Senate Passes Controversial Online Sex Trafficking Bill ( 109

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."

Telegram Loses Supreme Court Appeal In Russia, Must Hand Over Encryption Keys ( 207

Telegram has lost a bid before Russia's Supreme Court to block security services from getting access to users' data, giving President Vladimir Putin a victory in his effort to keep tabs on electronic communications. Bloomberg reports: Supreme Court Judge Alla Nazarova on Tuesday rejected Telegram's appeal against the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB spy agency which last year asked the company to share its encryption keys. Telegram declined to comply and was hit with a fine of $14,000. Communications regulator Roskomnadzor said Telegram now has 15 days to provide the encryption keys. Telegram, which is in the middle of an initial coin offering of as much as $2.55 billion, plans to appeal the ruling in a process that may last into the summer, according to the company's lawyer, Ramil Akhmetgaliev. Any decision to block the service would require a separate court ruling, the lawyer said.

Putin signed laws in 2016 on fighting terrorism, which included a requirement for messaging services to provide the authorities with means to decrypt user correspondence. Telegram challenged an auxiliary order by the Federal Security Service, claiming that the procedure doesn't involve a court order and breaches constitutional rights for privacy, according to documents. The security agency, known as the FSB, argued in court that obtaining the encryption keys doesn't violate users' privacy because the keys by themselves aren't considered information of restricted access. Collecting data on particular suspects using the encryption would still require a court order, the agency said.


Orbitz Says Legacy Travel Site Likely Hacked, Affecting 880,000 Credit Cards ( 29

hyperclocker shares a report from U.S. News & World Report: Orbitz says a legacy travel booking platform may have been hacked, possibly exposing the personal information of people that made certain purchases between January 1, 2016 and December 22, 2017. Orbitz said Tuesday about 880,000 payment cards were impacted. Data that was likely exposed includes name, payment card information, date of birth, phone number, email address, physical and/or billing address and gender. The company said evidence suggests an attacker may have accessed information stored on the platform -- which was for both consumers and business partners -- between Oct. 1, 2017 and Dec. 22, 2017. "Orbitz said it worked with a forensic investigation firm, cybersecurity experts, and law enforcement once the breach was discovered in order to 'eliminate and prevent unauthorized access to the platform,'" reports The Verge. "The company also notes that its current site,, wasn't affected. It is notifying customers who may have been impacted and is offering a year of free credit monitoring."

Police Chief: Uber Self-Driving Car 'Likely' Not At Fault In Fatal Crash ( 481

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The chief of the Tempe Police has told the San Francisco Chronicle that Uber is likely not responsible for the Sunday evening crash that killed 49-year-old pedestrian Elaine Herzberg. "I suspect preliminarily it appears that the Uber would likely not be at fault in this accident," said Chief Sylvia Moir. Herzberg was "pushing a bicycle laden with plastic shopping bags," according to the Chronicle's Carolyn Said, when she "abruptly walked from a center median into a lane of traffic." After viewing video captured by the Uber vehicle, Moir concluded that "it's very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode (autonomous or human-driven) based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway." Moir added that "it is dangerous to cross roadways in the evening hour when well-illuminated, managed crosswalks are available." The police said that the vehicle was traveling 38 miles per hour in a 35 mile-per-hour zone, according to the Chronicle -- though a Google Street View shot of the roadway taken last July shows a speed limit of 45 miles per hour along that stretch of road.

Ajit Pai Celebrates After Court Strikes Down Obama-Era Robocall Rule ( 181

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Federal judges have struck down an anti-robocall rule, saying that the Federal Communications Commission improperly treated every American who owns a smartphone as a potential robocaller. The FCC won't be appealing the court decision, as Chairman Ajit Pai opposed the rule changes when they were implemented by the commission's then-Democratic majority in 2015. Pai issued a statement praising the judges for the decision Friday, calling the now-vacated rule "yet another example of the prior FCC's disregard for the law and regulatory overreach." The FCC's 2015 decision said that a device meets the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) definition of an "autodialer" if it can be modified to make robocalls, even if the smartphone user hasn't actually downloaded an autodialing app. That interpretation treats all smartphones as autodialers because any smartphone has the capability of downloading an autodialing app, judges ruled. Since any call made by an autodialer could violate anti-robocall rules, this led to a troubling conclusion: judges said that an unwanted call from a smartphone could violate anti-robocall rules even if the smartphone user hasn't downloaded an autodialing app.

