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A little over a year ago, we wrote about an appeals court ruling saying that the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) could not reject a trademark based on the fact that it was "disparaging" towards an individual or group. The case focused around whether or not a Portland band named "The Slants" could trademark its name. The band, which is fronted by an Asian American named Simon Tam, had its trademark rejected by the PTO on the claim that it was disparaging to Asians. As I noted at the time, I had struggled with my own opinion on this question as well -- initially arguing that this shouldn't be a First Amendment issue, because refusing to grant a trademark registration in no way interfered with anyone's freedom of expression. Instead, it did the opposite, and made it clear that anyone could make use of the content without restriction or fear of infringing on someone's registered mark (though, a common law trademark may still be an issue). Over time, and after lots of discussions with lots of people on all sides of this issue, I eventually came down on the other side. The key issue was not whether or not speech was blocked, but rather that there's a law that determines something based on the content of speech, and it's that point that makes it a First Amendment issue. The PTO appealed the appeals court ruling, and it's been pretty fascinating to follow the case over the past year. For some fun, I encourage folks to read some of the amicus briefs filed in the case. Public Citizen's brief (in support of neither party) most closely matches my own views. The brief from the think tank Cato is also a fun read in that it tries to make its point about the vagueness of what's disparaging and what's not in somewhat amusing ways: For example, one of this brief’s authors is a cracker (as distinct from a hillbilly) who grew up near Atlanta, but he wrote this sentence, so we can get away with saying that. Another contributor—unnamed because not a member of the bar—is an Italian-American honky who has always wanted to play in a band called the Dagos, which of course would close every set with "That's Amore" from "Lady and the Tramp." But, with only his great grandparents having come from Italy, is he dago enough to "take back" the term? And amici's lead counsel is a Russian-Jewish emigre who’s now a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen. Can he make borscht-belt jokes about Canuck frostbacks even though the first time he went to shul was while clerking in Jackson, Mississippi? It gets complicated. And that’s the point. The disparagement clause places an unconstitutional condition on those who consider the use of an edgy or taboo phrase to be part of their brand. Separately, I also highly recommend reading Sarah Jeong's impressive and detailed deep dive into the case for the NY Times Magazine. It has the following analogy which is just incredible: Federal registration is the T.S.A. PreCheck of intellectual-property law: Not everyone has to get it, but if you do a lot of business, you probably should. The problem is that in the Slants’ case, the trademark office has come to look a bit like the popular image of the T.S.A.: a bureaucracy of bored enforcers just trying to churn through the queue and get through the day. Except that every now and then, something complicated comes down the screening belt, or someone gets a little overzealous about the job, and everyone winds up looking bad. And this bit of background concerning the years-long back and forth between the Slants' lawyers and the PTO: Shortly after receiving their initial refusal from the patent office, the Slants sent a response explaining that “Applicant’s Mark, as used ... is a positive term of self-reference that promotes cultural pride and recognition.” The response included several exhibits, including declarations from longtime Asian-American community organizers. The office replied with yet another refusal, just as lengthy and full of screenshots as the last one. This strange back-and-forth went on for over a year. In June 2011, the Slants submitted a 250-page request for reconsideration that included the results of a survey designed by two university professors, who concluded that few members of the Asian and Pacific Islander community viewed “the Slants” as disparaging. The office responded with a 157-page denial that included more dictionary definitions, arguments in internet forums and, strangest of all, the comments thread under a blog post about the trademark dispute itself. In the comments, the blogger opines that the Slants’ name “would be like a black performer calling himself the N-word.” The writer continued, “It would be ridiculous and people would see that performer as ridiculous.” Then, Tam himself barges into the thread the office cites, with a long, detailed response that begins by pointing out that the “N” in the name of the rap group N.W.A. stands for the N-word. There's much more in there, so go read it. And that brings us to Wednesday, when the case was finally heard before the Supreme Court. You can read the full transcript of the oral arguments with the standard caveat that very rarely can you actually determine how the Supreme Court will rule based on oral arguments. I won't dive into the whole thing, but it is worthwhile to read through it. The lawyer representing the PTO, Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart, gets tripped up pretty early on. The Justices are trying to understand why it's okay for the PTO to reject "disparaging" trademarks, and the best Stewart can argue is that such marks are a "distraction" from the original intent of trademark, to be an indicator of origin of a good or service. Justice Breyer points out how little sense that makes: The only question I have for you is what purpose related to trademarks objective does this serve? And I want to be sure I have your answer. Your answer so far was, it prevents the --or it helps to prevent the user of the product from being distracted from the basic message, which is, I made this product. I take it that's your answer. And if that's your answer, I will --my follow-up question to that would be, I can think probably, and with my law clerks, perhaps 50,000 examples of instances where the space the trademark provides is used for very distracting messages, probably as much or more so than the one at issue, or disparagement. And what business does Congress have picking out this one, but letting all the other distractions exist? Justice Alito also makes a fairly compelling argument against the rule that bars registered trademarks on disparaging terms by noting that pretty much everyone would agree that it would be unconstitutional for the government to deny government programs, like police or fire services, to groups it says have made "disparaging" remarks. The point being: determining who is eligible for certain government benefits based on the content of their speech is... problematic. The arguments for the Slants were handled by John Connell, and here, Justice Sotomayor raised the initial issue I had with this line of cases, that nothing here stops the Slants from using the name: No one is stopping your client from calling itself The Slants. No one is stopping them from advertising themselves that way, or signing contracts that way, or engaging in any activity, except that stopping someone else from using the same trademark. But even that they could do. Because you don't need a registered trademark to sue under the Lanham Act's entitlement for the confusion of the public in the use of any kind of registered or unregistered mark. If another band called themselves Slants, they would be subject to deceptive advertisements because they wouldn't be this Slants. Connell does a pretty good job answering that: In this case, the government has used the disparagement clause to selectively deny those legal benefits to a mark holder expressing negative views that the government favors, as opposed to mark holders who received those benefits because they express neutral or positive views that the government does favor. In other words: isn't it a problem when the government blesses speech it likes, but refuses to bless speech it dislikes? There's a lot more in the arguments that are worth reading, and I (like many) look forward to the eventual ruling from the Supreme Court. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Alfred de Zayas, who is the UN's "Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and international order" has put out quite a statement in support of President Obama's decision to commute Chelsea Manning's sentence. But de Zayas didn't stop there. He went on to point out that the US government and other governments have been persecuting many other whistleblowers around the world, including Ed Snowden and Julian Assange, and that should stop: I welcome the commutation of sentence of Chelsea Manning and her forthcoming release in May. There are, however, many whistleblowers who have served the cause of human rights and who are still in prison in many countries throughout the world. It is time to recognize the contribution of whistleblowers to democracy and the rule of law and to stop persecuting them. I call on Governments worldwide to put an end to multiple campaigns of defamation, mobbing and even prosecution of whistleblowers like Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, the Luxleakers Antoine Deltour and Raphael Halet and the tax corruption leaker Rafi Rotem, who have acted in good faith and who have given meaning to article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on freedom of expression. Whistleblowers who are serving prison sentence in many countries should be pardoned. Whistleblowers are human rights defenders whose contribution to democracy and the rule of law cannot be overestimated. They serve democracy and human rights by revealing information that all persons are entitled to receive. A culture of secrecy is frequently also a culture of impunity. Because the right to know proclaimed in article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is absolutely crucial to every democracy, whistleblowers should be protected, not persecuted. The statement goes on for a few more paragraphs and concludes: It is time for this abnormal and inhuman situation to end. Of course, this kind of statement will mostly be ignored by those in power -- and where not ignored, it will likely be mocked or attacked. But it is an important and useful statement. In the hype and buzz around these individuals, the underlying facts often get buried. But it remains the case that the individuals de Zayas named have focused on revealing to the public important information that powerful people have tried to keep secret, often exposing massive government overreach or outright lies. