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As you may recall, earlier this year, Newsweek "relaunched" with a cover story by reporter Leah McGrath Goodman claiming to have unmasked the real creator of Bitcoin. Bitcoin was created by someone (or some people) using the name Satoshi Nakamoto, but no one knew who it really was, and over the past few years Nakamoto had more or less disappeared from the Bitcoin scene. Newsweek claimed that Nakamoto was really a person named Satoshi Nakamoto, who actually goes by the name Dorian Nakamoto. The article was weakly sourced, heavy on speculation and based its key arguments on some really clueless assumptions. The most ridiculous parts involved the "forensic analysis" that Newsweek supposedly relied on in identifying Nakamoto. Specifically, this "forensic analyst" looked at the original Bitcoin paper and noted what she said were "old-school technological tropes" -- specifically, discussions about saving disk space, mentioning Moore's Law, and the use of two spaces after a period. This, according to Newsweek, pointed to a much older engineer: "The idea of conserving any kind of resources, and this is part of my formation, my long background in systems testing, that was a critical issue. But those are very very old-time concerns," she said. "To even mention disk space, things like that — disk space is cheap! And Moore's Law is an old maxim that computing power will double. We've gone exponentially away from Moore's law, but that was what it was all about in that interim period." Except that while disk space is cheap, the size of the Bitcoin blockchain is a big deal since the whole basis of Bitcoin relies on an ever growing blockchain, and if you didn't figure out ways to minimize the need to redownload the entire blockchain, it would create a massive problem for Bitcoin. The concerns about space weren't archaic at all, but right on point. As for the claim that "we've gone exponentially away from Moore's law"? I mean, that's just flat out wrong. Either way, it became pretty clear pretty quickly that Dorian Nakamoto wasn't Satoshi Nakamoto -- though Newsweek (bizarrely) still stands by its story. The latest, however is that Dorian Nakamoto has launched a crowdfunding effort to sue Newsweek on a website called NewsweekLied (and for those wondering, Nakamoto's lawyer has confirmed the page is legit). I sympathize with Nakamoto, having his life shaken up by a shoddy reporting job, plucking him out of obscurity and incorrectly naming him as the creator of Bitcoin. But... I have a lot of trouble seeing how any lawsuit could possibly make sense. In fact, it seems likely that any lawsuit could actually make things worse for Dorian Nakamoto. From the details on the website, it appears that they're likely to use a combination of false light and defamation claims. Both would be pretty difficult to prove, though false light is perhaps a lower bar in this case. The real problem, though, is that most of what is in the article could be considered to reflect positively on Nakamoto, rather than negatively. Claiming he was a secret, if eccentric, creator of a global cryptographic currency phenomenon? Even if it's false (as it appears to be), how would that be "highly offensive to a reasonable person" as required under California law? As for a defamation claim, they probably wouldn't have to show "actual malice" since Nakamoto wasn't a public figure (though, potentially Newsweek would argue that the Nakamoto they thought they were identifying was a public figure, and thus the higher bar should apply), but they would still have to show the harm to Nakamoto's reputation, leading to the same problem as the false light issue. Also, Nakamoto's lawyers would likely have to show that Newsweek knew the story was wrong (which doesn't appear to be the case) or that it was "negligent" in reporting the story. While I think we agree that Newsweek was sloppy and there was just generally bad reporting and bad conclusions involved, to reach the level of negligence is not easy. And here's where it gets even more difficult for Nakamoto. As we've discussed many times in the past, California (thankfully!) has a strong anti-SLAPP law that protects publishers from being sued in an attempt to silence their reporting on issues of public interest. We're big fans of California's anti-SLAPP laws and you'd have to imagine that Newsweek would seek to be protected under that law. And, the bigger issue for Nakamoto is that under California's anti-SLAPP law, if Newsweek were to win, it can go after Nakamoto for its legal fees. And, the law actually would allow Newsweek to go even further, and file a SLAPPback lawsuit, to seek compensatory and punitive damages (though, that might be a longshot for Newsweek). As ridiculous as the original article was, and as sympathetic as I may be to Dorian Nakamoto's situation, it's difficult to see how his lawsuit has much of a chance. Conceivably, there could be other claims made, or additional evidence that Nakamoto's lawyers think they have on Newsweek, but it seems like a massive longshot and a situation that could potentially create more legal headaches for Nakamoto than it solves.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The impact of the Supreme Court's ruling in Alice v. CLS Bank continues to reverberate around the industry. We've already noted that courts have been rapidly invalidating a bunch of patents, and that related lawsuits appear to be dropping rapidly as well. And, now, a new analysis from a (pro-patent) law firm suggests that the US Patent Office is rejecting a lot more software patents as well. Following the ruling, the US Patent Office issued new rules for examiners, and even withdrew some notices of allowances. And it appears all of this is having an impact. The link above is Vox summarizing some findings from patent lawyer Kate Gaudry of law firm Kilpatrick Townsend, who argues that the data suggests the USPTO is rejecting software patents at a much higher rate. In short, back in January, art units at the USPTO rejected applications based on Section 101 of US Patent law only about 24% of the time. Section 101 covers what is patent eligible, and was the key part in the decision in the Alice case. Effectively, in the Alice ruling, the Supreme Court said that just doing something on a generic computer wasn't patent eligible under Section 101. Following that ruling, in July, the rejection rate jumped to 78%. Yes, from 24% in January to 78% in June. That's massive. The data also shows that units that focus on "other kinds of technology saw little change in their rejection rates." As the Vox story notes, Gaudry is freaked out that this will destroy innovation. "Without incentive, say goodbye to the quick pace of innovation we enjoy." But that's ridiculous, as anyone who actually works in software innovation knows. Patents have long been a drag on innovation in the field, setting up minefields and tollbooths that have worked to limit the pace of innovation, not speed it along. The idea that without patents there are no incentives is pure ignorance. The incentive is building a useful tool or service and being able to monetize it in a variety of ways. The idea that competition destroys incentives is simply ignorant of the history of innovation and basic economics. The rapid decline in software patents is a huge boon for innovation.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Lawyer Martin Husovec has a post detailing an important case that has been referred to the EU Court of Justice, which could have a tremendous impact on legal liability for those who offer open WiFi in the European Union. It's tough to improve on Martin's summary of the post, so here it is: The case arose between an entrepreneur selling light and audio systems who is also a member of the German Pirate Party and record label. The entrepreneur operates an open and free of charge WiFi in his store. He uses the WiFi sometimes as a tool for advertising of his store (preloaded home page points to his shop and name of the network bears its name) and sometimes to agitate for his political views (pointing to particular websites such as data protection campaigns, etc.). After receiving a letter informing him about a copyright infringement allegedly committed via his hot-spot, the entrepreneur unusually sued the right holder pursuing the negative declaratory action. The right holder as a defendant later counter-claimed asking for damages, injunctive relief and pre-trail costs as well as court fees under the above mentioned doctrine of BGH. The referring court is hesitant whether mere conduit safe harbour of Article 12 allows especially for injunctive relief on which the German concept of Stoererhaftung is based. It points to similar cases before the Hamburg court (Case No. 25b C 431/13 and Case No. 25b C 924/13) that recently denied such claims arguing that mere conduit safe harbour prevents them. The court comes to conclusion that the plaintiff did not infringe the rights himself, and thus is considering what kind of measures can be imposed on a WiFi operator such as defendant. It is very symptomatic to German case-law on injunctive relief that the Munich court does not even mention applicability of Article 8(3) InfoSoc in this case. Despite the fact that its case is clearly about its local transposition and European limits. He then digs deep into the specific questions raised by the court, and I recommend reading his detailed thoughts and explanations of what the different questions likely mean and the possible risks from different outcomes. The end result, though is that either some basic safe harbors could be established for those offering WiFi (as is mostly the case here in the US), or the court can continue to drag the EU in the other direction, putting often draconian liability and regulations on those who merely offer open WiFi. Martin "hopes" the court won't add to the burdens of open WiFi operators by increasing liability and rules. However, he also notes that it's a chance for the court to actually protect and encourage free WiFi by clearing up that merely offering it shouldn't make one liable for the actions on that network. But, he points out: In order this to happen, somebody should explain the court the innovative potential and social use of open WiFis beyond mere household use, which most of the judges are [only] familiar with. In other words, this is an important case to watch for those of us who believe in the value and importance of open WiFi.