Businesses

Patent 'Death Squad' System Upheld by US Supreme Court (bloomberg.com) 66

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld an administrative review system that has helped Google, Apple and other companies invalidate hundreds of issued patents. From a report: The justices, voting 7-2, said Tuesday a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office review board that critics call a patent "death squad" wasn't unconstitutionally wielding powers that belong to the courts. Silicon Valley companies have used the system as a less-expensive way to ward off demands for royalties, particularly from patent owners derided as "trolls" because they don't use their patents to make products. Drugmakers and independent inventors complain that it unfairly upends what they thought were established property rights. "It came down to this: Is the patent office fixing its own mistakes or is the government taking property?" said Wayne Stacy, a patent lawyer with Baker Botts. "They came down on the side of the patent office fixing its own mistakes." The ruling caused shares to drop in companies whose main source of revenue -- their patents -- are under threat from challenges. VirnetX, which is trying to protect almost $1 billion in damages it won against Apple, dropped as much as 12 percent. The patent office has said its patents are invalid in a case currently before an appeals court.
Piracy

Netflix, Amazon, and Major Studios Try To Shut Down $20-Per-Month TV Service (arstechnica.com) 190

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Netflix, Amazon, and the major film studios have once again joined forces to sue the maker of a TV service and hardware device, alleging that the products are designed to illegally stream copyrighted videos. The lawsuit was filed against the company behind Set TV, which sells a $20-per-month TV service with more than 500 channels.

"Defendants market and sell subscriptions to 'Setvnow,' a software application that Defendants urge their customers to use as a tool for the mass infringement of Plaintiffs' copyrighted motion pictures and television shows," the complaint says. Besides Netflix and Amazon, the plaintiffs are Columbia Pictures, Disney, Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal, and Warner Bros. The complaint was filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The companies are asking for permanent injunctions to prevent further distribution of Set TV software and devices, the impoundment of Set TV devices, and for damages including the defendants' profits.

Advertising

Facebook Sued Over Fake Ads (theguardian.com) 62

shilly writes: British finance expert Martin Lewis is suing Facebook for defamation, after a year of trying to persuade the company to stop accepting scam ads featuring his name and image. Facebook insists that he report to them every time he spots a scam; he wants them to check with him before they take money for an ad featuring his name or picture, so he can tell them if it's legit or not. "Lewis said he would not profit from any damages won, which he would donate to charities combating fraud, but that he hoped the action would prompt the site to stamp out scam adverts," reports The Guardian.
Crime

UK Teen Who Hacked CIA Director Sentenced To 2 Years In Prison (gizmodo.com) 150

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: A British teenager who gained notoriety for hacking a number of high profile United States government employees including former CIA director John Brennan and former director of intelligence James Clapper was sentenced Friday to two years in prison. Eighteen-year-old Kane Gamble pleaded guilty to 10 separate charges, including eight counts of "performing a function with intent to secure unauthorized access" and two counts of "unauthorized modification of computer material," the Guardian reported.

Gamble, otherwise known by his online alias Cracka, was 15 at the time that he started his hacking campaigns. The alleged leader of a hacking group known as Crackas With Attitude (CWA), Gamble made it a point to target members of the U.S. government. The young hacker's group managed to successfully gain access to ex-CIA director John Brennan's AOL email account. The group hacked a number of accounts belonging to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, including his personal email, his wife's email, and his phone and internet provider account. The hackers allegedly made it so every call to Clapper's home phone would get forwarded to the Free Palestine Movement.

AT&T

AT&T, Verizon Under US Investigation For Collusion To Lock In Customers (nytimes.com) 39

bongey writes: AT&T and Verizon are currently under investigation for colluding with the GSMA standards group to thwart eSIM technology and hinder consumers from easily switching wireless carriers. eSIM technology lets people remotely switch wireless providers without having to insert a new SIM card into a device. According to The New York Times, the two companies "face accusations that they colluded with the GSMA to try to establish standards that would allow them to lock a device to their network even if it had eSIM technology." The Justice Department opened the investigation roughly five months ago after at least one device maker and one wireless carrier filed formal complaints. Compare cell plans at Wirefly to see the current plans being offered by AT&T and Verizon.
The Internet

The 'Terms and Conditions' Reckoning Is Coming (bloomberg.com) 129

Everyone from Uber to PayPal is facing a backlash against their impenetrable legalese. From a report: Personal finance forums online are brimming with complaints from hundreds of PayPal customers who say they've been suspended because they signed up before age 18. PayPal declined to comment on any specific cases, but says it's appropriate to close accounts created by underage people "to ensure our customers have full legal capacity to accept our user agreement." While that may seem "heavy-handed," says Sarah Kenshall, a technology attorney with law firm Burges Salmon, the company is within its rights because the users clicked to agree to the rules -- however difficult the language might be to understand.

