posted about 4 hours ago on techdirt
The Wall Street Journal has obtained a nominal "win" in a Stingray-related legal action aimed at unsealing electronic surveillance orders, but the decision reads more like a loss. Jennifer Valentino-Devries reports: In the order, made after a series of legal motions brought by the Journal’s publisher, Dow Jones & Co., U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of the Southern District of Texas found that Dow Jones has a legal right to see government applications for surveillance, an idea the U.S. Justice Department had fought. But she agreed with the Justice Department that the requested documents shouldn't be disclosed yet because the 14 applications, dating from 2010 to 2013, all relate to continuing cases. Yes, the WSJ has a right to see these files… but not until the DOJ decides these investigations are really and truly over -- a determination that has yet to be reached for files zooming past the half-decade mark. The oral arguments delivered in June provide a little more insight into the DOJ's thought processes -- mainly that it should be the sole arbiter of document releases. The DOJ went past the constraints of its earlier argument -- that "open" investigations are not subject to "common law access" -- by claiming that documents used in the course of investigations, even closed ones, are not public records. I think our position is that "ongoing" is perhaps the wrong word choice in order to determine where the common law right of access and the First Amendment right of access applies. What we would say is that there is significant authority for the government's argument that pre-indictment investigations and the warrants and the applications and the orders that are contained in the context of pre-indictment investigations are not subject to the common law right of access. Dow Jones had asked the government to provide periodic status updates on these supposedly "open" investigations. The DOJ ignored these requests until prompted by the court, at which point it declared the files to be beyond the reach of the public. Here's the judge's recap of the events: Dow Jones then filed earlier this year the motion for an updated status report requesting various things: the government to update the report regarding the status of the investigations, and then making public certain versions of the status report, and the sealed appendix. I believe then the government responded as I said, basically saying no updating is necessary here because there is no common presumption of access or First Amendment right. The court didn't necessarily agree with this assertion but it did find the "balancing test" favored the government's interests. Dow Jones' legal counsel has asked for some additional transparency in docket filings, which would both provide the public with more information as well as assist the WSJ in determining the accuracy of the DOJ's assertions. (It could potentially aid in sussing out the form of surveillance being used as well.) I would just make the one small addition that, you know, a lot of these applications have a bunch of different requests kind of all pulled together. We've got pen register, trap and trace, we've got D orders, we've got subpoenas, we've got statutory search warrants. And so I would think that an entry ought to reflect that, particularly as it relates to ongoing access issues. You know, one -- some of these cases in which we've sought access are called In Re Sealed Application, some are called In Re Pen Register. The last one -- the most recent one is In Re Search Warrant. Well, if it's In Re Search Warrant, then the government's argument that these aren't search warrants looks a lot different. And so I think that the more specificity with regard to the basis of the application would help guide the Court as well as anyone who is seeking access to these to try and determine exactly what types of access might apply. The DOJ, unsurprisingly, isn't a fan of this idea. The surprising part is that -- in arguing against Dow Jones' proposal -- it basically admitted it deploys multiple investigative tools and techniques using a single, apparently non-specific judicial authorization. [F]or efficiency purposes, we've tended to bring a lot of these actions under one single document so that we don't have to keep coming back to the judge to get separate authorizations for different types of investigatory techniques in the same investigation, so we've just found it expedient to do that at one time. There are your parallel construction and your Stingrays d/b/a pen registers, etc. And this slips by the court unquestioned. As it stands now, the DOJ owes the Wall Street Journal a status update in two weeks… and that's about it. The paper may have won the right to unseal these documents, but apparently any future transparency will be left to the discretion of the government. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 10 hours ago on techdirt
Human genetic studies are pointing to more and more interesting information about how our bodies work and develop and ultimately fail. Optimists point to using this knowledge for the improvement of the human condition, but there are some obvious counter-arguments to this viewpoint. So far, though, the technology for genetic therapies or designer babies hasn't been anywhere near perfected, giving us some time to reflect on the possibilities and pitfalls. Unfortunately, our inherent biases in what we're looking at in our genome might prove to be our own undoing. Naturally-occurring genetic mutations happen all the time, and some of them could lead to treatments for serious diseases... or better than average abilities. Timothy Dreyer has an unusually high bone density mutation that could help treat osteoporosis, and there are other mutants that could be added to a registered database of mutants (without the help of Professor X). [url] Breast size genetics is being studied... to determine if there are any correlations to the incidence of breast cancer. Apparently, at least seven genetic factors are associated with breast size, and three of those are linked to breast cancer. [url] People with a condition called aphakia can see in the ultraviolet region of light -- normally invisible to most humans. Most people can distinguish about a million different colors, but others can perceive orders of magnitude more. Certainly, there are limits to human vision, but it's still amazing to think that people can see galaxies millions of light-years away on a clear night with the naked eye. [url] After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 12 hours ago on techdirt
A few weeks ago we noted that it appeared that Facebook was building its own ContentID system to try to takedown videos copied from elsewhere... and voila, here it is. Facebook has now announced its new system, which is powered by AudibleMagic -- the same company that powers every other such system that is not Google's ContentID. Audible Magic is the "default." It's basically the "buying IBM" of content/copyright filtering. And it tends to be pretty bad. Facebook notes that its videos are already run through Audible Magic and that has basically done nothing. So they're "working with Audible Magic to enhance the way the system works." We'll see what that means in practice, but I expect there will be plenty of false positives and complaints about people's perfectly legitimate videos getting taken down. But, that's what happens when you live in a world where people censor first and ask questions later. Even worse, it appears that some of the new tools will only be available to a special class of Facebook users: To this end, we have been building new video matching technology that will be available to a subset of creators. This technology is tailored to our platform, and will allow these creators to identify matches of their videos on Facebook across Pages, profiles, groups, and geographies. Our matching tool will evaluate millions of video uploads quickly and accurately, and when matches are surfaced, publishers will be able to report them to us for removal. We will soon begin testing the beta version of this matching technology with a small group of partners, including media companies, multi-channel networks and individual video creators. It's clear why Facebook is doing this, but it seems that following Google down this path is a pretty weak solution, rather than building something better, that doesn't take a "censor first" approach to things.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 13 hours ago on techdirt
Over the weekend, Spencer Ackerman published a fairly incredible story about a newly appointed West Point professor, William Bradford, who had written a paper, published in the National Security Law Journal, entitled Trahison Des Professeurs, in which he argues (among other things) that US academics who oppose current US anti-terror policy should themselves be targets for killing as a "fifth column." In a lengthy academic paper, the professor, William C Bradford, proposes to threaten “Islamic holy sites” as part of a war against undifferentiated Islamic radicalism. That war ought to be prosecuted vigorously, he wrote, “even if it means great destruction, innumerable enemy casualties, and civilian collateral damage”. Other “lawful targets” for the US military in its war on terrorism, Bradford argues, include “law school facilities, scholars’ home offices and media outlets where they give interviews” – all civilian areas, but places where a “causal connection between the content disseminated and Islamist crimes incited” exist. “Shocking and extreme as this option might seem, [dissenting] scholars, and the law schools that employ them, are – at least in theory – targetable so long as attacks are proportional, distinguish noncombatants from combatants, employ nonprohibited weapons, and contribute to the defeat of Islamism,” Bradford wrote. The full text in that section is even worse than it sounds above. This is the rare case where putting things back into context makes it even crazier. It flat out argues that legal scholars who disagree with official US policy should be classified as "unlawful combatants." He first describes scholars who disagree with US policy as "CLOACA" standing for "critical law of armed conflict academy" and then this: Treat CLOACA Scholars as Unlawful Combatants CLOACA scholarship and advocacy that attenuates U.S. arms and undermines American will are PSYOPs, which are combatant acts. Consequently, if these acts are colorable as propaganda inciting others to war crimes, such acts are prosecutable. CLOACA members are thus combatants who, like all other combatants, can be targeted at any time and place and captured and detained until termination of hostilities. As unlawful combatants for failure to wear the distinctive insignia of a party, CLOACA propagandists are subject to coercive interrogation, trial, and imprisonment. Further, the infrastructure used to create and disseminate CLOACA propaganda—law school facilities, scholars’ home offices, and media outlets where they give interviews—are also lawful targets given the causal connection between the content disseminated and Islamist crimes incited. Shocking and extreme as this option might seem, CLOACA scholars, and the law schools that employ them, are—at least in theory—targetable so