out, the Republicans now in charge of the FCC really don’t want to. The new rules largely don’t prevent internet providers from doing anything. They can block, throttle, and prioritize content if they wish to. The only real rule is that they have to publicly state that they’re going to do it.

Nobody wanted the FCC to vote like this. Public support for net neutrality is massive. The only reason this is happening is pure, unbridled corruption at the very root of the American political system.

Here are the Russia-linked Facebook ads released by Congress

As part of this week's hearings into how Russia has used social media to influence American opinion, House lawmakers released several Facebook and Instagram ads linked to Kremlin meddling online. Although lawmakers have not yet released the full cache of ads, which includes about 3,000 examples provided to Congress by Facebook, the so-far disclosed ads offer one of the closest looks yet at the Russian operation.

Some of these ads and fake accounts are quite fascinating - they're clearly designed not just to promote Trump, but also to rile up different groups - from the LGBT community to proponents of the US 2nd amendment - against each other. Oh, and also to pitch a fight between Clinton and Jesus.

Facebook, Google, Twitter spread Russian-backed propaganda

Top officials from Facebook, Google, and Twitter told a congressional panel Tuesday that their platforms hosted a disinformation campaign carried out over their networks by Russian state actors. The propaganda centered on the presidential election, immigration, gun rights, gay rights, and racial issues, the companies said. None of the three organizations said they supported proposed legislation requiring them to disclose who is buying political advertisements on their platforms, although these Web companies promised more public transparency about who is buying ads on their networks.

All political spending must be disclosed in some form or another in most countries, so I see no reason why ad spending on Facebook or Twitter should be any different. I also like the idea to make it illegal - or impossible - for foreign entities to buy ad space for political content; as in, a French entity would not be able to buy political ads in The Netherlands. It's already illegal in, say, the US for foreign entities to donate or spend money on candidates, so there's definitely precedent.

The real issue, however, is that it might be hard, though, to define what is a political ad, and what isn't.

Samsung CEO to resign citing ‘unprecedented crisis’

Kwon Oh-hyun, Samsung Electronics' CEO, vice chairman, and the head of its hugely successful components business, has announced his resignation. He will step down from the CEO role, as well as his positions on the board and as CEO of Samsung Display, in March 2018.

"It is something I had been thinking long and hard about for quite some time. It has not been an easy decision, but I feel I can no longer put it off," Kwon said in a letter sent to employees. "As we are confronted with unprecedented crisis inside out, I believe that time has now come for the company start anew, with a new spirit and young leadership to better respond to challenges arising from the rapidly changing IT industry."

The unnamed "crisis" in Kwon's letter no doubt includes the imprisonment of Lee Jae-yong, the de facto leader of the entire Samsung group, on corruption charges. While Lee didn't take a hands-on role in Samsung Electronics' regular business, Kwon's resignation is the first sign that the scandal could have a major impact on the company's operations and culture.

South Korea are a bunch of amateurs. Everybody knows real freedom-loving countries legalise corruption and rebrand it as Lobbyingâ„¢ so that companies like Apple, Google, and others can legally bribe politicians and buy political favours without fear of being imprisoned.

Get with the program, South Korea.

EU finds Luxembourg gave illegal tax benefits to Amazon

The European Commission has concluded that Luxembourg granted undue tax benefits to Amazon of around €250 million. This is illegal under EU State aid rules because it allowed Amazon to pay substantially less tax than other businesses. Luxembourg must now recover the illegal aid.

Remember when Tim Cook lied about the EU only going after Apple because Apple is big? Apple's illegal deal with Ireland is just one on a long, long list of illegal deals the EU is cracking down on.

Anyway, speaking of the 13 billion euro Apple stole from EU citizens:

The European Commission has decided to refer Ireland to the European Court of Justice for failing to recover from Apple illegal State aid worth up to €13 billion, as required by a Commission decision.

Today, more than one year after the Commission's decision, Ireland has still not recovered any of the illegal aid. Furthermore, although Ireland has made progress on the calculation of the exact amount of the illegal aid granted to Apple, it is only planning to conclude this work by March 2018 at the earliest.