Websites have long required users to plow through pages of dense legalese to use their services, knowing that few ever give the documents more than a cursory glance. In 2005 security-software provider PC Pitstop LLC promised a $1,000 prize to the first user to spot the offer deep in its terms and conditions; it took four months before the reward was claimed. The incomprehensibility of user agreements is poised to change as tech giants such as Uber Technologies and Facebook confront pushback for mishandling user information, and the European Union prepares to implement new privacy rules called the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. The measure underscores "the requirement for clear and plain language when explaining consent," British Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham wrote on her blog last year.

United States

Democratic Party Files Suit Alleging Russia, the Trump Campaign, and WikiLeaks Conspired To Disrupt the 2016 Election (cnbc.com) 667

The Democratic Party is suing Russia, the Trump campaign and the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks for conspiring to disrupt the 2016 presidential election. From a report: The multi-million-dollar lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court says that "In the Trump campaign, Russia found a willing and active partner in this effort" to mount "a brazen attack on American Democracy," which included Russian infiltration of the Democratic Party computer network. The Trump campaign, according to the lawsuit, "gleefully welcomed Russia's help." The suit says that "preexisting relationships with Russia and Russian oligarchs" with Trump and Trump associates "provided fertile ground for [the] Russia-Trump conspiracy." The common purpose of the scheme, according to the Democratic National Committee, was to "bolster Trump and denigrate the Democratic Party nominee," Hillary Clinton, while boosting the candidacy of Trump, "whose policies would benefit the Kremlin." Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said the party's suit "is not partisan, it's patriotic."
Transportation

LA Councilman Asks City Attorney To 'Review Possible Legal Action' Against Waze (arstechnica.com) 213

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Yet another Los Angeles city councilman has taken Waze to task for creating "dangerous conditions" in his district, and the politician is now "asking the City to review possible legal action." "Waze has upended our City's traffic plans, residential neighborhoods, and public safety for far too long," LA City Councilman David Ryu said in a statement released Wednesday. "Their responses have been inadequate and their solutions, non-existent. They say the crises of congestion they cause is the price for innovation -- I say that's a false choice." In a new letter sent to the City Attorney's Office, Ryu formally asked Los Angeles' top attorney to examine Waze's behavior. While Ryu said he supported "advances in technology," he decried Waze and its parent company, Google, for refusing "any responsibility for the traffic problems their app creates or the concerns of residents and City officials."
Advertising

German Supreme Court Rules Ad Blockers Legal (faz.net) 133

New submitter paai writes: The publishing company Axel Springer tried to ban the use of ad blockers in Germany because they endanger the digital publishing of news stories. The Oberlandesgericht Koln (Germany's Higher Regional Court of Cologne) followed this reasoning and forbade the use of ad blockers on the grounds that the use of white lists was an aggressive marketing technique. [The business model allows websites to pay a fee so that their "non aggressive" advertisements can bypass AdBlock Pro's filters. Larger companies like Google can afford to pay to have the ban lifted on their website.] The Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice or BGH) destroyed this court ruling today and judged that users had a right to filter out advertisements in web pages.
Communications

A Florida Man Has been Accused of Making 97 Million Robocalls (bloomberg.com) 176

A Florida man accused of flooding consumers with 97 million phone calls touting fake travel deals appeared Wednesday before lawmakers to explain how robocalls work and to say, "I am not the kingpin of robocalling that is alleged." From a report: Adrian Abramovich, of Miami, who is fighting a proposed $120 million fine, told senators that open-source software lets operators make thousands of phone calls with the click of a button, in combination with cloud-based computing and "the right long distance company." "Clearly regulation needs to address the carriers and providers and require the major carriers to detect robocalls activity," Abramovich said in testimony submitted in advance to the Senate Commerce Committee. He has asked the Federal Communications Commission to reduce the fine proposed last year, calling it disproportionate, in part because most calls went unanswered or resulted in a quick hang-up by consumers. The panel's chairman, Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, called Abamovich and officials from the FCC and other agencies to discuss ways to stop abusive calls.
The Courts

Supreme Court Set To Hear Landmark Online Sales Tax Case (gizmodo.com) 247

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that could at least somewhat clarify Donald Trump's complaints about Amazon "not paying internet taxes." It will also decide if those cheap deals on NewEgg are going to be less of a steal. The case concerns the state of South Dakota versus online retailers Wayfront, NewEgg, and Overstock.com in a battle over whether or not state sales tax should apply to all online transactions in the U.S., regardless of where the customer or retailer is located. It promises to have an impact on the internet's competition with brick-and-mortar retailers, as well as continue to address the ongoing legal questions surrounding real-world borders in the borderless world of online.
United States