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Back in November 2013, the French think-tank Forum d’Avignon published a manifesto entitled, "Principles of a universal declaration for Internet users' and creators' rights in a digital era," which tried to define the concept of an individual's "digital cultural data." The same group has now put together what it rather grandly calls a "Preliminary Declaration of the Digital Human Rights". That might sound like a good idea, but as Techdirt has discussed before, thinking in terms of "rights" and "laws" isn't always the best way to proceed in these sort of areas. That's certainly the view of a heavyweight collection of French civil society organizations, which have issued a statement about what they see as key problems with the declaration (via @maliciarogue.). First of all, they point out that the group behind the declaration is not entirely disinterested here: It is worth noting that the Forum d’Avignon is a French think tank whose main goal is to deepen the links between culture and economy. We hereby denounce the Forum's use of digital privacy's debate to its own profit, that is in order to reinforce copyright. One big problem is the absence of any appreciation of the importance of the public domain: Article 5 of the Declaration poses that « any use of the data as a creative work » is subject to prior consent of the individual. Such a formulation completely ignores the fundamental role of the public domain as well as the exceptions and limitations to copyright, which are all essential in balancing and preserving the system. The statement also points out that trying to apply copyright law to personal data is unsatisfactory, because it puts the onus on individuals to defend their privacy: Similarly, the application of copyright law to personal data is a dangerous solution for it is based on the sole individual responsibility and control of the use of data which identify oneself. The French State Council and the National Digital Council rightly warned against such a conceptual framework as it could lead to greater discrimination and therefore inequalities in the protection of privacy. We are not all equal with the exploitation and protection of our data and it is essential that common rules exist. The statement concludes: We therefore emphasise that personal data is not a form of creative work and must not be considered as such. Equally, a form of creative work is not personal data and must not be considered as such. The protection of personal data is a fundamental stake in the digital age. It needs to be balanced with freedom of expression and the right to information. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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60 Minutes, which has been harshly criticized for running puff pieces for the NSA and FBI recently, is at it again. Last night, they ran two unrelated yet completely conflicting segments—one focusing on FBI Director Jim Comey, and the other on New York Times reporter James Risen—and the cognitive dissonance displayed in the back-to-back interviews was remarkable. First up was 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley's interview with FBI Director Jim Comey. 60 Minutes aired the first part of the interview last week, which ran 14 minutes and did not contain a single adversarial question. This time, Scott Pelley asked him at least asked a couple softballs about civil liberties, although the primary one Comey just refused to answer. The main focus of the piece, however, was Comey's supposed commitment to "the rule of law." "That's a principle over which James Comey is willing to sacrifice his career," Pelley explains to the audience. He then proceeded to re-tell the infamous "hospital bed" scene from 2004 during the Bush administration, where Comey, then deputy attorney general, threatened to resign unless Bush altered the original NSA warrantless surveillance program. Bush relented a bit and so Comey stayed on as deputy attorney general for more than a year afterwards. Comey is portrayed as the hero, who stopped illegal surveillance from going forward. What Comey did was certainly admirable, but this episode happened in March 2004 and only pertained to a small portion of the NSA's illegal activities. The NSA's illegal warrantless wiretapping program (as the public knew it) was first exposed more than eighteen months later in December 2005. 60 Minutes explains this in the very next segment but couldn't apparently put two and two together: Jim Comey was presumably also responsible for signing off on the illegal program the New York Times exposed after his hospital bed protest. During this segment, 60 Minutes interviewed James Risen about the Obama administration's war on leaks and described the scoop he is most famous for: his Pulitzer Prize-winning story exposing that same warrantless wiretapping program. Risen explains to 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl that the NSA was not only gathering metadata without a warrant on Americans in 2005, but the content of phone conversations as well. And as Stahl herself points out—and as former NSA chief Michael Hayden basically admits in the segment—this was in direct violation of the 1978 law the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which required court orders to conduct such spying. Critically, Risen's first story in December 2005 makes it clear the warrantless wiretapping of Americans was ongoing at the time. And we learned just last year as part of the Snowden revelations that Comey's hospital protest was over Internet metadata, not illegal eavesdropping on phone calls. So to sum up: the government was breaking the law in December 2005. This is the program that Comey had presumably signed off on after the much-talked-about incident and he remained deputy attorney general. Yet Comey is still uncontroversially portrayed as a man dedicated to "the rule of law." This information was readily available to 60 Minutes, as it's in the most well-known recounting of the hospital bed scene done by reporter Barton Gellman for the Washington Post and in his book The Angler in 2007. As Barton Gellman reported in 2007, Comey forced some changes with his potential resignation in 2004, but "much of the operation remained in place." "Imagine you're doing ten things one day, and the next day you're only doing eight of them," an unnamed official told Gellman in The Angler. "That's basically what happened here." Cross posted from the Freedom of the Press Foundation. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Not too long ago, Kuka filmed an ad hinting that their industrial robot arm was fast enough and had software that enabled it to play ping pong with professional table tennis player, Timo Boll. However, that match was pretty disappointing because it never really showed the robot arm returning a tournament-level serve from Boll (or even returning any kind of shot that wasn't highly edited to make it look more dramatic). Here are a few ping pong playing robots in reality -- and they are not yet ready to compete with humans. Japanese electronics maker Omron demonstrated a ping pong robot at the 2014 Ceatec tech expo, and its 600+kg bot can play nicely with a human for over 100 volleys. This robot isn't exactly going to beat anyone at a game, but it has reflexes in the sub-millisecond range, and presumably, software/hardware upgrades could make it more intimidating. [url] German researchers trained a robot to play ping pong, and it can return some gentle shots and keep its returns on the table (for the most part). Katharina Muelling and her colleagues were learning about how to teach robots physical skills by imitation, so maybe if they'd used a professional table tennis player to train their robot.... [url] Chinese humanoid robots have played ping pong against each other in a rally lasting 176 strokes. It's not the most exciting game, but these bots can do both a forehand and backhand stroke -- and play against humans, too. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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There's some new data out about patent lawsuits that paint an interesting picture. First, the law firm Goodwin Procter put out a new manual for fighting patent trolls (found via GigaOm), showing that patent trolling has been immensely profitable. It shows how the median damages awarded to trolls has been much higher than to operating companies, which is the exact opposite of what you'd think it should be -- companies that are actually competing in the space have at least a slightly more legitimate claim than those simply setting up toll booths. But it's the trolls who get rewarded: It's worth noting that even this chart significantly underplays things, since very few patent trolling efforts actually reach court in the first place. Many, many companies just pay up when threatened, and many more settle after cases have been filed rather than actually allowing a trial to reach conclusion and have damages awarded (if any). But... that all may be changing. We've been writing a lot about how the Supreme Court's ruling in Alice v. CLS Bank had resulted in the courts rapidly invalidating a bunch of crappy software patents, and that may be taking a toll. Legal analytics firm Lex Machina has been crunching the numbers and noticed a significant and noticeable drop off in September patent lawsuit filings. Historically, there's usually a summer lull in patent lawsuit filings, but they pick back up in September (back to school patent trolling!). And, each year the number of patent filings in September keeps going up and up and up. In 2011, there were 385 patent lawsuits filed in September, and in 2012, it was 460. In 2013, it was 548. And yet, here in 2014, there were just 329 cases filed in September, a noticeable drop. Lex Machina has a bunch of charts showing the data, but this one is the most telling to me: You can see a bunch of lawsuits rushed to get filed prior to the Supreme Court hearing the case, and then a pretty steady stream over the summer. As we've noted, right when the ruling came out, it wasn't entirely clear how far reaching it would be -- but within about a month people began to realize that it really was going to invalidate a large number of bad patents, and then the lawsuits started dropping rapidly. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the rest of the year.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've written a few times now about Walter O'Brien, the claimed inspiration for the CBS primetime TV show Scorpion. As our reporting has shown, a very large number of the claims about O'Brien's life simply don't check out when you look into the details, and in many cases appear to be flat out false. As we've said repeatedly -- though people keep bringing this up -- we don't care at all about Hollywood folks exaggerating a "based on a true story" claim. What concerns us is (1) the journalistic integrity of those engaged in promoting the false claims about Walter O'Brien for the sake of a TV show and (2) the fact that O'Brien has been using this to promote his own business, which may lead people to giving money to him under questionable pretenses. Each time I write about him, more people who have known him in the past come out of the woodwork to repeat the same claims: nice enough guy, but always massively exaggerating nearly everything. In this post, however, I want to focus on the first part of my concern: the journalistic integrity question. Three of the main articles often cited in support of O'Brien's claims both come from "CBS News." They're actually local CBS affiliates, rather than the main CBS News, but they're clearly trading on the CBS News brand, trust and credibility, and yet they're so ridiculous as to raise serious questions about CBS's journalistic standards. First up, we've got an article from CBS 2 Los Angeles, with news "reporter" Crystal Cruz. Like many such stories, it brings up the bogus "4th highest IQ in the world" which has already been shown to be false in our last post. It also ridiculously claims that Scorpion is "a billion dollar business" which, again, there is no evidence to support at all. Then there's this: “The naval bases in Afghanistan, we predicted the drug lords could do biological warfare to the water supply to the base and put arsenic in the water supply to the base, and we predicted that three months ahead, before it happened,” O’Brien said. “It changed military policy because of it, and that saved over 400 lives.” As this is being discussed in the video version, it shows a map of Afghanistan, which only serves to reinforce the fact that Afghanistan is a landlocked