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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With Trump's telecom advisors and the remaining FCC Commissioners making it abundantly clear that they intend to gut net neutrality rules and dismantle pretty much all of the FCC's consumer watchdog functions, there are more than a few worried companies, startups and consumers concerned that the net neutrality fight is about to get downright stupid. One of Trump's telecom advisors doesn't even think telecom monopolies are real, which should speak volumes about our looming vacation to dysfunction junction. One company that's busy pretending it's not worried is Netflix, which penned a letter to the company's shareholders this week (pdf) insisting that it doesn't expect the death of net neutrality rules to materially impact the company's revenues: Weakening of US net neutrality laws, should that occur, is unlikely to materially affect our domestic margins or service quality because we are now popular enough with consumers to keep our relationships with ISPs stable. Of course, that's easy to say when you're now the biggest pay TV provider in the United States, coming off one of your most successful quarters in history, while quickly expanding into hundreds of countries internationally. But what about the smaller, disruptive Netflix-like companies of tomorrow? They're about to face a future in which the government doesn't appear to give two flying shits about the wide variety of problems caused by AT&T, Comcast, Charter and Verizon's stranglehold over the broadband last mile. In fact, likely FCC boss Ajit Pai has made it repeatedly clear he does't even think any broadband competition issues exist. Clearly, smaller companies and startups won't have the size or lobbying muscle to defend themselves from ISP efforts to use this very real competitive logjam as a weapon against competing services (see: usage caps, overage fees, interconnection shenanigans, and whatever other "creative" efforts ISPs haven't even birthed yet to allow them to double dip). And Netflix appears to have forgotten that the mere presence of the FCC's rules prevented ISPs from attempting to extract significant, new interconnection fees at the network edge. So really, even companies the size of Netflix will have plenty to worry about. Fortunately Netflix does indicate the company isn't entirely oblivious to the advantage it holds, and proceeds to acknowledge that yes, a healthy and functioning internet free of obnoxious gatekeepers is kind of important: However, strong net neutrality is important to support innovation and smaller firms. No one wants ISPs to decide what new and potentially disruptive services can operate over their networks, or to favor one service over another. We hope the new US administration and Congress will recognize that keeping the network neutral drives job growth and innovation. If you've spent even five seconds reading comments made by Marsha Blackburn and other Trump telecom advisors, you should realize there's a snowball's chance in hell of that happening. The most likely path forward begins with the incoming FCC simply refusing to enforce the net neutrality rules on the books. After that, you can be fairly certain (said as somebody that has watched this industry for two decades) that the GOP will be pushing a new Communications Act rewrite (or some other new stand-alone legislation) packed with breathless platitudes toward broadband expansion, jobs, and net neutrality. In reality this legislation will have one, singular, unwavering focus: eliminating any and all government oversight of some of the least liked, and least competitive companies in any industry in America. Any network neutrality provisions in this looming legislation will be comically hollow, much like the promises surrounding job creation, innovation, and broadband competition. If Netflix execs truly think they're going to be immune from the repercussions of this shift back to letting AT&T, Comcast and Verizon dictate internet policy, they've got a lot of painful learning to do over the next few years. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Unleash your inner novelist and let Scrivener help manage your writing project. Available for $20, the Scrivener household license allows you to access your work on multiple devices. Scrivener replaces bits of paper, index cards and sticky notes by allowing you to storyboard projects, to edit and work on different sections, either alone or in concert, and to post notes and access research. There's a script formatting function to help you write the next classic movie hit, a name generator, and the ability to freely edit and restore to older versions so you won't lose anything as you dive deep into the creative process. This deal disappears again soon, so take advantage of it now! 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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Most of you recall that Samsung's Galaxy Note 7 suffered a bit of a problem with spontaneously combusting. That led to months of horrible press and an FAA ban on taking the device on airplanes. You might also recall that Samsung exponentially amplified its own PR disaster by then issuing a replacement phone that suffered from the exact same problem. Since then, carriers have been passing on a Samsung update that effectively bricks the device, preventing users from recharging the device. Most users have traded in the device for, you know, something that doesn't explode. But there remain a few thousand Galaxy Note 7 owners that for whatever reason have chosen to ignore Samsung and the formal recall by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. According to Verizon, there are still "thousands" of users on their network who continue to use the device, refusing to install the update that would render the device inoperable:"In spite of our best efforts, there are still customers using the recalled phones who have not returned or exchanged their Note 7 to the point of purchase," a Verizon spokeswoman tells Fortune. "The recalled Note 7s pose a safety risk to our customers and those around them."Interestingly, Verizon was initially the only wireless provider that refused to pass on the bricking update, insisting they didn't want to leave customers stranded for the holidays (despite the fact said users could have swapped out the device for free at any time). But Verizon has since taken a notably harder stance on the safety issues created by the device. As such, they've announced that they'll now refuse to connect any of the non-911 calls made via the Galaxy Note 7, instead routing every call to Verizon's customer service department:"So now Verizon is going to go even further, putting the phones in a special category so that all outgoing calls not directed toward the 911 emergency service will only connect to customer service. Because Note 7 users have also already been reimbursed for the cost of the long-since recalled Note 7, Verizon is also saying it might bill the holdouts for the full retail cost of the phone."It's a curious predicament. On the one hand, you can't feel particularly bad for customers who knowingly refuse to trade in a device that could spontaneously explode, hurting themselves or others in the process. On the other hand, these users are supposed to technically "own" this device, which a carrier is now refusing to connect to the network. And while users on device payment plans may technically still owe Verizon money for the device in Verizon's billing systems, users are arguing that Samsung has already reimbursed Verizon for these devices in the wake of the recall. Verizon insists it needs to disable the device for public safety (though liability could still be a motivator), while Galaxy Note 7 owners apparently believe they have every right to be stupid, self-immolation be damned.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've written a fair amount about Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood over the years, with a major focus on his factually-challenged hatred of Google, that may or may not be influenced by Hood's heavy funding from Hollywood. What is known, however, is that the MPAA, quite clearly, decided to use Hood as a pawn in its campaign to attack Google. The Sony Pictures hack from a few years back revealed a detailed plan, put together by the MPAA, to funnel money and resources to Hood solely for the purpose of attacking Google with questionable legal claims. Hood's first attempt to do so (with letters that were literally written by the MPAA's lawyers) effectively failed, following a legal challenge from Google. Hood, of course, is not one to give up, so he's back again with

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So we've noted repeatedly how Verizon really wants to pivot from stodgy, old protectionist telco to Millennial-focused media and advertising juggernaut. The company desperately wants in on Facebook and Google advertising cash, and apparently believes this is possible by ceasing network fiber upgrades and gobbling up failed 90s internet brands like Yahoo and AOL. Except Verizon's brand revolution so far hasn't been much to write home about. Verizon began its pivot with a short-lived website that imploded after writers revealed they couldn't talk about net neutrality or mass surveillance. The company's acquisition of Yahoo has also been plagued with issues, from Yahoo's mammoth, undisclosed hacking scandal to revelations of the company's wholesale spying on user e-mail accounts for the government (not that this latter issue bothered Verizon much). And Verizon's Go90 streaming video service, the cornerstone of Verizon's effort, has been derided as "a dud" by Verizon's own media partners. Needless to say, a generation of being a government-pampered telecom monopoly left Verizon ill-prepared for its marketing and media gambit, and the company's own incompetence and lack of innovative DNA have made for rough sledding early on. Verizon, for its part, has been stuck trying to explain to investors and the media why things aren't going particularly well. Kind of amusingly, Verizon Executive Vice President Marni Walden last week tried to claim the problems were because Verizon is breathlessly dedicated to consumer privacy:"For the first year, we’ve worked on bringing Verizon data into AOL. Candidly, that’s been slower