The Courts

Judge Won't Let FCC's Net Neutrality Repeal Stop Lawsuit Alleging Charter Throttled Netflix (hollywoodreporter.com) 33

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hollywood Reporter: [I]n the first significant decision referring to the repeal [of net neutrality] since FCC chairman Ajit Pai got his way, a New York judge on Friday ruled that the rescinding of net neutrality rules wasn't relevant to an ongoing lawsuit against Charter Communications. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed the lawsuit almost exactly a year ago today. It's alleged that Charter's Spectrum-TWC service promised internet speeds it knew it couldn't deliver and that Spectrum-TWC also misled subscribers by promising reliable access to Netflix, online content and online games. According to the complaint, the ISP intentionally failed to deliver reliable service in a bid to extract fees from backbone and content providers. When Netflix wouldn't pay, this "resulted in subscribers getting poorer quality streams during the very hours when they were most likely to access Netflix," and after Netflix agreed to pay demands, service "improved dramatically." This arguably is the kind of thing that net neutrality was supposed to prevent. And Charter itself pointed to the net neutrality repeal in a bid to block Schneiderman's claims that Charter had engaged in false advertising and deceptive business practices. New York Supreme Court Justice O. Peter Sherwood isn't sold.

He writes in an opinion that the FCC's order "which promulgates a new deregulatory policy effectively undoing network neutrality, includes no language purporting to create, extend or modify the preemptive reach of the Transparency Rule," referring to how ISPs have to disclose "actual network performance." And although Charter attempted to argue that the FCC clarified its intent to stop state and local governments from imposing disclosure obligations on broadband providers that were inconsistent with FCC's rules, Sherwood notes other language from the "Restoring Internet Freedom Order" how states will "continue to play their vital role in protecting consumers from fraud, enforcing fair business practices... and generally responding to consumer inquiries and complaints."

Government

Facebook Must Stop Tracking Belgian Users, Court Rules (mercurynews.com) 83

Facebook must stop tracking Belgian users' surfing outside the social network and delete data it's already gathered, or it will face fines of 250,000 ($312,000) euros a day, a Belgian court ruled. From a report: Facebook "doesn't sufficiently inform" clients about the data it gathers on their broader web use, nor does it explain what it does with the information or say how long it stores it, the Brussels Court of First Instance said in a statement. The social network is coming under increasing fire in Europe, with a high-profile German antitrust probe examining whether it unfairly compels users to sign up to restrictive privacy terms. Belgium's data-protection regulators have targeted the company since at least 2015 when a court ordered it to stop storing non-users' personal data.
Intel

Intel Hit With More Than 30 Lawsuits Over Security Flaws (reuters.com) 95

Intel said on Friday shareholders and customers had filed 32 class action lawsuits against the company in connection with recently-disclosed security flaws in its microchips. From a report: Most of the lawsuits -- 30 -- are customer class action cases that claim that users were harmed by Intel's "actions and/or omissions" related to the flaws, which could allow hackers to steal data from computers. Intel said in a regulatory filing it was not able to estimate the potential losses that may arise out of the lawsuits. Security researchers at the start of January publicized two flaws, dubbed Spectre and Meltdown, that affected nearly every modern computing device containing chips from Intel, Advanced Micro Devices and ARM.
Twitter

Federal Judge Says Embedding a Tweet Can Be Copyright Infringement (eff.org) 148

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation: Rejecting years of settled precedent, a federal court in New York has ruled [PDF] that you could infringe copyright simply by embedding a tweet in a web page. Even worse, the logic of the ruling applies to all in-line linking, not just embedding tweets. If adopted by other courts, this legally and technically misguided decision would threaten millions of ordinary Internet users with infringement liability.

This case began when Justin Goldman accused online publications, including Breitbart, Time, Yahoo, Vox Media, and the Boston Globe, of copyright infringement for publishing articles that linked to a photo of NFL star Tom Brady. Goldman took the photo, someone else tweeted it, and the news organizations embedded a link to the tweet in their coverage (the photo was newsworthy because it showed Brady in the Hamptons while the Celtics were trying to recruit Kevin Durant). Goldman said those stories infringe his copyright.
"[W]hen defendants caused the embedded Tweets to appear on their websites, their actions violated plaintiff's exclusive display right; the fact that the image was hosted on a server owned and operated by an unrelated third party (Twitter) does not shield them from this result," Judge Katherine Forrest said.
Crime

Electronics-Recycling Innovator Faces Prison For Extending Computers' Lives 280

schwit1 shares a report from Los Angeles Times: Prosecutors said 33-year-old [Eric Lundgren, an electronic-waste recycling innovator] ripped off Microsoft by manufacturing 28,000 counterfeit discs with the company's Windows operating system on them. He was convicted of conspiracy and copyright infringement, which brought a 15-month prison sentence and a $50,000 fine. In a rare move though, a federal appeals court has granted an emergency stay of the sentence, giving Lundgren another chance to make his argument that the whole thing was a misunderstanding. Lundgren does not deny that he made the discs or that he hoped to sell them. But he says this was no profit-making scheme. By his account, he just wanted to make it easier to extend the usefulness of secondhand computers -- keeping more of them out of the trash.