country. Naval bases aren't particularly useful there. Yes, there was a Navy presence -- and the Marines are a part of the Navy -- there really isn't what most people would consider to be a naval base. But, more importantly, the US military also doesn't use local drinking water because of their fear of contamination in the first place. They bring in bottled water for drinking. There are some reports (from UNICEF) of arsenic-contaminated water in Afghanistan, but it's from local mining operations, not any reports of sabotage by "drug lords." A reporter might have looked into all of this, but CBS wants to promote its TV show. The Baltimore affiliate of CBS News, WJZ had a piece written by "reporter" Linh Bui repeating a bunch of claims about Walter that are dubious, at best. The whole "fourth highest IQ in the world" is there, of course. She also claims that Homeland Security found O'Brien in the 1980's, despite it only coming into existence after 2001. She quotes O'Brien saying that he's "stopped wars" without ever actually doing any fact checking to see if there's any basis for that at all. More recently, Boston's WBZ, the local CBS affiliate, had its Emmy winning news anchor Kathryn Hauser claim that Walter' O'Brien helped find the Boston marathon bombers. Again, there has been no evidence that we've seen to date that comes anywhere close to supporting that claim. There was a TV interview that suggested that the FBI likely used software that was like software that O'Brien created (though, we've yet to see any evidence that Walter actually has created such software in the first place). But over time, that claim has continued to morph into this claim that he actually helped find the bombers. You'd think, that with Hauser actually being in Boston she might have gone and asked local law enforcement if there was any truth to the claim at all. But she didn't. It's pure speculation as to why she didn't, but it's hard not to notice that all three of these reports are posted to CBS News sites and the TV show is airing on CBS. Comments on the latter two stories have pointed out problems with O'Brien's story, but no corrections or followups have been forthcoming. Because that would take actual reporting -- and would contradict the narrative that parent company CBS is selling. Two other stories that had financial ties to the show have both put up notices pointing out concerns raised about his claims, but neither has been able to find any followups. The first was an article by CNET's Tim Stevens, which repeated some of Walter's usual claims, but after a few people contacted him, he (unlike others) was quick to admit that he may have made a mistake in taking O'Brien at his word and appended an update to the story. Since then Stevens has requested followups with O'Brien, all of which appear to have been ignored. CNET is... owned by CBS. Then there's Fast Company, where Susan Karlin wrote a similar profile of O'Brien, again repeating many of his claims. However, after people questioned it, she too was quick to add a note that many of O'Brien's claims have been questioned and there are "inconsistencies" in his story. Karlin also notes that she has contacted CBS and O'Brien along with other show producers for comment, but appears not to have received any follow up either. As we noted in our last post, Fast Company produced the Techmanity conference where O'Brien was one of the featured speakers. Still, I appreciate Stevens' and Karlin's willingness to admit that they may have been taken in by O'Brien's claims, and it's quite telling that it appears that O'Brien and CBS are unwilling to do any followups with those who question the details. The really questionable activity is by CBS News itself for simply refusing to acknowledge the questions and simply repeating questionable claims about O'Brien that help the CBS primetime lineup.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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One of the most frequent refrains from the big broadband players and their friends who are fighting against net neutrality rules is that there's no evidence that ISPs have been abusing a lack of net neutrality rules in the past, so why would they start now? That does ignore multiple instances of violations in the past, but in combing through the comments submitted to the FCC concerning net neutrality, we came across one very interesting one that actually makes some rather stunning revelations about the ways in which ISPs are currently violating net neutrality/open internet principles in a way designed to block encryption and thus make everyone a lot less secure. The filing comes from VPN company Golden Frog and discusses "two recent examples that show that users are not receiving the open, neutral, and uninterrupted service to which the Commission says they are entitled." The first example you may have actually heard about. It got some attention back in July, when entrepreneur Colin Nederkoorn released a video showing how Verizon was throttling his Netflix connection, which was made obvious when he logged into a VPN and suddenly his Netflix wasn't stuttering and the throughput was much higher. That video got a lot of attention (over half a million views) and highlighted the nature of the interconnection fight in which Verizon is purposely allowing Netflix streams coming via Level 3 to clog. As most people recognize, in a normal scenario, using a VPN should actually slow down your connection somewhat thanks to the additional encryption. However, the fact that it massively sped up the Netflix connection shows just how much is being throttled when Verizon knows it's Netflix traffic. Nederkoorn actually was using Golden Frog's VyperVPN in that video, so it actually makes Golden Frog look good -- but the company notes that it really shows one way in which "internet access providers are 'mismanaging' their networks to their own users' detriment." But the second example Golden Frog provides is much scarier and much more pernicious, and it has received almost no attention. In the second instance, Golden Frog shows that a wireless broadband Internet access provider is interfering with its users’ ability to encrypt their SMTP email traffic. This broadband provider is overwriting the content of users’ communications and actively blocking STARTTLS encryption. This is a man-in-the-middle attack that prevents customers from using the applications of their choosing and directly prevents users from protecting their privacy. They demonstrate this with the following graphic: This is scary. If ISPs are actively trying to block the use of encryption, it shows how they might seek to block the use of VPNs and other important security protection measures, leaving all of us less safe. Golden Frog provides more details of what's happening in this case: Golden Frog performed tests using one mobile wireless company’s data service, by manually typing the SMTP commands and requests, and monitoring the responses from the email server in issue. It appears that this particular mobile wireless provider is intercepting the server’s banner message and modifying it in-transit from something like “220 [servername] ESMTP Postfix” to “200 ********************.” The mobile wireless provider is further modifying the server’s response to a client command that lists the extended features supported by the server. The mobile wireless provider modifies the server’s “250-STARTTLS” response (which informs the client of the server’s capacity to enable encryption). The Internet access provider changes it to “250-XXXXXXXA.” Since the client does not receive the proper acknowledgement that STARTTLS is supported by the server, it does not attempt to turn on encryption. If the client nonetheless attempts to use the STARTTLS command, the mobile wireless provider intercepts the client’s commands to the server and changes it too. When it detects the STARTTLS command being sent from the client to the server, the mobile wireless provider modifies the command to “XXXXXXXX.” The server does not understand this command and therefore sends an error message to the client. As Golden Frog points out, this is "conceptually similar" to the way in which Comcast was throttling BitTorrent back in 2007 via packet reset headers, which kicked off much of the last round of net neutrality concerns. The differences here are that this isn't about blocking BitTorrent, but encryption, and it's a mobile internet access provider, rather than a wired one. This last point is important, since even the last net neutrality rules did not apply to wireless broadband, and the FCC is still debating if it should apply any new rules to wireless. After reading the Golden Frog filing, the answer should be that it is absolutely necessary to apply the rules to wireless, because practices like these put us all at risk by undermining the encryption that keeps us all safe. As Golden Frog notes: Absent enforceable Commission rules, broadband providers can (and at least one already does) block and discriminate against entirely acceptable Internet uses. In this case, users are not just losing their right to use the applications and services of their choosing, but also their privacy. It is not at clear that this type of encryption blocking would be forbidden for fixed broadband Internet access, under the proposed rules’ exception for reasonable network management. This example involves mobile wireless broadband, however, and it is clear that the proposed rules would not prohibit the activity. STARTLLS encryption does not constitute “a lawful website” or “an application[] that compete[s] with the provider’s voice or video telephony services[.]”11 The proposed rules on their face do not prohibit mobile broadband Internet access providers from blocking user efforts to maintain privacy through encryption. Furthermore, Golden Frog concludes: The claim that rules banning blocking and unreasonable discrimination are solutions in search of a problem is flatly wrong. There have been problems in the past and there are problems now. The proposed rules do not resolve all of the problems identified in the NPRM. Further broadband Internet access providers are still interfering with beneficial and privacy-enhancing applications users want to employ. This is incredibly important -- just at a time when we need stronger encryption and privacy online, the FCC may undermine it with weak net neutrality rules that allow this type of behavior to continue. A few months ago, I got into a conversation with a well-known internet entrepreneur/investor, who asked about possible "compromise" rules on net neutrality, suggesting that maybe it's okay to throttle Netflix traffic because there's so much of it. He argued that, perhaps there could be some threshold, and if your traffic was above that threshold it's okay to throttle it. After some back and forth, I asked the hypothetical about encryption: what if, at a time when more and more encryption is important, such a rule was in place, and overall encrypted traffic passed that threshold, then suddenly access providers could throttle all encrypted traffic, doing tremendous damage to security and privacy. What I didn't realize was that some access providers are effectively already attacking privacy and encryption in this manner.