FCC Chief Cites Concerns on Spy Threats From Chinese Telecoms Firms ( 2

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, in a letter sent to lawmakers earlier this week (but released just now), said he shares the concerns of U.S. lawmakers about espionage threats from Chinese smartphone maker Huawei and plans to take "proactive steps" to ensure the integrity of the U.S. communications supply chain. From a report: Pai said he shares concerns over the "security threat that Huawei and other Chinese technology companies pose to our communications networks." Pai said he intends to take action in the "near future," but offered no specifics. Pai's letter follows the introduction of legislation by Republican Senators Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio in February that would block the U.S. government from buying or leasing telecoms equipment from Huawei, the world's third largest smartphone maker, or Chinese telecommunications equipment maker ZTE Corp, citing concerns the companies would use their access to spy on U.S. officials.
The Internet

Craigslist Personals, Some Subreddits Disappear After FOSTA Passage ( 37

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: In the wake of this week's passage of the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) bill in both houses of Congress on Wednesday, Craigslist has removed its "Personals" section entirely, and Reddit has removed some related subreddits, likely out of fear of future lawsuits. FOSTA, which awaits the signature of President Donald Trump before becoming law, removes some portions of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The landmark 1996 law shields website operators that host third-party content (such as commenters, for example) from civil liability. The new bill is aimed squarely at Backpage, a notorious website that continues to allow prostitution advertisements and has been under federal scrutiny for years. In a bizarre turn of events, the Department of Justice also warned the House in February 2018 that the bill "raises a serious constitutional concern," as it would apply retroactively -- a seeming violation of the Constitution's ex post facto clause. Congress passed it anyway. The Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote in a blog post: "It's easy to see the impact that this ramp-up in liability will have on online speech: facing the risk of ruinous litigation, online platforms will have little choice but to become much more restrictive in what sorts of discussion -- and what sorts of users -- they allow, censoring innocent people in the process."
Social Networks

My Cow Game Extracted Your Facebook Data ( 34

Ian Bogost, writing for The Atlantic: Already in 2010, it felt like a malicious attention market where people treated friends as latent resources to be optimized. Compulsion rather than choice devoured people's time. Apps like FarmVille sold relief for the artificial inconveniences they themselves had imposed. In response, I made a satirical social game called Cow Clicker. Players clicked a cute cow, which mooed and scored a "click." Six hours later, they could do so again. They could also invite friends' cows to their pasture, buy virtual cows with real money, compete for status, click to send a real cow to the developing world from Oxfam, outsource clicks to their toddlers with a mobile app, and much more. It became strangely popular, until eventually, I shut the whole thing down in a bovine rapture -- the "cowpocalypse." It's kind of a complicated story.

But one worth revisiting today, in the context of the scandal over Facebook's sanctioning of user-data exfiltration via its application platform. It's not just that abusing the Facebook platform for deliberately nefarious ends was easy to do (it was). But worse, in those days, it was hard to avoid extracting private data, for years even, without even trying. I did it with a silly cow game. Cow Clicker is not an impressive work of software. After all, it was a game whose sole activity was clicking on cows. I wrote the principal code in three days, much of it hunched on a friend's couch in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I had no idea anyone would play it, although over 180,000 people did, eventually. And yet, if you played Cow Clicker, even just once, I got enough of your personal data that, for years, I could have assembled a reasonably sophisticated profile of your interests and behavior. I might still be able to; all the data is still there, stored on my private server, where Cow Clicker is still running, allowing players to keep clicking where a cow once stood, before my caprice raptured them into the digital void.