than I’d like it to be, and you’ll see us accelerate that this year. The reason for that is around privacy and transparency for our customers." "We’ve got to make sure we don’t ever compromise that relationship with consumers, so we’ll do that in a very responsible way,” Walden continued. “But what we do know is that when you bring that kind of data, that rich set of data from Verizon into the platform, the result you get on targeted advertising is significantly better."Just so we're clear: Verizon was caught last year actively modifying wireless user data packets to track consumers around the internet. It was tracking users and building entire profiles of customers for two years before security researchers even discovered it. The company refused to inform consumers this was happening, and refused to provide working opt out tools. And while Verizon was fined $1.35 million by the FCC for this behavior, these so-called "stealth cookies" remain in use -- and have since been expanded across the AOL empire. This comes of course as Verizon has worked tirelessly to fight consumer privacy protections on every front, most recently in the form of the FCC's broadband privacy protections, which simply require companies be transparent about what they're collecting. Verizon has long proclaimed that privacy protections aren't necessary because public shame would keep the company honest (again though, the public was never told this data collection was even happening). AOL CEO Tim Armstrong also proudly declared that "the market" would keep the Verizon empire on its best behavior as it pertains to user privacy. Yeah, maybe. Of course the real reason Verizon's marketing ambitions have been slow to blossom isn't Verizon's love of privacy, it's Verizon's inexperience in media -- and actual competition. In broadband, Verizon has been consistently allowed to ignore privacy (and any other consumer complaint) courtesy of a lack of last-mile broadband competition. Now Verizon's the pesky upstart in a new, unfamiliar market, where annoyed users actually have a choice in search, e-mail, streaming video and other services. It's frankly entirely unclear if the company has the competence required for the transition.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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You may recall the rather short saga of video game studio Digital Homicide. That studio attempted to find success with a strange formula: sue game reviewers over negative reviews, sue Steam accounts for likewise negative reviews, find its game suddenly delisted from Steam entirely, and then declare itself dead. Not exactly the end that Digital Homicide was hoping for, certainly. One would have hoped that its story would serve as a warning to other game studios. And perhaps to some extent it has, as another game developer, Matan Cohen, ever so slightly altered the formula in probably the worst way possible. It still starts off with abusing the DMCA process to take down negative reviews and threatening the reviewer with legal action, of course. In this case, we once again find Jim Sterling, the same reviewer threatened by Digital Homicide, being the victim of a game developer's abuse. After having first filed a DMCA claim on Sterling's review of the game Art of Stealth, Cohen then allegedly went on a legal threat binge against Sterling. Art of Stealth dev threatened me three times overnight. Copy/pasted legal blather each time. Even their legal threats are asset flipped. — Jim Sterling (@JimSterling) January 16, 2017 These kinds of threats never work, but behaving as though you were specifically attempting to follow the playbook of a now-dead game studio, even mimicking its targets in the game review community, seems like a terrible business strategy. But, as I said, Cohen does indeed deviate from the Digital Homicide playbook at this point. Cohen has by all accounts not attempted to sue Steam users for what have likewise been fairly negative reviews on his game's Steam page. Instead, he appears to have decided to simply make up a bunch of Steam accounts and have them post fake reviews for his game instead. It was apparently blatant enough that Steam investigated and decided to push the button on the nuclear option and remove the game from Steam entirely. We (Valve) have identified unacceptable behavior involving multiple Steam accounts controlled by the developer of this game, Matan Cohen. The developer appears to have created multiple Steam accounts to post a positive review for their own game. This is a clear violation of our review policy and something we take very seriously. For these reasons, we are ending our business relationship with Matan Cohen and removing this game from sale. If you have previously purchased this game, it will remain accessible in your Steam library. When, oh when, will content makers realize that making war on negative reviews of their works is a losing proposition. The focus needs to be on making great content and connecting with people, not wielding legal threats as a cudgel. And, for the love of the universe, attempting to fake positive coverage can only serve to torpedo your career. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The Philadelphia Police Department is one of many to be on the receiving end of a consent decree with the DOJ. Most PDs finding themselves in this position earn it through years of abusive policing and a consistent disregard for constitutional rights and civil liberties. The Philly PD is no exception. This department has been trying to make the changes recommended by the Justice Department, but apparently found some of the DOJ's hurdles too high for it to jump… at least willingly. That hasn't stopped police officials from declaring their inability to live up to the DOJ's standards a success, however. An Officer-Involved Shooting Investigation Unit was established within the Philadelphia Police Department Jan. 1, Commissioner Richard Ross announced Friday. The creation of the unit was a result of a Department of Justice study that recommended departmental reforms focused on the use of deadly force by police officers. [...] "The Philadelphia Police Department will now be a model for departments across the country," said COPS director Ronald Davis. Hold your applause… However, one of the study's major recommendations - that an outside agency should investigate officer-involved shootings - could not be fulfilled, Davis said. "Philadelphia tried many alternatives but it could not work," Davis said. The COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) has an interesting definition of "could not." It could have worked, but the commissioner was unwilling to go up against the force behind the city's police force to do it. The federal government proclaims something must happen. The commissioner runs up against some resistance and decides it's impossible. Now, the city's residents can look forward to shootings by officers being handled completely internally, which will do little to deter the sort of activity that led to the DOJ's intercession in the first place. The commissioner did at least obliquely address the obstacle he's unwilling to remove to better implement the DOJ's recommendation. Finally, Ross said the "elephant in the room" was that the department faced opposition on the proposal from its union, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5. This is why we can't have nice accountable things. The FOP managed to defang the OIS Board, turning it into an internal, opaque process where officers have a 72-hour "cooling off" period before having to face a series of lobbed softballs by the PD's internal review board. As an alternative to an outside agency conducting investigations, Ross established the Officer-Involved Shooting Investigation Unit so the process is now bifurcated - the criminal aspect will be handled by the new unit, and the administrative aspect will continue to be handled by the department's Internal Affairs Unit. And yet, it's being hailed by a federal COPS official as a "model" for the nation's police departments. Yeah, this is a model, alright -- a model for every police union faced with a DOJ consent decree. Flex enough muscle and police officials will blow off federal recommendations to ensure future cooperation in policymaking and labor negotiations. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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There may be nothing more frustrating than trademarks being granted for terms that serve as simple geographic identifiers. With a couple of recent stories revolving around names of cities, or acronyms of them, it's probably time to consider whether some kind of official reform of trademark rules needs to be undertaken to keep companies from locking up such broad terms for commercial purposes. And there may be at least a slim chance that this conversation is starting, with the high profile example of the newly minted Los Angeles Chargers NFL team serving as notice. It was only this past week that the Chargers finally announced what everyone already knew was going to happen: the team is moving to the city of angels. As is SOP for an organization of its size, the team filed trademark applications for several iterations of its team name, including the term "LA Chargers." And that, almost immediately, is where the problems began to arise. Unfortunately for the team, its “LA Chargers” trademark application ran into an issue. On Dec. 20, LA Gear, the ‘80s-era athletic apparel company, filed a Notice of Opposition with the Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board related to the apparel portion of the “LA Chargers” application, on the grounds that it conflicts with LA Gear’s trademarks, and is likely to cause consumer confusion as to the source of the goods. In the opposition, the Chargers are referred to as “Applicant” and LA Gear is “Opposer.” The document lists 22 U.S. trademark registrations owned by LA Gear. The oldest dates back to 1985. Two of LA Gear’s registrations are in the form of logos that consist of the letters “LA” – meaning those logo registrations do not include the word “Gear.” This. Is. Ridiculous. Allowing for a monopoly on all things apparel over the acronym of the second largest city in the United States has absolutely zero to do with protecting the consuming public from confusion, no matter what LA Gear's opposition filing states. This is all to do with pushing the Chargers instead into some kind of lucrative licensing deal. And, for once, there is actually going to be some validity in common claims that failing to police the mark can result