Facebook Must Face Class-Action Lawsuit Over Facial Recognition, Says Judge (kfgo.com) 79

U.S. District Judge James Donato ruled on Monday that Facebook must face a class-action lawsuit alleging that the social network unlawfully used a facial recognition process on photos without user permission. Donato ruled that a class-action was the most efficient way to resolve the dispute over facial templates. KFGO reports: Facebook said it was reviewing the ruling. "We continue to believe the case has no merit and will defend ourselves vigorously," the company said in a statement. Lawyers for the plaintiffs could not immediately be reached for comment. Facebook users sued in 2015, alleging violations of an Illinois state law about the privacy of biometric information. The class will consist of Facebook users in Illinois for whom Facebook created and stored facial recognition algorithms after June 7, 2011, Donato ruled. That is the date when Facebook launched "Tag Suggestions," a feature that suggests people to tag after a Facebook user uploads a photo. In the U.S. court system, certification of a class is typically a major hurdle that plaintiffs in proposed class actions need to overcome before reaching a possible settlement or trial.
United States

US Bans American Companies From Selling To Chinese Electronics Maker ZTE (reuters.com) 73

An anonymous reader shares a report: The U.S. Department of Commerce is banning American companies from selling components to leading Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE Corp for seven years for violating the terms of a sanctions violation case, U.S. officials said on Monday. The Chinese company, which sells smartphones in the United States, pleaded guilty last year in federal court in Texas for conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions by illegally shipping U.S. goods and technology to Iran. It paid $890 million in fines and penalties, with an additional penalty of $300 million that could be imposed. As part of the agreement, Shenzhen-based ZTE Corp promised to dismiss four senior employees and discipline 35 others by either reducing their bonuses or reprimanding them, senior Commerce Department officials told Reuters. Update: The UK's cyber security watchdog has warned the UK telecoms sector not to use network equipment or services from Chinese supplier ZTE as it would have a "long term negative effect on the security of the UK."
Robotics

Europe Divided Over Robot 'Personhood' (politico.eu) 246

Politico Europe has an interesting piece which looks at the high-stakes debate between European lawmakers, legal experts and manufacturers over who should bear the ultimate responsibility for the actions by a machine: the machine itself or the humans who made them?. Two excerpts from the piece: The battle goes back to a paragraph of text, buried deep in a European Parliament report from early 2017, which suggests that self-learning robots could be granted "electronic personalities." Such a status could allow robots to be insured individually and be held liable for damages if they go rogue and start hurting people or damaging property.

Those pushing for such a legal change, including some manufacturers and their affiliates, say the proposal is common sense. Legal personhood would not make robots virtual people who can get married and benefit from human rights, they say; it would merely put them on par with corporations, which already have status as "legal persons," and are treated as such by courts around the world.

Businesses

Apple Sued an Independent iPhone Repair Shop Owner and Lost (vice.com) 139

Jason Koebler, reporting for Motherboard: Last year, Apple's lawyers sent Henrik Huseby, the owner of a small electronics repair shop in Norway, a letter demanding that he immediately stop using aftermarket iPhone screens at his repair business and that he pay the company a settlement. Norway's customs officials had seized a shipment of 63 iPhone 6 and 6S replacement screens on their way to Henrik's shop from Asia and alerted Apple; the company said they were counterfeit. Apple threatened to take action, unless Huseby provided the companies with copies of invoices, product lists, and a plethora of other things. The letter, sent by Frank Jorgensen, an attorney at the Njord law firm on behalf of Apple, included a settlement agreement that also notified him the screens would be destroyed. [...] Huseby decided to fight the case. Apple sued him. Local news outlets reported that Apple had five lawyers in the courtroom working on the case, but Huseby won. Apple has appealed the decision to a higher court; the court has not yet decided whether to accept the appeal.
Piracy

Telegram is Riddled With Tens of Thousands of Piracy Channels; Apple and Google Have Ignored Requests From Creators To Take Action (theoutline.com) 49

joshtops writes: Instant messaging platform Telegram, which is used by more than 200 million users, has had an open secret since its inception: The platform has served as a haven for online pirates. The Outline reports that the platform is riddled with thousands of groups and channels, many with more than 100,000 members, whose sole purpose of existence is to share illegally copied movies, music albums, apps, and other content. The files are stored directly to Telegram's servers, allowing users to download movies, songs, and other content with one click. Channel admins told The Outline that they have not come across any resistance from Telegram despite the company, along with Apple and Google, maintaining a 'zero tolerance' stance on copyright infringement. This permissiveness on Telegram's part has led to the proliferation of a cottage industry of piracy marketplaces on the service.