The crackdown on these illegal tax deals hopefully only represents the first step in cracking down on the grotesquely questionable conduct of large technology (and other sectors) companies. Backroom deals between governments and powerful corporations so they can effectively avoid paying any taxes while the rest of us do our civic duty by paying our taxes to pay for our schools, roads, hospitals, police, firefighters, and so on are a travesty.

If Apple, Amazon, Google, and others want to make use of the juicy fruits of European welfare states, they better start paying their fair share.

Apple and Qualcomm’s billion-dollar war over an $18 part

Within a matter of weeks, Qualcomm, which had been valued at more than $100 billion in December 2016, had lost a quarter of its market capitalization, an outcome that Qualcomm executives say was Apple's intent all along. "Apple's game plan is to squeeze people until they finally say, 'OK, the pressure's too hard. I'll just take a deal,'" said Derek Aberle, then Qualcomm's president and the company's chief negotiator, in an interview in July. Apple, on the other hand, presents the dispute as a matter of fairness. "It's not that we can't pay," Sewell says. "It's that we shouldn't have to pay."

The case, which could go to trial in a San Diego federal court as early as next year, could have a profound impact on the mobile phone business. A Qualcomm win would hamper Apple’s efforts to cut costs and preserve margins that have allowed it to capture most of the profits generated by smartphone makers worldwide. If Apple wins and succeeds in ending the Qualcomm tax, that could marginalize one of the most powerful American technology companies and upend the balance of power in the semiconductor industry.

I have zero sympathy for either of these two companies. I literally cannot find a single fournication to give.

The dystopia we signed up for

The world has become like an eerily banal dystopian novel. Things look the same on the surface, but they are not. With no apparent boundaries on how algorithms can use and abuse the data that's being collected about us, the potential for it to control our lives is ever-growing.

Our drivers' licenses, our keys, our debit and credit cards are all important parts of our lives. Even our social media accounts could soon become crucial components of being fully functional members of society. Now that we live in this world, we must figure out how to maintain our connection with society without surrendering to automated processes that we can neither see nor control.

Data of 143 million Americans stolen from Equifax

Equifax Inc. today announced a cybersecurity incident potentially impacting approximately 143 million U.S. consumers. Criminals exploited a U.S. website application vulnerability to gain access to certain files. Based on the company's investigation, the unauthorized access occurred from mid-May through July 2017. The company has found no evidence of unauthorized activity on Equifax's core consumer or commercial credit reporting databases.

Names, social security numbers, birthdays, addresses, driver's license numbers, credit card numbers - this is a very big breach.

Interestingly enough, three executives of the credit reporting agency sold their shares in the company days after the breach was discovered.

EC hits Google with record 2.42 billion EUR fine

The European Commission has fined Google €2.42 billion for breaching EU antitrust rules. Google has abused its market dominance as a search engine by giving an illegal advantage to another Google product, its comparison shopping service.

The company must now end the conduct within 90 days or face penalty payments of up to 5% of the average daily worldwide turnover of Alphabet, Google's parent company.

The two core offences as noted by the European Comission are as follows:

From 2008, Google began to implement in European markets a fundamental change in strategy to push its comparison shopping service. This strategy relied on Google's dominance in general internet search, instead of competition on the merits in comparison shopping markets:

  • Google has systematically given prominent placement to its own comparison shopping service: when a consumer enters a query into the Google search engine in relation to which Google's comparison shopping service wants to show results, these are displayed at or near the top of the search results.
  • Google has demoted rival comparison shopping services in its search results: rival comparison shopping services appear in Google's search results on the basis of Google's generic search algorithms. Google has included a number of criteria in these algorithms, as a result of which rival comparison shopping services are demoted. Evidence shows that even the most highly ranked rival service appears on average only on page four of Google's search results, and others appear even further down. Google's own comparison shopping service is not subject to Google's generic search algorithms, including such demotions.

As a result, Google's comparison shopping service is much more visible to consumers in Google's search results, whilst rival comparison shopping services are much less visible.