in it no longer being protected, particularly given that examples of LA Gear's failure in doing so includes examples analogous to the Chargers. Back in 2008, Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy received a trademark for a logo that includes the words “LA Galaxy.” The Trademark Office records for that application show no opposition filed by LA Gear. It’s possible that the MLS team may have negotiated a private agreement with LA Gear to avoid these issues, and the Chargers/NFL haven’t been willing or able to do so. It seems more likely that LA Gear’s opposition to the LA Chargers trademark is a new tactic, and that the company intends to test the boundaries of its trademark rights in phrases including the word “LA,” at least as they apply to athletic apparel. And that's hopefully a test that it will flunk, should the Chargers seek to have LA Gear's trademark protections repealed. And they should be, just as the mark never should have been granted in the first place. Were employees of the Trademark Office to have simply asked themselves whether approving the LA Gear trademark application did more to serve the public or the applying company, the conclusion would have been clear, as would have been the appropriateness of rejecting the application to begin with. Instead, this must happen on the back end, hopefully with a challenge to the mark by the Chargers. Sadly, some are predicting that the team won't bother. LA Gear’s claim may be a bit of a stretch, but it’s not impossible that the Trademark Office – or a court, should this dispute go that far – would rule in its favor. With all the drama around the team’s departure from San Diego, I’d bet the Chargers will simply come to a settlement agreement with LA Gear rather than put their incredibly valuable brand at risk of an adverse court ruling. Here's hoping the team shows some backbone instead. No single entity ought to be able to control the acronym for a major city in this way. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Chicago attorney Jerry Boyle -- notably not representing himself -- is suing the city of Chicago and a number of police officials for constitutional violations stemming from the PD's Stingray use. It's a potential class action suit, but Boyle -- at least in his own case -- claims to have pinpointed exactly when his phone signal was intercepted by the police. Cyrus Farivar of Ars Technica points out this detail in the lawsuit's claims: The 32-page lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Chicago on Thursday, specifically notes where and when the stingray was used, on January 15, 2015, “at approximately 8:00pm at the protest, near the 2200 block of West Ogden Avenue.” However, the civil complaint does not explain exactly how the plaintiff knows this information. “The evidence regarding CPD's use at that event is something that will be disclosed during the litigation,” Matt Topic, one of Boyle’s lawyers, e-mailed Ars. The allegations [PDF] don't contain any clue as to what exactly Boyle used to determine his phone signal was being intercepted, but there are more than few choices available to the privacy-conscious who may want to know if and when their signal is being rerouted. Hackers have put together their own tools to detect fake cell towers and SRLabs has produced an app called SnoopSnitch that puts that power right in your cellphone. What's undisputed is that the Chicago PD is in possession of regular IMSI catchers, as well as souped-up versions known as DRTboxes. Thanks to crowd-sourced FOIA activity, it's also known this equipment has been purchased with asset forfeiture funds in an effort to keep the PD's surveillance purchases from leaving as wide of a paper trail. What can also be inferred from the allegations is that the Chicago PD deployed its surveillance equipment on participants in First Amendment-protected activity, which may only add to the Constitutional fallout of this lawsuit. This surveillance also occurred more than a year before state legislation was passed requiring court orders for Stingray deployments. It will also be interesting to see what Boyle delivers as evidence his phone signal was grabbed by a Chicago PD Stingray. This will be essential to prove standing. Unfortunately, it will also have to be matched up with Stingray records held by the PD, which won't have much interest in turning those over to the court and possibly having them be made public. There's also a chance the PD won't have any records of this deployment. If the Stingray was searching for a specific number or numbers, it could have been in "catch and release" mode where every nearby number was grabbed by the cell tower spoofer, but only data related to the targeted numbers retained. Considering the years of opacity surrounding its Stingray use, this isn't going to be a fun legal battle for the Chicago PD. You can pretty much assume the FBI will take the lead in deciding what can or can't be presented in open court, as it has been granted this control with the non-disclosure agreement it makes every Stingray-purchasing law enforcement agency sign before it will allow them to deploy these devices. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Back in 2015, Techdirt wrote about a government project in China that involves "citizen scores," a rating system that will serve as a measure of a person's political compliance. The authorities aim to do that by drawing on the huge range of personal data that we all generate in our daily use of the Internet. The data would be scooped up from various public and private services and fed into an algorithm to produce an overall citizen score that could be used to reward the obedient and punish the obstreperous. Naively, we might suppose that only authoritarian governments could ever obtain all that highly-revealing information, but an article from supchina.com reveals that is far from the case. It discusses some great journalism from Guangzhou's Southern Metropolis Daily, whose reporters documented their success in buying every kind of personal data about colleagues from "tracking" services advertised online: For a modest fee of 700 yuan, or about 100 dollars, the reporters were able to obtain an astonishing array of information based on one colleague's personal ID number, including a full history of hotel rooms checked into, airline flights taken, internet cafes visited, border entries and exits, apartment rentals, real estate holdings -- even deposit records from the country's four major banks. But that wasn't all. The reporters were also able to purchase live location data on another colleague's mobile phone, pinpointing their position with disturbing accuracy. The article points out the inevitable conclusion from this journalistic investigation: officials within the government who have ready access to this personal information are happy to sell it to anyone for low prices, no questions asked. It's possible some of the databases have been hacked by outsiders, but it seems unlikely that online break-ins could make enough of them accessible, enough of the time. Corrupt officials with continuous access would be a more reliable source for these tracking services, of which there are hundreds. Supchina.com concludes: We often imagine China as having the kind of centralized authoritarian system that might be capable of implementing a watertight and monolithic system of digital social controls. And certainly, in the digital age, there is merit in the idea that an expansive hold on big data may possess the key to political power. But as data becomes ever more precious, securing this resource could become virtually impossible -- particularly in a system like China's, which lacks adequate legal and political protections. That's an important point that's often overlooked. As well as the immense power that mass surveillance confers on the authorities, it also creates a wonderful resource for corrupt officials to access and sell. It would be naive in the extreme to think that this is only a problem for China, and that it won't happen with the ever-widening surveillance systems that Western nations want to set up. It's yet another reason not to build them in the first place. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Trump's telecom advisors have made it abundantly clear the incoming administration intends to gut net neutrality, roll back most consumer broadband protections, and defund and defang the FCC as a broadband consumer watchdog. While deregulation works in some sectors, history makes it abundantly clear that blindly deregulating the broken telecom market only makes the problem worse. Just ask Michael Powell, the former deregulatory-focused FCC boss turned top cable lobbyist, whose blanket deregulatory tenure at the agency helped forge the "Comcast experience" most modern consumers enjoy today. It shouldn't be all that surprising then that leaked details on the incoming FCC's transition plan confirms that gutting of the FCC as consumer watchdog is precisely what Trump's team has in mind. Of his advisory team can't just call this spade a spade, given consumers would realize an unchecked Comcast, AT&T, Charter and Verizon spells significant trouble for their wallets... and peace of mind. As such, Trump's advisors intend to dress up what they have planned as an act of ultra-efficiency and reform:"That approach would be to restructure FCC bureaus to better reflect the convergence of the digital age as a first step, and, eventually, move functions deemed "duplicative," like, say, competition and consumer protection, to other agencies, particularly the Federal Trade Commission. While some have described the plan as one to eliminate the FCC, and certainly many if not most of its functions could be reapportioned, landing team members Jeff Eisenach and Rosyln Layton have argued that what remains would be "a more coherent and streamlined" agency that "would more effectively serve the goals of consumers, competitors, and Congress."It's worth noting that it's not "some" people that are saying the goal is to neuter the FCC -- that's what Trump's own advisors and most of the GOP are saying. And sure, the FCC will be more "efficient" in the way that a car stripped and sold off for parts needs less maintenance and fewer oil changes, but the pretense that this has anything to do with helping consumers should be utterly transparent to anybody familiar with America's pay-to-play legislature and the kind of "dollar per hollar" industry-tied think tankers that currently have Trump's ear. In telecom you'll very often see ISP lobbyists and executives urging that the FCC's consumer protection