"The Commission's understanding would appear to subject ordinary calls from any conventional smartphone to the Act's coverage, an unreasonably expansive interpretation of the statute," a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said in a unanimous ruling Friday. The ruling came in a case filed against the FCC by the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, which says it represents "third-party collection agencies, law firms, asset buying companies, creditors, and vendor affiliates." Judges also invalidated an FCC rule that helped protect consumers from robocalls to reassigned phone numbers.


About a Quarter of US Adults Say They Are 'Almost Constantly' Online ( 56

As smartphones and other mobile devices have become more widespread, 26 percent of American adults now report that they go online "almost constantly," up from 21 percent in 2015, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in January 2018. From the study: Overall, 77 percent of Americans go online on a daily basis. That figure includes the 26 percent who go online almost constantly, as well as 43 percent who say they go online several times a day and 8 percent who go online about once a day. Some 11 percent go online several times a week or less often, while 11 percent of adults say they do not use the internet at all.
The Courts

Entire Broadband Industry Will Help FCC Defend Net Neutrality Repeal ( 87

The biggest lobby groups representing broadband providers will help the FCC defend the repeal of net neutrality rules in court. Ars Technica reports: Yesterday, three trade groups that collectively represent every major home Internet and mobile broadband provider in the U.S. filed motions to intervene in the case on behalf of the FCC. The motions for leave to intervene were filed by NCTA--The Internet & Television Association, CTIA--The Wireless Association, and USTelecom--The Broadband Association. NCTA represents cable companies such as Comcast, Charter, Cox, and Altice. CTIA represents the biggest mobile carriers, such as AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, and Sprint. USTelecom represents wireline telcos with copper and fiber networks, such as AT&T and Verizon. All three groups also represent a range of smaller ISPs.

As intervenors in the case, the groups will file briefs in support of the net neutrality repeal order and may play a role in oral arguments. NCTA's motion noted that its members would once again be subject to "common-carriage regulation under Title II of the Communications Act" if the FCC were to lose the case. CTIA said that its members "would be adversely affected if the [net neutrality] Order were set aside and the prior Title II Order classification and rules were reinstated."


The 600+ Companies PayPal Shares Your Data With ( 48

AmiMoJo shares a report from Schneier on Security: One of the effects of GDPR -- the new EU General Data Protection Regulation -- is that we're all going to be learning a lot more about who collects our data and what they do with it. Consider PayPal, that just released a list of over 600 companies they share customer data with. Here's a good visualization of that data. Is 600 companies unusual? Is it more than average? Less? We'll soon know.
The Internet

Bali Plans To Switch Off Internet Services For 24 Hours For New Year 'Quiet Reflection' ( 150

Internet service providers in Bali will be switching off mobile services this weekend for 24 hours to mark the Indonesian island's annual day of silence. "Nyepi, or New Year according to the ancient Balinese calendar, is a sacred day of reflection on the Hindu-majority island," reports The Guardian. "Even the international airport shuts down." From the report: This year authorities have called on telecommunications companies to unplug -- a request Bali says firms have promised to honor. "It was agreed that internet on mobile phones will be cut. All operators have agreed," Nyoman Sujaya, from the Bali communications ministry, told The plan, based on an appeal put forward by Balinese civil and religious groups, was announced following a meeting at the ministry in Jakarta. This is the first time internet services will be shut down in Bali for Nyepi, after the same request was denied last year. However, wifi connection will still be available at hotels and for strategic services such as security, aviation, hospitals and disaster agencies. Phone and SMS services will be operational, but the Indonesian Internet Service Provider Association is reviewing whether wifi at private residences will be temporarily cut.