The case centers on "restore discs," which can be used only on computers that already have the licensed Windows software and can be downloaded free from the computer's manufacturer, in this case Dell. The discs are routinely provided to buyers of new computers to enable them to reinstall their operating systems if the computers' hardware fails or must be wiped clean. But they often are lost by the time used computers find their way to a refurbisher. Lundgren said he thought electronics companies wanted the reuse of computers to be difficult so that people would buy new ones. He thought that producing and selling restore discs to computer refurbishers -- saving them the hassle of downloading the software and burning new discs -- would encourage more secondhand sales. In his view, the new owners were entitled to the software, and this just made it easier. The government, and Microsoft, did not see it that way. Federal prosecutors in Florida obtained a 21-count indictment against Lundgren and his business partner, and Microsoft filed a letter seeking $420,000 in restitution for lost sales. Lundgren claims that the assistant U.S. attorney on the case told him, "Microsoft wants your head on a platter and I'm going to give it to them."
Media

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Is Under Investigation Over $3.9 Billion Media Deal 140

According to a report in The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled), Ajit Pai and the FCC approved a set of rules in 2017 to allow television broadcasters to increase the number of stations they own. Weeks after the rules were approved, Sinclair Broadcasting announced a $3.9 billion deal to buy Tribune Media. PC Gamer reports: The deal was made possible by the new set of rules, which subsequently raised some eyebrows. Notably, the FCC's inspector general is reportedly investigating if Pai and his aides abused their position by pushing for the rule changes that would make the deal possible, and timing them to benefit Sinclair. The extent of the investigation is not clear, nor is how long it will take. However, it does bring up the question of whether Pai had coordinated with Sinclair, and it could force him to publicly address the topic, which he hasn't really done up to this point.

Legislators first pushed for an investigation into this matter last November. At the time, a spokesman for the FCC representing Pai called the allegations "baseless" and alluded to it being a partisan play by those who oppose the chairman. "For many years, Chairman Pai has called on the FCC to update its media ownership regulations," the FCC spokesman said. "The chairman is sticking to his long-held views, and given the strong case for modernizing these rules, it's not surprising that those who disagree with him would prefer to do whatever they can to distract from the merits of his proposals."
Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF Urges US Copyright Office To Reject Proactive 'Piracy' Filters (torrentfreak.com) 55

TorrentFreak: As entertainment companies and Internet services spar over the boundaries of copyright law, the EFF is urging the US Copyright Office to keep "copyright's safe harbors safe." In a petition just filed with the office, the EFF warns that innovation will be stymied if Congress goes ahead with a plan to introduce proactive 'piracy' filters at the expense of the DMCA's current safe harbor provisions. [...] "Major media and entertainment companies and their surrogates want Congress to replace today's DMCA with a new law that would require websites and Internet services to use automated filtering to enforce copyrights. "Systems like these, no matter how sophisticated, cannot accurately determine the copyright status of a work, nor whether a use is licensed, a fair use, or otherwise non-infringing. Simply put, automated filters censor lawful and important speech," the EFF warns.
Piracy

Tickbox Must Remove Pirate Streaming Add-ons From Sold Devices (torrentfreak.com) 70

TickBox TV, the company behind a Kodi-powered streaming device, must release a new software updater that will remove copyright-infringing addons from previously shipped devices. A California federal court issued an updated injunction in the lawsuit that was filed by several major Hollywood studios, Amazon, and Netflix, which will stay in place while both parties fight out their legal battle. TorrentFreak reports: Last year, the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), an anti-piracy partnership between Hollywood studios, Netflix, Amazon, and more than two dozen other companies, filed a lawsuit against the Georgia-based company Tickbox TV, which sells Kodi-powered set-top boxes that stream a variety of popular media. ACE sees these devices as nothing more than pirate tools so the coalition asked the court for an injunction to prevent Tickbox from facilitating copyright infringement, demanding that it removes all pirate add-ons from previously sold devices. Last month, a California federal court issued an initial injunction, ordering Tickbox to keep pirate addons out of its box and halt all piracy-inducing advertisements going forward. In addition, the court directed both parties to come up with a proper solution for devices that were already sold.