duties be offloaded entirely to the FTC. That's because they know full well the FTC is already under-staffed, under-funded, and ill-equipped to pick up this additional workload, and most consumer issues would be guaranteed to fall through the cracks. The goal isn't more efficient regulation and better, more streamlined regulators: the goal is no oversight whatsoever of some of the least competitive companies in America and one of the most loathed industries in America. All else is pretense. Of course we could just ask real consumer advocates like Public Knowledge lawyer Harold Feld. Feld has spent the lion's share of his life defending consumers from companies like Comcast, and tells Ars Technica that Trump's plan is effectively an all out war on telecom consumer protections:"Harold Feld, senior VP of consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, called this plan "a declaration of war on the most basic principles of universal service, consumer protection, competition, and public safety that have been the bipartisan core of the Communications Act for the last 80+ years." Feld argued that this proposal would "poison the well for any serious effort to update the Communications Act." Feld also worries about the impact on rural areas, which are given special protections in the Communications Act, he told Ars today. Feld said that the FCC itself has "considerable latitude" to limit its own enforcement actions "and to use rulemakings and forbearances to strip itself of authority," but it still has to meet the requirements of the federal Administrative Procedures Act. Moreover, the proposal to shift FCC competition and consumer protection authority to agencies such as the FTC would require the writing of extremely complicated legislation in Congress, he said."But Congressional legislation is just what the GOP is planning. The GOP has made it repeatedly clear they intend to table a Communications Act rewrite this year that further erodes regulatory authority over the nation's largest cable TV and broadband providers. It's very likely this new bill will not only severely curtail the FCC, but will roll back the agency's Title II reclassification of ISPs -- as well as net neutrality and new broadband privacy rules. All under the pretense of jobs, broadband expansion, and protecting net neutrality. Of course the way things are going, dismantling the only government agency that has dared stand up to Comcast is going to be portrayed as some kind of "populist" reform, resulting in countless millions cheering against their own best interests as their rights burn down around them. But as consumer TV and broadband bills skyrocket, net neutrality is gutted, consumer privacy concerns get thrown in the toilet, and unchecked industry duopolists truly begin to run amok -- misdirection and bullshit will only go so far in preventing consumers from realizing precisely who'll be to blame.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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It's hardly a surprise that a bunch of people who have been fed a load of bullshit about what Chelsea Manning did years ago are now quite angry over President Obama's decision to commute Manning's sentence. But I don't think any are quite as painstakingly wrong as Senator John McCain. Someone should call up the Guinness World Record folks, because the wrong-per-sentence ratio of McCain's angry statement might just set a new world record. Let's dig in. President Obama’s commutation of Chelsea Manning’s sentence is a grave mistake that I fear will encourage further acts of espionage and undermine military discipline. Wait. Really? Manning has been in prison for seven years, with a significant portion of that being held in solitary confinement, sometimes being made to strip naked before being able to sleep. This was called "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of article 16 of the convention against torture" by the United Nations. You would think, of all people, Senator John McCain, who similarly was held in solitary confinement and tortured for extended periods while being held captive for 5 and a half years in Vietnam, would recognize that "only" 7 years of such treatment wouldn't exactly encourage more of Manning's behavior. To put it more directly: who, in their right mind, is going to leak a bunch of documents thinking "oh, perhaps after going through literal torture, character assassination and basically hell on earth, it'll be okay, because maybe some other President will commute my insane 35 year sentence to just 7 years? No one. The idea that this commutation is going to lead to further leaks is ridiculous. If anything will lead to further leaks it's Manning's courage in seeing something wrong in the system and actually doing something about it. In fact, it was things like Manning's courage that helped inspire Ed Snowden and other whistleblowers to step up. They didn't do it on the idea that they might "only" suffer 7 years of torture. Second, what Manning did was not "espionage" and for McCain to suggest it is, means McCain either has no idea what he's talking about, or is lying. Manning leaked diplomatic cables and related information exposing vast wrongdoing by the US, to Wikileaks, who partnered with a number of respected press outlets to reveal the wrongdoing. That's not espionage. That's classic whistleblowing. And, yes, in case you've forgotten, Manning's leaks revealed a hell of a lot of wrongdoing by the US government. It also devalues the courage of real whistleblowers who have used proper channels to hold our government accountable. Oh come on. We've highlighted repeatedly how the "proper channels" claim is a complete joke. The "proper channels" have a long history of retaliating against whistleblowers such that everyone now knows the best way to destroy your life is to use the proper channels. It is a sad, yet perhaps fitting commentary on President Obama’s failed national security policies that he would commute the sentence of an individual that endangered the lives of American troops, diplomats, and intelligence sources by leaking hundreds of thousands of sensitive government documents to Wikileaks, a virulently anti-American organization that was a tool of Russia’s recent interference in our elections. First of all, Manning did not endanger the lives of American troops, diplomats and intelligence sources. During Manning's sentencing hearing, following her conviction, the US military admitted no one died because of Manning's leaks. So why does this myth still persist? Mainly because it's politically convenient to lie and pretend that whistleblowing leaks must "cost lives." Thousands of Americans have given their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq upholding their oaths and defending this nation. Chelsea Manning broke her oath and made it more likely that others would join the ranks of her fallen comrades. Her prison sentence may end in a few months’ time, but her dishonor will last forever. This has been pointed out over and over again: the oath that people take is to defend the Constitution. And a big part of that is calling out unconstitutional behavior by "this nation." Which is exactly what Manning did. Manning clearly felt that part of defending our nation and upholding her oath was to reveal wrongdoing by the US government. Furthermore, once again, the US military itself admitted that Manning didn't cause anyone to die. Finally, as Marcy Wheeler correctly points out, McCain isn't just completely wrong with most of his statement, he's a total hypocrite as well. After all, McCain has been one of the most vocal supporters of General David Petraeus, a man who was convicted of giving classified information (much more serious than anything leaked by Manning) to his mistress. When there was talk of demoting Petraeus for this fairly serious breach, McCain said he was going to launch a Congressional investigation. And, more recently, McCain had this to say about Petraeus: People make mistakes in life, they pay a price and move on. So, uh, yeah. Compare that to his statement about the commutation (not pardon) of Manning's sentence and explain how McCain is not an utter and total hypocrite. If commuting Manning's sentence after "just" 7 years of torture and inhuman treatment will incentivize more leaks, wouldn't that also mean that Petraeus getting basically no punishment at all for leaking much more serious material will lead to more leaks, since it seems top government and intelligence community officials are clearly being given the message: it's okay to give up the nation's biggest secrets if it means you get laid. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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You're probably used to playing games on your smartphone or tablet with the limited functionality of your fingers on the touchscreen, but with this Wireless Mobile Gaming Controller you can sync and play games with a full-scale, multi-buttoned controller. Play more advanced games at more advanced levels by simply pairing the controller with your device with Bluetooth. You want the high score? Here's where you start. Available in the Deals store for only $52.95. 