posted 12 days ago on techdirt
CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies) has just released its report on encryption and it comes to the same conclusions many other reports have: encryption is good for everyone and law enforcement fears are overstated and mostly-unrealized. (h/t Kevin Bankston) The report [PDF] opens up with this statement: It is in the national interest to encourage the use of strong encryption. No one we interviewed in law enforcement or the intelligence community disagreed with this. The disagreement comes when law enforcement is prevented from pursuing investigative leads because of encryption. According to FBI Director James Comey and Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance, encryption is already a huge problem for law enforcement and will only get exponentially worse in the next few years. The CSIS report rebuts both of these statements. While encryption use is growing rapidly, the share of traffic that is both of interest to law enforcement and unrecoverable is still relatively small. Most companies use encryption that allows law enforcement agencies to recover plaintext data. Most e-­mail, if it uses encryption, also allows for recovery. Currently, an estimated 18 ­percent of global communications traffic is end-­to-­end encrypted. It is estimated that 22 ­percent of communications traffic will be end-­to-­end encrypted by 2019. This is far from the encryption apocalypse promised by Comey and Vance. There's an incremental increase taking place, not an exponential one. What could pose serious problems, though, is encryption-by-default on smartphones. As the report points out, if Android devices go the way of iPhones, 99% of the world's phones would keep law enforcement locked out. But that's only if law enforcement isn't able to access data and communications through device manufacturer/service provider cooperation, third-party app developers, email providers, and other, more old-fashioned techniques. One sure way to beat device encryption is to obtain the passcode from the user. This won't help much when the phone's owner is dead or can't be located, but compelling the production of a password is still far from settled, constitutionally-speaking. For phones secured with a fingerprint, owners are likely out of luck. A couple of courts have already reached the conclusion that providing a fingerprint isn't testimonial and has no Fifth Amendment implications. CSIS could have put together a better estimate on how many investigations are thwarted by encryption, but law enforcement agencies -- even those fronted by encryption opponents -- aren't interested in sharing this data with the public. The report points out that the problem remains mostly theoretical. Without data, all we have are assertions from law enforcement officials that something must be done. Failure to legislate backdoors or bans will apparently lead to a sharp uptick in criminal activity… except that's not happening either. The report points out that there's no data linking increased default encryption to increases in criminal activity. As for the world's terrorism, encryption is seldom a barrier to investigations or surveillance. There's no shortage of access points to intercept communications while they're still decrypted (or post-encryption stripping). According to the CSIS report, 90% of the world's instant messages are still accessible by law enforcement, even without interception. With surveillance data-sharing being the new normal in the US, law enforcement agencies will be able to dip into NSA collections to obtain communications that might otherwise be inaccessible through a suspect's device. The report notes that there's likely no consensus to be reached on the encryption issue. Because it protects both criminals and the innocent, it's difficult to see a nation's government -- at least those in the Western half of the world -- deciding to eliminate innocents' protections in hopes of nabbing a few more criminals. In the United States -- where certain rights have been long enshrined (if far too frequently ignored) -- the chance of anti-encryption legislation remains lowest. And, as the report's authors note, if the US doesn't make a move to curb encryption, it's unlikely the rest of the free world will do so on their own. The law enforcement agencies making the most noise about encryption are doing the least to help their own cause. Most of what's offered is anecdotal, rather than data-based. According to the FBI's own testimony, it only has about 120 inaccessible phones in its possession. As for other law enforcement agencies, the numbers are mostly unknown. Those that have chosen to make their numbers public have failed to show anything more than the expected rise in inaccessible phones due to default encryption. While the locked devices may number in the hundreds (Cy Vance's office says 423 locked phones were seized in a two-year span, which -- according to the office's numbers -- is still only a third of the devices in law enforcement custody), they're still in the minority of those obtained. These numbers will increase as the use of encryption increases, but if law enforcement and intelligence agencies don't like the way the future looks, they really only have themselves to blame. The report notes that the Snowden leaks -- which detailed massive surveillance programs operating under almost-nonexistent oversight -- prompted an encryption revival, both in terms of individuals doing more to ensure their privacy as well as well as device manufacturer encryption implementation. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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So last year we noted how Verizon proposed paying $4.8 billion to acquire Yahoo as part of its plan to magically transform from stodgy old telco to sexy new Millennial advertising juggernaut, which, for a variety of reasons, isn't going so well. One of those reasons is the fact that Yahoo failed to disclose the two, massive hacks (both by the same party) that exposed the credentials of millions of Yahoo customers during deal negotiations. The exposure included millions of names, email addresses, phone numbers, birthdates, hashed passwords (using MD5) and "encrypted or unencrypted" security questions and answers. As noted previously, Verizon had been using the scandal to drive down the $4.8 billion asking price, reports stating that Verizon was demanding not only a $1 billion reduction in the price, but another $1 billion to cover the inevitable lawsuits by Yahoo customers. Verizon appears to have gotten at least some of what it wanted, Bloomberg reporting that Verizon has managed to shave $250 million or so off of the original price tag: "Verizon Communications Inc. is close to a renegotiated deal for Yahoo! Inc.’s internet properties that would reduce the price of the $4.8 billion agreement by about $250 million after the revelation of security breaches at the web company, according to people familiar with the matter...In addition to the discount, Verizon and the entity that remains of Yahoo after the deal, to be renamed Altaba Inc., are expected to share any ongoing legal responsibilities related to the breaches, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private information." Yahoo wasn't always incompetent when it comes to security. In fact, at one point the company was considered among the best in the business, something that only began to change when CEO Marissa Mayer decided to begin cutting security corners. This came to light a few months back via a series of insider-fueled pieces highlighting how Mayer's business decisions actively worked to make Yahoo users less secure. Mayer was concerned, apparently, that actually being transparent with Yahoo customers about their (not so) private data would result in the company losing even more customers than it already had: "According to the former Yahoo executive that Business Insider spoke to, Yahoo's culture of secrecy and its prioritization of other business goals led to troubling security practices that made it much more difficult for Yahoo to defend from hackers. Yahoo's security team was often denied funding and sometimes kept in the dark at Mayer's direction, as she feared more emphasis on security could potentially spur a decline in the company's user base." But at the end of the day, transparency builds trust in the brand, resulting in more loyal customers -- something Mayer apparently didn't understand. The ironic part being that much of this shift away from security was also occurring because Mayer was busy trying to make Yahoo a sexier acquisition target. Fortunately for all of us, this deal finally puts this entire sordid affair in the real-view mirror, and Verizon executives can get back to gobbling up foundering 90s internet brands, and convincing itself it has the disruptive DNA required to take on Google, Facebook and others in the quest for Millennial ad eyeballs. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Techdirt has been covering the fight for a "Right to Repair" for a long time -- Mike first wrote about it in 2009. Even though the idea seems a no-brainer -- you bought it, why shouldn't you be able to repair it? -- progress has been extremely slow, as successive Techdirt articles have chronicled. One of the most important developments is a number of "Right to Repair" bills that are being considered by various state legislatures. These typically require electronics manufacturers to make service manuals available to the public, and to sell repair parts. The hope is that if even one or two of these are passed, manufacturers will find it simpler to comply nationally. However, an article on Motherboard suggests that the "Right to Repair" movement has a rather surprising enemy. Here's what an unnamed source told the publication: an Apple representative, staffer, or lobbyist will testify against the bill at a hearing in Lincoln on March 9. AT&T will also argue against the bill, the source said. The source told me that at least one of the companies plans to say that consumers who repair their own phones could cause lithium batteries to catch fire. It's all about safety, you see, and definitely not about trying to push the public to buy new models when the old ones break. The Motherboard story suggesting Apple will try to derail the "Right to Repair" bill in Nebraska is plausible, because the company did exactly the same in two states last year, as the Huffington Post reported. It seems those were not isolated incidents, but part of a long-running official Apple policy against the "Right to Repair" idea. For a company that likes to portray itself as serving its users better than its rivals, this is shabby behavior. It not only forces people to spend money unnecessarily, it is harmful for the environment. Discarding old models is likely to lead to more toxic landfill, even though Apple says that it tries to recycle as much as possible. It's sad to see an otherwise innovative player lining up with the dinosaurs on the wrong side of history for this issue. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've written a few times about Rep. Devin Nunes, who heads the House Intelligence Committee. He's been a long-time vocal supporter of NSA surveillance. He insisted that there was no need for reform after the Snowden leaks and he actively misled the public and other members of Congress to shoot down an amendment that would have stopped so-called backdoor searches of "incidentally collected" information on Americans. Nunes falsely claimed that by blocking backdoor searches of the 702 database, it would have blocked things such as tracking whether or not the Orlando nightclub shooter had overseas contacts (it would not have done that at all). So it's fairly hilarious to see that Nunes' first reaction to the news of National Security Advisor Mike Flynn's resignation was to demand answers on why Flynn's calls with Russian officials were recorded. “I expect for the FBI to tell me what is going on, and they better have a good answer,” said Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which is conducting a review of Russian activities to influence the election. “The big problem I see here is that you have an American citizen who had his phone calls recorded.” Uh, dude, you approved this kind of thing (loudly and proudly), and not only that, but you actively blocked suggested amendments that would have blocked the using of this information to dig into information on US persons. Maybe it's time to rethink that one, huh? Of course, (former assistant Attorney General) David Kris (who knows this stuff probably better than anyone else) has made it clear that Flynn's calls with a Russian official wouldn't need to be "minimized" (i.e., have his identity excluded) because "a U.S. person’s name can be used when it is necessary to understand the foreign intelligence information in the report." Of course, there's lots of irony to go around here. Timothy Edgar -- who was the director of privacy and civil liberties for the White House National Security staff under Obama (and also did privacy/civil liberties work in the Bush administration) has noted that the leaking of the contents of his phone calls actually means that Flynn's own civil rights have been violated and even suggests he gives the ACLU a call (oh, and another layer of irony: Edgar has been warning about how Flynn and others in the Trump administration might trample on civil liberties... and yet here, he's arguing that Flynn's civil liberties have been violated.) Along those lines, Glenn Greenwald notes that the leaking of actual content from intercepted communications is a really serious crime, but one that should be seen as totally justified here, as it was clearly a form of whistleblowing (even as he admits that the motives of the leakers likely weren't pure, but were possibly for revenge against Flynn, who many in the intelligence world disliked). It is a big deal to actually leak the contents of an intercepted communication (most leaks and whistleblowing tend to be about programs, not the actual intercepted communications). Of course, this should raise other questions about why the NSA and FBI are surveilling so many people -- and will the content of those other calls be used for political vendettas rather than true whistleblowing? Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that someone like Devin Nunes is going to care about all that. In typical "high court/low court" fashion, he's only concerned that someone on his team was hurt by such surveillance, not that such surveillance regularly occurs. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The $49 Microsoft Programming Certification Training Bundle has what you need to become familiar with Microsoft.NET, Azure, and more. This 4-course bundle will help you study for the Microsoft 70-486 and 70-487 certification exams in ASP.NET MVC web development and Microsoft Azure development. You will learn through visual demonstrations and multimedia presentations, and test your progress with quizzes and exam simulators. 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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We've been pretty damn clear that we think the Trump administration's targeting of people from a few countries by banning them from entering the US is both inhumane and misguided. We were proud to sign on to an amicus brief opposing it and happy that the 9th Circuit agreed -- though the case is far from over. As I've noted repeatedly, to me it's an issue of basic humanity and decency, but some have insisted on making arguments about how certain people are somehow out to get us and we need to protect ourselves from them. I know that, these days, it's considered silly to rely on things like facts for an argument, but it seemed worthwhile to actually explore some facts on this particular topic. We'll start with a post at Lawfare, by Nora Ellingsen. And we should start out by noting that Techdirt and Lawfare have a pretty long history of... well... not agreeing on much. The site is generally supportive of the intelligence community and supportive of actions taken to protect "national security." We tend to be more skeptical. Ellingsen worked in the FBI's Counterterrorism Division for five years, specifically working on international terrorism investigations inside the US. Since leaving the FBI to go to law school, she's been tracking counterterrorism cases in the US, using DOJ data. And she's gone through that data to try to determine if there's any truth to the idea that people from those countries represent a big ongoing threat. And the answer is that it's just not true. In fact, the real "terrorism" threat in America appears to be... from Americans.: The Program on Extremism at George Washington University has routinely published statistics indicating that the “vast majority” of individuals charged in the U.S. with offenses related to ISIL are U.S. citizens. When considering all terrorism offenses, that claim holds up—80 of the 97 suspects arrested in the past two years, or more than 82 percent, are American citizens. Most of those, notably, are not naturalized citizens. Of the U.S. citizens, only six were naturalized. In other words, more than 76 percent of individuals arrested by the FBI over the past two years for terrorism-related offenses were U.S. citizens as a result of having been born in the United States. The post goes through all of the individuals who were not born in the US and looks at what each was charged with (often just making false statements to the FBI) and how many of them (not many) actually came from the list of banned countries. And, then, of course, the fact that the FBI these days tends to be arresting a lot more people for plotting violent attacks on Muslims, than Muslims plotting violent attacks on the US: Since January 2015, the FBI has also arrested more anti-immigrant American citizens plotting violent attacks on Muslims within the U.S. than it has refugees, or former refugees, from any banned country. As we wrote about here, here and here, in October 2016, three white men from Kansas were charged with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction. According to the graphic complaint, the anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant men planned to attack a mosque in the area. The men progressed quickly with their plot, amassing firearms and explosives. The targets were people from Somalia, who ironically, would now be covered by Trump’s order. Similarly, the post notes that there were more US citizens arrested en route to join ISIS in Syria than those arrested trying to plan attacks here. Since we’re already on the topic, let’s talk about Americans traveling to join ISIL. Over the past two years, the FBI has arrested 34 Americans who aspired to leave, attempted to leave or actually left the United States to join a terrorist group overseas. In other words, although two refugees came into the U.S. and were charged with material support, Seventeen times that number of U.S. citizens tried to leave the U.S. to conduct attacks and fight overseas. More Americans have snuck into Syria to join ISIL, than ISIL members have snuck into the United States. In September 2015, a congressional report indicated that 250 Americans have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight with ISIL. By comparison, as of December 2015, only 71 individuals in the United States had been charged with ISIL-related activities—the vast majority of whom were also U.S. citizens, according to George Washington University. Meanwhile, over at Slate, William Saletan has pointed out that if the President really wants to ban travellers from regions that import multiple people aiming to harm Americans... it ought to ban travel from North & South Carolina. He goes through story after story of extremists who left North Carolina to conduct terrorist attacks elsewhere. The list is long, but here are just a few: It began with Eric Rudolph, a Holocaust denier who grew up in the Christian Identity movement. In 1996, Rudolph traveled from North Carolina to Atlanta, where he detonated a bomb at the Olympics, killing one person and injuring more than 100 others. A year later, Rudolph bombed a lesbian bar in Atlanta, wounding five people. In 1998, he bombed a reproductive health clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, killing a security guard and injuring a nurse. The “Army of God,” which hosts Rudolph’s writings, claimed credit for his attacks. In 2001, Steve Anderson, another Christian Identity follower, was pulled over for a broken tail light on his way home from a white supremacist meeting in North Carolina. He pumped 20 bullets into the officer’s car and fled. Police found weapons, ammunition, and explosives in his truck and home. A year later, he was captured in the western part of the state. In 2010, Justin Moose, an extremist from Concord, North Carolina, was arrested for plotting to blow up a Planned Parenthood clinic. Moose, who claimed to represent the Army of God, also opposed the construction of a mosque near ground zero in New York. He called himself the “Christian counterpart of Osama Bin Laden.” Eventually, Moose pleaded guilty to disseminating information on how to make and use explosive devices. Obviously, the Slate piece is tongue-in-cheek in arguing that the Carolinas are the real threat, but the larger point is completely valid. There seems to be no credible evidence for why people from the countries listed in the original executive order should be banned from the US other than outright bigotry. And, somewhat unfortunately, that same kind of ignorant bigotry (which the executive order is only helping to encourage and spread) is resulting in actual violent attacks from Americans who misguidedly think they're stopping "evil." Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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For years, we've noted how one of the greasier lobbying tactics in telecom is the use of minority groups to provide the illusion of broad support for what's often awful policy. Such groups are given cash for a shiny new event center in exchange for parroting any policy position that comes across their desks, even if it dramatically undermines their constituents. As a result, we've shown how time and time again you'll see minority coalitions like the "Hispanic Technology & Telecommunications Partnership" supporting awful mergers or opposing consumer-centric policies like more cable box competition or net neutrality. And it's not just minority groups. A wide variety of groups take telecom cash to repeat whatever they're told, whether it's rural Texas school associations, the U.S. Cattlemen's Association or even "balloonists." Some are created specifically for this purpose. The goal is simple: to create the appearance of broad support for bad ideas the actual public -- minority or otherwise -- would oppose. With the debate over net neutrality heating up once again, ISPs have again dusted off this tried and true tactic to mislead the press, public, and politicians. As a result, we're seeing numerous civil rights groups that are more than happy to let giant corporations like AT&T and Comcast rent their identity for the weekend. This week, a coalition of such groups, including the NAACP, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and the National Urban League fired off a letter urging Senators to move quickly to craft "a permanent statuatory solution" to "solve" net neutrality once and for all: "The issue of network neutrality and the importance of a free and open internet has been a political football. Every time the political pendulum swings, this policy debate becomes difficult, convoluted, and even condescending. One thing is crystal clear: The internet should be open and accessible. For this reason, we support a permanent statutory solution that enshrines the basic open internet principles into law. These core principles are not controversial and should not be subject to endless litigation, regulation, and reconsideration. A statute locking in net neutrality would protect net neutrality no matter how the political winds blow. A statutory approach also avoids the jurisdictional and classification problems that plagued the last FCC. The goal should be improvement, deployment, and adoption of the high speed networks that all Americans deserve. Legislation will provide certainty to consumers and industry for the foreseeable future." While there's no debate that a Congress-made net neutrality law would be the ideal solution, you may have noticed that Congress is so awash in telecom campaign contributions that crafting a law unriddled with fatal loopholes has been impossible. As a result, the best path forward for those that actually care about net neutrality is to leave the existing rules in place. But since that's not what ISPs want, they're pushing Congress to pass a new law -- one that will claim to be "solving" net neutrality -- but will actually work to kill it through "compromise." The FCC technically could walk back net neutrality via the rulemaking process, but it would require another public open comment period. And since the 4 million comments made the last go-round broke FCC records, ISPs aren't keen on revisiting this strategy. So the strategy is this: craft a new Communications Act rewrite or other law professing to codify net neutrality into law, but bury it with so many loopholes as to make it net neutrality protection in name only. When net neutrality supporting Senators in Congress fail to come to the table, they'll be derided as being unwilling to compromise for the good of the people. But it's not really a compromise when the end product is worse than doing nothing (read: leaving the popular rules alone). Of course if you look deeper at the groups writing the letter (which few bother to do), you can almost see the marionette strings and dollar signs: "Telecom issues, however, are a particular specialty. Last week’s letter was organized by the Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council (MMTC), a group funded by the telecom industry that has previously encouraged civil rights groups to oppose net neutrality. MMTC in previous years reported receiving about a third of its budget from industry-sponsored events; its annual summit, which was held last week, was made possible by $100,000 sponsorships from Comcast and AT&T, as well as a $75,000 sponsorships from Charter Communications and Verizon." We've been talking about this strategy for more than a decade now and nothing really seems to change. Since this cozy quid pro quo isn't technically illegal, and is never put into writing, groups accused by reporters of selling their constituents down river either don't respond to request for comment (as was the case in The Intercept's latest report on this subject), or they breathlessly become indignant at the very idea their integrity could be questioned. All the while, these groups' constituents are usually entirely unaware they're being used as political props -- to actively undermine our collective best interests. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 13 days ago on techdirt
We've written plenty about CCTV here on Techdirt, and its creeping normalization around the world, but particularly in the UK. So it's good to read a story on the legal news site outlaw.com about a rather unusual ruling from a Scottish court pushing back against the use of an intrusive CCTV system. It concerns a dispute in Edinburgh between the individuals Nahid Akram and Debbie and Tony Woolley. The latter couple live above a guest house run by Akram. For various reasons, both parties decided to install CCTV systems, but with rather different scope: While the Woolley's equipment "records images of their own external property only", Akram installed "video and audio recording equipment" which allowed her, and her husband, to monitor comings and goings at the Woolley's property and to listen in to conversations in their private garden, according to the ruling. The equipment used by Akram was capable of storing five days' worth of data at any one time. The [Scottish court's] Sheriff described "the regime of surveillance" that the Woolleys were subjected to as "extravagant, unjustified and highly visible" and as "an effort to oppress". He said that the Woolleys and their family had "suffered considerable distress" since Akram's equipment had been installed in about October 2013 and that it is "difficult to conceive" a more intrusive case of surveillance. Until recently, suffering "distress" from CCTV would not have been enough in order to receive damages: there needed to be an actual financial loss. But an important 2015 case in the UK involving Google ruled that: the claimants can claim for distress without having to prove pecuniary loss. This greatly increases the scope for compensation claims in the future given an invasion of privacy will rarely be accompanied by actual monetary loss. Aside from the award of over $21,000 to the Woolleys, the Sheriff's judgment is also noteworthy for how he spelled out the distress they suffered: "They have all been severely restricted in the use and enjoyment of their own home," Sheriff Ross said. "They voluntarily restrict their external movements. They restrict their conversations, both inside and outside their home, as they are aware that they are being recorded and do not know the extent of the coverage." Although he is talking about surveillance in the physical world, his concerns have obvious parallels in the online world, which is under growing government surveillance, not least in the UK. Already, some people are starting to restrict their digital movements and their conversations as they are "aware that they are being recorded and do not know the extent of the coverage." The question is: why should such "distressing" surveillance be punished in the real world, but permitted in the digital one? Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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I've covered the saga of Denuvo DRM regularly as of late. The once-vaunted anti-piracy tool, thought to be the end of video game piracy altogether, has instead had its protection window reduced to somewhere between a week and some weeks. Despite the headwinds of reality, the folks behind Denuvo have bravely soldiered on, proclaiming the tool still useful for protecting the ever-important early-release window of new video games. And that's where I think a counterpoint needs to be made. The idea that the most important time in the sales cycle for a new video game is its initial release is almost gospel within the industry. And it's not without its logic, I suppose. Many, many games experience the vast majority of their sales upon initial release. But what if that wasn't the case? And what if by simply embracing the gaming community and releasing control over the product, instead of trying to cling to it with tactics like DRM, the sales cycle for a game became so long that it changed the math? What if more games were like Quake, in other words. And I mean the original Quake, released by id Software some twenty years ago. The game has continued to sell throughout these past two decades, but is going through something of a comeback recently. Why? Well, it's because the modding community that has developed around the game has kept it fresh and relevant. Quake mapping is consistent, organized and unrelenting. Quake’s community has mostly rallied around a singular download hub for nearly every level, and there’s even a handy launcher that downloads, installs and runs them all for you. Quake map packs tend to be once-a-month events, and they’re of indisputable quality, unshackled by the hardware and engine limits of the 90s. You can pick Quake up from GOG or Steam, but the GOG version works out slightly cheaper since it includes both official expansions—Scourge of Armagon and Dissolution Of Eternity—which are sold separately on the Steam release. Keep in mind that it's been twenty years since the game's first release and the modding community has stepped in to make sure that it's still being sold today. Interest is running high as fans have reinvigorated the game through their own creativity, updated the graphics to drag it into modernity, and generated interest through sharing levels and graphic designs. All of this happening outside of the control of id Software, which instead gets to sit back and simply cash the checks all this interest is writing for them. Exactly how valuable was the early release window of Quake to id Software? Still valuable, I am sure, but the math simply can't be the same as the likes of Denuvo claim, what with a cycle alive and well after two decades. Giving up control made that possible, whereas the use of control tools like DRM, especially DRM that relies on 3rd party check-in servers that won't be around forever, actively work against that possibility. It seems to me that any game developer looking to make money should be clear on which of these business philosophies it ought to embrace. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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While the U.S. wireless industry isn't quite as competitive as it's portrayed as (non-price competition is generally the law of the land), T-Mobile has still managed to disrupt the sector with a crazy idea: giving users what they want. That was again made evident this week when Verizon was forced to bring back sort-of unlimited data after spending the last several years telling consumers they didn't really want such simple, straightforward plans. Verizon's long-standing belief that it can tell consumers what they're supposed to want took a notable blow this week by any measure. Shortly after Verizon announced it was returning to unlimited data, T-Mobile once again upped the ante, announcing it would no longer be charging an extra fee to stream HD video over the company's LTE Network. According to the announcement, T-Mobile not only stopped charging a premium for HD quality (the de-prioritization of which you may recall T-Mobile lied was happening at several points), but also eased up on the restrictions surrounding tethering (using your phone as a modem). In a statement, T-Mobile CEO John Legere hinted at studies showing that Verizon has nearly lost its network size and speed edge over T-Mobile, which the company had long been using to justify its refusal to more seriously compete: "I don’t blame Verizon for caving. They just lost their network advantage, and they know it … and more importantly, more and more customers know it. Their back’s against the wall,” said John Legere, president and CEO at T-Mobile. “This is what the Un-carrier does—drag the carriers kicking and screaming into the future. Next up, we’re going to force them to include monthly taxes and fees. Mark my words." Granted the term "unlimited" is still being abused here, since you may find your connection throttled (technically "de-prioritized") after 28 gigabytes of consumption on T-Mobile's network, or 22 gigabytes of consumption on Verizon Wireless. And U.S. residents will still probably wind up paying significantly more money at slower speeds than most developed nations. Meanwhile, T-Mobile tells Ars Technica that video on the T-Mobile network is still throttled to 1.5 Mbps by default, with the onus placed on customers to remember to enable HD video manually or it reverts to the default, de-prioritized state: "T-Mobile responded to our question about HD video day passes by saying, "All customers have to do to get HD is go into the app or online to turn on. It’s very easy." Customers still have to enable HD video every 24 hours or it reverts to 480p, a T-Mobile spokesperson told Ars via e-mail. However, the company's Twitter support account says it only will have to be enabled once per month. T-Mobile's press release doesn't clear things up." Even with caveats, this is at least providing a vague resemblance of what wireless competition is supposed to look like. Given the number of customers T-Mobile is now hoovering up from AT&T, it may also force AT&T to revisit its own opposition to unlimited data plans (currently only available if you subscribe to both AT&T wireless and DirecTV). So even though the industry still struggles with the dictionary definition of unlimited, the fact T-Mobile is pushing AT&T and Verizon to actually try to compete is certainly a good thing. The problem is that competition in the wireless space is viciously fickle, and by and large most of AT&T and Verizon's promotions remain somewhat theatrical in nature when it comes to actually lowering your overall price once various fees are factored in. And should the rumored T-Mobile and Sprint merger be approved by regulators, you can be fairly sure that even this level of more superficial competition may not be around for long. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Net neutrality is at risk. The FCC under Ajit Pai is clearly intent on destroying it, and this is quickly turning into a fight for the future of the internet. This week, we're joined by Gigi Sohn, one of former chairman Tom Wheeler's top advisors at the FCC and now a fellow at the Open Society Foundation, to discuss what's happening at the FCC and what needs to be done in response. 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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As we discussed over and over again during the past eight years, the Obama White House -- despite a first day pledge to be "the most transparent administration in history" -- was actually quite famous for its extreme secrecy, combined with a seriously paranoid view of anyone leaking anything unflattering to the White House. As we detailed, the Obama White House declared any unflattering leaks as "aiding the enemy." And, of course, the Obama administration went after more leakers/whistleblowers with Espionage Act claims than all other Presidents in history combined. So, now, I guess we'll see what the Trump administration does about leaks. So far, in just the first few weeks of the Trump administration, the number of leaks out of the White House has been fairly astounding. There are leaks on just about everything, with some being just downright silly (and a few being literally unbelievable). In a larger report in Politico on how Trump is adjusting to the job of being President, there's a brief mention that he's getting increasingly frustrated by the leaks and is seeking to have them stop: After Trump grew infuriated by disclosures of his confrontational phone calls with foreign leaders, an investigation was launched into the source of the leaks, according to one White House aide. National Security Council staffers have been instructed to cooperate with inquiries, including requests to inspect their electronic communications, said two sources familiar with the situation. It’s not clear whether the investigation is a formal proceeding, how far along it is or who is conducting it. The administration is considering limiting the universe of aides with access to the calls or their transcripts, said one administration official, adding that the leaks — and Trump’s anger over them — had created a climate where people are “very careful who they talk to.” And, now, in the wake of a variety of leaks that resulted in National Security Advisor Mike Flynn resigning, the President is trying to shift the story to being about leaks: The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington? Will these leaks be happening as I deal on N.Korea etc? — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 14, 2017 This is only marginally hilarious, coming from the same President who regularly praised Wikileaks during his campaign, and who almost certainly owes his presidencey, in part, to multiple damaging leaks on his opponent during the campaign. Sean Spicer doubled down on this angle in a press briefing today — after joking about how he needs to stop lecturing reporters on what stories to cover, he proceeded to lecture them about the idea that they should be focusing on the existence of White House leaks as the real story. Of course, Washington DC is a town that thrives, and often seems to live off of, leaks from the government. I can imagine just how frustrating it must be to experience it first hand, but it sort of comes with the territory. It's also a very, very important way in which the public is able to hold the government accountable. Leaks reveal things that keep the government's worst impulses in check, which is why it's a form of whistleblowing. That said, this seems like yet another reason to be annoyed with the Obama administration's vast, paranoid crackdown on leakers. It has set the blueprint for a Trump administration if it chooses to go down that same path. It remains to be seen if the Trump administration will pick up where Obama left off and go after leakers quite as aggressively as the last administration. But the quotes above (ironically... leaked from the White House) certainly indicate a plan to crack down on leakers, and to date, Trump has not shown that he's interested in moderation when it comes to hitting back at those who displease him. One can only hope that he doesn't decide to take the Obama blueprint and go even further in going after leakers and whistleblowers. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Kamala Harris -- former California Attorney General and current US Senator -- may have failed in her attempt to take Backpage down, but her dubious legacy lives on. The same day the US Supreme Court denied certification to an appeal of a decision in favor of Backpage and its Section 230 protections, Backpage shut down its adult ads rather than face additional prosecution/persecution from misguided politicians like Harris. While all those who went after Backpage pat themselves on the back for making NO DIFFERENCE WHATSOEVER in the battle against sex traffickers, those involved in the day-to-day work of tracking down sex traffickers down aren't nearly as thrilled. As has been noted here on multiple occasions, shutting down a service used by some for illegal activity just buries the illegal activity even deeper underground. Backpage's adult ad closure means traffickers will be moving to other venues -- ones not being actively watched by law enforcement, no doubt including sites they're not even aware of. As for sex workers who used Backpage to advertise adult services, they've simply moved their ads to other sections of the site. So, all the grandstanding has done nothing to harm sex traffickers. It has done a bit of damage to sex workers. But it's caused the most harm to law enforcement. David Meyer Lindenberg of Fault Lines points out that those actually involved with the fight against sex trafficking are angered by the vindictive prosecution of Backpage. It may have helped net Kamala Harris a new job where she can screw things up at the federal level, but it's done nothing to combat trafficking. He highlights a handful of quotes from a Miami Herald article on the Backpage adult ad shutdown. “It would be a mistake for investigators or prosecutors to assume that trafficking will decrease because of the shutdown of Backpage’s escort ads,” said Jane Anderson, a former Miami-Dade assistant state attorney who now works for AEquitas, an anti-human trafficking resource organization for prosecutors. “In fact, investigators and prosecutors must now be even more proactive and resourceful to uncover trafficking that is occurring on lesser known websites, including other areas of Backpage.” [...] “It’s a symbolic crusade,” said Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco, an author and criminology professor at George Mason University who serves an expert witness in human-trafficking cases. “They’re trying to get some accolades and look like the heroes. It’s having a negative effect on the ability for law enforcement to rescue victims and prosecute offenders. The best we can do is facilitate the capabilities of police to investigate.” That's the damage done whether or not you believe Backpage was used by sex traffickers. Realistic stats on sex trafficking are almost nonexistent and almost any law enforcement sweep designed to haul in traffickers just nets a bunch of consenting adults. What's never found is anything approaching the horror stories used to turn hysteria into perpetual funding -- the theory that thousands of teens are being forced to perform sexual acts by traffickers and (most ridiculously) shuttled around the country to serve attendees of major events ranging from the Super Bowl to local stock shows. As Lindenberg notes, the only people celebrating this amazingly-hollow victory are those who abused their power to target a site over third-party content. It’s notable how few people have come forward to defend what happened. The most vocal messages of support came from the participants themselves, who made a point of congratulating each other for their role in bringing it about. And when Florida prosecutors and the staff of Reason magazine agree that an act of government was ill-advised, you can be pretty sure it wasn’t the greatest idea ever. That's how government power works. It's rarely effective, and it almost always results in unintended losses. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The $49 Complete IT Cloud Architect Training Bundle is 88 hours of a complete cloud computing education. Study locking down networks, providing top physical security, and monitoring and auditing security systems. You'll learn about networking standards, network cabling & transmission, TCP/IP and so much more. 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 last few weeks, there's obviously been a lot of attention on the cruel actions of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), a part of the Department of Homeland Security. Slate has an article detailing some of the awful stories coming out after the Trump executive order on immigration and travel (here are just a few): At Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, CBP officers reportedly detained an elderly Sudanese woman suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure, and severe kidney stones. They refused to provide her attorney or her family with any information on her health, status, or whereabouts. Her attorney later learned that CBP officers had demanded that his client withdraw her request for admission into the United States or be barred from entering the country for five years. She signed the document and was promptly deported. Her family never got to see her. Also at DFW, CBP agents allegedly detained a lawful permanent resident along with her 11-month-old daughter, a U.S. citizen. They refused to let attorneys speak with the mother. When the child’s father came to the CBP office, agents refused to let him see his daughter. CBP officers at Los Angeles International Airport allegedly deported an Iranian student 90 minutes after a federal judge explicitly barred the deportation of anyone targeted by Trump’s order. They ignored efforts by attorneys to halt the deportation. CBP officers at San Francisco International Airport allegedly detained an elderly Iranian couple with valid visitor visas for 30 hours. Nineteen of those hours came after a federal judge halted deportations under Trump’s order. One officer informed the couple’s attorney that they might soon be deported. When the attorney explained that this action would violate a federal court order, the officer responded that he was “just following orders.” An elderly Iranian couple—both of whom were lawful permanent residents—say they were detained for 10 hours at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport after returning from their son’s wedding in Iran. The two were denied access to food for the length of their detention. Another elderly person being detained along with the couple was shaking from hunger and nearly passed out. CBP officers refused to inform the couple’s immediate family whether the couple had been allowed to take necessary medications. A complaint to DHS over the implementation of the travel ban noted 26 accounts of abuse by the CBP. But here's the thing: none of this is new, unfortunately. Yes, the specifics of the executive order are new, and the awful plan and rollout by the administration are new, but CBP being arbitrarily cruel to people is not at all new. We've reported on it many times in the past. Last week, On the Media put together a collection of stories that it had done in the past about egregious behavior by CBP at the border, almost all of which we covered in the past -- and all of which occurred under President Obama. There was the horrific treatment of On The Media Producer Sarah Abdurrahman and her family (all US citizens) detained at the US border for hours and treated horribly when trying to return to the US from a wedding in Canada. There's also the insane story of Pascal Abador, a student studying Shiites in South Lebanon (he's an atheist himself), who was detained and had his laptop seized while on a train traveling from Canada to the US. CBP found photos on his laptop of Hamas and Hezbollah and then wouldn't give him back his computer. And then there's the truly sickening stories (plural) of CBP bringing people to doctors to be horrendously strip searched for drugs, often undergoing hours-long "inspections" by medical professionals despite never turning up any actual drugs. Here's one example we wrote about, which is similar to, but not the same one discussed in the OTM recording: 1. Eckert's abdominal area was x-rayed; no narcotics were found. 2. Doctors then performed an exam of Eckert's anus with their fingers; no narcotics were found. 3. Doctors performed a second exam of Eckert's anus with their fingers; no narcotics were found. 4. Doctors penetrated Eckert's anus to insert an enema. Eckert was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police officers. Eckert watched as doctors searched his stool. No narcotics were found. 5. Doctors penetrated Eckert's anus to insert an enema a second time. Eckert was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police officers. Eckert watched as doctors searched his stool. No narcotics were found. 6. Doctors penetrated Eckert's anus to insert an enema a third time. Eckert was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police officers. Eckert watched as doctors searched his stool. No narcotics were found. 7. Doctors then x-rayed Eckert again; no narcotics were found. 8. Doctors prepared Eckert for surgery, sedated him, and then performed a colonoscopy where a scope with a camera was inserted into Eckert's anus, rectum, colon, and large intestines. No narcotics were found. None of this is to say that what Trump is doing is okay. What he's doing is expanding the CBP's power to continue to expand its often arbitrary and capricious activities without any fear of oversight or any sort of reprimand for egregious behavior. But if you're suddenly concerned with how CBP appears totally free to mistreat basically anyone at the border, at least recognize that it's been going on for quite some time and that plenty of people (including us) have been trying to call attention to it for years. And don't assume that just because you're suddenly hearing these stories in the news, that they're a new phenomenon. Unfortunately, they are not. Hopefully, greater attention on CBP cruelty will lead to fixing it, but this administration, unfortunately, seems to want to encourage and expand it. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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One of the hallmarks of Tom Wheeler's FCC was a renewed focus on competition at higher broadband speeds. It's one of the reasons the last FCC bumped the standard definition of broadband from a measly 4 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up, to 25 Mbps down, and 3 Mbps up. That higher benchmark allowed the FCC to point out that roughly two-thirds of American homes lack access to more than one ISP at 25 Mbps or better, highlighting a growing cable monopoly over broadband as DSL providers like AT&T and Verizon shift their attention toward giant media acquisitions and away from residential broadband. Needless to say, large broadband providers (and the politicians paid to love them) quickly threw a hissy fit, insisting that nobody really needs that much bandwidth. This idea that you don't really need faster speeds falls in line with the industry's (and again, many politicians') ongoing refusal to acknowledge that the broadband market isn't all that competitive. After all, if you admit there's a problem, then you've admitted that somebody may just have to fix it. FCC Commissioner Mike O'Rielly is squarely on the side of industry on this subject, having voted down the FCC's higher 25 Mbps benchmark. Even though 25 Mbps is a far from radical benchmark, O'Rielly's dissent (pdf), made his disdain for faster speeds (and the technologies that will use them) abundantly clear: "To justify setting the new benchmark at 25/3, as opposed to the current 4/1 or even 10/1 as several commenters suggested, the Report notes that 4K TV requires 25 Mbps. But 4K TV is still relatively new and is not expected to be widely adopted for years to come. While the statute directs us to look at “advanced” telecommunications capability, this stretches the concept to an untenable extreme. Some people, for example, believe, probably incorrectly, that we are on the path to interplanetary teleportation. Should we include the estimated bandwidth for that as well? " Chortle! Guffaw! Of course 4K is here now, the streaming of which is already being hamstrung by ISP usage caps, even on ultra-fast connections. Now on the agency's majority, O'Rielly last week again proclaimed that the sector really needs to stop focusing on this whole ultra-fast broadband thing, since faster speeds are really just a novelty: "The outcry for things like ultrahigh-speed service in certain areas means longer waits for those who have no access or still rely on dialup service, as providers rush to serve the denser and more profitable areas that seek upgrades to this level,” O’Rielly said. “Today, ultrafast residential service is a novelty and good for marketing, but the tiny percentage of people using it cannot drive our policy decisions." Of course, that's not really true. Ultra-fast broadband and even consistent coverage aren't somehow mutually exclusive; we can focus on getting broadband to rural markets (first at slower speeds), and still enjoy gigabit speeds provided by the likes of Google Fiber. There's not a longer wait for broadband in Cleveland, for example, just because Google Fiber wants to bring broadband to San Antonio. As we've noted, the real reason there are stalled rural broadband deployments is a growing cable monopoly in areas that telcos are effectively giving up on. That FCC data now shows this is not somehow the fault of faster gigabit broadband itself. The idea that gigabit is a "novelty" or unnecessary bumbles around the newswires occasionally, but originates with industry executives who don't want their own, slower speeds highlighted. But that doesn't mean ultra-fast service isn't important. Data has indicated that prices overall tend to drop in markets with ultra-fast service, which is likely a reflection of the increased competition that brought those speeds in the first place. AT&T's gigabit broadband service, for example, has been anywhere up to $50 less per month in markets where it faces competition from Google Fiber. But even if there's a touch of marketing hype involved in the gigabit race, ISPs benefit from the fascination with faster speeds as well; numerous providers have noted that just advertising these ultra-fast connections causes consumers (most of whom have absolutely no idea what their current speed even is) to call in and upgrade to faster tiers, even if they're not the fastest options available. As Google Fiber made evident, ultra-fast broadband has captured the imagination of a public tired of overpaying for slower speeds. That excitement, and the surrounding competition, is not a bad thing. If there's something that does get overlooked in the hype surrounding faster speeds, it's the fact that the United States still pays more for broadband service than a laundry list of developing nations, something the industry -- and O'Rielly -- also don't want highlighted in FCC policy discussions moving forward. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Last November, the UK government finally passed the Snooper's Charter, officially known as the Investigatory Powers Act. That was largely because everyone in the UK was too busy arguing over the Brexit mess to notice that Theresa May had finally achieved her goal, and pushed through what the Open Rights Group called "the most extreme surveillance law ever passed in a democracy." Now that May has provided the police with the ability to rummage through a year's worth of every Brit's browsing history without a warrant, and given permission for the intelligence agencies to break into any computer and demand backdoors to be installed for any software or online service used in the UK, it seems she has a new target: whistleblowers. The Guardian reports on big changes the authorities want to make to the laws protecting government secrets, doubtless with an eye to dissuading any future Snowden/Guardian-type partnerships in the UK: The [UK] government's legal advisers have been accused of launching a "full-frontal attack" on whistleblowers over proposals to radically increase prison sentences for revealing state secrets and prosecute journalists. ... Draft recommendations from the legal advisers say the maximum prison sentence for leakers should be raised, potentially from two to 14 years, and the definition of espionage should be expanded to include obtaining sensitive information, as well as passing it on. Although its good news that several old Official Secrets Acts are to be updated for the digital age, a Guardian editorial notes that the new approach would be broader and harsher than existing laws: Reporters, as well as the whistleblowers whose stories they tell, would be under threat of sentences of up to 14 years, regardless of the public interest and even if there were no likelihood of damage. Following the firestorm that greeted the announcement of this criminalization of core journalistic activities, and the absence of any public interest defense, May's spokesperson rushed out a comment: I've seen the way this has been reported and it is fundamentally wrong. It is not, never has been and never will be the policy of the government to restrict the freedom of investigative journalism or public whistleblowing. However, that response does not deny that journalists would indeed run the risk of 14 years in prison for handling documents leaked by whistleblowers. Instead, it seems, we are supposed to accept that the UK government will do the "right thing" here, and not actually use the new powers against investigative journalism. Leaving aside the fact that just a couple of months ago it passed the Snooper's Charter despite warnings about its excessive measures, there's another very good reason not to trust the UK government here. The Law Commission, the official body which produced the proposals, says on its Web site the following about how it drew up its plans: In making its proposals the Law Commission met extensively with and sought the views of government departments, lawyers, human rights NGOs and the media. The Guardian contacted some of those the Law Commission claims to have met, and they spoke of the very limited nature of the discussions: [The human rights organization] Liberty said that while a meeting was held, it was "not on the understanding that this was a consultation". … Cathy James, the chief executive of Public Concern at Work, was also surprised to see her the whistleblowing charity listed as being involved. She said: "I didn’t actually know we were listed in the document as we have been working our way through it so it is a big surprise to me. I believe my colleague met with them initially but we were not consulted in the normal sense of the word consultation. That is not what happened." And the Guardian itself, also allegedly one of those whose views were sought, wrote that it had held only one preliminary meeting with the government's legal advisers, and that it was not consulted before being listed in the report. Had it been just one organization making these comments, you could put it down to a misunderstanding. But for several people to report independently that they had only the briefest of meetings with the Law Commission, and that they did not regard those in any way as "consultations", suggests a conscious and shabby attempt to sneak out extreme proposals while pretending that they were the result of broad-based and in-depth discussions. It is hard not to see this as yet another law that the UK government is determined to push through regardless of what anyone thinks, just as it did with the Snooper's Charter. Let's hope that this time the public and politicians aren't too distracted by the Brexit omnishambles to fight and defeat these changes that threaten not just whistleblowers and investigative journalism, but potentially British democracy itself. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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eSports has been a thing for some time now. While competitive video gaming was once relegated to some minor tournaments incorporating a few games held in a couple of countries in Asia, eSports has evolved into a wider industry. You can track the progress of it all by its reaching certain checkpoints: viewership numbers that look like those of real-life sporting events, the introduction of college scholarships for eAthletes, and eSports coverage appearing on national broadcasts from the likes of ESPN. The trend line for this has only moved in one direction. And now that appears to be continuing with professional sports leagues getting in on the action. The latest in this is the National Basketball Association's announcement that it will be partnering with Take-Two Interactive to start its own eSports basketball league. Today, the National Basketball Association announced plans to partner with publisher Take-Two Interactive for an official NBA 2K esports league, which led NBA commissioner Adam Silver to deliver this fantastic quote to the Wall Street Journal: “Think of eBulls against the eKnicks.” The way this will work should be exactly as I imagined it would when I began playing the single player versions of sports games half a decade ago. And I'm sure many others considered how this might happen as well. Individual gamers would control individual custom players within an official league. It's like playing the MyPlayer version of the NBA2K series, except that you're playing in a league consisting of nothing but MyPlayers and competing online for teams, which might have their own owners, pay structures, etc. The league, Silver explained, will operate just like the NBA: It’ll have a regular season, a playoff bracket, and a finals matchup. Teams of five players, each with his (or her?) own custom NBA 2K characters, will compete in a five-month season that starts in 2018. There’ll even be a draft, Silver said, although he also noted to the Wall Street Journal that none of the 30 NBA teams have fully committed to this esports league yet. (He expects around half of them to participate in the first year.) It's not hard to imagine how this could balloon from this starting point. Owners of eSports NBA franchises might in the future fill a 12-man roster with gamers in this manner. They might hire coaches, fill out budgets for general managers that will be responsible for drafting and signing eAthletes, etc. It would be an eSports league that would mirror the real life sports league in most ways. The concept sounds really fun, though it remains to be seen how many NBA teams want to get on board. What is clear, though, is that eSports isn't some fad ready to flame out quickly. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Earlier in the year, the public learned ISPs in the UK were partnering with the entertainment industries to send out "educational notices" to internet users suspected of copyright infringement. Having seen this type of "education" take many forms in the past, from silly to threatening, we have since waited to see what form this iteration would take. Well, TorrentFreak got in touch with someone who was notified through the system, and it appears this version is relatively benign. The redacted sections are those that would identify the individual to whom it was sent, but you get an idea of the actual content in the notice. The links included in the notice are to the subscriber's ISP account, as well as one that takes you to the 'Get it Right Information Portal." It's at that portal that a subscriber will get more information on the suspected act of copyright infringement. While that information is fairly detailed, including such things as file sizes and types, the times and dates of the infringement, and the application used in the alleged infringement... the whole thing still relies on the faulty evidence of an IP address. That's problematic for reasons we've discussed to death here at Techdirt, but given the lack of any threatening language in any of this, it's still all fairly benign. Which is why the individual TorrentFreak spoke with, who admits to committing the act in question, doesn't think the public will be all that impressed with this unsolicited "education." “I don’t think [the warnings] will work, at least not on a big scale. Maybe they will educate some people who did it by mistake or did it just once but for someone like me there is no hope. But at least the campaign is not aggressive.” The only thing in all of this that raised some eyebrows was that this notice came from Sky, the same ISP that has suggested that receivers of these notices will be forced to remove filesharing software to keep service from being interrupted. “Your broadband service won’t be affected as a result of receiving this email alert,” Sky assures its subscribers, but it doesn’t stop there. “However, if you continue to share content illegally using your broadband connection, Sky will request that you take immediate steps to remove or disable any file sharing software that is being used to share copyrighted content illegally,” Sky writes. So, putting all of this together makes this a little more troubling. ISPs will monitor your connection at the behest of private industry, will notify you that they're doing so, and only promise to serve you as their customer if you agree to remove software with all kinds of legitimate uses... and all of this is still based on the concept that an IP address is useful as an identifier for an infringer. When taken in total context, it's easy to see how this foot-in-the door, benign "education" could transition to ISPs mandating control of the public's software rollouts to get service. And that's not benign at all. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Like hundreds of thousands of Americans, I am closely following the "airport cases" around the country. In order to keep abreast of the latest developments in one of the fastest-moving cases, Washington v. Trump, I built a Twitter bot that scrapes the public docket mirror hosted by the Ninth Circuit and tweets about new documents and links as soon as they're added. This case leads a legal push that has attracted incredible amounts of public attention. There have been tens of thousands of protestors, dozens of organizations and companies that submitted amicus briefs (including Techdirt's think-tank arm, the Copia Institute), and over 135,000 people who tuned into the audio-only livestream of the Ninth Circuit oral arguments (which was also broadcast live on multiple news channels). Those numbers reveal a public demand to be informed and to participate in the law. But they also show the limitations on the kind of transparency that can satisfy that demand. Most notably, any attempts to make court proceedings more accessible to the public has to contend with the expense and overhead of dealing with PACER. My bot is only possible because the Ninth Circuit provides a public docket mirror for individual "cases of interest," essentially duplicating the existing system outside the paywall. Those mirrors are manually updated, which means they are labor-intensive, error-prone, and not always up to date. By contrast, look at the @big_cases bot run by USA Today reporter Brad Heath. It monitors a set of district court cases, selected by hand, and posts new documents as they get filed. These district court cases don't have public docket mirrors, so @big_cases accesses PACER directly -- and for that, it needs user credentials and ultimately to pay for the documents it downloads. For a journalist whose job is reporting on legal developments, paying these costs makes sense -- and sharing the documents further is a valuable public service. Without institutional backing, though, it's hard to justify the PACER expenses. The costs go beyond the financial. These bots represent an experiment in meeting members of the public where they are, and those efforts are less likely if they come with a pricetag. Worse, it means these experiments will be limited to cases of widespread general interest. To pick a trivial example: Techdirt readers might be interested in a bot that tweets updates from privacy or copyright dockets. If those public documents were freely accessible, anybody could build a tool like that without worrying about subsidizing the ongoing PACER costs. At a time when the president and his press secretary are calling into question the legitimacy of factual news reporting, an informed public requires more than ever access to primary sources. Moreover, they need to be confident in the integrity of those sources. Journalists reporting on court proceedings increasingly post the original source documents. Without a free and public government source file, though, most readers can't see the context of the case, and they have to trust that they're getting the full and unmodified documents in question. The procedural stance of Washington v. Trump is unclear. A Ninth Circuit judge has made a request that both sides brief whether a larger panel should re-hear the question. The White House has issued conflicting reports about whether or not it will appeal Thursday's order to the Supreme Court. And the District Court has indicated that a new briefing schedule might be appropriate. These paths offer various levels of transparency, and it's frustrating to know my bot may not be able to keep up with, say, district court proceedings simply because of the antiquated PACER system. Meanwhile, the issue continues to attract attention from lawmakers. The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Judicial Transparency and Ethics on Tuesday, February 14, and is expected to include testimony on PACER. Hopefully, the Committee uses this to recognize that a truly transparent judiciary requires rethinking how PACER functions. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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PayPal is ubiquitous. And that's unfortunate. Over the years, the payment platform has earned a reputation for acting in a way that can charitably be described as "hellishly inconsistent." For little to no reason, users have found their accounts shut down or suspended. And, thanks to US laws meant to prevent the PayPal-ing of material support to foreign terrorists, PayPal has been suspending accounts for innocuous payments containing certain trigger words in the descriptions. The latest victim of PayPal's inscrutable policies and unapproachable customer service is a small Canadian newspaper. As the CBC reports, the small paper's attempt to enter a few of its stories for consideration for national newspaper awards resulted in the bricking of both the sender's and the receiver's accounts. A community newspaper's payment to enter a feel-good story about a family of Syrian refugees in an awards competition prompted PayPal to freeze the account of a national media organization after flagging the suspicious transaction, The Canadian Press has learned. [...] The weekly Flin Flon Reminder entered the article — titled "Syrian family adapts to new life" — last month as part of its submissions to the annual Canadian Community Newspaper Awards. The feature story from July 2016 outlines the challenges and triumphs as the family settled in the Manitoban town of 5,100 and the community's willingness to make them feel welcome. The word "Syrian" set off PayPal's auto-monitor, which blocked the Flin Flon Reminder's $240 in entry fees. (To be considered for the awards, submitters must pay $60 per article submitted -- and it would appear Flin Flon submitted four of them.) It would be one thing if the payment was flagged and then reviewed. But nothing in the story suggests PayPal took a second look at this until a larger media outfit -- the CBC -- started asking questions. PayPal didn't limit itself to killing the sender's account. It suspended the receiver's account as well. This week, Durnin called News Media Canada — formerly Newspaper Canada — to find out what had happened. They realized PayPal had frozen the News Media Canada account, said Nicole Bunt, who processes the awards entries. PayPal supposedly reviews flagged payments within 72 hours. No one involved heard anything from PayPal until after the CBC's inquiries. The belated response from PayPal: "Um... US law mumble mumble mumble." "You may be buying or selling goods or services that are regulated or prohibited by the U.S. government," PayPal said in an email to News Media Canada. Oh, really? This is some spectacular review work by PayPal, considering both the sender and the receiver are located entirely in Canada. While US law may govern US transactions processed by the company, they should have little to no effect on completely extraterritorial transactions. And the sole reason for PayPal's dual account nuking? The word "Syrian" being in the submission to the newspaper awards. The note also requested a "complete and detailed explanation of the transaction" and the purpose of the payment, which identified with the story's headline. That's the problem with keyword flagging. All it's ever going to do is produce false positives and inconvenience hundreds of non-terrorists. The algorithms deployed by PayPal are looking for terms no terrorist is going to use when transferring funds to allies. It works on the stupidest of assumptions: that memo lines are going to filled with suspicious keywords when actual nefarious transactions are taking place. If you're going to build a US law-compliant service that relies on tragically flawed logic, the least you can do is actually review flagged transactions in a timely manner and provide actual people customers can talk to, to sort out these issues. Instead, PayPal appears to have left this payment-vetting process to the machines and made it all but impossible to speak to someone who might be able to derive something from context. And it makes it worse by subjecting other countries to US law, whether or not the flagged transaction violates laws in the country where the funds are changing hands. Then there's this kicker at the end of the CBC article. PayPal did not immediately explain its process. Yeah. Or EVER. That's the other problem. Go ahead and CYA by flagging keywords and keeping your Terms of Use vaguely-written and open to often-baffling interpretations. But do your customers a favor and at least answer questions about the specifics of their flagged transactions. At the very least, it would show some human has eyes on the process. If you can't be proactive, at least be usefully reactive. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Despite the rising competitive threat of T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless has spent the last few years simply refusing to seriously compete on price. That stubbornness has extended to the company's refusal to match T-Mobile's unlimited data plans, eliminated by Verizon back in 2011. In a truly competitive market, you're supposed to listen to your customers and try to provide whatever they're clamoring for. But Verizon's tack has been the exact opposite; the company spending the last few years trying to tell consumers they don't really want simpler, unlimited data options -- and that these plans are unnecessary and unviable. For most of this time, Verizon Wireless' excuse du jour was that it didn't have to compete on price or service because its network was just that phenomenal. But a report last week by Open Signal found that T-Mobile, once considered an under-cooked upstart, was finally fielding a network that nearly matches Verizon in terms of both speed and overall coverage: "Our testers were able to find a Verizon LTE signal 88.2% of the time, cementing Big Red's place at the top of our 4G rankings. But T-Mobile has been systematically closing the gap. In the fourth quarter its 4G availability was less than two percentage points below Verizon's, the closest we've seen that difference." Initially Verizon tried to downplay the results, insisting that because Open Signal uses crowdsourced data, that the results souldn't be taken seriously. That didn't go over particularly well over at T-Mobile: Typical @Verizon to say they (and their well-paid consultants) know better than 4.5 BILLION customer experiences. 🤔 https://t.co/bSO2HOLvNz — John Legere (@JohnLegere) February 10, 2017 But Verizon then did a 180, announcing late last week that the company would finally be offering unlimited data again, and without throttling video, music or games as a result (which is now standard practice at both T-Mobile and Sprint). Of course the industry's definition of "unlimited" remains as murky as it has always been, with Verizon quick to note that by "unlimited," they actually mean somewhere around 22 gigabytes per month, after which your connection will likely be throttled: "On all Verizon Unlimited plans you get our fast LTE speeds. To ensure a quality experience for all customers, after 22 GB of data usage on a line during any billing cycle we may prioritize usage behind other customers in the event of network congestion. While we don’t expect to do that very often, network management is a crucial tool that benefits all Verizon customers." Still, a good move is a good move. And Verizon's decision will likely push AT&T (which currently only sells you unlimited data if you bundle your wireless connection a with DirecTV service) to follow suit. Granted competition in telecom is fickle and inconsistent, and non-price competition -- where theatrics trump actual value -- is generally the rule of thumb. And should rumors of a new Sprint, T-Mobile merger be accurate, we could very quickly be facing three large carriers with, once again, little to no incentive to actually give consumers what they want. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 14 days ago on techdirt