Much like Apple's and Ireland's illegal tax deal, fines like this can be easily avoided: respect the laws regarding doing business in the EU. I don't expect the current (or the previous, for that matter) US administration to keep these incredibly powerful tech giants in check, so I guess it's up to the EU.

Website used Zillow photos to mock bad design; Zillow may sue

Cyrus Farivar, for Ars:

An architecture blogger has temporarily disabled her website, McMansionHell.com, after receiving a demand letter from Zillow and posting it on Twitter.

On Monday, Zillow threatened to sue Kate Wagner, saying that that she was violating its terms of use, copyright law, and possibly the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act because she took images from the company's website without permission. However, on each of her posts, she acknowledged that the images came from Zillow and were posted under the fair use doctrine, as she was providing (often humorous) commentary on various architectural styles. Her website was featured on the design podcast 99% Invisible in October 2016.

Confusingly, Zillow does not even own the images in question. Instead, Zillow licenses them from the rights holders. As such, it remains unclear why the company would have standing to bring a lawsuit against Wagner.

Her website is incredibly entertaining, and you'd think such use of photos falls squarely under fair use. It sucks that she had to shutdown her website, and I'm hoping Zillow loses this case hard.

Trump administration approves social media checks

The Trump administration has rolled out a new questionnaire for U.S. visa applicants worldwide that asks for social media handles for the last five years and biographical information going back 15 years.

Under the new procedures, consular officials can request all prior passport numbers, five years' worth of social media handles, email addresses and phone numbers and 15 years of biographical information including addresses, employment and travel history.

While the new questions are voluntary, the form says failure to provide the information may delay or prevent the processing of an individual visa application.

This surely won't affect the countless incredibly smart scientists and engineers wanting to work in the US and contribute to the US economy.

People are demanding ransom from CD Projekt Red

CD Projekt Red, the company behind the popular Witcher series of videogames, put out a statement earlier today that individuals have stolen internal documents, and threaten to release them online if ransom isn't paid.

A demand for ransom has been made, saying that should we not comply, the files will be released to the general public. We will not be giving in to the demands of the individual or individuals that have contacted us, which might eventually lead to the files being published online. The appropriate legal authorities will be informed about the situation.

I haven't before seen a company being this open about something like this. It seems like a good strategy - with this statement, they're basically preemptively making the documents rather valueless. Pretty much the entire gaming community has very warm feelings towards CDPR - and rightfully so - so the individuals in question are left with empty hands here.

Clever.

US top court tightens patent suit rules in blow to patent trolls

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday tightened rules for where patent lawsuits can be filed in a decision that may make it harder for so-called patent "trolls" to launch sometimes dodgy patent cases in friendly courts, a major irritant for high-tech giants like Apple and Alphabet Inc's Google.

In a decision that upends 27 years of law governing patent infringement cases, the justices sided with beverage flavoring company TC Heartland LLC in its legal battle with food and beverage company Kraft Heinz Co. The justices ruled 8-0 that patent suits can be filed only in courts located in the jurisdiction where the targeted company is incorporated.

Good. That district in Texas is screwed.

EU to tackle complaints over tech companies’ trading practices

European companies such as Spotify, Rocket Internet and Deezer have complained that online platforms - such as search engines and app stores - abuse their position as gateways to customers to promote their own services or impose imbalanced terms and conditions.

The Commission said that initial findings of an investigation launched last year showed platforms were delisting products or services without due notice, restricting access to data or not making search result rankings transparent enough.

The Commission wants to establish fair practice criteria, measures to improve transparency and a system to help to resolve disputes.

Platforms like iOS and Android are now often the primary way through which people communicate and find information, making them de facto gatekeepers of the internet. Since the internet is now an integral and crucial part of our life - paying taxes, searching for jobs, buying/maintaining crucial insurance, etc. - we can't let access to it remain in the hands of companies with consumer-hostile interests such as Apple and Google. I'm glad the EU is looking into this.

As for Apple's and Google's complaints - cry me a river.