long as attacks are proportional, distinguish noncombatants from combatants, employ nonprohibited weapons, and contribute to the defeat of Islamism. Later in the piece he hits back on the expected criticism that this would be seen as an attack on academic freedom. Not at all, he insists: This critique profoundly misrepresents academic freedom, which is not a sacrosanct right but a social contract in which the academic agrees to search diligently for and weigh all relevant information, specify assumptions, examine competing theories, and acknowledge epistemological and methodological limitations mitigating the strength of conclusions. In exchange, the people repose trust in, and grant continued employment to, the scholar, regardless of the destination(s) to which his search for truth leads. Academic freedom carries with it a “moral obligation to seek the facts without prejudice and to spread knowledge without malicious intent;” it is not a blanket grant of immunity from the consequences of politicized “scholarship” but a contractual license conferring the “freedom to say that two plus two make four.” Scholars who insist, in thrall to a hostile ideology, that two plus two make five are precluded from searching for truth. Just as Cold War Communist Party membership entailed uncritical repetition of Party dogma, calling into doubt whether professor-members were fit for their positions, so, too, does scholarship in which two plus two make five, and five benefits Islamists, suggests CLOACA should be evicted from the bunker of academic freedom. In short: academic freedom means you are free to explore any topic, so long as the end result agrees with US policy, which is the undeniable "truth" like 2 plus 2. Anything else is heresy, aiding the enemy and punishable by death from above. Basically "anything goes" so long as it's in the service of going after people Bradford doesn't like. It's "Poe's Law -- the dissertation." Ackerman's story pointed out that Bradford, who only just started working at West Point, has a bit of a troubled history of exaggerating his own accomplishments. In the paper, Bradford identifies himself as an “associate professor of law, national security and strategy, National Defense University”, seemingly his previous job before West Point. But a representative of the National Defense University said Bradford was a contractor at the prestigious Defense Department-run institution, “never an NDU employee nor an NDU professor”. It appears not to be the first time Bradford misrepresented his credentials. He resigned from Indiana University’s law school in 2005 after his military record showed he had exaggerated his service. (Among his paper’s criticisms of supposedly treasonous lawyers is “intellectual dishonesty”.) This all came out when the National Security Law Journal itself, a publication of George Mason University, put out a public apology for publishing the article in the first place: As the incoming Editorial Board, we want to address concerns regarding Mr. Bradford’s contention that some scholars in legal academia could be considered as constituting a fifth column in the war against terror; his interpretation is that those scholars could be targeted as unlawful combatants. The substance of Mr. Bradford’s article cannot fairly be considered apart from the egregious breach of professional decorum that it exhibits. We cannot “unpublish” it, of course, but we can and do acknowledge that the article was not presentable for publication when we published it, and that we therefore repudiate it with sincere apologies to our readers. The Journal also published a response from Jeremy Rabkin, the well known law professor at George Mason, who lit into those who decided to publish the paper in the first place: In the Foreword to this issue of the journal, last year’s Editor-in-Chief does acknowledge that this new issue “will not be without controversy” and may be “discomforting at times.” The editor then offers the “hope” that “the diverse ideas you read here – even if you disagree – will prompt you to think and respond.” That doesn’t remotely address the problem. When an article proposes to arrest law professors and bomb law schools and nearby TV studios, it’s not engaging in “controversy,” but slipping into an alternate universe. It’s not “discomforting.” It is bonkers. The journal could not reasonably have expected readers to “respond” – unless to ask, “Are you out of your minds?” Given all this, it's not surprising that within a day of press attention being called to this whole thing, Bradford resigned from West Point, though it still calls into question why he was hired in the first place, seeing as the article itself was published long before he started at West Point. The article further notes that Bradford had previously lost academic positions for exaggerating his credentials (though he blamed it on those darn "liberal professors" trying to oust him), and also claims that he had some odd classroom behavior choices: A former student who wished to remain anonymous said Bradford’s behavior included “doing push-ups in class [and] making students stand and give answers in a military-like manner”. Bradford, the former student said, ended up leaving his class – and ultimately the college – without grading the final exam. I imagine this latest shaming will also be spun into a story about how a "fifth column" of people who hate the US are really out to get Bradford. Frankly, I can't wait to see him try to spin this as an attack on his academic freedom, though someone could just quote his own words right back to him: "Academic freedom carries with it a “moral obligation to seek the facts without prejudice and to spread knowledge without malicious intent." Arguing for killing those who disagree with you seems, to me, to be a form of "malicious intent."Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 15 hours ago on techdirt
Technological innovation is solving all sorts of problems, from major issues to minor inconveniences — but one criticism that often comes up is that Silicon Valley has a "by rich young white men, for rich young white men" culture, with most of its efforts focused on solving problems for a small, affluent minority. This week, Catherine Bracy returns as we try to understand this common complaint, how valid it is, and what can be done about it. Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 16 hours ago on techdirt
Comcast has slowly but surely been expanding the company's usage cap trials since around 2012, largely focusing them on less competitive markets where annoyed users can't vote with their wallets. In these seventeen (and counting) trial markets, Comcast broadband customers face a monthly usage cap of 300 gigabytes. After that, users need to shell out $10 for each additional 50 gigabytes of data consumed. The trials have expanded slowly but surely in the hopes of minimizing user backlash. Basically, Comcast is the hot water slowly coming to a boil, and you're the frog. It appears that Comcast has now added a new wrinkle to the mix, and has started charging these trial users an extra $30 if they want to bypass usage caps. The company's FAQ for the new option tries to argue that the change is being made to provide consumers with greater "choice and flexibility":The Unlimited Data Option provides additional choice and flexibility for our customers who may make heavier use of the Internet. Enrollment is optional. The Unlimited Data Option costs the current additional fee of $30 per calendar month, regardless of actual data usage. The 300 GB plan will not apply to customers who enroll in the Unlimited Data Option.Yeah, that's bullshit. Back in 2012, users in these trial markets used to get uncapped Comcast broadband service as a matter of course. They now get to pay $30 more a month for the honor of avoiding Comcast's totally arbitrary and unnecessary usage restrictions. And it's all thanks, of course, to the painful lack of competition in most Comcast markets. While this "unlimited" option is currently only being tested in the Florida cap markets, Comcast has made it clear for years it hopes to impose this kind of punitive pricing system in all markets. You'll recall the cable industry used to claim usage caps on fixed-line networks were necessary due to congestion (fear the Exaflood!). But as bandwidth costs dropped and intelligent network gear offered far more sophisticated ways of managing network load, the cable industry finally admitted that congestion had nothing to do with it. And while the cable industry now tries to argue that usage caps are necessary due to "fairness," they're really about one thing and one thing only: taking advantage of limited competition and protecting legacy TV revenues from Internet video. If you peruse the Comcast usage cap FAQ you'll notice that Comcast doesn't even really bother with an explanation or justification as to why the caps are necessary, since even the nation's least-liked company knows any defense of this position is futile. This is about as close as Comcast gets to delivering a coherent explanation as to why these limits were imposed: As the marketplace and technology change, we do too. We evaluate customer data usage, and a variety of other factors, and make adjustments accordingly. Over the last several years, we have periodically reviewed various plans, and recently we have been analyzing the market and our process through various data usage plan trials. So yeah, we're not a massive incumbent telecom exploiting uncompetitive markets and lazy regulators, we're just experimentin' and changin' and what have you! Comcast has made it abundantly clear that it plans to keep expanding these usage caps (and charging you to avoid them) until either the competition fairy somehow materializes better broadband options out of the ether, or regulators wake the hell up and realize that usage caps on fixed-line networks are a predatory assault on captive customers, an affront to innovation, and an aggressive abuse of monopoly power.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 17 hours ago on techdirt
Learn how to code apps and games with the $29 Hot Java Android Coding Bundle on sale now. The bundle includes 5 courses with over 60 hours of training, and has promised updates coming once Android Marshmallow is publicly released. You will learn about a variety of topics, including an introduction to Java programming, the essentials of working in the Lollipop platform, how to write apps for Android, the web and desktops, how to reskin games for a variety of app stores, and the essentials of Play Framework. The courses are suitable for all experience levels, so if you're just starting out or looking to brush up on your skills, there should be something there for everyone. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 18 hours ago on techdirt