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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As you may have heard, today is the five-year anniversary of the massive internet blackout that tons of internet users and sites participated in to protest a pair of awful copyright laws, SOPA & PIPA, which would have undermined some of the most basic principles of a free and open internet. In case you've somehow forgotten, go and take a look at the Archive Team's world tour of sites that either went down completely or put up some sort of detailed splash page speaking out against the bills and in favor of internet rights and freedoms. Contrary to what some have tried to claim in rewriting history, that event was a true example of a grassroots uprising against legacy industries and government bureaucracies that wanted to shackle the internet and make it less open, less free and less powerful. Since that day, there have been multiple other fights around internet freedom, having to do with mass surveillance, encryption, privacy, net neutrality and more. And there will continue to be more fights -- some of them repeats of fights we've already had, and some brand new ones. In particular, we see that Congress is already dipping its toes in the water about copyright reform, five years after SOPA. For years, we heard that, after SOPA, no one in Congress wanted to touch copyright law for fear of "being SOPA'd." However, with some of the new plans coming out for copyright reform, it appears that some in Congress are hoping that the internet has forgotten or moved on. The internet has not forgotten. The internet is watching closely. This applies not just to copyright reform, but the latest plans to do away with net neutrality. As outgoing FCC boss Tom Wheeler has warned, the new FCC undermines net neutrality at its own peril. The public overwhelmingly supports net neutrality, and attempts to undermine it will lead the internet to speak up again. Of course, if those in power have their way, part of the undermining of an open internet will be to make it even harder for the public to speak out -- which is why we need to do so loudly while we can. There are, of course, also ongoing fights about backdooring encryption and mass surveillance on the internet. We still need to reform ECPA and other outdated surveillance laws. Executive Order 12333 is still a massive blackhole of surveillance powers. Later this year, Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act is going to sunset and there will be a fight over its renewal. We can't -- and won't -- create a massive "internet blackout" for every single threat to internet freedom. Unfortunately, if we were doing that, it would happen far too often. But policymakers are being naive if they think that they can effectively DDoS the internet policy space by promoting so many bad policies at once that the internet won't notice. We may not win every battle, but the internet is watching carefully what policy makers do around making sure the internet remains open and free -- and is ready to speak out when those core principles are attacked by legacy industries unwilling to innovate or by policymakers too captured by industries who seek to block innovation. The internet is watching. The internet has not forgotten. And policymakers that seek to undermine an open internet may discover just how quickly and loudly the open internet responds to such threats.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Adam MacLeod, law professor at Faulkner University, was the recipient of a traffic cam speeding ticket. The problem was that he wasn't driving the vehicle when the infraction occurred. So, it was his vehicle being ticketed, but he was being held responsible for someone else's infraction. He decided to fight it, and that fight uncovered just how crooked the traffic cam system is. Not only are traffic camera manufacturers receiving a cut of every ticket issued, but tapping into this new revenue stream has prompted municipalities to undermine the judicial system. MacLeod's detailed report of his fight against city hall is well worth reading in its entirety. But one hint of things to come reveals itself in MacLeod's conversation with the city's attorney when attempting to figure out how one goes about actually challenging a traffic cam ticket. I asked her whether this was a criminal action or a civil action. She replied, “It’s hard to explain it in those terms.” I asked whether she intended to proceed under criminal procedural rules or in civil procedure. We would proceed under the “rules of criminal procedure,” she answered because this is a criminal case. I asked when I could expect to be charged, indicted, or have a probable cause determination. She replied that none of those events would occur because this is “a civil action.” So I could expect to be served with a complaint? No, no. As she had already explained, we would proceed under the criminal rules. The attorney had no way of answering this question honestly, or even accurately. What MacLeod discovered during his speeding ticket battle is that his local government -- like many other local governments deploying traffic cameras -- had created a legal netherworld between civil and criminal law where tickets issued by software were allowed to operate. [T]raffic cameras do not always produce probable cause that a particular person has committed a crime. To get around this “problem” (as a certain law-and-order president-elect might call it), several states have created an entirely novel phylum of law: the civil violation of a criminal prohibition. Using this nifty device, a city can charge you of a crime without any witnesses, without any probable cause determination, and without any civil due process. In short, municipal officials and their private contractors have at their disposal the powers of both criminal and civil law and are excused from the due process duties of both criminal and civil law. It’s a neat trick that would have made King George III blush. Once a government becomes reliant on a new, legally-questionable revenue stream, the "questionable" part tends to be buried under absurd claims about traffic safety and traffic accident deaths. At this point, the entire system is corrupted. Legislators like the money. Cops like the money. The camera company (in this case, American Traffic Solutions) likes the money. Everything that needs to be done to ensure the cashflow doesn't dry up is done, including engaging in perjury. MacLeod was finally allowed to address the proxy accusing him of speeding: the local PD. Its testifying officer buried himself (along with the city and ATS) during cross-examination. On cross-examination, I established that: - He was not present at the time of the alleged violation. - He has no photographic evidence of the driver. - There were no witnesses. - He does not know where Adam MacLeod was at the time of the alleged violation. And so on. I then asked the question one is taught never to ask on cross—the last one. “So, you signed an affidavit under the pains and penalties of perjury alleging probable cause to believe that Adam MacLeod committed a violation of traffic laws without any evidence that was so?” Without hesitating he answered, “Yes.” This surprised both of us. It also surprised the judge, who looked up from his desk for the first time. A police officer had just testified under oath that he perjured himself in service to a city government and a mysterious, far-away corporation whose officers probably earn many times his salary. Once you're corrupt, it's all over. The officer MacLeod questioned seemingly didn't realize his complicity in this corruption until he was directly questioned. In all fairness, he'd likely been told everything about the ticketing system was above-board, legally and constitutionally. But once the new system -- one that is neither criminal nor civil -- is challenged, it falls apart. MacLeod reports that Alabama residents fought back against the deployment of traffic cameras, resulting in the repeal of the state's traffic cam law. Not that his mattered to the city of Montgomery's (where MacLeod resides) governance. [M]ontgomery’s defiant mayor announced that the city would continue to operate the program. Curiously, he asserted that to stop issuing tickets would breach the city’s contract with American Traffic Solutions. That went on until the state's District Attorney stepped in to shut down the mayor's rogue traffic cam program. Or tried to. A compromise of sorts was reached. Car-mounted cameras were shut down, but stationary cameras already in place were allowed to keep issuing tickets summoning citizens to the city's judicial Kafka-esque criminal/civil intersection. Unhappy with having to (sort of) comply with state law, the mayor made it clear that cameras may come and go, but newly-found revenue streams are here to stay. In a fit of petulance, and belying his insistence that the program is motivated by safety concerns rather than revenue, the mayor announced that the amounts of fines for ordinary traffic violations will now be tripled. That's how the system works. The money must flow from the citizens to their government. And if the pipeline has to run right through their civil rights and liberties, so be it. Traffic camera systems are sold as public safety enhancements, but all they're really doing is transferring more money -- and more power -- to governments willing to let contractual obligations with private companies take precedence over Constitutional amendments. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Despite Trump's criticism of the AT&T Time Warner merger (largely believed to be due to negative CNN coverage), most Wall Street and telecom sector analysts expect the next few years will see an explosion in previously-unthinkable mega-mergers. Sprint is expected to make another bid to acquire T-Mobile after the deal was blocked by regulators back in 2014. Comcast or Charter are expected to make their own bid for T-Mobile if Sprint can't come up with the cash. Other rumored acquisition targets for giant telecom companies include Dish (and its hoarded spectrum) or any number of massive media empires. But one of the more unlikely rumored M&As that keeps popping up is a Verizon acquisition of Comcast. The idea was floated by UBS analyst John Hodulik in a recent research note to investors, with Hodulik claiming the deal provides incredible "synergies" while propping up Verizon's fifth-generation wireless (5G) ambitions:"Densification of wireless networks required to meet the needs of video-centric subscribers increases synergies of cable-wireless combinations and provides the springboard for 5G-based services," he proclaims. "A roll-back of Title II re-classification could further increase incentives for cable," he adds, casually citing the likely dismantling of net neutrality and the FCC under Trump. He put forth a number of models that include Dish fusing with T-Mobile or other variations. But he noted that a Comcast or Charter merger with Verizon would create "significant synergies" and "integrated products" while being "accretive to revenue and EBITDA growth."Adding to this speculation this week is a New York Post report claiming that Verizon is looking to acquire either Comcast or Charter:"Verizon Chief Executive Lowell McAdam may be getting ready to answer rival AT&T’s moves to buy DirecTV and Time Warner. The New York wireless giant is weighing the acquisition of a cable company to help grow demand for its wireless data products, two well placed sources told The Post. The CEO told friends at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month that he wants to buy into cable, one source said. "They need it for 5G,” said a second source, confirming McAdam’s interest. The most likely targets would be “Charter or Comcast,” the source noted."The problem is the deal doesn't make a whole lot of technical sense given the companies' dramatically different networks. Verizon has no shortage of core network transit capacity to fuel its