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As we reported a few weeks ago, Australia has passed a dreadful "anti-terror" law that not only allows the authorities to monitor the entire Internet in that country with a single warrant, but also threatens 10 years of jail time for anyone who "recklessly" discloses information that relates to a "special intelligence operation." But what exactly will that mean in practice? Elizabeth Oshea, writing in the Overland journal, has put together a great article fleshing things out. Here's her introduction: The parliament has passed legislation that permits the Attorney General to authorise certain activities of ASIO and affiliates as 'special intelligence operations'. We can only assume that ASIO will seek such authorisation when its operatives plan to break the criminal or civil law -- the whole point of authorising an operation as a special intelligence operation is that participants will be immune from the consequences of their unlawfulness. It will also be a criminal act to disclose information about these operations. So the Australian government can designate activities of its spy services as "special intelligence operations," which may well be illegal, and then it becomes a criminal act to disclose anything about those operations, however bad they are. Indeed, that even seems to include operations that result in death, as Oshea explains in one of her examples of what could happen under the new law: A botched operation is conducted that results in the death of an innocent bystander (credit this suggestion to the former Independent National Security Legislation Monitor). Note that if a person with three children dies as a result of a failure to take reasonable care, her family will be unable to make a claim for the cost of raising her dependents. If she is maimed but not killed, she will be unable to make a claim for the cost of her medical care, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and the cost of raising her dependents. That's a hypothetical case, but Oshea also lists a number of incidents that have already occurred, but which are likely to be covered by the new law -- and would thus become impossible to write about. Here are a couple of them, with links to the real-life cases: Agents and officers raid a couple in their home and hold them captive at gunpoint for an hour, only leaving when they discovered they were at the wrong address. The couple will have no entitlement to compensation for any property or personal damage arising from imprisonment, trespass and assault. Agents kidnap and falsely imprison a young medical student. They attempt to coerce answers from him, making making threats that go beyond what is permitted by the relevant search warrant. There's more of the same, listing previously-reported incidents that would probably be censored in future. The post also explores legislative proposals that are equally disturbing: The parliament is considering laws that will punish people with life imprisonment for a range of new offences associated with 'subverting society' (which is a component of the new definition of 'engaging in hostile activities'). The law contains a defence of advocacy, protest, dissent or industrial action, but it is very unclear how these would be applied. Here's the kind of thing that might get you life imprisonment in Australia in the future: Leaking materials taken from government information systems that demonstrate serious wrongdoing (as per Manning or Snowden). Organising and engaging in denial of service attacks – the online equivalent of a sit in – against government websites, such as that of the President, Prime Minister, the Ministry of Industry, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Stock Exchange. There's also an explanation of what data retention might mean for the public. All in all, it's a valuable guide to some of the seriously bad stuff that Australia is doing. Let's just hope that other countries don't take it as a blueprint. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Last week, we wrote about Judge Anna Brown telling the DOJ to quite stalling and to tell a list of plaintiffs whether or not they were on the no fly list. This was a followup to her earlier ruling, noting that the process to get off of the list was unconstitutional. While a different court had ordered the US government to make sure that Rahinah Ibrahim was off the list in an earlier case (though she's been kept on another list), this was the first time that the court had directly ordered the US government to reveal to people whether or not they were on the list. Late on Friday, the government sent a short letter to the ACLU, telling seven of the plaintiffs in the case that they were "not currently on the No Fly List as of the date of this letter." From the ACLU: Today’s letter from the government informed the seven plaintiffs that they “are not currently on the No Fly List.” One of the plaintiffs notified was Abe Mashal, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and dog trainer who suffered professionally and personally when he could not travel far from his home in Illinois. “More than four years ago, I was denied boarding at an airport, surrounded by TSA agents, and questioned by the FBI,” said Mashal. “That day, many freedoms that I took for granted were robbed from me. I was never told why this happened, whether I was officially on the list, or what I could do to get my freedoms back. Now, I can resume working for clients who are beyond driving distance. I can attend weddings, graduations, and funerals that were too far away to reach by car or train. I can travel with my family to Hawaii, Jamaica, or anywhere else on vacation. Today, I learned I have my freedoms back." It's pretty crazy the lengths Mashal had to go to get his freedoms "back." The government still needs to respond to the other six plaintiffs in the case who it did not name in this letter -- though the fact that they were not named suggests they are still on the no fly list. The government has a bit more time with those people, since it needs to also provide some sort of explanation, and allow those people to effectively appeal their status on the list.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 10 days ago on techdirt
People who have followed the Snowden story closely know that he gave all of the documents over to a small group of reporters, and then got rid of his own copies, telling the reporters to make their own choices about what to reveal and what to keep secret. He also claimed that he had gone through the files he had to make sure that he wasn't handing over any really damaging stuff -- but of what he was giving them he wanted the reporters to make their own journalistic choices about what to report on. And yet, some people (often those in the "string up Snowden" cabal) keep insisting that Snowden himself is directing the various reports and deciding what reports should reveal what information. However, over the weekend in an interview with the New Yorker's Jane Mayer, Snowden actually notes that he probably would have been "more conservative" in choosing what to reveal: Snowden, who worked with the journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Bart Gellman to bring highly classified materials about N.S.A. surveillance programs to the public eye, also responded to a Mayer question that he summarized by saying, “do I agree with all of the stories that the journalists have presented?” “I don’t,” he went on. “I would draw those lines a little differently, and I think much more conservatively than some of the journalists have,” without naming which reporters’ stories he disagreed with. In earlier stories, Snowden has more or less admitted that part of the reason he went to trusted journalists like those three above was that he was too close to the story and the NSA himself to make fair, journalistic decisions on which of the documents deserved to be public. Otherwise, he could have just dumped all of the documents publicly. It appears to reinforce the idea that -- contrary to the claims of some -- Snowden was exceptionally careful in getting this information out there, not even trusting his own judgment to make the final calls on what should and should not be released.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
After Comcast got a customer fired by telling his employer that he was lodging customer service complaints, the company's response was weak to say the least. That One Guy won most insightful comment of the week (and racked up quite a few funny votes as well) with a line-by-line translation: What happened with Mr. O’Rourke's service is completely unacceptable. 'The story got out and we're looking bad(again). That's not how it was supposed to happen.' Despite our attempts to address Mr. O’Rourke’s issues, we simply dropped the ball and did not make things right. 'We got him fired, that was supposed to shut him up and be the end of it.' Mr. O’Rourke deserves another apology from us and we’re making this one publicly. 'Absolutely no-one, including me, believes we're sincere of course, but we hope by at least pretending we can just brush this one under the rug.' We also want to clarify that nobody at Comcast asked for him to be fired. 'Because as long as we don't directly ask that he be fired, it doesn't count.' Though a cable company getting someone fired is bad, our next post is much worse: a SWAT team shooting a man dead in his own home, which they were raiding on the say-so of an arrested burglar with a bag full of crystal meth. Second place for insightful goes to an anonymous commenter who noted in simple terms just how far over the top the police response was: The fact that they did not simply walk up to the house with 2 officers and say they had questions about the robbery is sad. They had a perfect reason to be let into the house by the homeowners with no hesitation For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start with another anonymous comment, this time addressing the intelligence community's "if you've got nothing to hide..." argument regarding surveillance: Intelligence: If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. The Public: But you hide everthing. Intelligence: Yeah, because we're afraid of you! Seeing the public as the main source of trouble in the world is the best way to protect the public. The Public: Who protects us from you? Intelligence: Trust us. Next, simply because I have been enjoying the show and hugely impressed with what he's been doing, our second editor's choice is limbodog's simple shout-out to John Oliver et al: Let's face it, American news stinks. If it takes these comedians poking fun at our politics to help us understand what's really going on, I'm all for it. Thank you Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and John Oliver! Over on the funny side, we start out on our post about the response we sent to Roca Labs' demand for a retraction. Adam Steinbaugh took first place when he praised our restraint: The most remarkable thing here is that the EFF's counsel resisted the urge to file the response I would have sent: "Dear Mr. Berger and Roca Labs, Inc.: lol. love,eff and techdirt and mike" In crayon, naturally. In second place, we've got a response to the revelation that Adobe's ebook reader might be spying on the books you read. One anonymous commenter had a thought about that: They're just checking to see if you're reading 1984. Wait... For editor's choice on the funny side, we could easily give a spot straight to FBI Director James Comey for saying "the Internet is the most dangerous parking lot imaginable." But since that's not technically in the running, our first pick goes to Berenerd for his response: one question.... Since when are parking lots filled with cat videos and trolls? And, lastly, we actually do have an off-Techdirt comment... by proxy. Anonymous Hero sought a spot by quoting the Washington Post's editorial about smartphone encryption, and I'd say he earned it: I'm going for funniest techdirt comment of the week "However, with all their wizardry, perhaps Apple and Google could invent a kind of secure golden key they would retain and use only when a court has approved a search warrant." That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