Techdirt has been following for a while the Canadian government's unabashed attempts to muzzle scientists and librarians who work for the state, as it tries to deny them the right to express their views if those happen to disagree with the Prime Minister Stephen Harper's political agenda. That battle over freedom of speech is not only continuing, but escalating according to this story in The Globe and Mail: An Environment Canada scientist is under investigation for allegedly breaching the public service code of ethics by writing and performing a political song that criticizes the Harper government. Tony Turner, a physical scientist who most recently was working on a study of migratory birds, has been put on administrative leave with pay over allegations that his participation in his song Harperman puts him in a conflict of interest, the union representing him said. Turner's song, with its opening lines "Who controls our parliament? Harperman, Harperman. Who squashes all dissent? Harperman, Harperman," and a refrain of "It's time for you to go," is pretty mild stuff. A former head of the Ontario Public Service defended the government's actions as follows: The public sector's ethics code states that federal public servants are expected to "[carry] out their duties in accordance with legislation, policies and directives in a non-partisan and impartial manner." Mr. Dean said the non-partisan nature of the public service offers protection that goes both ways: It prevents government officials from pressing public servants to act in partisan interests, and public servants make a commitment to do their jobs regardless of the political stand of the government of the day. For one thing, it's not the case that the ethics code "prevents government officials from pressing public servants to act in partisan interests". As a BBC story on the muzzling of Canadian scientists reported: The [media] protocol requires that all interview requests for scientists employed by the government must first be cleared by officials. A decision as to whether to allow the interview can take several days, which can prevent government scientists commenting on breaking news stories. Sources say that requests are often refused and when interviews are granted, government media relations officials can and do ask for written questions to be submitted in advance and elect to sit in on the interview. That's not allowing scientists to speak in a "non-partisan and impartial manner": the "media protocol" is clearly designed to cow government scientists and to ensure that they toe the official line in everything they say, regardless of what the science may indicate. But the other point is that Turner was not performing his Harperman song as a government employee, but as a citizen -- he is described on the YouTube page as an "Ottawa folksinger", and there is no reference anywhere to his work as a government scientist. Of course, the great thing about the Canadian government's absurd overreaction to this gentlest of private protests is that many more people will now learn that Turner is an environmental scientist who is being muzzled by a bunch of desperate control freaks who are frightened that the Canadian people might be told the truth about important scientific issues. Thank goodness for the Streisand Effect…. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 19 hours ago on techdirt
For years now we've noted how some people are absolutely positive that Wi-Fi is making them sick, despite a lack of any substantive evidence on that front. Still, schools have repeatedly found themselves on the receiving end of lawsuits for simply installing and using Wi-Fi, and in some cases have been forced to remove the technology for the supposed benefit of the "electromagnetically sensitive." The majority of double-blind studies conducted indicate that, contrary to claims of the afflicted, these individuals cannot accurately state when they're in the presence of stronger electromagnetic fields. Regardless, a lack of science hasn't stopped parents in Massachusetts from suing their local school district, claiming the school installed new Wi-Fi gear in 2013 that triggered "headaches, nosebleeds, nausea, and other symptoms" in their thirteen-year-old child. The suit hopes to have "Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity Syndrome" classified under the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to the lawsuit (pdf), the child's mother, after "much research and study," concluded that it was the Wi-Fi making the child sick, something family doctors were willing to substantiate. Justifiably, the school brought in EMF analysis experts to document the specific EMF hazard being posed (spoiler, there wasn't any):"Isotrope found that the combined levels of access point emissions, broadcast radio and television signals, and other RFE emissions on campus ‘were substantially less than one ten-thousandth (1/10,000th) of the applicable (FCC) safety limits."The family was also annoyed when the school district wanted to use their own doctors, who in about ten minutes (at least according to the parents) came to the conclusion that whatever is ailing the kid, it wasn't Wi-Fi radiation:"The family was also unhappy after officials at Fay asked them to have G see another physician, who after speaking to G for 10 minutes and not conducting any tests “pronounced that in his view there was not enough study yet done to link Wi-Fi emissions to symptoms such as those G is experiencing at Fay School,” they say in the complaint. "This doctor stated in essence that he does not believe in EHS,” the lawsuit says. “Yet he made no alternate diagnosis."All told, the parents demanded the school run Ethernet to classrooms their child attends, lower the overall power of Wi-Fi transmissions in the school, and provide $250,000 in settlement funds. A new, updated report suggests that a preliminary settlement with the school may have already been reached. Maybe it's just me, but it seems like these disputes could be settled very easily (and without hindering the school's coffers or other student's capacity for learning) by having the electromagnetically-sensitive participate in a blinded study requiring they clearly illustrate their ability to detect electromagnetic fields. While there are countless diseases that constantly illustrate we certainly don't know as much as we think we do (Lyme Disease, for example), if EMF exposure really is having that dramatic of an impact on certain individuals, this is surely reproducible and provable, right? Right?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 20 hours ago on techdirt
While the FBI and NSA continue their campaign to fight against allowing encryption for devices, it's clear that not everyone in the government agrees. It does appear that there's a bit of a fight going on within the administration over where to come down (as President Obama himself admitted), and in a recent blog post, it seems pretty clear where the FTC comes down in this debate. The FTC's CTO, Ashkan Soltani, who has long been a strong user-privacy advocate (and before joining the FTC helped in some of the reporting on the Snowden documents), wrote the blog post celebrating the virtues of full disk encryption and other "end user device controls." It starts out by noting that when he recently lost his own laptop, he wasn't that worried, thanks to the fact that it was encrypted. Strong end-user privacy and security controls, such as device encryption and firmware passwords, not only protect personal information from unwanted access – they can also make it easier to recover lost or stolen devices as well. Last month, I had the misfortune of having a personal laptop stolen. Fortunately for me, while I was a bit bummed about losing my two-year-old laptop, I backup regularly and always enable disk encryption which is an important step to protect the information stored on the hard-disk from unwanted access by criminals, employers, or other actors (with the exception of very sophisticated adversaries). He notes that this actually allowed him to help track down the device, because whoever ended up with the "useless" laptop tried to bring it to an Apple Genius Bar, which resulted in Soltani receiving an email. Fast forward to a few weeks later, when I received an email to my personal account notifying me of an upcoming Apple Genius Bar visit. I was initially confused by the email but soon realized that it's probably the thief (or the undiscerning buyer) of my laptop trying to take it into Apple for repair – likely because they’re unable to use it without knowing the firmware password I set. I immediately began calling local law enforcement and the nearby Apple stores notifying them of the theft and this development. After a few phone calls and the help of a fantastic Sergeant in the Local Crimes Unit of the Sacramento Police department, I was able to coordinate an agreement whereby Apple would notify law enforcement if the new user brought the machine in for repair. After an initial disappointment on account of the suspect skipping his Genius Bar reservation, a representative from Apple Customer Relations notified me that the device was brought into another store and they were coordinating with Sacramento Police Department to return it to me. I’m unclear as to whether they were able to track down the original thief. And thus, the FTC's CTO makes it clear that full disk encryption has benefits beyond even just keeping your own data safe: In the end, strong end-user controls like device encryption and firmware passwords not only protect sensitive info stored on the device, they also prevent criminals from utilizing stolen property. The more devices feature strong end-user controls, the less likely thieves can profit from their theft on the open market. Given that the FBI is supposed to be interested in preventing crime, you'd think James Comey would support that kind of thing...Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 1 day ago on techdirt
Recently, Techdirt has written dozens of stories about the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP). That's largely because it seemed to be coming to a conclusion, after many years of negotiations, and so it was important to capture the last-minute twists and turns -- and the dirty deals -- as they happened. But as we reported a few weeks ago, that final breakthrough and completion never happened. Instead, we had the "Maui meltdown", when a whole bunch of old and new problems raised their heads, with the result that TPP may have missed a key deadline that means it won't be happening soon, if ever. That may have seemed an extravagant claim, but it is a sentiment that is gradually beginning to spread among commentators in Asia. Here, for example, is The Diplomat, a specialist title covering that part of the world: The Trans-Pacific Partnership is in trouble. Trade ministers failed last month to conclude the massive 12-nation trade deal by their hoped-for summer deadline, putting negotiations in danger of collapse. The Straits Times offers a very similar view from Singapore: The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) seems to be in deep trouble. Earlier this month, negotiators in North America tried to resolve differences over auto parts which were -- along with issues on dairy and sugar -- among the key obstacles to the deal which was meant to be finalised last month in Hawaii. But as the weeks tick by, the chances are dwindling that these obstacles can be overcome in time to get the agreement to the United States Congress for approval before the US presidential primary elections begin in earnest in February next year. And everyone seems to agree that once the primaries begin, the TPP is off the agenda indefinitely. Another specialist title for Asia, Nikkei Asian Review, goes further, and makes the following comment: The