own 5G ambitions. And while the cable industry's large network of WiFi hotspots could be used to offload 5G wireless users, Verizon has actively been trying to get out of the fixed-line broadband business. The company has largely frozen its FiOS fiber expansion, and has spent the last few years actively trying to drive away DSL customers it doesn't want to upgrade. Verizon's trying (with mixed results) to pivot to media and advertising. While Verizon may be interested in NBC, would it saddle itself with tens of millions of new residential broadband customers just as it's trying to back away from the saturated residential broadband market? A more likely effort would involve the "smaller" acquisition of a pure media company like CBS to keep pace with AT&T's $100 billion Time Warner bid and Comcast NBC Universal. Verizon's own streaming service is being called a "dud" by the company's own advertising partners, and owning a richer catalog of original content would go a long way to prop up Verizon's goal of becoming a Millennial advertising juggernaut. Much of the chatter could simply be Wall Street cashing in on rumor-triggered telecom stock movement. That said, the competitive repercussions of fusing two of the biggest broadband providers and reducing competition further would be monumental. Whether a Verizon Comcast superunion happens or not, it's becoming incredibly clear that Wall Street believes we're entering a new era of rubber stamp regulators, where no deal is too big, and the consumer impact and employment toll of these kinds of megadeals is only a distant, fleeting afterthought.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As Techdirt wrote last month, there's little prospect of Donald Trump being able to re-negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, for reasons to do with the political realities in other countries. That hasn't stopped the true believers from continuing to clutch at straws in the hope that TPP might somehow come back from the dead. For example, here's the view from New Zealand: It remains to be seen whether the United States will pull out of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), Prime Minister Bill English says. Here's Australia: Australia has declared the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) not dead ahead of key trade talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Sydney on Saturday, despite opposition to the trade pact from U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. Even in the US, people are still hoping against hope because of things like this: Donald Trump's choice for secretary of state Rex Tillerson said Wednesday (Jan 11) he is not against the recently negotiated Asia-Pacific free-trade deal, putting him at odds with the president-elect who has vowed to scrap it. However, it's worth noting that the very next day, a "Trump transition policy adviser" stated categorically: "TPP is dead. I cannot stress that more strongly," said the adviser, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly for the administration that takes office on Jan. 20. "TPP, or a multilateral agreement that looks like TPP but is called something else, is emphatically dead." Supporters of the trade deal are trying to paint that decision as a defeat for the US and an opportunity for China, as the New York Times reports: walking away from TPP may be seen by future generations as the moment America chose to cede leadership to others in this part of the world and accept a diminished role. Such an outcome would be cause for celebration among those who favor "Asia for the Asians" and state capitalism. It would be disastrous for supporters of inclusive politics, rule of law, and market economics -- and for U.S. national interests. China is part of a rival to TPP, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which manages to be even worse than TPP. The assumption has been that RCEP negotiations will grind on until they reach a successful conclusion. But there are some interesting first signs that may not happen, analyzed here on the CNBC site: the contrasting priorities of the RCEP players are proving to be the biggest obstacle to success. Members are floundering to bring RCEP to conclusion and they have postponed the deadline from Dec. 2016 until the end of 2017, pointed out Meredith Miller, vice president at Albright Stonebridge Group. One of the most contentious areas regards affordable access to generic drugs: Japan and South Korea are suggesting IP policies that may increase medical treatment costs and restrict access to affordable generic medicines for people in several countries, prompting vocal backlash from New Delhi ministers as well as international health organizations. India is often dubbed as the 'pharmacy of the developing world' for its massive production of generic medicines that treat communicable and non-communicable diseases. TPP foundered on the fact that it offered precious few benefits to the general public, and plenty of downsides. It looks like RCEP is hitting the same problems. The "other" Pacific deal's difficulties may be a further sign that the era of massive global trade deals like TPP, TTIP and TISA, all negotiated in secret, and all now in doubt, may finally be over. We can probably expect smaller-scale, bilateral deals to become the norm instead. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Stories about robots and their impressive capabilities are starting to crop up fairly often these days. It's no secret that they will soon be capable of replacing humans for many manual jobs, as they already do in some manufacturing industries. But so far, artificial intelligence (AI) has been viewed as more of a blue-sky area -- fascinating and exciting, but still the realm of research rather than the real world. Although AI certainly raises important questions for the future, not least philosophical and ethical ones, its impact on job security has not been at the forefront of concerns. But a recent decision by a Japanese insurance company to replace several dozen of its employees with an AI system suggests maybe it should be: Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance believes [its move] will increase productivity by 30% and see a return on its investment in less than two years. The firm said it would save about 140m yen (£1m) a year after the 200m yen (£1.4m) AI system is installed this month. Maintaining it will cost about 15m yen (£100k) a year. The Guardian article quoted above gives a few more details: The system is based on IBM's Watson Explorer, which, according to the tech firm, possesses "cognitive technology that can think like a human”, enabling it to “analyse and interpret all of your data, including unstructured text, images, audio and video". The technology will be able to read tens of thousands of medical certificates and factor in the length of hospital stays, medical histories and any surgical procedures before calculating payouts It's noteworthy that IBM's Watson Explorer is being used by the insurance company in this way barely a year after the head of the Watson project stated flatly that his system wouldn't be replacing humans any time soon. That's a reflection of just how fast this sector is moving. Now would be a good time to check whether your job might be next. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Well, here's a surprise. President Obama has just commuted the bulk of Chelsea Manning's sentence, meaning she will be freed this May, rather than having to spend another three decades in jail. Manning, of course, was sent to prison for sharing a large chunk of US diplomatic cables with Wikileaks. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison nearly four years ago (with credit for the 3.5 years she'd already been held, often in solitary confinement). Many people were already outraged at the sentence, especially given that there was no evidence of any actual harm from the leaks. There were two big campaigns going on over the past few months -- one to pardon Ed Snowden, and another to commute Manning's sentence. President Obama had already made it fairly clear that he had no interest in pardoning Snowden based on the totally false claim that he could not pardon Snowden prior to Snowden being convicted. In the past few weeks, however, there were at least a few hints and rumors that Obama was seriously considering commuting Manning's sentence, and that led to even more focus on the campaign. Ed Snowden himself also advocated for Manning, even ahead of his own case: Mr. President, if you grant only one act of clemency as you exit the White House, please: free Chelsea Manning. You alone can save her life. — Edward Snowden (@Snowden) January 11, 2017 And then, just a few days ago, Wikileaks tweeted that Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Obama "grants Manning clemency." If Obama grants Manning clemency Assange will agree to US extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ case https://t.co/MZU30SlfGK — WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) January 12, 2017 And yes, commuting the sentence (which shortens the sentence, but is not a full pardon...) is a form of clemency. So now there's a separate question to ask: will Assange agree to be extradited to the US (or will he just come here voluntarily?). Perhaps after Trump takes over later this week, that won't be such a huge concern, since Trump has magically morphed into a huge Wikileaks/Assange supporter. Unfortunately, though, it does appear that the likelihood of a Snowden pardon is also almost nil. In discussing today's commutation of Manning's sentence, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest basically argued that what Snowden did was much worse than Manning, because he "fled": "Chelsea Manning is somebody who went through the military criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing," he said. "Mr. Snowden fled into the arms of an adversary, and has sought refuge in a country that most recently made a concerted effort to undermine confidence in our democracy." He also noted that while the documents Ms. Manning provided to WikiLeaks were "damaging to national security," the ones Mr. Snowden disclosed were "far more serious and far more dangerous." (None of the documents Ms. Manning disclosed were classified above the merely “secret” level.) While I agree that there was a difference in the types of documents revealed, one might also make the argument that Snowden's leaks revealed much more serious problems and the impact of his leaks were much more important in revealing to the American public abuses by our own government. Separately, the whole "fled into the arms of adversary" thing is silly as well. As has been explained multiple times, Snowden ended up in Russia after the US pulled his passport while he was traveling. And, at the same time, a big part of the reason Snowden left the US was the unfortunate treatment of Manning by the military judicial process. Snowden properly surmised that he would not be treated fairly. And apparently that continues to this day. Either way, it's good that Manning's sentence has been commuted. It's been clear from many reports that Manning was unlikely to survive the full sentence given to her, and she's been treated horribly in prison as well. It's still too bad that President Obama is unwilling to also pardon Snowden.