Verizon Will Fix Broadband Networks, Landlines To Resolve Investigation ( 74

Joel Hruska reports via ExtremeTech: Verizon has reached an agreement with the Communications Workers of America and the New York State Public Service Commission to begin repairing infrastructure and restoring service across New York State. The agreement requires Verizon to extend broadband service to tens of thousands of New York State households and to begin repairing facilities it has previously neglected. As in Pennsylvania, Verizon has been neglecting its fixed wired infrastructure in its bid to first sabotage copper service, then force customers to adopt alternative solutions. It's also been mired in an ongoing lawsuit with the state of New York over its breach of a 2008 contract requiring it to provide fiber service within New York City.

This new agreement appears to settle these issues, provided it's followed. Under its terms, Verizon will extend fiber to 10,000 to 12,000 households not currently served by it in Long Island and Verizon's "Upstate Reporting Region" (these are Verizon-specific regions, not geographical areas, so "Long Island" may mean more than just the island). It will begin immediately replacing copper lines in certain specific NYC buildings with high failure rates and transitioning them to fiber optic cable, repairing operations within 50 upstate wireless centers with high failure rates, allow plant technicians to report plant failures and maintenance needs more accurately, and begin inspecting and replacing the batteries that provide critical connectivity in the event of a power outage when said batteries are deployed for specific customers (hospitals, police stations, and other emergency facilities). It will also begin removing so-called "double poles." A double pole is when an old telephone pole is stapled (metaphorically speaking) to a newer one. Some examples of a double pole from PA are shown below; Verizon has been hauled into court to force it to do its job in more than one state.


Largest US Radio Company iHeartMedia Files For Bankruptcy ( 159

The largest U.S. radio station owner, iHeartMedia, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as it "struggles with $20 billion in debt and falling revenue at its 858 radio stations," reports Reuters. The company has reportedly reached an agreement with holders of more than $10 billion of its outstanding debt for a balance sheet restructuring, which will reduce its debt by more than $10 billion. From the report: Cash on hand and cash generated from ongoing operations will be sufficient to fund the business during the bankruptcy process, said iHeartMedia, which owns Z100 in New York and Real 103.5 KISS FM in Chicago. The filing comes after John Malone's Liberty Media Corp proposed on Feb. 26 a deal to buy a 40 percent stake in a restructured iHeartMedia for $1.16 billion, uniting the company with Liberty's Sirius XM Holdings Inc satellite radio service. Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings Inc, a subsidiary of iHeartMedia, and its units did not commence Chapter 11 proceedings. The company had 14,300 employees at the end of 2016, according to its most recent annual report.

Wikipedia Had No Idea YouTube Was Going To Use It To Fact-Check Conspiracy Theories ( 136

Yesterday, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki announced that the company would drop a Wikipedia link beneath videos on highly contested topics. We have now learned that Wikipedia did not know about this move prior to the announcement. Gizmodo reports: In a Twitter thread asking the public to support Wikipedia as much as it relies on it, Wikimedia executive director Katherine Maher first suggested that the organization was unaware of YouTube's plans. When asked whether this new module would only apply to English Wikipedia pages, Maher responded, "I couldn't say; this was something they did independent of us." In a statement to Gizmodo, the Wikimedia Foundation confirmed that the organization first learned of the new YouTube feature on Tuesday. "We are always happy to see people, companies, and organizations recognize Wikipedia's value as a repository of free knowledge," a Wikimedia Foundation spokesperson said in a statement. "In this case, neither Wikipedia nor the Wikimedia Foundation are part of a formal partnership with YouTube. We were not given advance notice of this announcement."

Sri Lanka Accuses Facebook of Failing To Control Hate Speech That Contributed To Deadly Riots ( 75

The Sri Lankan government is accusing Facebook of failing to control rampant hate speech that it says contributed to anti-Muslim riots last week that left three people dead and the country under a state of emergency. The accusations come after the country blocked Facebook and several other platforms last week in an effort to prevent the spread of hate speech. The Guardian reports: On Thursday Fernando, along with the Sri Lankan prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and communications officials, will meet a Facebook team that has flown to Colombo. The Sri Lankans will demand a new, faster system for taking down posts flagged as a national security risk by agencies in the country. "Facebook is not reacting as fast as we have wanted it to react," Fernando said. "In the past it has taken various number of days to review [flagged posts] or even to take down the pages." On Tuesday he highlighted a tweet from a user who claimed to have reported a Facebook post in the Sinhala language that read "Kill all Muslims, don't even let an infant of the dogs escape." The user claimed he received a reply six days later saying the post did not contravene a specific Facebook community standard. The extremist leader Amith Weerasinghe, who was arrested last week in Kandy after being accused of helping to instigate the violence, had amassed nearly 150,000 followers on his Facebook page before it was taken down last week.
United States