[...] The Outline also discovered several groups and channels on Telegram in which stolen credentials -- i.e., the username and password for a website -- from Netflix, Spotify, Hulu, HBO, CBS, EA Sports, Lynda, Sling, WWE Network, Mega, India's Hotstar, and dozens of other services were being offered to tens of thousands of members each day. The Outline sourced nearly three-dozen free credentials from six Telegram channels, all of which worked as advertised.
The report says that content creators have reached out to Apple, requesting the iPhone-maker to intervene, but the company has largely ignored the issue.

In an unrelated development, a Moscow court cleared the way on Friday for the local government to ban Telegram, the messaging app, over its failure to give Russian security services the ability to read users' encrypted messages.
Google

Google Loses 'Right To Be Forgotten' Case (bbc.com) 160

A businessman fighting for the "right to be forgotten" has won a High Court action against Google. BBC reports: The man, who has not been named due to reporting restrictions surrounding the case, wanted search results about a past crime he had committed removed from the search engine. The judge, Mr Justice Mark Warby, ruled in his favour on Friday. But he rejected a separate claim made by another businessman who had committed a more serious crime. The businessman who won his case was convicted 10 years ago of conspiring to intercept communications. He spent six months in jail. The other businessman, who lost his case, was convicted more than 10 years ago of conspiring to account falsely. He spent four years in jail.
Businesses

Uber Drivers Are Independent Contractors, Not Employees, Judge Rules (reuters.com) 191

Uber drivers are independent contractors, not full-time employees of the ride-hailing company, a federal judge in Philadelphia ruled in what is said to be the first classification of Uber drivers under federal law. Reuters reports: U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson on Wednesday said San Francisco-based Uber does not exert enough control over drivers for its limo service, UberBLACK, to be considered their employer under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. The drivers work when they want to and are free to nap, run personal errands, or smoke cigarettes in between rides, Baylson said. Jeremy Abay, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said he would appeal the ruling to the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The 3rd Circuit would be the first federal appeals court to consider whether Uber drivers are properly classified as independent contractors.
Businesses

Apple Must Pay Patent Troll More Than $500 Million In iMessage Case (bloomberg.com) 75

A federal court in Texas today has ordered Apple to pay $502.6 million to a patent troll called VirnetX, the latest twist in a dispute now in its eighth year. "VirnetX claimed that Apple's FaceTime, VPN on Demand and iMessage features infringe four patents related to secure communications, claims that Apple denied," reports Bloomberg. From the report: The dispute has bounced between the district court, patent office and Federal Circuit since 2010. There have been multiple trials, most recently one involving earlier versions of the Apple devices. A jury in that case awarded $302 million that a judge later increased to $439.7 million. Kendall Larsen, CEO of VirnetX, said the damages, which were based on sales of more than 400 million Apple devices, were "fair." "The evidence was clear," Larsen said after the verdict was announced. "Tell the truth and you don't have to worry about anything." For VirnetX, the jury verdict in its favor could be a short-lived victory. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board has said the patents are invalid, in cases that are currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington. The Federal Circuit, which handles all patent appeals, declined to put this trial on hold, saying it was so far along that a verdict would come before a final validity decision.
Privacy

'Big Brother' In India Requires Fingerprint Scans For Food, Phones, Finances (nytimes.com) 132

The New York Times reports of the Indian government's intent to build an identification system of unprecedented scope. The country is reportedly "scanning the fingerprints, eyes and faces of its 1.3 billion residents (alternative source) and connecting the data to everything from welfare benefits to mobile phones." Here's an excerpt from the report: Civil libertarians are horrified, viewing the program, called Aadhaar, as Orwell's Big Brother brought to life. To the government, it's more like "big brother," a term of endearment used by many Indians to address a stranger when asking for help. For other countries, the technology could provide a model for how to track their residents. And for India's top court, the ID system presents unique legal issues that will define what the constitutional right to privacy means in the digital age. The government has made registration mandatory for hundreds of public services and many private ones, from taking school exams to opening bank accounts.

Technology has given governments around the world new tools to monitor their citizens. In China, the government is rolling out ways to use facial recognition and big data to track people, aiming to inject itself further into everyday life. Many countries, including Britain, deploy closed-circuit cameras to monitor their populations. But India's program is in a league of its own, both in the mass collection of biometric data and in the attempt to link it to everything -- traffic tickets, bank accounts, pensions, even meals for undernourished schoolchildren.

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