The new injunction prevents Tickbox from linking to any "build," "theme," "app," or "addon" that can be indirectly used to transmit copyright-infringing material. Web browsers such as Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Safari, and Firefox are specifically excluded. In addition, Tickbox must also release a new software updater that will remove any infringing software from previously sold devices. All tiles that link to copyright-infringing software from the box's home screen also have to be stripped. Going forward, only tiles to the Google Play Store or to Kodi within the Google Play Store are allowed. In addition, the agreement also allows ACE to report newly discovered infringing apps or addons to Tickbox, which the company will then have to remove within 24-hours, weekends excluded.

Government

Kaspersky Lab Sues Over Second Federal Ban (axios.com) 97

Cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab has filed a lawsuit targeting the second of two federal bans on its wares. The latest suit goes after language in a defense law explicitly blocking the purchase of Kaspersky products. An earlier suit targets a Homeland Security directive doing the same. From a report: The bigger picture: With the White House reluctant to institute additional sanctions on Russia, White House Cyber Czar Rob Joyce pointed to Kaspersky as an example of the Trump administration taking Russia seriously. While Kaspersky isn't alleged to be involved in the election hacks of 2016, it's hard not to see the actions against the firm in the context of deteriorated relations with Moscow, as part of a growing spat between the two countries.
The Courts

Comcast Sues Vermont Over Conditions On New License Requiring the Company To Expand Its Network (vtdigger.org) 180

An anonymous reader quotes a report from VTDigger: Cable television giant Comcast is suing the Vermont Public Utility Commission over the panel's decision to require the company to expand its network and step up support for community access TV if it wants to continue doing business in Vermont. A key issue is the services Comcast must provide to local community access systems that carry municipal government and school board meetings and other local events. The 26 community access systems have been pushing -- against resistance by Comcast -- for high-definition video, greater ability to operate from remote locations, and inclusion in the interactive program guides that Comcast customers can use to decide what to watch. The PUC -- formerly known as the Public Service Board -- in January issued a new 11-year permit for Comcast to operate in Vermont. In July the panel rejected the company's request to drop some of the conditions attached to the permit.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Burlington, Comcast argued that the PUC "exceeded its authority under federal and Vermont law" by imposing "numerous conditions on Comcast's continued cable operations in the state that are arbitrary, unprecedented and will ultimately harm local cable subscribers by resulting in millions of dollars in increased cable costs." It said the commission "did so despite overwhelming record evidence that Vermont cable subscribers do not want to incur any additional costs or fees for the kinds of conditions imposed" in the commission's January order.

Privacy

German Court Rules Facebook Use of Personal Data Illegal (reuters.com) 79

A German consumer rights group said on Monday that a court had found Facebook's use of personal data to be illegal because the U.S. social media platform did not adequately secure the informed consent of its users. From a report: The verdict, from a Berlin regional court, comes as Big Tech faces increasing scrutiny in Germany over its handling of sensitive personal data that enables it to micro-target online advertising. The Federation of German Consumer Organisations (vzvb) said that Facebook's default settings and some of its terms of service were in breach of consumer law, and that the court had found parts of the consent to data usage to be invalid. "Facebook hides default settings that are not privacy-friendly in its privacy center and does not provide sufficient information about it when users register," said Heiko Duenkel, litigation policy officer at the vzvb. "This does not meet the requirement for informed consent."
Businesses

Hackers Hijack Government Websites To Mine Crypto-Cash (bbc.com) 48

BBC reports: The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) took down its website after a warning that hackers were taking control of visitors' computers to mine cryptocurrency. Security researcher Scott Helme said more than 4,000 websites, including many government ones, were affected. He said the affected code had now been disabled and visitors were no longer at risk. The ICO said: "We are aware of the issue and are working to resolve it." Mr Helme said he was alerted by a friend who had received a malware warning when he visited the ICO website. He traced the problem to a website plug-in called Browsealoud, used to help blind and partially sighted people access the web. The cryptocurrency involved was Monero -- a rival to Bitcoin that is designed to make transactions in it "untraceable" back to the senders and recipients involved. The plug-in had been tampered with to add a program, Coinhive, which "mines" for Monero by running processor-intensive calculations on visitors' computers. The Register: A list of 4,200-plus affected websites can be found here: they include The City University of New York (cuny.edu), Uncle Sam's court information portal (uscourts.gov), Lund University (lu.se), the UK's Student Loans Company (slc.co.uk), privacy watchdog The Information Commissioner's Office (ico.org.uk) and the Financial Ombudsman Service (financial-ombudsman.org.uk), plus a shedload of other .gov.uk and .gov.au sites, UK NHS services, and other organizations across the globe.
Facebook