Five Years Ago This week in 2009, we were awaiting the shutdown of Geocities, and contemplating what it could teach us about the future of the web. We were similarly contemplating the implications of the FTC's new disclosure rules. The always-aggressive IOC was trying to block Olympia, Washington's Olympian newspaper from trademarking its name and threatening Flickr users for posting photos from the Beijing Games. Apple started a trademark fight with Woolworths over a barely-similar logo halfway around the world. CBS was, confusingly, trying to take down clips of David Letterman's recent and infamous on-air confession. Ralph Lauren was discovering the Streisand Effect following a Bad Photoshop Scandal. And Steve Ballmer, bafflingly, declared that "free is not a business model!" Finally, five years ago this week, we wrote a fairly short post about the FBI going way overboard in their investigation of a programmer. At the time, we had no idea that Aaron Swartz's story would continue, nor did we know how tragically it would end. We didn't even use his known-in-some-circles-but-not-yet-famous name in the headline — an odd thing to see now. It's moments of contrast and reflection like this, I think, that are the true value of these Techdirt History posts, and I hope you all agree. Ten Years Ago Last week, we noted that SpaceShipOne had completed its first of two flights. This week, it completed the second and officially won the X-Prize. For the rest of the world, this week was a mix of tech-optimism and tech-panic. Okay... mostly panic. Wardrivers were on the loose! The internet was causing sex obsession! Video games were terribly addictive! People were misdiagnosing themselves online and becomng cyberchondriacs! (Actually, that last one was and still is pretty accurate, I suppose.) But there was a bit of optimism: a study suggested that texting brings families closer. This week in 2004 is also when Google launched (or re-launched) Book Search, planting the seeds of a legal controversy that rages to this day. We've also got yet another quote from Steve Ballmer, this time as part of Microsoft's (futile) efforts to create a new DRM. Ballmer trashed Apple, saying "The most common format of music on an iPod is 'stolen'." Of course, another reporter suggested the whole thing might not have been as ridiculous as it sounded. Fifteen Years Ago Survivor is in its 29th series, with the 30th set to start in 2015. But this week in 1999 it hadn't even begun — its May 2000 launch was being aggressively promoted, and even Techdirt couldn't resist commenting on the idea. But hey, this is back when Silicon Valley was weird, and some executives believed technology came from aliens, or something like that. In 2004 we had videogame addiction, but in 1999 we had an early stab at the simpler web addiction. But this was a time when net hype tended to win out — and a time when geography still mattered for this kind of thing, which is why that net hype was just spreading to the UK. Wal-Mart's much-hyped website was delayed, Amazon had just added a gift registry, and UPS was offering free internet access... but only to the UPS website. Oh, and long before PRISM, there was Echelon. Remember Echelon? This week in 1999, some folks were trying to figure out how to gag it. One-Hundred And Forty-Six Years Ago Long-time fans of the site surely know that Mike Masnick's alma mater is Cornell University. Well, this week in 1868 marks its inauguration and subsequent enrollment of 412 students, the highest of any American university up to that time. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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For this week's awesome stuff post of interesting crowdfunding projects, we decided to look at time travel. There are actually a bunch of crowdfunding projects for people writing (yet another) book about time travel, but here are three other types of interesting crowdfunding projects related (somehow) to time travel. A Brief History of Time Travel A Brief History of Time Travel is a documentary that's not about the concept of time travel itself, but how time travel has become such a big thing in popular culture. It looks at the history of time travel within popular culture and how it's changed over time. Given how common time travel is in so many books, video games, movies and tv shows, this looks pretty cool. Save the Time Travel Institute I had no idea this existed, but the Time Travel Insititue is an online forum all about (you guessed it!) time travel. And apparently the website may go away, as its current owner has announced plans to shut it down. So there's a crowdfunding effort to save the Time Travel Institute and raise enough money to keep the site alive. Time Travel Experiment Okay, look, we can't do a post about crowdfunding around time travel projects without at least one project that claims to be about actually trying to do time travel, so here it is. It includes references to an unpublished theses, entangled particles and superluminal communication. Personally, if I were asking someone to fund my time travel experiments I might actually put a lot more information into the pitch to actually explain who I am or what I'm doing, but whoever put this pitch together decided to keep it simply and leave out such details. Perhaps that's why it's only raised a grand total of $2 out of a requested $150,000. That's it for this week... unless you've figured out a way to travel back to the beginning of the week.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 13 days ago on techdirt
We don't have a full recording (i.e., from the beginning of this stop) but it apparently began with a seat-belt violation. By the time the recording begins, the passenger has already been asked to show some ID. He doesn't have any on him, much to the officers' apparent unease. At one point, his hand goes towards the center console, prompting one officer to pull his gun. The driver (Lisa Mahone) is on the phone with a 911 dispatcher, trying to get some help because she has two cops going after her passenger, one of whom has already pulled a gun. The operator tells her to calm down (and why wouldn't she suggest that -- after all, the driver is "safely" in the hands of law enforcement) but Mahone points out something that should be equally obvious, especially post-Ferguson. “I am scared. And the man–pulled a gun out. A gun! Why do my kids have to see that,” Mahone told the 9-1-1 operator. Jamal Jones, the passenger at whom the gun is being pointed makes the same point. Mr. Jones expressed reluctance to get out of the vehicle due to the officers’ aggressiveness and mentioned that “People are getting shot by the police.” Also true. Case in point: seatbelt violation greeted with a handful of bullets rather than a citation. But these police officers have apparently gone too far by the point the recording starts. They can't de-escalate, not after a weapon has been unholstered. So, they take it further. “You’re going to come out of the car one way or another,” the officer menaced. “You want your kids to see you come out through the window?” Apparently afraid Jones has a gun (because why else would another gun be out), the officer approaches the vehicle with an ax and smashes the window, sending glass flying into the back seat where Mahone's two children are sitting. Almost immediately, Jamal Jones is tasered and dragged from the vehicle. The seven-year-old begins crying. The fourteen-year-old continues to record with his cellphone. Now, it's a lawsuit. Jamal Jones was officially charged with resisting law enforcement and "refusal to aid an officer." The last charge makes no sense. Here's the law itself: A person who, when ordered by a law enforcement officer to assist the officer in the execution of the officer's duties, knowingly or intentionally, and without a reasonable cause, refuses to assist commits refusal to aid an officer, a Class B misdemeanor. This is officers piling on charges because they were inconvenienced. Refusing to exit a vehicle may be "resisting law enforcement" but this law isn't supposed to be read as another means of forcing citizens into complete compliance. It's meant to direct citizens to assist law enforcement officers when their help is requested. Being ordered out of a car under threats of violence isn't the same thing as being asked to give an eyewitness statement or use a cell phone to call dispatch/911 for backup. (That this law is on the books is itself questionable, considering it effectively directs citizens to protect and serve police officers who are under no legal obligation to return the favor. It also would seem to put citizens directly in the path of civil lawsuits, should they injure someone or assist officers in violating their rights.) As the PoliceMisconduct.net story notes, Mahone told police dispatch that she had been "pulled over like a bank robber." Once again, we have to wonder what was actually on the officers' minds when they deployed a spike strip in front of the vehicle they had allegedly pulled over because of seatbelt violations. The official statement attempts to explain this. The police release said that another officer car with video equipment was called for and “considerable time” had passed. It added that Mahone at one point put the vehicle into drive, which is when they were told about the spike strips. So, the spike strips preceded the supposed attempt to escape. Here's what the PD has to say in defense of its officers' actions. The officers… called for backup and at some point saw Jones’ hands drop to the center console. That’s when police ordered Jones to show his hands and exit the vehicle because of fear for officer safety, according to the release. Jones also feared for his safety, but had no laws backing up his refusal to exit the vehicle. For two officers "fearing for their safety," they sure move with a lot of confidence. At what point does the mental math add up to "he might have a gun so I'd better move towards the window armed only with an ax?" Or, for that matter, when Jones asks for a "white shirt" (supervisor), why does the fearful officer (remember a gun has already been pulled at this point) say, "Look at my shoulder, dumbass. I've got bars?" These don't seem to be the actions of officers fearing for their lives. These seem to the actions of officers who are now looking to prove a point after coming up empty in their demands for ID. The police report also says that 13 minutes had elapsed between the beginning of the stop and the shattering of the window/tasering of Jamal Jones. What were they looking for? They had two people effectively detained for a minor traffic violation and yet deployed a spike strip in front of the vehicle and finally forced their way inside. They then had one person in custody and another cited. With all of this information and time, they still couldn't come up with heftier charges than those thrown at people when cops can't find anything more damning: variations on resisting arrest. So, you can cut the cops some slack (but not much considering both accused officers have been named in excessive force lawsuits in the past) since they were dealing with an unknown person and the perception of danger. But then what? Here's more of the police statement: “In general, police officers who make legal traffic stops are allowed to ask passengers inside of a stopped vehicle for identification and to request that they exit a stopped vehicle for the officer’s safety without a requirement of reasonable suspicion,” the release says. “When the passenger displayed movements inside of the stopped vehicle that included placing his hand in places where the officer could not see, officers’ concerns for their safety were heightened.” The statement claims officers were concerned about multiple movements inside the vehicle and yet they never made an attempt to search it for weapons, drugs or anything else that might "heighten safety concerns." They deploy a spike strip in front a stopped vehicle but don't bother trying to justify this tactic until after the fact. What it looks like -- and yes, appearances can be deceiving, especially if several minutes elapsed between the beginning of the stop and the violent conclusion -- is another case of officers not knowing how, or just being unwilling to de-escalate a situation when immediate compliance isn't forthcoming. It's at minimum a training issue. But it's also an attitude issue. You want to use a seatbelt violation as an excuse to run names for warrants? Fine. But where do you go when someone has no ID, or refuses to produce it? This is one answer. And it's the wrong one. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 13 days ago on techdirt