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Last year, we got a lot of positive feedback on our episode taking a look at the Consumer Electronics Show with the help of journalist Rob Pegoraro. So this year, we've brought Rob back for another look at the highs and lows of CES. Also: we're getting ready to record our first exclusive patron-only episode for our supporters on Patreon, which means it's time for those who backed us at a level of $5/month or more to submit questions for the Q&A portion. If you're one of those patrons, you can now find a post calling for questions in our Patreon feed and submit yours in the comments. If you're not, but you want to submit a question or just get access to the episode once it's released, now's the time to support the Techdirt Podcast on Patreon. Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes or Google Play, 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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For the last few years, Microsoft has been under fire because its Windows 10 operating system is unsurprisingly chatty when it comes to communicating with the Redmond mothership. Most of the complaints center around the fact that the OS communicates with Microsoft when core new search services like Cortana have been disabled, or the lack of complete, transparent user control over what the operating system is doing at any given time. Microsoft has since penned numerous blog posts that claim to address consumer concerns on this front -- without actually addressing consumer concerns on this front. This week, Microsoft penned a new blog post claiming that the company has been listening to annoyed customers and privacy activists, and will finally be making substantive changes to Windows 10 privacy settings to give users more control. Among them will be new operating system-level privacy controls that make consumer options more granular. But Microsoft also says it is building a new privacy dashboard the company says will be doled out to Windows Insiders in an upcoming build, and will look something like this:Microsoft says the company will simplify the operating system's diagnostic data collection levels, so that it's clearer what telemetry data is being sent back to the company’s servers. As it stands, Windows 10 currently has three snooping levels, but in the Creators Update (expected sometime in the Spring) there will be just two: an option to switch between "basic" and "full" data collection levels, depending how much invasive snooping you like with your morning coffee. Said basic tier is the lowest the settings will go, and includes collection Microsoft claims is necessary for the functioning of the OS. Basic includes:"Data that is vital to the operation of Windows. We use this data to help keep Windows and apps secure, up-to-date, and running properly when you let Microsoft know the capabilities of your device, what is installed, and whether Windows is operating correctly. This option also includes basic error reporting back to Microsoft."The problem is that Microsoft has often hidden behind claims that it has to collect a lot of this data or the operating system won't work, and there's still no option to eliminate the collection of telemetry data completely. "Full" data collection, in contrast, will collect everything that the basic setting covers, as well as "inking and typing data." That can include sending Microsoft the document you were working on that caused a system crash, and giving Microsoft support permission to access the OS remotely for troubleshooting. The entire goal, Microsoft claims in the post, is to make consumer privacy easier to understand:"When it comes to your privacy, we strive to make choices easy to understand while also providing clear visibility and control over your data. We believe finding the right balance is one of our most important tasks in delivering great personalized experiences that you love and trust."We'll have to wait until Spring to see if these changes address concerns of the EFF, which last August criticized Microsoft's malware-esque forced upgrade tactics and its refusal to answer consumer privacy inquiries in a straightforward fashion. Microsoft's also trying to appease French regulators, who last summer demanded that Microsoft "stop collecting excessive user data" and cease tracking the web browsing of Windows 10 users without their consent. Of course if having total, granular control over how chatty your OS is over the network is your priority, not using Windows whatsoever probably remains your best option.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Thomas Fox-Brewster of Forbes is taking a closer look at a decade-plus of in-car surveillance, courtesy of electronics and services manufacturers are installing in as many cars as possible. Following the news that cops are trying to sweat down an Amazon Echo in hopes of hearing murder-related conversations, it's time to revisit the eavesdropping that's gone on for years prior to today's wealth of in-home recording devices. One of the more recent examples can be found in a 2014 warrant that allowed New York police to trace a vehicle by demanding the satellite radio and telematics provider SiriusXM provide location information. In this case, SiriusXM complied by turning on its "stolen vehicle recovery" mode, which allowed law enforcement to track the vehicle for ten days. SiriusXM told Forbes it only does this in response to search warrants and court orders. That may be the case for real-time tracking, but any location information captured and stored by SiriusXM can be had with nothing more than a subpoena, as this info is normally considered a third-party record. It's not just satellite radio companies allowing cops to engage in surreptitious tracking. OnStar and other in-vehicle services have been used by law enforcement to eavesdrop on personal conversations between drivers and passengers. In at least two cases, individuals unwittingly had their conversations listened in on by law enforcement. In 2001, OnStar competitor ATX Technologies (which later became part of Agero) was ordered to provide "roving interceptions" of a Mercedes Benz S430V. It initially complied with the order in November of that year to spy on audible communications for 30 days, but when the FBI asked for an extension in December, ATX declined, claiming it was overly burdensome. [...] In 2007, the OnStar system in a Chevrolet Tahoe belonging to a Gareth Wilson in Ohio contacted OnStar staff when an emergency button was pushed. As noted in a 2008 opinion from the case, Wilson was unaware the button had been hit. Subsequently, an OnStar employee heard the occupants discussing a possible drug deal, and allowed an officer from the Fairfield County Sheriff's Office to listen to the conversation. When the vehicle was located and searched, marijuana was found and an indictment filed days later. Ironically, the suspect hadn't even signed up to the OnStar service, but it hadn't been switched off. The 2001 case didn't end well for law enforcement. It wasn't that the court had an issue with the eavesdropping, but rather that the act of listening in limited the functionality of the in-car tech, which the court found to be overly-burdensome. OnStar is also asked to engage in real-time tracking by law enforcement. While OnStar denies it collects location info, it too has a stolen car recovery mode that allows OnStar to track vehicles. OnStar also says it will only do this in response to warrants and court orders -- or unless "exigent circumstances" necessitate the bypassing of these constitutional protections. What OnStar definitely won't do is let the public know how many times law enforcement has asked to track vehicles. The company told Forbes it "doesn't release the number of these requests." Plenty of vehicles come with built-in GPS-reliant devices, most of which perform some sort of data retention. Anything not considered to be "real-time" can be obtained without a warrant, thanks to the incredibly-outdated Third Party Doctrine. Private conversations can be captured and recorded with warrants, which makes a large number of vehicles on the road confidential informants on standby. Courts have generally been sympathetic to law enforcement use of in-car technology, finding the use of built-in "tools" to be less intrusive than officers installing their own devices on suspects' vehicles. Certainly law enforcement finds these pre-equipped listening/tracking devices more convenient as well. The expansion of in-car tech has led to a great many opportunities for law enforcement, at the expense of privacy expectations. While drivers certainly can't "reasonably" expect their travels on public roads to be "private," the collection of location data by third parties basically puts drivers under constant surveillance, relieving law enforcement from the burden of actually having to dedicate personnel, vehicles, and equipment to this task. And if cops can't get this location info from in-dash systems, they can probably grab it from the drivers' cell phone service providers. Law enforcement may find encryption to be slowing things down in terms of accessing cell phone contents, but everything else -- from in-car electronics to the Internet of Things -- is playing right into their hands. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The $39 Full Stack Programmer Bundle is a massive, 130-hour bundle covering a wide array of programming languages for everything from web design and app development to database creation and app distribution. JavaScript, Python, PHP, and Ruby are just the tip of the iceberg here. You'll also learn how to use popular, extremely valuable tools like Docker, MongoDB, Angular 2, and many more as you develop a full stack education. 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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