US Charges Iranians For Global Cyber Attacks on Behalf of Tehran ( 28

The United States on Friday charged nine Iranians and an Iranian company with attempting to hack into hundreds of U.S. and international universities, dozens of companies and parts of the U.S. government on behalf of the Tehran government. From a report: The cyber attack pilfered more than 31 terabytes of academic data and intellectual property from 144 U.S. universities and 176 universities in 21 foreign countries, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement. The U.S. Treasury Department said on its website that it was placing sanctions on those accused and the Mabna Institute, a company described by U.S. prosecutors as designed to help Iranian research organizations steal information.
The Internet

FCC's New 5G Rules Favor Fast Setup Over Federal Reviews ( 51

In a 3-2, party-line vote Thursday, FCC commissioners passed a measure that exempts small cell radio deployments from federal environmental and historical preservation reviews originally meant for large cell phone towers. The vote didn't affect reviews from towns and cities, but the agency may consider exemptions for those reviews later this year. CNET reports: Republican FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr has been leading the agency's charge in promoting 5G. He said the exemptions are sorely needed because reviews have been costing wireless operators too much and have slowed deployments. In 2017, these federal reviews cost providers $36 million. He anticipates that as 5G deployments increase in the coming year they could cost providers as much as $241 million. Meanwhile, he said FCC records show that less than 1 percent of cases reviewed resulted in any changes to planned deployments.

"The disproportionate fees are the product of a broken and outdated system," Carr said. "This threatens to hold us back in the race to 5G or limit the business case to densely populated or affluent areas." He added that with Thursday's rule change, the FCC "can flip the business case for thousands of communities." Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, however, said that though the current reviews process does involve red tape, Thursday's change "misses the mark" and also runs afoul of key environmental and historic preservation values.


Atlanta City Government Systems Down Due To Ransomware Attack ( 60

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The city of Atlanta government has apparently become the victim of a ransomware attack. The city's official Twitter account announced that the city government "is currently experiencing outages on various customer facing applications, including some that customers may use to pay bills or access court-related information." According to a report from Atlanta NBC affiliate WXIA, a city employee sent the station a screen shot of a ransomware message demanding a payment of $6,800 to unlock each computer or $51,000 to provide all the keys for affected systems. Employees received emails from the city's information technology department instructing them to unplug their computers if they noticed anything suspicious. An internal email shared with WXIA said that the internal systems affected include the city's payroll application. "At this time, our Atlanta Information Management team is working diligently with support from Microsoft to resolve the issue," a city spokesperson told Ars. "We are confident that our team of technology professionals will be able to restore applications soon." The city's primary website remains online, and the city government will continue to post updates there, the spokesperson added.
United States

Trump Announces $60 Billion Tariff on Chinese High-Tech and Other Goods ( 498

Following months of investigations by the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, the Trump administration announced on Thursday at a White House briefing that the administration intends to place about $60 billion of tariffs on Chinese goods, with the bulk of them likely to be focused on the high-tech industry. The White House will announce a final list of goods subject to the tariffs in the next few weeks. From a report: "We've lost over a fairly short period of time, 60,000 factories in our country. Closed, shuttered, gone. Six million jobs at least, gone. And now they are starting to come back," President Trump said during the briefing. "The word that I want to use is reciprocal -- when they charge 25 percent for a car to go in, and we charge 2 percent for their car to come into the United States, that's not good. That's how China rebuilt itself."

Online Piracy Is More Popular Than Ever, Research Suggests ( 70

An anonymous user writes: A broad and detailed report from piracy tracking outfit MUSO shows that visits to pirate sites went up last year. The company recorded more than 300 billion visits in 2017, which suggests that "piracy is more popular than ever." TV remained the most popular category and most pirates prefer streaming over torrents or direct downloading.

Facebook Gave Data About 57 Billion Friendships To Academic ( 113

Before Facebook suspended Aleksandr Kogan from its platform for the data harvesting "scam" at the centre of the unfolding Cambridge Analytica scandal, the social media company enjoyed a close enough relationship with the researcher that it provided him with an anonymised, aggregate dataset of 57bn Facebook friendships. From a report: Facebook provided the dataset of "every friendship formed in 2011 in every country in the world at the national aggregate level" to Kogan's University of Cambridge laboratory for a study on international friendships published in Personality and Individual Differences in 2015. Two Facebook employees were named as co-authors of the study, alongside researchers from Cambridge, Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley. Kogan was publishing under the name Aleksandr Spectre at the time. A University of Cambridge press release on the study's publication noted that the paper was "the first output of ongoing research collaborations between Spectre's lab in Cambridge and Facebook." Facebook did not respond to queries about whether any other collaborations occurred. "The sheer volume of the 57bn friend pairs implies a pre-existing relationship," said Jonathan Albright, research director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. "It's not common for Facebook to share that kind of data. It suggests a trusted partnership between Aleksandr Kogan/Spectre and Facebook."