Is it time to break up the major tech companies?

The original headline (I changed it) is clickbaity, but the article raises good points.

In just 10 years, the world's five largest companies by market capitalization have all changed, save for one: Microsoft. Exxon Mobil, General Electric, Citigroup and Shell Oil are out and Apple, Alphabet (the parent company of Google), Amazon and Facebook have taken their place.

They're all tech companies, and each dominates its corner of the industry: Google has an 88 percent market share in search advertising, Facebook (and its subsidiaries Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger) owns 77 percent of mobile social traffic and Amazon has a 74 percent share in the e-book market. In classic economic terms, all three are monopolies.

We have been transported back to the early 20th century, when arguments about "the curse of bigness" were advanced by President Woodrow Wilson's counselor, Louis Brandeis, before Wilson appointed him to the Supreme Court. Brandeis wanted to eliminate monopolies, because (in the words of his biographer Melvin Urofsky) "in a democratic society the existence of large centers of private power is dangerous to the continuing vitality of a free people." We need look no further than the conduct of the largest banks in the 2008 financial crisis or the role that Facebook and Google play in the "fake news" business to know that Brandeis was right.

Any entity which becomes a threat to the well-being of our society, our planet, or the people on it must be dealt with. I'm not quite sure if e.g. Google or Apple qualify for that, and if they do, how to deal with that, but I sure as hell do not wish to live in a society where any one corporation is more powerful than the people.

John Deere: only corporations can own property

John Deere has turned itself into the poster-child for the DMCA, fighting farmers who say they want to fix their own tractors and access their data by saying that doing so violates the 1998 law's prohibition on bypassing copyright locks.

Deere's just reiterated that position to a US Copyright Office inquiry on the future of the law, joined by auto manufacturers (but not Tesla) and many other giant corporations, all of them arguing that since the gadgets you buy have software, and since that software is licensed, not sold, you don't really own any of that stuff. You are a licensee, and you have to use the gadget according to the license terms, which spell out where you have to buy your service, parts, consumables, apps, and so on.

This is finally a moment where without a doubt I can be all smug and entirely unhelpful by saying I do not use any stuff made by John Deere.

There are now 11 states considering ‘right to repair’ bills

The right to repair movement is spreading. In recent weeks legislators in Iowa, Missouri, and North Carolina have introduced bills that would make it easier for you to fix your electronics, joining eight other states that introduced right-to-repair legislation earlier this year.

The bills would require manufacturers to sell replacement parts to consumers and independent repair companies and would also require them to open source diagnostic manuals. It would also give independent repair professionals the ability to bypass software locks that prevent repairs, allowing them to return a gadget back to its factory settings.

No-brainer laws in any functioning democracy. I hope these US states show the way, so other states - and hopefully, other countries - will follow.

US passes bill to allow ISPs to sell users’ browser history

The United States, a country in North-America bogged down by extensive corruption, just passed a bill allowing ISPs to share and sell users' browsing history without their consent.

Internet providers now just need a signature from President Trump before they’re free to take, share, and even sell your web browsing history without your permission.

The House of Representatives passed a resolution today overturning an Obama-era FCC rule that required internet providers to get customers' permission before sharing their browsing history with other companies. The rules also required internet providers to protect that data from hackers and inform customers of any breaches.

The corrupt US senator who sponsored this clearly atrocious bill, Marsha Blackburn, from an area in the southern part of the country called Tennessee, received 693,000 US dollar in bribes from AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and other related companies who operate in the country's dysfunctional telecommunications sector.

In the United States, officially a representative democracy, it is entirely normal for high-level figures - up to and including the president of the troubled nation, a man named Donald Trump - to receive vast sums of money to enact laws written by corporations, regardless of their effects on civil liberties or the poor and needy people of the country.

Americans, as citizens of the nation are called, often lack access to basic necessities such as healthcare, parental leave, clean drinking water, high-quality infrastructure, and so on. This is in spite of the country's vast natural resources and wealth, to which only a few percent of the country's population of 320 million have access to.