When we last left the saga of Lindsay Lohan's 10 page complaint against Take 2 Interactive over a publicly-fornicating, drunk-driving character in Grand Theft Auto 5 that she insisted was her own spitting image, Take 2 was asking for the whole thing to be dismissed because the character is obviously not a reproduction of Lohan at all, but a parody take on celebrity fame. In addition to that, Take 2 also mentioned that the statute of limitations may have expired on the issue, since it had been well over a year since the side-mission featuring the alleged-Lohan-doppelganger had been announced and publicized. Well, Lohan's legal team has responded with...paper. Lots more of it, actually. Her amended complaint comes in at a whopping sixty-seven pages and it's chock-filled with images of Lohan in what she's insisting proves that Take 2 used her image as a basis for Lacey Jonas. Lohan's lawyers have now reacted to this gambit by on Wednesday stuffing 45 pages of pictured exhibits into an amended complaint, including a photograph of the game CD, one of which features a blonde, red bikini-clad woman holding up the peace sign. According to the amended complaint, the game publisher "used a look-a-like model to evoke the persona and image" of Lohan by imitating a photograph that was once taken of her in 2007. On some of the game discs, the blonde character that Lohan asserts is her doppelganger is shown in what the lawsuit calls "an arrest pose known as the 'Stop and Frisk.'" A female celebrity holding up a peace sign? Clearly nobody besides Lindsay Lohan has ever been photographed doing that. Lindsay looks different these days. Anyway, her legal team is trying to get around New York's publicity rights laws, which are limited to the realm of advertising, by including all kinds of images of the Lacey Jonas character that Take 2 put on t-shirts and coffee mugs. Except, of course, that none of that was in the original complaint and the character in question still isn't a direct reproduction of Lindsay Lohan. It's a composite parody on L.A. female celebrities in general and it's protected speech due to its nature. As for how the Lohan legal team is attempting to get around the statute of limitations...whoo boy. Lohan has reacted to this defense by talking about the "republication" of her image upon the release of the actual videogame later that year. According to the amended lawsuit, Take-Two modified her image to fit on the game disk. Lohan now claims that this "modification" should satisfy the exception to the one-year statute of limitation. It's the same image sized to fit onto a DVD disc...and that somehow excuses her not taking action for over year because why exactly? In the end, hopefully the court will see this legal action for what it is: a misunderstanding of parody and the first amendment coupled with a plea for attention. DV.load("//www.documentcloud.org/documents/1311622-242430323-lohan-amended.js", { width: 560, height: 550, sidebar: false, text: false, container: "#DV-viewer-1311622-242430323-lohan-amended" }); 242430323 Lohan Amended (PDF) 242430323 Lohan Amended (Text) Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 13 days ago on techdirt
A vast number of soft drinks are available, and some of the most popular ones seem to have started as medicinal tonics (even the ones that aren't called "energy drinks" nowadays). Coca-cola was once a headache medicine that contained an unhealthy amount of cocaine -- that wasn't completely removed until 1929. Here are just a few other strange sodas with some unusual natural ingredients. Pepsi is launching a new soda sweetened with stevia (and sugar), but it's only going to be available online at Amazon. Pepsi True is not shipping yet, but there are already a few reviews from people who haven't tasted it. [url] Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray soda has been around since 1868, and it may be the only celery-flavored soda that is mass-produced commercially. Celery was once considered a superfood with medicinal powers, so they made a tonic from it, and that story is nearly the same for several other popular soft drinks with supposedly healthy ingredients. [url] The Un-Cola 7 Up was also known as 'Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda' when it debuted in 1929. The original formula also contained lithium which, at high doses, is prescribed to treat bi-polar disorder. Lithium citrate was removed from 7 Up by the 1950s, but the drink still contains only "100% natural" flavors. (Note: drinking water may contain trace amounts of lithium, too.) [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 13 days ago on techdirt
It's been pretty well established that the major console manufacturers out there hate independently developed emulators of their consoles. Why they react so violently against them instead of working out some kind of mutually beneficial licensing arrangement is a bit beyond me, but you may recall that a couple of years ago, both Sega and Nintendo strong-armed Google into pulling a bunch of emulators from the mobile marketplace. That move has worked so spectacularly that a cursory search in the Play Store returns all kinds of emulators. Job well done! In any case, Apple appears to be bending to their collective wills in a similar fashion, with the most recent iOS update nixing an easy exploit that would allow emulators to be installed on iPhones that had not been jailbroken. The method that had been used by "antique" game enthusiasts was really easy. Developers discovered the “date trick” that allows unapproved apps to be installed without hacking simply by rolling back the date and time on an iOS device and downloading apps through Safari. This is now the preferred method of gaining access to apps like GBA4iOS or Popcorn Time without losing things like software updates and support from Apple. I have no idea about the technical details behind how rolling back the time on the phone somehow allows the installation of the emulators, but apparently a ton of folks utilized it, stimulating an active emulation community for iOS devices. What with Apple's cozy relationship with console makers and its own authoritarian practices with its app store, everyone knew it was only a matter of time before the exploit was removed. In a blog post entitled “Apple Is Slowly Killing Everything We Love,” Dario Sepulveda writes, “iOS 8.1 beta was seeded to developers yesterday and it’s already causing panic among iOS emulator aficionados… The Date Trick fuels the emulator communities nowadays… Without it, everything looks bleak.” Indeed it does. Of course, it did seem inevitable that this would come sooner or later; Apple has been working to put a stop to jailbreaking since it started back in 2007 — the same year the iPhone made its debut — so it has always seemed unlikely the Cupertino company would just turn a blind eye to this. But it’s a massive shame. A massive shame indeed, especially since the move is so wholly unnecessary. There's absolutely no reason why console and game makers couldn't utilize the apps and communities already in place to both build up their fan base and make a little coin as well. Instead, by going the protectionist route, they only anger true fans and limit the exposure of their products.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 13 days ago on techdirt
As you know, we've been reporting on a lawsuit involving Roca Labs against Consumer Opinion Corporation, better known as PissedConsumer. We recently received a letter from Roca Labs' "independent general counsel" Paul Berger, demanding that we retract certain information related to some of those posts. Below you can find that letter as well as our response, helpfully put together by Jamie Williams at EFF. DV.load("//www.documentcloud.org/documents/1312108-roca-labs.js", { width: 560, height: 550, sidebar: false, container: "#DV-viewer-1312108-roca-labs" }); Roca Labs (PDF) Roca Labs (Text) DV.load("//www.documentcloud.org/documents/1312109-response-to-roca-labs-september-30-2014.js", { width: 560, height: 550, sidebar: false, container: "#DV-viewer-1312109-response-to-roca-labs-september-30-2014" }); Response to Roca Labs' September 30, 2014 Retraction Request (PDF) Response to Roca Labs' September 30, 2014 Retraction Request (Text) Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Over the last few weeks we've been writing a bit about the legal efforts of Roca Labs, the company selling an "alternative" to gastric bypass surgery, which is actually a bunch of "industrial food thickening agents" that the company claims will fill up your stomach and not make you want to eat. Whether or not that actually works, the company has a bizarre gag order that it pushes on buyers which forbids them from ever saying anything negative about the company (and requiring them to allow Roca to share any positive results). That was already sketchy enough, but what caught our attention was that the company sued PissedConsumer claiming it was "tortious interference" to request complaints about the company, since so many of its buyers had agreed to this gag clause. We found that legal theory to be quite questionable, in our opinion. Things got even more bizarre after Roca decided to threaten with lawsuits the three former customers who agreed to provide evidence for PissedConsumer (even though it hadn't communicated with two of them for more than three years). There was a hearing on Wednesday where the court rejected PissedConsumer's request to stop Roca from threatening to sue those customers, though the reasoning is unclear right now (I assume it will come out soon). The court is still considering Roca's request for an injunction against PissedConsumer. In the meantime, however, Adam Steinbaugh has decided to dig into the Roca Labs story, and found something rather horrifying. A guy that Roca Labs was using to promote their stuff was actually a pediatrician who had lost his medical license because of his involvement with child porn. When Steinbaugh asked Roca about this, Roca suddenly pulled down any and all content on their website and on YouTube (there was a video of "Dr. Ross F." promoting Roca which had been here, but it has now been set to "private"). Steinbaugh summarizes how Roca used Dr. Ross F.: Roca Labs’ website and YouTube channel are saturated with images of attractive men and women wearing lab coats emblazoned with the caduceus – a symbol commonly associated with doctors and medical professionals — leaving the viewer with the impression that these are educated, licensed professionals. This is a product I can trust! Until yesterday, Roca Labs held out one such doctor — “Dr. Ross” — as its “Director of Medical Team”, hailing from “NJ, USA.” The company rarely identified him by his full name, instead severing his last name to a mere initial. In a “Letter to Your Doctor”, Dr. Ross described himself as “an independent medical consultant” describing the “Roca Labs Formula” to assure his “fellow doctor” as to its benefits. The letter was signed with his full name, followed by “MD” – medical doctor. But, he notes, Dr. Ross (whose full name Steinbaugh has redacted) no longer has a medical license: This allegation is corroborated by an Order of Revocation from the New Jersey State Board of Medical Examiners, which incorporates a plea agreement, and an Order for Non Practice of Medicine from the New York State Department of Health. The substance of the agreement was that the Dr. Ross — a pediatrician — surrendered his licenses to practice medicine in New Jersey and New York and was prohibited from seeking a “license to practice medicine in any jurisdiction at any time in the future.” The New Jersey order also includes prohibitions which “not only bar[] a licensee from rendering professional services, but also from providing an opinion as to professional practice or its application” and requires “affirmative action to stop advertisements by which his/her eligibility to practice is represented.” And yet, until earlier this week, "Dr. Ross" claimed to be the medical director at the company and claimed to "review each case for medical accuracy." In addition to the advertisements above, there’s also this now-deleted post, under the “ask the doctor” in which Dr. Ross F. recounts his role in the company: I have reviewed thousands of formal inquiries from the public that request to begin using the Roca Labs Formula for weight loss. [...] I review each case individually for medical accuracy. I have been the medical director at Roca Labs for the past year. I was in clinical medical practice for 10 years before moving into pharmaceutical management. I have been involved in the development and ongoing monitoring of the Roca Labs Formula. I work directly with the staff and customers to maintain the highest levels of medical accuracy and safety. And while it’s unclear whether the feature ever launched, a now-deleted page advertised that the company would soon offer, for thirty-five dollars, online consultations with Dr. Ross to provide “consultation and medical advice.” Another now-deleted post advertised that for a mere $380, the “online medical staff will be at your service with detailed answers and advice 24/7″ — an option known as “be my doctor”, although it’s unclear whether Dr. Ross was employed by Roca at the time. Of course, all of this disappeared right after Steinbaugh asked Roca about it. In response, Roca (in a long rambling email) said that the removal was not because of his request, but because Roca was "a serious company that acts according to its plans." Steinbaugh asked about those plans but didn't get an answer. As Steinbaugh notes, it's entirely possible that what Dr. Ross was doing for Roca was legal, but it certainly looks sketchy. To be sure, the orders of New Jersey and New York explicitly do not require Dr. Ross F. to “affirmatively advise patients or others of the revocation, suspension or surrender” except in response to an inquiry, nor is it entirely clear whether the order prohibits his association and work with Roca Labs. In fact, his precise relationship with the company is entirely unclear: was he merely there to give the appearance that someone whose name is preceded by “Dr.” endorses and gives legitimacy to the company’s “formula”? Or did he have a greater role in the company’s product? If so, did those acts — whatever they were – constitute the practice of medicine? And if there are other doctors — posts on the BBB site by Roca indicate that a doctor reviews qualification forms — what are their qualifications? Nevertheless, this is the conduct of a company which says that it is “completely transparent” and that “nothing is hidden“: intimidate critics with ominous (and likely baseless) threats of legal action and, when questions are raised, refuse to answer. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 13 days ago on techdirt
In the past, we've covered attempts by big broadband to astroturf their way into the debate on net neutrality, and it just comes off as so obviously fake that it appears rather pitiful. The latest attempt may be even worse. While consumer advocacy groups have been able to do a great job getting people to speak up and raise their concerns about keeping the internet open, often appealing to younger folks who have always grown up with the internet, it appears that the big broadband lobbyists are now trying to fake their way into getting the same folks on their side -- and it comes off about as well as when your dad tries to act like a teenager, using new slang and trying to dress accordingly, but just making a total fool of himself. ProPublica has the details of a new effort by NCTA, the big broadband lobbying trade group run by former FCC chair Michael Powell (who is a big part of the reason we're in this mess today), called "Onward Internet." (ProPublica calls it a telco lobbying group, but NCTA is much more about cable interests). Onward Internet has been setting up public "suggestion boxes" for the internet, complete with people idiotically dressed in "futuristic" costumes (because, you know how much millenials love Jetsons-like futuristic costumes): But, of course, nowhere do they actually admit who's behind the campaign. Instead, they just use a bunch of internet "lingo" that they think makes themselves sound young and cool. The boxes, sometimes accompanied by young people in futuristic costumes, have been popping up on both coasts for weeks, soliciting messages of support - but their sponsor has been a mystery. The web site for the campaign, Onward Internet, does not say. Their domain registration is private. And the site includes no contact information, only an animated video heavy on millennial lingo: "The internet was made to move data...we got blogs, likes, selfies and memes, OMG, BRB and TTYL." No one from Onward Internet or the "production agency" (which already suggests astroturfing) behind it would admit to who was involved, but ProPublica tracked it down anyway, by asking the company that rented the space for one of those nutty installations, who came right out and admitted that it was NCTA. Amusingly, when confronted about it, NCTA tried to sidestep the question: NCTA officials did not respond to questions about Onward Internet and would not confirm they're behind it. "What led you to the conclusion that this is an NCTA effort...?" asked Brian Dietz, a vice president for the organization, before he stopped responding to emails. And, again, the deeper you dive into the Onward Internet effort, the more awkward and gag-inducing it becomes: "Sorry we can't come to the phone right now," the call-in greeting says. "We just got wind of the juiciest celebrity rumor and we're working to confirm it. So please leave your suggestion for the future of the internet at the beep and visit Onward Internet dot com next month to see what we've done with it." No joke. That's really the message you get when you call. Again, it sounds like big powerful cable execs trying to think what a teenager might actually say. The effort's Twitter feed is chock full of these awkward attempts at sounding young and cool. It apparently sprang up on September 3rd, a couple of weeks before the FCC's comment period closed... and almost no one noticed, despite it pretending to "represent the internet." After a silly "test" post, it claimed to be "the Internet's official Twitter account" (and the only responses were people calling it out for being astroturfing). And then, here's its attempt at being a regular Twitter account. I love that the awkward request for a retweet got... a single retweet. And it, too, got a response from someone asking "Who do you actually work for? Who signs your checks?" The one retweet came from a guy named Christopher Perry who (yes, you guessed it) runs an ad agency that notes he was the "art director" for Onward Internet. Here's a tip: when the only person retweeting your lame, wannabe, pleading attempts to get retweeted by young people is... the guy who created the campaign in the first place, you've failed. Big time. After a couple of days, the Twitter feed shifts to pushing that insanely lame video, calling it "the #MOST #AMAZING #VIDEO about the Internet #EVER!" because, don't you know, the kids these days, they loves them some hashtags. They keep posting the video with new attempts to sound cool each time. "Check out this sweet video." "People, this is important!" The whole thing is ridiculous and delusional. As mentioned by ProPublica, the video itself is... terrible. It just keeps repeating slang and trying to sound ironic. It repeatedly references lolcats (because that's what kids like, right?) and even has a discussion on how to pronounce "Gif." It's just trying way too hard. And the results seem to match. It doesn't appear like it got very much engagement at all, and from the looks of it, the NCTA spent a fair amount on it, despite Dietz's half-hearted attempt at denying its participation. Eventually, once the ProPublica story was published, he finally provided a statement, claiming that they kept NCTA's name off of it because they wanted "unbiased feedback." Uh huh. "We know that network neutrality is important to Internet users and we share the vision that the Internet remains an open and unfettered experience for all to enjoy," he said in his statement. "We've kept NCTA's brand off Onward, Internet because we want to collect unbiased feedback directly from individuals about what they want for the future of the Internet and how it can become even better than it is today. The cable industry is proud of our role as a leading Internet provider in the U.S. but we feel it's important to hear directly from consumers about how they envision the future so we can work hard on delivering it." By lying to them and trying to pretend to be cool and young and to actually get the internet, when it's so painfully obvious that they don't. Besides, no one believes that. We've all seen how these astroturfing efforts work, and the focus is on getting these people to sign up to later pretend that they support your vision of cable dominance over the internet.