truth is that the TPP is a second-best option for Asia that will create significant adjustment problems, especially for smaller countries. The priority for Asia should be the RCEP, and if the U.S. and other countries want closer trading relations with Asian countries, it should be in that context. Techdirt introduced the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) back in June, pointing out that it could end up even worse than TPP. But while TPP is at a standstill, RCEP seems to be moving forwards, as this article in The Jakarta Post explains: Southeast Asian countries and their trading partners will continue their talks on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) this October as China and Japan eventually agreed on certain thresholds for import duties on Monday. The agreement between the two countries, which do not yet have bilateral free-trade agreements, will be a milestone for the RCEP as the duties had become one of stumbling blocks for the talks, which first began in 2013. The biggest difference between TPP and RCEP is that China is part of the latter, but not of the former, while for the US, it's the other way around. China therefore has a big incentive to make RCEP happen quickly, and seems to be grasping the opportunity opened up by TPP's latest problems. Here's what Australia's Financial Review writes in an article entitled "Asian countries shift focus to regional trade after TPP delay": Australia has focussed more on the US-led TPP in recent months on the basis that it would set important new principles for 21st century commerce in areas including services and regulation but the government now appears to be less confident of any swift conclusion to the TPP. A participant in the meeting said China appeared to be seizing the opportunity to bring the RCEP to a conclusion after it had been seen to be languishing. [Australia's trade minister] Robb supported the Chinese objective of pushing for a conclusion. The article also notes that RCEP has a big advantage in that it is not trying to define an ambitious set of new trading rules, as TPP is, but instead is merely attempting to harmonize existing trade agreements among RCEP's 16 nations, which also include another major economy absent from TPP -- India. The Financial Review column concludes with another small but telling indicator that Asian interest may be shifting away from TPP and towards RCEP: Thai deputy commerce minister Apiradi Tantraporn said that while Thailand might want to join the TPP in the future, the RCEP was more important in the short term. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Imagine if the inventor of the Segway claimed to own "any thing that moves in response to human commands." Or if the inventor of the telegraph applied for a patent covering any use of electric current for communication. Absurdly overbroad claims like these would not be allowed, right? Unfortunately, the Patent Office does not do a good job of policing overly broad claims. August's Stupid Patent of the Month, U.S. Patent No. 8,788,090, is a stark example of how these claims promote patent trolling. A patent troll called Rothschild Connected Devices Innovations, LLC ("RCDI") owns a family of patents on a system of customizing products. Each of these patents stems from the same 2006 application. The idea is simple: connect some kind of product mixer to the Internet and allow users to make custom orders. The application suggests using the system to make beverages or shampoo. Here's how the application describes the invention: The system and method of the present disclosure enables a user, e.g., a consumer, to customize products containing solids and fluids by allowing a server communicating over the global computer network, e.g., the Internet, to provide product preferences of a user to a product or a mixing device, e.g., a product or beverage dispenser. Even in 2006, this was a spectacularly mundane idea. The application did not disclose any new networking technology. Nor did it reveal any new beverage-making technology. It just connects a product mixer to the Internet. Any claim to such a humdrum combination should be found invalid as obvious. All of the patents in this family are pretty silly. But it gets worse. RCDI's most recently granted patent, U.S. Patent No. 8,788,090, includes an extremely broad claim. Claim 1 purports to cover any system where a "remote server" "transmits" a "product preference" to a product via a "communication module." This is madness. RCDI is effectively claiming to have invented the idea of remote configuration … in 2006. Even if other claims in this patent family are valid (something we doubt), the Patent Office should never have allowed this claim. Taking an extremely broad view of this patent claim, RCDI has sued a collection of companies, including ADT, Cisco, Protect America, OnStar, and Rain Bird. It seems that any company that sells products that connect to the Internet is at risk. For example, in its complaint against ADT, RCDI states that a system that allows customers to "remotely customize the operation" of a "thermostat" infringes its patent. Having supposedly invented an online beverage mixer, RCDI is now asserting its patent against the entire Internet of Things. Even though it traces priority back to a 2006 parent application, this month's stupid patent is not the product of some earlier, less diligent, era at the Patent Office. The "continuation" application that led to this patent was filed in March 2013 and the patent issued in July 2014. This illustrates how applicants use the continuation process (which allows them to file an unlimited number of new applications based on a previous patent application) to try to get ever broader claims issued. Too often, once the Patent Office issues one patent in a family, examiners are overly lenient allowing continuation applications. This month's winner likely would have never issued if the examiner had diligently applied KSR v. Teleflex's prohibition on obvious combinations. There will be no prize for guessing where RCDI has filed all of its litigation: the Eastern District of Texas. We recently explained that the Eastern District is the venue of choice for trolls. Its unique, plaintiff-friendly rules make it easier for trolls to use the cost of defense to extort settlements, even when the underlying case is weak. We need broad patent reform to stop abusive patent litigation. We need ligation reform (including venue reform) that makes patent trolling less attractive. We also need reform at the Patent Office so that it doesn't issue terrible patents like this in the first place. Contact your representative and tell them to pass patent reform. Reposted from EFF's Deeplinks Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Schools in the US vary quite a bit by location. A school in one neighborhood could be vastly better than another school just on the other side of town. There are obvious factors that play into this situation, and unsurprisingly, some political campaigns can cloud the progress towards solutions that might improve lagging schools. Clearly, not all schools can be created equal, but there could be some ways to close the "achievement gap" without simply knocking down the higher-performing schools. Education research shows that there are specific things that have been tried in the past and that have failed to really improve education: smaller classes, higher standards, more money... do not provide guaranteed results. Some alternative strategies may be better. Instead of creating standards that penalize poor schools and reward good schools, the performance of each student could be tracked to monitor actual individual progress, avoiding the use of an average score over many students. Instead of more tests, better tests could give teachers actionable feedback on how/where to improve. Instead of choosing which school to go to, parents and students might be better off being able to choose which teachers are best. Throwing more money at education without targeting it at effective programs just wastes valuable resources. [url] This American Life has a fascinating series on how de-segregation has affected some school districts. According to some observers, de-segregation is a solution that works, but that it's so politically unpopular, it's hardly ever given a chance. [url] Digital education tools are coming. There's a lot of venture capital going towards "big data" approaches to developing better teaching tools. Online classes are still working out the bugs, but presumably, digital degrees (or nano-degrees?) may provide some advantages over traditional classrooms in the future. [url] Segregation (or re-segregation as the case may be) is not so good for elementary schools. A study of five elementary schools in Florida that re-segregated performed horribly as the schools failed to get money and resources. Statistically, these schools were about average for a variety of socio-economic metrics, but after the school boards voted to effectively begin re-segregation plans, student and teacher performance plummeted. [url] After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the federal government stepped up to assure the nation that as horrifically damaging as the storm was, we would all come out of it OK.* *Offer does not apply to affected residents of New Orleans. President Bush let us know that FEMA head "Brownie" (born Michael D. Brown) was doing a "heckuva job" botching the government's response. The New Orleans Police Department worked hard to secure critical infrastructure, going so far as to show up in civilian clothes, armed with unapproved weapons. And the FBI, which sent its people to assist in search and rescue operations and to help curtail post-storm looting, made sure an unprecedented tragedy wouldn't go to waste. MuckRock's Shawn Musgrave points out that, hidden among the 5,000 heavily redacted pages it received in April in "response" to its FBI-Stingray query, the agency's Katrina experience somehow made Stingray acquisition a priority. A year later, as part of post-Katrina review, the FBI’s WITT requested funding for additional equipment from Harris Corporation, which manufactures the StingRay line of cell phone trackers. Two drafts of the same memo (draft 1) and (draft 2) from July 2006, each with competing redactions, together weave a partial glimpse of WITT’s justification. [...] “In the summer of 2005, the U.S. Gulf Coast bore the brunt of several hurricanes, including Hurricane Katrina which severely degraded the capabilities of the [redacted],” the memo reads in part. Subsequent, heavily redacted sentences suggest that the storm crippled the FBI’s capacity to conduct certain types of cell phone tracking operations via equipment on-hand at the time of landfall. Further details are redacted, but it's clear the diminished capabilities pushed IMSI catchers to the front of the acquisition queue. The accompanying purchase order was designated "priority." Previous purchases had only been declared "routine." The redactions make it impossible to determine why exactly the agency felt the acquisition of more cellphone-tracking technology was a must post-Katrina. Perhaps the agency needed hardware upgrades to existing equipment that functioned in a less-than-ideal manner when local cell infrastructure suffered damage. Maybe it lent some devices to the New Orleans PD and was having trouble getting them back. Maybe it just wanted more IMSI catchers. No matter the stated reason, it can safely be assumed that post-act of God requisition processes receive less scrutiny than those made during times of relative peace and safety. Terrorism and drug dealing may have been off the table in terms of justifications, but any good government agency knows "national disaster" is spelled "O-P-P-O-R-T-U-N-I-T-Y." The FBI is no exception. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Earlier this year, European antitrust authorities went after Google (hours after EU officials announced plans to harm American internet companies to "help" local internet companies). Google just last week responded to the initial claims, saying that "improving quality isn't anti-competitive." Of course, the more detailed response is still private, so we don't know the full extent of what's being discussed. And, now, it appears that India is going after Google based on similar charges, claiming that it somehow leverages its own position in rigging either search results or putting its own services ahead of competitors above the search results. Based on the responses from 30 businesses spanning search, social networks, ecommerce, travel and content sites, the CCI director-general last week filed a report that accuses Google of abusing its dominant position to rig search outcomes, both the actual search result as well as sponsored links. This marks the first case globally where an antitrust body is formally raising such charges against Google. It's a bit surprising to see Facebook apparently take part in this effort, because it can't be long until it's receiving similar scrutiny around the globe for its position in the social networking space. The article is a bit confusing, but from it, there seems to be a mishmash of different accusations, some of which are more nutty than others. The key one -- which is at the heart of the claims in the US and in Europe -- is that for certain searchers, Google puts its own services first, before the "organic" search results. So, for example, if you do a search on something local, it would show you Google's local information (built on top of Zagat's info) rather than a competing rating service. Or, it may highlight Google Maps over some competitor. At least one company, Flipkart, appears to claim that its own "organic" search results depend on how much the company spends on buying ads on the site. Companies make this claim all the time and there has never been the slightest bit of evidence to support those claims. If any such evidence comes out, then that would be a serious issue, and Google should have to answer for it. However, given how frequently it's been shown to be baseless, it seems unlikely that Google is actually polluting its organic search results based on a company's advertising plans (in fact, Google has made it pretty clear that the folks who handle the search algorithm have absolutely no insight into the advertising side of the business). The claims about Google promoting its own services (maps, local, flights, finance, etc.) over competitors still seems like a weird one. Promoting those so-called "one box" results, is (as the company has claimed) providing more useful services. You can see why other companies may get upset about it, but is there any actual consumer harm? That seems a lot harder to find. The only argument I've seen that makes any sense at all in all of these accusations is that Google could present better results in its onebox area if it made use of its own internal algorithm (which conceivably could determine that another company's services rank better than Google's). But as we've said in the past about that exact suggestion: even if Google should make that change, it is really the government's job to determine what is "the best" way to present search results? I have a lot of difficulty believing that bureaucrats in either Brussels or Mumbai are somehow going to have a better idea how to provide the best possible search results for consumers, than the folks at Google who spend all their time working on these issues. Instead, this seems like companies who are upset that they don't rank well enough in Google complaining, because Google is big. If Google is actually shown to be doing something that actively harms consumers, that's one thing. But all of these complaints still seem to rest on companies (not consumers) bitching that they don't like how high they rank in Google. Well guess what? I don't like how Techdirt ranks in Google either, but I don't go running to the government to complain about it.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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It is funny to see how some people react to technology changes, almost always assuming that "new" is somehow bad, because it's different. Looking back through historical examples, they often look pretty funny. Last year, we wrote about an old moral panic in the NY Times from 1878 about two Thomas Edison inventions, the phonograph and the aerophone (basically a broadcasting system for the phonograph). It's somewhat hilarious to read these days: Recently he invented the phone- graph, a machine that catches the lightest whisper of conversation and stores it up, so that at any future time it can be brought out, to the confusion of the original speaker. This machine will eventually destroy all confidence between man and man, and render more dangerous than ever woman's want of confidence in woman. No man can feel sure that wherever he may be there is not a concealed phonograph remorseless gathering up his remarks and ready to reproduce them at some future date. Who will be willing, even in the bosom of his family, to express any but most innocuous and colorless views and what woman when calling on a female friend, and waiting for the latter to make her appearance in the drawing-room, will dare to express her opinion of the wretched taste displayed in the furniture, or the hideous appearance of the family photographs ? In the days of persecution and it was said, though with poetical exaggeration, that the walls had ears. Thanks to Mr. Edison's perverted ingenuity, this has not only become a literal truth, but every shelf, closet, or floor may now have its concealed phonographic ears. No young man will venture to carry on a private conversation with a young lady, lest he should be filling a secret phonograph with evidence that, in a breach of promise suit, would secure an immediate verdict against him, and our very small-boys will fear to express themselves with childish freedom, lest the phonograph should report them as having used the name of "gosh," or as having to "bust the snoot" of the long-suffering governess. Beware! And, just a few days ago, someone on Twitter (I fear I can't find the tweet now) pointed me to this story from last year in the Atlantic, highlighting a similar moral panic in the NY Times, twenty years earlier, about this horrible device known as the telegraph. You see, it spreads information so quickly, we'll barely have time to think: "Superficial, sudden, unsifted, too fast for the truth, must be all telegraphic intelligence. Does it not render the popular mind too fast for the truth? Ten days bring us the mails from Europe. What need is there for the scraps of news in ten minutes? How trivial and paltry is the telegraphic column?" And, of course, things are little different today when it comes to new technologies. In fact, you could take the quotes above from the 19th Century NY Times and with very few changes, likely have them apply to modern internet services and social media -- and they would be little different from some of the stories that you do see in the press today. And, just as was true of those two stories above, it turns out that the fearmongering is way off base, and the ability of people to adapt and change grows. Take the fears over Facebook, for example. Just five years ago, in 2010, the NY Times Magazine warned us all about the perils of the internet remembering everything we've ever done, and how you'll never be able to rid yourself of such a "permanent record." It discusses previous moral panics about the privacy impacts of certain technologies, but then pulls out the "but this time, it's different" card. Technological advances, of course, have often presented new threats to privacy. In 1890, in perhaps the most famous article on privacy ever written, Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis complained that because of new technology — like the Kodak camera and the tabloid press — “gossip is no longer the resource of the idle and of the vicious but has become a trade.” But the mild society gossip of the Gilded Age pales before the volume of revelations contained in the photos, video and chatter on social-media sites and elsewhere across the Internet. Facebook, which surpassed MySpace in 2008 as the largest social-networking site, now has nearly 500 million members, or 22 percent of all Internet users, who spend more than 500 billion minutes a month on the site. Facebook users share more than 25 billion pieces of content each month (including news stories, blog posts and photos), and the average user creates 70 pieces of content a month. There are more than 100 million registered Twitter users, and the Library of Congress recently announced that it will be acquiring — and permanently storing — the entire archive of public Twitter posts since 2006. The author, Jeffrey Rosen, declares this a "collective identity crisis": As social-networking sites expanded, it was no longer quite so easy to have segmented identities: now that so many people use a single platform to post constant status updates and photos about their private and public activities, the idea of a home self, a work self, a family self and a high-school-friends self has become increasingly untenable. In fact, the attempt to maintain different selves often arouses suspicion. Moreover, far from giving us a new sense of control over the face we present to the world, the Internet is shackling us to everything that we have ever said, or that anyone has said about us, making the possibility of digital self-reinvention seem like an ideal from a distant era. Concern about these developments has intensified this year, as Facebook took steps to make the digital profiles of its users generally more public than private. Last December, the company announced that parts of user profiles that had previously been private — including every user’s friends, relationship status and family relations — would become public and accessible to other users. Then in April, Facebook introduced an interactive system called Open Graph that can share your profile information and friends with the Facebook partner sites you visit. There are plenty more stories like this. Stories about how difficult it will be for the "Facebook generation" to run for office, given that all their childish antics will be online. Or stories about how people are living too much through their Facebook feeds, rather than just experiencing life. And yet... people have a way of adapting. Venture capitalist Adam Besvinick, recently noticed that, in talking to recent college grads, they actually were having the opposite experience of what everyone was fretting about just a few years ago. And that's because they all started using Snapchat rather than Facebook for such things: Interesting recurring sentiment from recent grads: We lived most of our college lives on Snapchat—now we don't have any "tangible" memories. — Adam Besvinick (@Besvinick) August 25, 2015 He later notes that some of those grads are now regretting that they don't have much tangible to hold onto about those memories. And, yes, as I'm sure someone is rushing to point out in the comments, Snapchat's "disappearing" images and videos don't really disappear, and they can (and often are) saved. But many are not. And they go away. And, yes, that's kind of like things were in the past, when people just experienced things, rather than share them all. But it's important to note that everything adapts. Kids adapt. New services adapt. Societal norms and culture adapt. And things don't turn into some dystopian nightmare that some worry about. So many people look at these new services and react with outrage because they're different, and because they're different and will create different kinds of experiences, they must be bad. But history has shown that people are pretty damn resilient, and are pretty good at figuring out how to do things in a way that best suits them. And some will fail. And some will make mistakes. But it's hardly a crisis deserving of a moral panic. These things seem to take care of themselves pretty well -- and then people start worrying about the opposite (e.g. not enough permanence) as compared to the original moral panic (e.g. too much permanence).Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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TorrentFreak's Andy reports that Amazon recently published the MPAA-required "best practices" for handling physical goods as well as content stored or hosted by its cloud services. This doesn't just cover the obvious storage of movies for streaming services, but also works-in-progress by studios utilizing Amazon's web services. It's comprehensive and loaded with restrictions and stipulations. [I]n addition to carrying out background screening on all employees and third party contractors, the MPAA demands that all workers sign annual confidentiality agreements that forbid them from talking about protected content. With an eye on local law, companies must also implement random searches of their workers for traces of MPAA content, including the removal of coats, hats and belts, the emptying of pockets, a full security pat-down, scanning with metal detectors and inspection of electronic devices. Other obvious demands are included, all aimed at preventing the leak or physical theft of studio goods: no portable devices with storage capabilities, no baggy clothes, and employees' meals must be brought to work in transparent bags. Interestingly, the MPAA's 2015 agreement with Amazon actually scales back some of its requirements. Demands that Amazon create an MPAA-specific security team and allow reps monthly access to inspect restricted areas are no longer in force. Other stipulations focused on the specific parameters of on-site, physical security have been loosened or removed completely, as well as specifications for CCTV footage storage, access and retention. The requirement that all involved third parties be CTPAT-certified (Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism) has also been dropped, suggesting the MPAA is about done humoring the DHS's paranoiac assertions that everything has a potential terrorism nexus. But the adjustments made between the 2013 and 2015 edition of the MPAA's "rules" don't reflect a change in the MPAA's Ft. Knox mindset. Instead, it shows the MPAA shifting its priorities from physical protection to digital protection. The high-profile hacking of Sony likely contributed to new stipulations like these: 2015 MPAA added the requirements to perform quarterly vuln scans of external IP ranges, secure any point to point connections by using dedicated, private connections and by using encryption. Additionally the requirement to implement baseline security requirements for WAN network infrastructure devices and services. 2015 MPAA added controls around the encryption of content at rest and in motion. Additionally, procedures around the storage of public and private keys. Also new to this ruleset is a whole section dedicated to "mobile security" that addresses the potential security holes created by a BYOD environment. The documents show the MPAA can be forward-thinking when it comes to the distribution of content -- especially when trying to figure out how to stop it. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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DRM, or digital rights management, can be said to have been effective in practice at accomplishing many different things. It makes products less useful, for instance. It also serves as chaff to distract the technically proficient into disabling it instead of doing any number of actually useful things. DRM is also actually quite good at making our lives just a bit less safe. What's interesting is that none of those things are the stated reason companies use DRM. Instead, DRM is explained by companies as the only way they can protect themselves from damned dirty pirates and, without it, these companies would simply not be able to make enough money to sustain themselves. The proper counter-argument to this assertion, as it turns out, is: "Shut up, because The Witcher 3." The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has proven to be incredibly successful for CD Projekt RED, having sold a whopping six million copies within its first six weeks on store shelves. According to CD Projekt's latest financial results (via NeoGAF), the company earned 237 million PLN ($63.3 million USD) in net profit for the first half of 2015. The publisher also noted its open-world RPG has performed well both at retail and digitally. Yes, a game publisher, one which released its game both in retail and in the scary, scary digital realm, has spent six weeks selling an insane amount of copies of its latest game. But how is this possible? After all, CD Projekt RED long ago promised that the game would be shipped completely sans DRM. On top of that, the company also made every last tiny drop of DLC for the game...completely free. In other words, CD Projekt RED decided bucking one modern trend in gaming was too easy so it decided to go for an exacta. Were the theory that lies behind every other instance of DRM in gaming existence to be true, the game should have been a failure everywhere other than on dastardly pirate sites. Instead, the game sold six million copies in six weeks. How is this possible? It's actually quite simple: CD Projekt RED made a fantastic and well-reviewed game, didn't hamper customers with annoying DRM or pushy microtransactions, and then went about its victory lap with about as classy and gracious an open-letter from its studio head that I can remember seeing. One could think we have six million reasons to be happy and that’s it. We do, but that number is also a big responsibility and I want everyone to know that we, as a studio, realize that. For us, all your high praise, all the positive reviews, are also an obligation -- we’ve made a really good game but there’s still a long road ahead of us. Everyone here in CD PROJEKT RED is really attached to their work and how you, the gamers, perceive it. RED is full of artists, wild dreamers and people crazy about what they do (and sometimes just plain crazy). We lose sleep over that particular colour the sun has when it sets over Velen, and argue over arranging the furniture in a house the majority of gamers will probably never see. We’re not the kind of people who are easily satisfied and we always strive for more. I’d like you to know that. Yes, six million copies is a great achievement for a company making RPGs, but this business is not only about that. If our games are a gallery of sound, picture and text - you are the visitors of this gallery. To an artist, there’s no sweeter sight than people enjoying their work. That’s why, in the name of all the devs in the studio, I’d like to say thanks to each and every one of you.   Thanks! Adam Badowski, Head of Studio CD PROJEKT RED This is how CwF+RtB is done. In fact, the studio has always had a reputation for being open and awesome to its customers. The release of this game, the lack of DRM, the free DLC, and the gracious attitude is merely a continuation of a culture that fans and gamers are naturally going to gravitate towards. And so they buy. Of course they buy. That they buy isn't the surprise. Instead, the surprise is how difficult to understand this all apparently is for the other gaming studios still traveling a different road. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Here were our top 3 most popular deals from August. For $29, the TigerVPN Lite Subscription, on offer in the Deals store, can help you surf securely via one of their 15 worldwide nodes. It is compatible with most devices (sorry Windows Phone owners) and allows you to choose your preferred encryption protocol. TigerVPN responded to TorrentFreak's VPN review survey, so you can learn a bit more about their policies and practices (they have the second set of responses on that page). Ready yourself for the MCSE exam with 92% off of the Microsoft Certified Solutions Engineer: Server Infrastructure Bundle. Over the 5 courses, you will learn how to install, configure and administer Windows Server 2012. The $79.99 First Generation Lytro 16GB Camera takes away the need to choose your focus and perspective. With a microlens array, the Lytro takes in more information about the light coming from all distances in the picture. Download the photos and with the Lytro app, you can refocus shots, view them in "3D" or change the perspective. The 16GB camera stores up to 750 photos, and it weighs under 1 pound for easy portability. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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In the wake of the Sony Pictures hack, the company went somewhat ballistic in trying to describe just how "harmful" the hack was. It brought on famed lawyer David Boies to threaten anyone who published any information from the hack, claiming that it was a violation of the First Amendment (yes, it told the media that publishing news was a violation of the First Amendment). The company also (ridiculously) threatened to sue Twitter, claiming that Twitter would be held "responsible for any damage or loss arising from such use or dissemination by Twitter." Thoughout it all, Sony kept arguing that this hack was a complete disaster and incredibly harmful. However, now, in court, Sony is suddenly forced to tap dance around those claims and argue that there has been no harm at all done to the employees of the company, who have filed a class action lawsuit against Sony Pictures for failing to protect their data. In a filing first highlighted by Eriq Gardner at The Hollywood Reporter, Sony Pictures insists that basically there has been no harm whatsoever and mocks the employees who say otherwise, noting that their "PII" (Personally Identifiable Information) disclosed was not particularly private in the first place. Plaintiffs’ experiences in the wake of the cyberattack are entirely consistent with the empirical consensus just discussed. To start, the PII disclosed for each Plaintiff varies widely.... For example, Mathis asserts only that her name, SSN, and former (not current) home address were disclosed.... (Even on that score, she appears to be wrong. Plaintiffs cite no evidence that her SSN was disclosed. The sole document they cite... has the SSN of a different Mathis.) For his part, Forster believes an array of his PII was disclosed, including his SSN and birthday, as well as outdated bank information, an invalid driver’s license, and former medical insurance information (which he admits are “useless” or “worthless”).... What is more, some Plaintiffs maintain active online presences, which means that much of the PII they claim was disclosed in the cyberattack already had voluntarily been made available online. For example, while Forster complains that his title, place of work, and dates on which he joined and left SPE were disclosed, he acknowledges that he had posted that information to LinkedIn and thus could not be harmed by its disclosure.... Levine likewise admits that he has “put a lot of [his] life online.” ... For him and others, a wide range of PII was available online prior to the attack. The other line of defense? If there is any harm, who can really say that it actually came from the Sony hack, rather than any other recent hack? Plaintiffs (and, undoubtedly, unnamed classmembers) have been exposed to multiple breaches and incidents of identity theft involving various permutations of their PII.... To prove that any injury—or even risk of future injury—is attributable to the cyberattack, each classmember would have to show that this cyberattack, and not another event, caused any incident of identity fraud. The other problem is that the only actual loss that any of the plaintiffs show right now was an unauthorized purchase on a credit card, but the filing points out, this employee was fully reimbursed (i.e., no loss) and it's also not at all clear that it happened because of the Sony hack. Similarly, while Corona claims that somebody made an unauthorized purchase using his credit card after the cyberattack on SPE (for which he was fully reimbursed), he acknowledges that he also had unauthorized purchases on his credit card before the cyberattack, and that he could only “guess” at the connection, if any, between the more recent unauthorized purchase and the cyberattack. To be honest, Sony's argument here is pretty strong. Courts have pretty consistently rejected class action lawsuits over data breaches when there are no actual losses, or where the losses are purely theoretical. It seems very likely that the former Sony employees here are going to lose. But... it does seem rather amusing to see Sony -- which went on and on and on about all the "damage" the leak was going to cause -- now have to argue that its own employees experienced no harm at all...Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The previous pope, Benedict XVI a few years ago made some waves by suggesting that intellectual property had gone too far, saying: On the part of rich countries there is excessive zeal for protecting knowledge through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property... The current Pope may now be at the center of a copyright dispute as well. Apparently, Pope Francis is heading to the US in a few weeks. And, as a part of this, apparently someone asked Philadelphia pop artist Perry Milou to create an "official" portrait of the Pope for his tour. And he did: As a story at Buzzfeed notes, that portrait is on nearly everything related to the Pope's official visit to Philadelphia. It's on the website of the group organizing the visit: And it's being sold on all sorts of merchandise: You can even buy the original painting, if you have $1 million to spare: There's... uh... just one problem. Getty Images claims that the portrait is based on a photo that it holds the rights to, taken by Italian photographer Franco Origlia. You can see that photo here: And the two images side by side: And, yup, it seems pretty clear that Milou found that image and made his painting based on that. And most normal people would agree that this should be perfectly fine. Creating the painting is absolutely transformative. It doesn't take away from the rights of the original photograph and certainly is not a replacement for the original photograph and might even make the original photograph more recognizable and more in demand. But, we live in the real world where copyright extremists freak out about just about anything. And Getty, for one, has a reputation as quite the copyright troll. And, tragically, Getty is probably remembering what happened the last time a well known "pop artist" created a big recognizable portrait of someone based on a photograph held by a news agency: the infamous Sheppard Fairey/Obama Hope poster, that was based on a photo by photographer Manny Garcia, but where the Associated Press held the copyright: In that case, even though many believe that Fairey had a really strong fair use claim, Fairey himself fucked it up by destroying evidence and lying, pretending that he had used a different photograph as the base. This was a really bad decision, because it poisoned the waters for a nice fair use defense, and got Fairey in deeper hot water. And, eventually that case was just settled. One hopes that, should Getty go legal, that Milou doesn't follow Fairey's lead, and actually mounts a strong fair use defense. One would think that, at the very least, he'd have the Pope on his side, and that can't hurt. Of course, given the ridiculous freakouts about these people daring to paint portraits based on news photographs, we're still wondering why no one ever threatened to sue former President George W. Bush for his paintings of famous world leaders that were also based on Google Image search results. Remember this masterpiece by the former President painting Russian leader Vladimir Putin based on the first result in Google Images at the time? Somehow, no one decided to sue President Bush...Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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For years, New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and the NYPD waged a small-scale war in Times Square to turn it into a family-friendly tourist attraction on par with Las Vegas. It succeeded... mostly. Porn shops were replaced with toy stores and chain restaurants. The war continues, even after this overhaul. Anywhere tourists gather en masse will draw the attention of less-desirable city residents. Panhandlers and street performers continue to converge on Times Square, hoping to earn a few bucks from out-of-towners. Much to Bill Bratton and the NYPD's chagrin, Times Square continues to draw a disproportionate amount of New York City's boobs. And topless women. [A]t midday Thursday, there were 38 costumed panhandlers, five topless ladies and an artist who paints people’s naked bodies in full view in Times Square... The city is trying to figure out how to keep these topless women out of an area where tourists can also witness the spectacle that is the nationally-infamous Naked Cowboy. Nothing seems to be working especially well and any efforts targeting female toplessness specifically will obviously (and correctly) be hailed as sexist (and a possible violation of the First Amendment). The other element it wishes to banish is a direct result of the city's decision to turn Times Square into Disneyland Lite: costumed street performers. Many dress as Disney/comic book characters and make money by charging tourists for photos with them. Some of these performers are known to become aggressive when photos are taken without "permission." (Read: in exchange for $$$) Others are known to commit more heinous acts. There's been a series of incidents and arrests since then, including accusations of groping by Cookie Monster, and also Woody from "Toy Story." Spider Man was arrested in 2014 for allegedly demanding tips in an aggressive manner. Earlier this year, a Youtube video went viral of another Spider Man locked in a brawl with a heckler right in front of Toys R Us. So, New York is still New York even if Times Square isn't really Times Square anymore. Police commissioner Bratton wants to add more officers... to enforce not much of anything, apparently. Bratton said the unit was in the works for some time but was fast-tracked after the media began focusing on the desnudas and how their kind of panhandling can be “easily spread to other parts of the city.” That said, Bratton added, “there’s only about one crime reported every day” in Times Square. This new unit will patrol Times Square and attack "quality of life" issues… like painted women. Or intellectual property infringement. The city’s top cop said Thursday they got the cold shoulder from Disney and Marvel when they tried to enlist them in the fight against the costumed characters preying on tourists in Times Square. The NYPD specifically asked the companies if they wanted to charge the hustlers who wear Mickey Mouse, Spider-Man and other well-known costumes with copyright infringement. Look! It's IP law abuse to the rescue, a favorite tactic of this IP-abusing city government. First off, these costumed performers would more likely fall under trademark infringement than copyright infringement. The characters are covered under trademark law. Creative works using these characters are what's covered by copyright. But that distinction doesn't matter to these blustering officials. They're only concerned with enlisting the public to fight their battles for them. Any differences between copyright and trademark enforcement can be sorted out by Disney, Marvel, et al. Fortunately, the companies seems less willing to abuse IP law to help out Bratton and the NYPD. Disney's lack of interest in filing lawsuits isn't altruistic, however. It won't participate with Bratton's plan because it doesn't know who these performers are. The amount of time and money spent to discover this would easily outweigh any compensation gained. Disney -- being Disney -- prefers to have legislation written on its behalf. The bill — which would require the horde of Spider-Men, Mickeys and Minnies and other costumed panhandlers to undergo background checks and carry IDs — was introduced back in September by Councilman Andy King (D-Bronx). [...] “We have been for years working with previous and current administrations as well as the City Council trying to get legislation passed that would require registration and identification of these costumed characters,” said Disney spokeswoman Zenia Mucha. This would solve Disney's (and Marvel's) "problem" without either corporation having to look like an IP thug. But the legislation isn't going anywhere and Bratton wants his Time Square free of Mickeys and Spidermen now. So, he's asking these companies to file baseless and pointless lawsuits almost solely on behalf of Bratton and his cleanup crusade. The city's top cop is also willing to let Disney, Marvel, etc. work for free. “They want no part of it,” Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said on the John Gambling radio show. “We've encouraged Walt Disney, ‘Put your characters out on Broadway free of charge so people don't have to worry about their kids being groped,’” he said. “We said to them, effectively, ‘Since you control the rights of them, put them out in front of the Disney Theater.' They want no part of it.” Disney and Bratton may not see eye-to-eye on the specifics of the solution, but they do agree on one aspect: someone else should do all the work. The regulatory angle (licensing performers) Disney prefers puts the city and its police force to work for the companies. Bratton's suggestions (filing bogus copyright infringement lawsuits, "free" costumed performers) puts the companies to work for the city. As long as they only agree on this element, nothing will ever move forward. And once again, we see that government entities -- like many private companies -- are quick to turn to abuse of IP protections once they've run out of good ideas -- or, in this case, when they didn't have any good ideas to begin with. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 2 days ago on techdirt