Facebook 'Likes' Are a Powerful Tool For Authoritarian Rulers, Court Petition Says (qz.com) 59

A Cambodian opposition leader has filed a petition in a California court against Facebook, demanding the company disclose its transactions with his country's authoritarian prime minister, whom he accuses of falsely inflating his popularity through purchased "likes" and spreading fake news. From a report: The petition, filed Feb. 8, brings the ongoing debate over Facebook's power to undermine democracies into a legal setting. The petitioner, Sam Rainsy, says that Hun Sen, the prime minister, "has used the network to threaten violence against political opponents and dissidents, disseminate false information, and manipulate his (and the regime's) supposed popularity, thus seeking to foster an illusion of popular legitimacy." Rainsy alleges that Hun had used "click farms" to artificially boost his popularity, effectively buying "likes." The petition says that Hun had achieved astonishing Facebook fame in a very short time, raising questions about whether this popularity was legitimate.
The Courts

Maine Dairy Company Settles Lawsuit Over Oxford Comma (bostonmagazine.com) 164

Daniel Victor reports via The New York Times: Ending a case that electrified punctuation pedants, grammar goons and comma connoisseurs, Oakhurst Dairy settled an overtime dispute with its drivers that hinged entirely on the lack of an Oxford comma in state law. The dairy company in Portland, Me., agreed to pay $5 million to the drivers (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source), according to court documents filed on Thursday. The relatively small-scale dispute gained international notoriety last year when the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that the missing comma created enough uncertainty to side with the drivers, granting those who love the Oxford comma a chance to run a victory lap across the internet. But the resolution means there will be no ruling from the land's highest courts on whether the Oxford comma -- the often-skipped second comma in a series like "A, B, and C" -- is an unnecessary nuisance or a sacred defender of clarity, as its fans and detractors endlessly debate.

The case began in 2014, when three truck drivers sued the dairy for what they said was four years' worth of overtime pay they had been denied. Maine law requires time-and-a-half pay for each hour worked after 40 hours, but it carved out exemptions for: The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: agricultural produce; meat and fish products; and perishable foods. What followed the last comma in the first sentence was the crux of the matter: "packing for shipment or distribution of." The court ruled that it was not clear whether the law exempted the distribution of the three categories that followed, or if it exempted packing for the shipment or distribution of them. Had there been a comma after "shipment," the meaning would have been clear.

Businesses

Uber Settles Dispute With Alphabet's Self-driving Car Unit (cnbc.com) 39

In a shocking development, Uber said on Friday it has settled the high-stakes trade-secret theft lawsuit brought by Alphabet's Waymo, resolving a conflict that already cost the ride-hailing giant its top driverless car engineer and threatened to further embarrass the company. From a report: Uber will pay Waymo a 0.34 percent equity stake amounting to about $245 million at Uber's recent $72 billion valuation, the companies said on Friday, after days of courtroom theatrics. Uber has also agreed not to incorporate Waymo's confidential information into its hardware and software, though Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi writes that he doesn't believe his company used any of Waymo's trade secrets in the first place. Khosrowshahi says that he feels "regret" over the dispute and wished his predecessors had handled it differently.
Google

Original Pixel Phone Users Are Suing Google Over Microphone Defects (fastcompany.com) 62

Google is facing a lawsuit over the original Pixel. From a report: In a class action complaint filed this week, plaintiffs allege that the microphones in their Pixel and Pixel XL phones were defective from the start, and that Google knowingly sold defective phones amid widespread complaints immediately after launch. The lawsuit also claims that some warranty replacement phones continued to have problems, though neither of the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit had their phones repaired within Google's standard warranty period. Google acknowledged the Pixel phones' microphone issues in March 2017. An employee on Google's support forums attributed the problems to "a hairline crack in the solder connection on the audio codec," and said the problem can come and go depending on the temperature of the phone or the way it's being held.
United States

36 Indicted in Global Cybercrime Ring That Stole $530M (go.com) 40

U.S. prosecutors say 36 people have been indicted in connection with an international cybercrime ring that bought and sold stolen credit card information, leading to losses of more than $530 million. From a report: The Justice Department says Wednesday that the so-called Infraud Organization dealt in the large-scale acquisition and sale of stolen identities, credit card information and malware. Deputy Assistant Attorney General David Rybicki says it was "truly the premier one-stop shop for cybercriminals worldwide." He says the organization used an online forum on the dark web to sell financial and personal information. Investigators believe the organization's nearly 11,000 members targeted more than 4.3 million credit cards and bank accounts.
Bitcoin