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Steven Aftergood of FAS Secrecy News went searching for an answer to an almost-unanswerable conundrum. And he got the most nonanswer-like answer imaginable. As we all know, there are two kinds of leaks: the one the government approves of, utilizing anonymous officials, and everything else. Aftergood wanted to know more about these authorized leaks, in which classified information is handed over to journalists, etc. in response to queries, usually with several stipulations attached. It happens so often there's even a provision in the Intelligence Authorization Act, which gives the NSA and others the funds and permission to keep doing what they're doing. In the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY 2013 (sec. 504), Congress directed that “In the event of an authorized disclosure of national intelligence” to the media, the government official responsible for authorizing the disclosure shall notify Congress in a timely fashion whenever the intelligence disclosed is classified (or declassified for the purpose of the disclosure). The purpose of that requirement was to ensure that the congressional intelligence committees are made aware of authorized disclosures to the press “so that, among other things, these authorized disclosures may be distinguished from unauthorized ‘leaks’,” according to the Senate report on the FY2013 intelligence bill. There's a report out there that details all of the authorized disclosures of classified information to press members who are decidedly not cleared to receive classified documents. This authorized release of classified document generates it own oxymoron. The notion of an authorized disclosure of classified information is close to being a contradiction in terms. If something is classified, how can its disclosure be authorized (without declassification)? And if something is disclosed by an official who is authorized to do so, how can it still be classified? And yet, it seems that there is such a thing. Knowing that a.) this happens and b.) a report is generated when it occurs, Aftergood requested a copy of these authorized disclosure reports. The answer he received defies logic in only the way a secretive bureaucracy can. [pdf] “The document responsive to your request has been reviewed by this Agency as required by the FOIA and has been found to be currently and properly classified in accordance with Executive Order 13526,” according to an October 2 letter signed by retiring NSA FOIA chief Pamela N. Phillips. “The document is classified because its disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.” The stuff we already disclosed is too dangerous to disclose. And yet, the government -- when it serves its interests -- will "cause exceptionally grave damage to national security" by handing classified information over to press members willing to carry its narrative water. One of the biggest open secrets in Washington is that, despite officialdom’s intensive efforts to demonize whistleblowers like former NSA analyst Edward Snowden, the vast majority of disclosures of secret information are not “leaks” but “pleaks” — a term Columbia Law Professor David E. Pozen coined to describe something that is more like an official “plant” than a “leak.” George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were particularly adept at selectively disclosing secret intelligence findings that served their agenda – even while aggressively asserting the need to keep secret the information that would damage them. We saw evidence of this most recently when the government tried to head off The Intercept's publication of leaked terrorist watchlist documents by leaking its own version to the Associated Press shortly before the Intercept piece went live. It's ridiculous for the government to claim documents leaked from unauthorized sources are somehow still secret even though the public has access to them. For it to make the same claim for documents it selectively chose to "leak" is preposterous and highly hypocritical. Aftergood and FAS have appealed this decision, stating, “It is well established that information, including classified information, that has been publicly disclosed on an authorized basis loses its exemption from disclosure under FOIA." Whether or not this will have any effect on the NSA remains to be seen. But so far, the only proven method to obtaining documents from the highly-secretive agency seems to result in Russian exile. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Our nation's top security guards are all retiring to go into the cybersecurity business. Former NSA chief Keith Alexander is asking (only) $1million/month for his cybersecurity consultations, which apparently include the use of patents he developed completely unrelated to his NSA work in his basement during his spare time. Now, former top DHS official Tom Ridge is getting into the cybersecurity business, albeit one nowhere near as glamorous as Alexander's rockstar-level consulting service. Instead of showing up occasionally to offer his expertise (and collect paychecks) on cyberattack preparedness, Ridge will be performing the most "everyman" of services: selling insurance. Ridge on Monday announced a new cyber insurance package that he said should make it easier for companies to safeguard their networks and their bottom lines. “What we have seen is the sophistication of these attacks continue to elevate,” Ridge said at a launch event in London, according to Bloomberg news service. “Who would have thought that JPMorgan, with its security budget, could be hacked into? Now a lot of people are thinking if it could happen to them, it could happen to us too.” The first Homeland Security secretary’s new company, Ridge Insurance Solutions Company, is teaming up with the insurance giant Lloyd’s of London to sell cyber insurance coverage. When selling insurance, the old adage "can one have too much insurance of course not better safe than sorry here is some anecdotal evidence supporting my profitable belief" is doubly true, thanks to government agencies (such as Ridge's former employer) pushing a very fearful and apocalyptic narrative. At any moment, US businesses will be hit by "cyber Pearl Harbor" and former government officials like Ridge and Alexander are perfectly placed to take advantage of their own agencies' previous cyberthreat marketing warnings. Ridge makes the claim that simply offering insurance will prevent attacks, which is an odd thing to say about a purely defensive product meant to mitigate post-attack financial damage. Ridge said the new insurance is designed to help prevent those types of attacks. In order to obtain insurance, companies will need to make sure their cyber defenses are up to snuff, which in and of itself should make businesses more secure, he predicted. "This is not just about insurance but helping and incentivizing companies to manage their cyber operations more effectively,” Ridge said in a statement. Ah. But mostly about insurance. Insurance policies of as much as $50 million each are available from today... The company expects to generate $40 million in premiums in the first 18 months. True, insurance isn't nearly as profitable if payouts are constantly being awarded. Hence the demands for up-to-snuffness. But it also helps if you've got a background in overselling the threat, which makes the product and its premiums seem miniscule in comparison to the potential damage. This would explain the press junket bearing headlines like "Ex-Homeland Chief Says Risk of Cyberattacks Elevated." So, did Ridge join the DHS with the express intent of developing a market for his post-retirement dip into the private sector waters? My tin foil hat isn't that snug, but I'm sure his years of priming the cyberthreat pump factored heavily in his post-retirement job selection. Here's a statement of Ridge's dating all the way back to 2003, as quoted in a United States Institute of Peace cyberterrorism report. [pdf] “Terrorists can sit at one computer connected to one network and can create worldwide havoc,” cautioned Tom Ridge, director of the Department of Homeland Security, in a representative observation in April 2003. “[They] don’t necessarily need a bomb or explosives to cripple a sector of the economy or shut down a power grid.” These warnings certainly had a powerful impact on the media, on the public, and on the administration. For instance, a survey of 725 cities conducted in 2003 by the National League of Cities found that cyberterrorism ranked alongside biological and chemical weapons at the top of a list of city officials’ fears. The Hill points out that some critics are upset the government isn't doing more to protect companies against cyberattacks. I'm guessing Tom Ridge (and Keith Alexander) are no longer members of that group.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Last year, we wrote about a disturbing abuse of the orphan drug system in the US, which is designed to encourage the development of treatments for rare diseases, but which in practice can allow companies to increase prices hugely. Here's another example, reported by Adam Feuerstein in The Street, that is in some ways even worse. It concerns a company called Catalyst Pharmaceutical Partners, which has just reported what seems like good news for those suffering from Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome (LEMS), a progressive, muscle-weakening disease. Catalyst has announced positive results from a final phase trial of a drug called "Firdapse." As The Street article reports, analysts believe that once approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, Firdapse could cost between $60,000 and $80,000 per year if it is designated an orphan drug, which brings with it seven years of marketing exclusivity. That might seem the going rate for new drugs, but there's a nasty twist in this tale, as Feuerstein notes: Firdapse is not a new treatment for LEMS. The active ingredient in Firdapse is a compound known as 3,4-Dap, which has been available in the U.S. for more than 20 years. Doctors treating the small numbers of LEMS patients in the U.S. can obtain inexpensive 3,4-Dap from compounding pharmacies. It's even given away for free to doctors and patients by a tiny New Jersey drug maker, Jacobus Pharmaceuticals. That means that Catalyst took no risks with Firdapse. Indeed, it didn't really do anything at all, as Feuerstein explains: The company did no development work, made no effort to improve the drug's efficacy, safety or convenience for patients. And yet despite that fact, it stands to profit handsomely: For the zero work done by Catalyst, LEMS patients and their insurance companies will be paying as much as $80,000 for the exact same drug they use now for a fraction of the cost, if not gratis. Derek Lowe, writing on Corante, puts it well: I can think of no possible reason, no public good that comes from taking a drug that was easily available and working exactly as it should and have someone suddenly be able to charge $80,000 a year for it. This is not a reward for innovation or risk-taking -- this is exploitation of a regulatory loophole, a blatant shakedown, or so it seems to me. What makes things worse, is that just a few weeks before, Lowe had described exactly this behavior from another company, Retrophin, which bought the marketing rights to a drug called Thiola. Here's what happened next: Retrophin hasn't done any new trials, and they haven't had to. They've just bought someone else's old drug that they believed could be sold for twenty times its price, and have put that plan right into action. No development costs, no risks whatsoever -- just slap a new sticker on it and put your hands over your ears. This is exactly the sort of thing that makes people go into fist-clenching rages about the drug industry, and with damn good reason. This one enrages me, and I do drug research for a living. He's probably not alone in being enraged, but this kind of abuse is so lucrative for the companies prepared to take this route that we're probably going to see more of it until this particular loophole is closed. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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