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posted 15 days ago on techdirt
Part of the reason asset forfeiture is such a problem is the lack of transparency. The funds obtained through this process are frequently hidden from the public and used to purchase everything from margarita makers to Stingray devices. The procedure through which the government takes control of citizens' assets is also shrouded in secrecy. Cases are filed against property, not the persons formerly in possession of them. The process for retrieval is purposely impenetrable, designed to make it almost impossible for petitioners to reclaim their assets. Law enforcement officials claim that all parts of this opaque process are there to prevent drug dealing and/or terrorism, hence their reluctance to divulge the inner details of this particular mean/method. Legislators in New Jersey were hoping to end this unofficial tradition with a bill that would have demanded far more transparency from agencies involved in asset forfeiture. S2267 passed with unanimous support in both houses of the State legislature and would have instituted the following information be submitted to the state Attorney General's office every year. [I]nformation on the seizure of the property, including a description of the seized property; the date of seizure ; the market value of the seized property; the alleged criminal offense associated with the seizure; a description of the location at which the property was seized, including whether the property was seized from a private residence or business or during a traffic stop; if the property was seized during a traffic stop, the name of the highway, street, or road on which the property was seized and whether the vehicle was traveling northbound, southbound, eastbound or westbound;    (2)   the disposition of any criminal action related to the seizure;    (3)   information on forfeiture of the seized property, including:    (a)   whether the forfeiture involved prima facie contraband or was enforced by civil action pursuant to N.J.S.2C:64-1 et seq., the forfeiture was a result of racketeering activity pursuant to N.J.S.2C:41-1 et seq., or the forfeited funds or property were obtained from an action involving financial facilitation of a crime pursuant to P.L.1994, c.121 (C.2C:21-23 et seq.); and    (b)   whether a person with a property interest in the seized property was represented by counsel at the forfeiture proceeding, if applicable;    (4)   information on the final disposition of the seized property, including whether the property was returned to the owner, destroyed, sold after forfeiture, or retained after forfeiture; and the date of disposition;    (5)   information on the value of 1the1 forfeited property, including the gross amount received from 1the1 forfeiture, the total expenses deducted as part of the forfeiture action, and the net amount received from the forfeiture;    (6)   whether the forfeiture resulted from an adoptive seizure; and    (7)   any other information the Attorney General requires. This information would have provided the public with valuable insight into state law enforcement's use of asset forfeiture. And there are several reasons law enforcement wouldn't want to have to turn over these details. The dirty secret of asset forfeiture is that it's not being used to take down the biggest and baddest criminals. It's far more frequently used to nickle-and-dime average citizens, with a majority of an agency's take being made up of seizures valued at well below $10,000. Vehicles are seized from grandmothers because their grandchildren drove drunk. Any cash on anyone who smells like marijuana to a police officer usually ends up being forfeited even if the person is free to go. These details would have made the state's asset forfeiture programs looks exactly as bad as they are. New Jersey holds a D rating from the Institute for Justice, which performs annual reviews of states' forfeiture programs, rating them for damage done to citizens' rights and property. One of the aspects of forfeiture that aided in the state's D rating is the lack of transparency and almost-nonexistent reporting requirements. County prosecutors across the state collected $72 million in forfeiture proceeds from 2009 to 2013, including more than $57 million in cash and vehicles worth $9 million, according to the report. In addition, the report found county agencies received an average of $7 million a year from federal "equitable sharing" programs that give state and local agencies a cut when they serve on federal task forces. But the millions tallied by the institute "are a vast undercount for what's going on in New Jersey," according to Dick Carpenter, the group's director of strategic research and one of the authors of the report. Carpenter said it's difficult to get the whole picture in New Jersey because while the state does collect some data, it was not able to provide the group with comprehensive figures for local and state law enforcement agencies. "The transparency in New Jersey is pretty poor," he said. "The ability for average folks -- or even elected officials -- to know what's going on in their state or municipality just isn't there." None of this matters now, at least not for the foreseeable future. Governor Chris Christie has decided the public isn't on the "need to know" list as far as asset forfeiture is concerned. Gov. Chris Christie on Monday vetoed a bill that would have required county and state prosecutors to publish information about how they use civil courts to seize property from criminal investigations. In order to fend off any attempts at a veto override, Christie has proposed his own law enforcement-friendly "fixes" to the rejected legislation. Christie instead recommended a quarterly report in which prosecutors identify seized assets and detail the legal proceedings by which they were seized. Under Christie's proposal, prosecutors also would not have to disclose why they seized an asset or for what purpose it would be used. Christie's "compromise" does nothing. Quarterly reports are already filed with the attorney general, but they're withheld from the public. The details included are minimal and provide no useful insight into law enforcement's forfeiture activities. And it's not as though the AG's office goes after agencies for incomplete or nonexistent reporting. There appears to be no consequences for agencies that fail to comply with these minimal reporting requirements. Of course, Christie's "compromise" is predicated on a ridiculous pretense. The governor said his proposed changes would "strike a balance between government transparency and protecting law enforcement operations and personnel." Protect law enforcement from what exactly? Transparency? Accountability? Criticism? There's nothing in the information the bill demanded that would make it anything more dangerous for law enforcement. It might inform the public where law enforcement likes to go diving for dollars, but the only negative thing likely to happen to law enforcement is an increase in informed criticism. In Christie's mouth, the words "government transparency" are meaningless -- as meaningless in his buzzword jumbling, bootlicking excuse for kicking the legislature's unanimously-supported bill to the curb. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 15 days ago on techdirt
As was widely expected, back in October, Oracle announced its appeal of Google's big fair use win, concerning its reuse of certain Java API components in Android. If you've been following this (long, long, long) case, you'll recall that Google has won twice at the district court level. The first time, Judge William Alsup correctly noted that APIs were not subject to copyright, because copyright law clearly states that copyright protection does not apply to "any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery" and an API is a process, system or method of operation. However, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC), who only had jurisdiction over the case because it initially involved a patent issue, seemed unable to understand that an API is different from software and overturned the lower court's sensible ruling. That resulted in the second case which was weird, because everyone had to tiptoe around the fact that basically everyone had assumed that APIs were not covered by copyright, in order to instead make a fair use argument, which ultimately succeeded. Oracle then tried to play some games to get that ruling overturned, but that failed miserably, when the judge pointed out that Oracle's argument was almost entirely based on a failure to read what Google had actually given them (Oracle had claimed that Google failed to disclose something important, when the reality was that Oracle's lawyers failed to read the material that Google had given them). Anyway, now that things are back at CAFC, we have to hope and pray that the court doesn't muck things up any worse than it already has (and, trust me, it's mucked things up badly to the point that it's impacting a bunch of other cases. On Friday, Oracle filed its 155-page opening brief. Feel free to dig in, if you must, but the arguments are (mostly) basically what we expected. Oracle argues that Google's use is not fair use (basically saying the jury got it wrong). It further argues that the case should be sent back to the district court because it was prevented from presenting key evidence that would have undermined the fair use claim. And then, somewhat incredibly, at the end, Oracle continues to try to argue that Google concealed its plans to expand Android into PCs -- the very issue that Judge Alsup smacked Oracle down for when it was revealed that Google had shared that info, and Oracle just hadn't read it. In the filing, Oracle whines that Judge Alsup "blamed the victim" for not having read what Google actually gave them, saying that it was impossible to have read everything Google gave them because there was just too much stuff and this was a "needle in the haystack." That... seems pretty weak. Amusingly, at the same time that Oracle is complaining that Google gave Oracle too much in discovery, it also complains that Google clearly withheld more info. Throw any argument at the wall and see what sticks, I guess. Frankly, this opening brief seems to really lean in to CAFC's notorious ignorance of how software works, and the fact that last time around it couldn't tell the difference between an API and software. It just keeps focusing on the agreed upon point that Google copied some of Java's APIs, but keeps calling it "copyrighted code." It's impossible to predict how CAFC will rule, because CAFC is frequently hilariously confused when it comes to how technology (and software in particular) actually work. But hopefully someone over there will take the time to figure it out. After all, there have been a few, somewhat shocking, signs of enlightenment in the past few months at CAFC. Hopefully that continues. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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