Man Sues T-Mobile For Allegedly Failing To Stop Hackers From Stealing His Cryptocurrency (theverge.com) 133

Over the weekend, a lawsuit was filed against T-Mobile claiming that the company's lack of security allowed hackers to enter his wireless account last fall and steal cryptocoins worth thousands of dollars. "Carlos Tapang of Washington state accuses T-Mobile of having 'improperly allowed wrongdoers to access' his wireless account on November 7th last year," reports The Verge. "The hackers then cancelled his number and transferred it to an AT&T account under their control. 'T-Mobile was unable to contain this security breach until the next day,' when it finally got the number back from AT&T, Tapang alleges in the suit, first spotted by Law360." From the report: After gaining control of his phone number, the hackers were able to change the password on one of Tapang's cryptocurrency accounts and steal 1,000 OmiseGo (OMG) tokens and 19.6 BitConnect coins, Tapang claims. The hackers then exchanged the coins for 2.875 Bitcoin and transferred it out of his account, the suit states. On November 7th, the price of Bitcoin was $7,118.80, so had the hackers cashed out then, they would have netted a profit of $20,466.55. Tapang goes on to say, "After the incident, BTC price reached more than $17,000.00 per coin," but given the volatility of bitcoin prices, the hackers may not have benefited from the soar.

The suit alleges T-Mobile is at fault partly because the carrier said it would add a PIN code to Tapang's account prior to the incident, but didn't actually implement it. Tapang also states that hackers are able to call T-Mobile's customer support multiple times to gain access to customer accounts, until they're able to get an agent on the line that would grant them access without requiring further identity verification. The complaint also lists several anonymous internet users who have posted about similar security breaches to their own T-Mobile accounts.

The Courts

What We Learned From Day 1 of the Uber and Alphabet Trial (arstechnica.com) 25

Recode highlights the presentations each side gave on Day 1 in the Waymo v. Uber trial: Alphabet's self-driving arm, Waymo, and Uber gave their opening statements in front of a jury on Monday, commencing the courtroom phase of what has already been a messy legal battle. The day was entirely about opening arguments, but both Uber's and Waymo's strategy centers largely on one thing: Our opponent stooped to the levels they did because they were afraid we would beat them. Uber claims Waymo's lawsuit is baseless and is only suing because they were upset they were losing top talent at a time when competing companies began gaining ground. Waymo claims Uber was worried about getting beat in the self-driving car race so it stole Waymo's trade secrets when it hired one of its former executives. If Uber loses the case, it could have to pay out millions of dollars in damages and potentially stall its self-driving efforts. For Waymo, losing the case will have largely reputational risks. Alphabet rarely, if ever, sues over any issues with people or other companies, which means this litigation carries a lot of weight.

Uber as the defense doesn't have to prove anything, just cast enough doubt on Waymo's claims. Waymo has to prove both motivation on the part of Uber to intentionally steal trade secrets, and that the information Uber stole was proprietary. "That was quite the story," Uber attorney Bill Carmody said in his opening statement. "I want to tell you right up front. It didn't happen, there's no conspiracy, there's no cheating, period end of story." It'll be up to the jury to determine if Waymo has presented enough evidence to prove that not only did Uber steal trade secrets, that the company was using them in their current self-driving technology. Painting Waymo as a company that was growing increasingly concerned over losing top engineers to Uber -- in addition to harboring personal grievances against Levandowski -- could help the ride-hail company convince the jury that Waymo had ulterior motives with its lawsuit.
Recode has a detailed list in their report of all the evidence Uber and Waymo presented against one another, as well as their strategies going forward.
Businesses

Samsung Billionaire Gets Off Easy (gizmodo.com) 93

Lee Jae-yong, the Samsung chief found guilty of bribery and embezzlement, was freed from prison after an appeals court reduced and suspended his five-year prison sentence. Gizmodo reports: Lee had pleaded not guilty to all charges and spent nearly a year in jail, CNN reported, before the appeals court reduced his sentence to two and a half years and suspended it for four. The court reportedly found him guilty of one bribery charge, but not of hiding money offshore. It also overturned another bribery charge. It's important to understand that Samsung has a tight grip on the country's economy. Known as a "chaebol," or a (usually family-owned) business conglomerate, Samsung contributes to a little over one-fifth of the country's exports. Its businesses make up about 15 percent of the country's total economy. It is extremely rare for leaders of the country's chaebols to be justly punished for their crimes -- most convicted are ultimately pardoned or granted a commutation. Lee's father, Lee Kun-hee, has been pardoned twice for similar charges.

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