UK Launches Task Force To Scrutinize Cryptocurrency Risks and Benefits ( 26

U.K. Finance Minister Philip Hammond unveiled a task force that examines the risks and benefits of cryptocurrencies on Thursday. From a report: Hammond announced Thursday that the task force includes Britain's central bank, the Bank of England (BOE), and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) watchdog. He said that the BOE and FCA would also take the "first steps" toward automating financial compliance in Britain. The cryptocurrency task force is part of a wider fintech, or financial technology, strategy laid out by Westminster. As part of its initiative, the U.K. signed an agreement dubbed a "fintech bridge" with Australia on Thursday that will enable British fintech firms to sell products and services in Australia. The deal will also look to build cooperation on policies and regulation surrounding the sector, Hammond said. Hammond said he wanted to make the U.K. the "most attractive home" for global fintech firms.

Mark Zuckerberg Apologizes For the Cambridge Analytica Scandal, Says He Isn't Opposed To Regulation ( 178

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Mark Zuckerberg apologized on Wednesday evening for his company's handling of the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal. "This was a major breach of trust and I'm really sorry this happened," he said in an interview on CNN. "Our responsibility now is to make sure this doesn't happen again." Zuckerberg's comments reflected the first time he apologized following an uproar over how Facebook allowed third-party developers to access user data. Earlier in the day, Zuckerberg wrote a Facebook post in which he said the company had made mistakes in its handling of the Cambridge Analytica data revelations. The company laid out a multipart plan designed to reduce the amount of data shared by users with outside developers, and said it would audit some developers who had access to large troves of data before earlier restrictions were implemented in 2014. Zuckerberg also told CNN that he is not totally opposed to regulation. "I'm not sure we shouldn't be regulated," he said. "There are things like ad transparency regulation that I would love to see."

Other highlights of Zuckerberg's interviews:
-He told multiple outlets that he would be willing to testify before Congress.
-He said the company would notify everyone whose data was improperly used.
-He told the New York Times that Facebook would double its security force this year, adding: "We'll have more than 20,000 people working on security and community operations by the end of the year, I think we have about 15,000 now."
-He told the Times that Facebook would investigate "thousands" of apps to determine whether they had abused their access to user data.

Regarding moderation, Zuckerberg told Recode: "[The] thing is like, 'Where's the line on hate speech?' I mean, who chose me to be the person that did that?" Zuckerberg said. "I guess I have to, because of where we are now, but I'd rather not."
United States

US Spending Bill Contains CLOUD Act, a Win For Tech and Law Enforcement ( 116

The 2,232 page spending bill released Wednesday by House and Senate leaders includes the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data [CLOUD] Act, which provides a legal framework for law enforcement to request data from overseas servers. The CLOUD Act currently sits high atop the wish list of tech firms, law enforcement and even foreign nations. Axios reports: The Supreme Court is currently mulling a case determining whether the Department of Justice had the right to force Microsoft to produce client emails stored on a server in Ireland without permission from Ireland's government. Microsoft fears the DOJ will force it to violate the laws of Ireland. The DOJ hopes to avoid the often years long process of abiding by treaties dealing with evidence. But both have publicly urged lawmakers to render the pending decision moot by passing the CLOUD act, a way to streamline the treaty process for requesting digital data.

The CLOUD Act provides a framework for reciprocal treaties for nations to request data from computers located within each other's borders. It also provides a mechanism for a Microsoft to take a law enforcement demand to court if it would force them to violate another country's rules. But when neither apply, law enforcement will be able to demand files in accordance with U.S. law.