The FISA Court has approved another three-month extension of the NSA's phone metadata collection, allowing the agency to run out the clock on the USA Freedom Act-triggered "transition period" with no additional stipulations attached. The transition will apparently be "business as usual" right up to the expiration date (Nov. 29, 2015), at which point everything will suddenly be compliant with the new law. Until that date, the NSA will still collect (and store) phone metadata in bulk. The only limitation in place at this point dates back to February 2014 -- when searches of the data haul were limited to court-approved "selectors" backed by reasonable, articulable suspicion. The joint statement issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the DOJ discusses the impact of the USA Freedom Act extensively but makes no mention of court decisions or legal challenges possibly affecting the current collection of phone records in bulk. The FISA court order does mention ongoing lawsuits with implications on the collection as implemented, but simply orders the government to inform it of any changes it may need to make to the renewal order if a decision alters the bulk collection playing field. The case that most threatened the current bulk collection was conveniently eliminated by the DC appeals court with oddly coincidental timing. The appeals court decision was published on August 28th. On August 27th, the previous bulk records order expired. The new order commenced on the same day as the publication of the DC court's opinion -- which eliminated the possiblity of an injunction. This occurred nearly 9-1/2 months after arguments were heard from the court (Nov. 14, 2014) more than 18 months after the case was appealed. Synergistically, the court decided to file and publish its decision in favor of uninterrupted bulk collection the same day the NSA's renewal order kicked in. This suggests the NSA leaned on the administration and the administration leaned on the court. I wouldn't go so far as to suggest the administration influenced the opinion, but it would seem to have been instrumental in the timing of the decision's release. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 3 days ago on techdirt
It seems there are no lows to which the recording industry won't sink, reaffirmed this week by a series of anti-piracy ads that exploit the tragic stories of dead (and highly successful) musicians. Violynne won most insightful comment of the week for an open letter to those who might be misled by this campaign: Dear upcoming artists reading this article, What you're actually reading are the states caused by these performers and their record labels. In a time before royalties (and it took a new copyright law to get them, by the way), these performers had no choice but to trust their labels, many of which withheld thousands, if not millions, from the artists which actually created the music. Their suffering had nothing to do with people stealing their music (trying to walk out with an LP tucked under the shirt isn't easy). Their suffering was due to lost revenue by the labels, most represented by the RIAA (whose sole purpose is to extort as much money from artists as possible). Don't fall for the ruse. Take a few months and learn business, economics, and the law so you can manage, market, and profit by yourself. Because the second you take that advance and sign the dotted line, you'll be hitting the bottle and pain killers too. For second place, we head to the story of the DOJ dropping a case after being told it can't simply seize laptops at the border. One anonymous commenter pointed out how telling this reaction is: The government would rather drop a case against a serial killer if it meant saving them the ability to continue spy on others illegally. Proof is this case, as well as the one where they dropped a kidnapping case just so they don't unveil they were using Stingrays to catch the guy. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/08/23/baltimore-police-stingray-cell-surveillance/31994181/ Disgusting. For editor's choice, we start out on our post about another Techdirt post that disappeared from Google due to a right-to-be-forgotten request. One commenter asked when the last legitimate such request was made, and John Fenderson supplied a simple answer: Never. There can't possibly be a legit request since the entire idea is illegitimate. Next, we head to the news of Universal's humorless takedown of a parody Nirvana song, where Jef Oliver noted how much online culture can tell us about the entertainment industry: Someone posts a video on the internet. Several comments say "Enjoy it before it is taken down." When your business is known for its over-aggressive copyright stance and not for the media it is supposed to be releasing, there is a problem. Over on the funny side, our top two winners are extremely similar comment from the same post. There are a handful of people who like to accuse Techdirt of being a shill for Google, so when we criticized the company's actions on net neutrality this week, the sarcastic responses came fast and racked up lots of funny votes. Both top winners were anonymous, so here's first place: but techdirt is such a google shill, how could they possibly speak badly of Google. Oh, I get it now, Techdirt is a net neutrality shill. They shill on principle and for the public interest. How much is the public paying you Techdirt? And here's second place, which took a more deadpan approach: Bunch of freaking Google shills. You just won't shut up about how awesome Google is and how it can do no wrong, will you? Why don't you freaking marry Google if you love it so much? For editor's choice on the funny side, we start out on our post about United in-flight wi-fi blocking certain news outlets. Someone commenting under the name United Wifi Content Police offered an in-character reaction: Oh shit, we forgot to block Techdirt! And finally, after documents on the tobacco industry were released as pages of solid black redactions, one anonymous commenter gave us a good blanket response for all similar freedom-of-information failures: At least we are still free to read between the lines... That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 4 days ago on techdirt
Five Years Ago There were a lot of branding battles breaking out this week in 2010. LucasFilm targeted a company called Jedi Mind with claims of trademark infringement, false designation of origin, trademark dilution, breach of contract and unfair competition; Madonna got sued for selling clothes under the name Material Girl by a company that had already been doing that since 1997; Warner Bros. called in the lawyers over "Harry Popper" condoms being made in Switzerland; Facebook kicked off a trademark fight with Teachbook; Take-Two Interactive discovered that it couldn't snag the bioshock.com domain because it was registered before the Bioshock trademark; and yet another player jumped into the trademark fight over the Mafia Wars Facebook game. Meanwhile, in a town up here in Ontario, some guy managed to trademark the phrase "Welcome to Parry Sound" and started demanding money from local businesses. Copyright collection societies around the world were up to their usual tricks, with a Czech proposal that would require artists to get collection society permission to use Creative Commons, a South African society fighting to prevent music from entering the public domain, and BMI trying hard to reverse a court ruling that let venues route around it. Also this week in 2010, Techdirt received one of the most incredible legal threats we've ever been hit with, demanding we take down the entire site over some unidentified comments. Ten Years Ago In 2005, China's internet censorship regime was in full-swing, and we got to see some rare quotes from the state defending the system. Meanwhile, the Chinese government was also turning its attention on video games, with the introduction of a three-hour limit on online gaming sessions. Anti-spam laws focused on children were beginning to backfire while an unsurprising study showed that college kids are too smart to fall for spam. The popular fear that texting was ruining children's language skills was shown to be unlikely, not that anyone noticed, many being more focused on using phones to track kids' whereabouts. At least in Japan it appeared that mobile phones had the unexpected effect of reducing teen smoking. Fifteen Years Ago Technology was changing plenty of things in 2000. This week, we saw the first car designed almost entirely on a computer — but the more exciting advancements were in new polymers, which promised all sorts of automobile performance improvements (not to mention new achievements in the field of medicine). Some scientists were working on genetically modified goats that produce spider's web protein in their milk, while others had figured out how to make skin temporarily transparent. Meanwhile, a new protest group was building robots to spraypaint sidewalks and hand out pamphlets. The dot-com world was still uncertain, and for some reason a lot of people seemed to love gloating about that fact. The Economist took the time to look at a list of things the internet can't do, and while it focused on loftier goals, the potential list did get a bit shorter with the first forays into online pizza delivery. Eight-Hundred Years Ago The Magna Carta is famous as one of the foundational documents in the history of modern law, and the fact that it was signed in 1215 is one of those popular pieces of trivia that float around with minimal context. Many can name that year, but fewer know that it would be another eight decades before the Magna Carta truly held any sway. Initially, it was the centerpiece of an English civil war, drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and signed by King John and a bunch of rebellious Barons — all of whom on both sides promptly ignored it pretty much entirely. The King then did an end run to Pope Innocent III, who sent a letter dated August 24th, 1215 in which he declared the Magna Carta "null, and void of all validity for ever" and threatened excommunication of anyone who observed it. It would later be reintroduced at the end of the war, then again a few years later, by John's son, and then another seventy years after that by his son, at which point it finally became England's statute law. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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