Russia Secretly Helped Venezuela Launch a Cryptocurrency To Evade US Sanctions ( 105

According to an exclusive report by Time, Russia helped Venezuelan officials create the world's first state-backed cryptocurrency to skirt U.S. sanctions. The cryptocurrency was launched in late February and was banned by the Trump administration earlier this week. From the report: The new cryptocurrency, a form of digital cash that is supposedly linked to the value of Venezuela's oil reserves, was launched on Feb. 20 during a ceremony in the presidential palace in Caracas. Nicolas Maduro, the socialist leader of Venezuela, declared that it would serve as a kind of "kryptonite" against the power of the U.S government, which he sarcastically referred to as "Superman." Sitting in the front row at that ceremony were two of Maduro's Russian advisers, Denis Druzhkov and Fyodor Bogorodsky, whom the President thanked for aiding his fight against American "imperialism." Both men have ties to major Russian banks and billionaires close to the Kremlin. But they were not the most senior Russians involved. According to an executive at a Russian state bank who deals with cryptocurrencies, senior advisers to the Kremlin have overseen the effort in Venezuela, and President Vladimir Putin signed off on it last year. "People close to Putin, they told him this is how to avoid the sanctions," says the executive, who spoke to TIME on condition of anonymity. "This is how the whole thing started."

AT&T Suffers Another Blow In Court Over Throttling of 'Unlimited' Data ( 38

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A federal judge has revived a lawsuit that angry customers filed against AT&T over the company's throttling of unlimited mobile data plans. The decision comes two years after the same judge decided that customers could only have their complaints heard individually in arbitration instead of in a class-action lawsuit. The 2016 ruling in AT&T's favor was affirmed by a federal appeals court. But the customers subsequently filed a motion to reconsider the arbitration decision, saying that an April 2017 decision by the California Supreme Court "constitutes a change in law occurring after the Courts arbitration order," Judge Edward Chen of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California said in the new ruling issued last week. The state Supreme Court "held that an arbitration agreement that waives the right to seek the statutory remedy of public injunctive relief in any forum is contrary to California public policy and therefore unenforceable," Chen wrote.

AT&T argued that the court shouldn't consider the new argument, saying that plaintiffs raised it too late. The plaintiffs could have made the same argument before the April 2017 Supreme Court ruling, since the ruling was based on California laws that "were enacted decades ago," according to AT&T. Chen was not persuaded, noting that "there had been no favorable court rulings" the plaintiffs could have cited earlier in the case. "The Court also finds that Plaintiffs acted with reasonable diligence once there was a ruling favorable to them," Chen wrote. As a result, the plaintiffs can now proceed with their case in U.S. District Court against AT&T. However, AT&T will appeal Chen's latest decision, presumably in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.


Senate Passes Controversial Online Sex Trafficking Bill ( 160

The Senate today gave final approval to a bill aimed at cracking down on online sex trafficking, sending the measure to the White House where President Trump is expected to sign it into law. From a report: The legislation, called the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), but also referred to as SESTA, would cut into the broad protections websites have from legal liability for content posted by their users. Those protections are codified in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act from 1996, a law that many internet companies see as vital to protecting their platforms and that SESTA would amend to create an exception for sex trafficking.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the most outspoken critic of SESTA and one of the authors of the 1996 law, said that making exceptions to Section 230 will lead to small internet companies having to face an onslaught of frivolous lawsuits.
EFF expressed its disappointment, saying, "Today is a dark day for the Internet. Congress just passed the Internet censorship bill SESTA/FOSTA. SESTA/FOSTA will silence online speech by forcing Internet platforms to censor their users. As lobbyists and members of Congress applaud themselves for enacting a law ostensibly tackling the problem of trafficking, let's be clear: Congress just made trafficking victims less safe, not more. Sex trafficking experts have tried again and again to explain to Congress how SESTA/FOSTA will put trafficking victims in danger. Sex workers have spoken out too, explaining how online platforms have literally saved their lives. Why didn't Congress consult with the people their bill would most directly affect? [...] When platforms choose to err on the side of censorship, marginalized voices are censored disproportionately. SESTA/FOSTA will make the Internet a less inclusive place, something that hurts all of us. This might just be the beginning. Some of these groups behind SESTA / FOSTA seem to see the bill as a mere stepping stone to banning pornography from the Internet."

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