Extreme Winter Weather In the US Linked To a Warming Arctic ( 219

A new study shows how global climate change can have ripple effects at the local level. According to the research, extreme winter weather is two to four times more likely in the eastern U.S. when the Arctic is unusually warm. The Verge reports: Researchers analyzed a variety of atmospheric data in the Arctic, as well as how severe winter weather was in 12 cities across the U.S. from 1950 to 2016. Since 1990, as the Arctic has been warming up and losing ice, extreme cold snaps and heavy snow in the winter have been two to four times more frequent in the eastern U.S. and the Midwest, while in the western U.S., their frequency has decreased, according to a study published today in Nature Communications. The study, however, only shows there might be a correlation -- not a direct causal link -- between the warming Arctic and severe winters in the U.S. And it doesn't show how exactly the two are connected, so it doesn't really add much to what scientists already knew, according to several experts.

Today's study focuses on the Arctic as the main culprit for the extreme winter weather. Previous research has suggested that the warming Arctic may disrupt the polar vortex, a ring of swirling cold air circling the North Pole. Think of the polar vortex as a river, says study co-author Judah Cohen, a climatologist and director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research. The fast flow of this river locks up the cold air over the Arctic. But as the Arctic warms -- especially in some areas like the Barents-Kara seas north of Europe and Russia -- a boulder springs up in this river, disrupting the polar vortex and allowing the freezing Arctic air to flow south, Cohen says.


YouTube Will Add Information From Wikipedia To Videos About Conspiracies ( 226

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: YouTube will add information from Wikipedia to videos about popular conspiracy theories to provide alternative viewpoints on controversial subjects, its CEO said today. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said that these text boxes, which the company is calling "information cues," would begin appearing on conspiracy-related videos within the next couple of weeks. Wojcicki, who spoke Tuesday evening at a panel at the South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, showed examples of information cues for videos about the moon landing and chemtrails. "When there are videos that are focused around something that's a conspiracy -- and we're using a list of well-known internet conspiracies from Wikipedia -- then we will show a companion unit of information from Wikipedia showing that here is information about the event," Wojcicki said. The information cues that Wojcicki demonstrated appeared directly below the video as a short block of text, with a link to Wikipedia for more information. Wikipedia -- a crowdsourced encyclopedia written by volunteers -- is an imperfect source of information, one which most college students are still forbidden from citing in their papers. But it generally provides a more neutral, empirical approach to understanding conspiracies than the more sensationalist videos that appear on YouTube.

Mozilla Working On In-Page Popup Blocker For Firefox ( 53

Firefox is working on a blocker for annoying in-page alerts that often ask you to input your email address to receive a newsletter from the site. "The feature is still in the planning stages, but Mozilla is asking users for any examples of sites with annoying pop-ups," reports Android Police. "Mozilla wants to make Firefox automatically detect and dismiss the popups." From the report: If you know of sites that use in-page popups (whether it be newsletter signups, surveys, or something else), you can fill out the survey here. There are also Firefox and Chrome extensions that make the process easier. I'll be interested to see how Mozilla pulls this off, it will no doubt be difficult to detect the difference between helpful and not-helpful popups.

Data Breach Victims Can Sue Yahoo in the United States, Federal Judge Rules ( 13

Yahoo has been ordered by a federal judge to face much of a lawsuit in the United States claiming that the personal information of all 3 billion users was compromised in a series of data breaches. From a report: In a decision on Friday night, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California rejected a bid by Verizon Communications, which bought Yahoo's Internet business last June, to dismiss many claims, including for negligence and breach of contract. Koh dismissed some other claims. She had previously denied Yahoo's bid to dismiss some unfair competition claims.

[...] The plaintiffs amended their complaint after Yahoo last October revealed that the 2013 breach affected all 3 billion users, tripling its earlier estimate. Koh said the amended complaint highlighted the importance of security in the plaintiffs' decision to use Yahoo. 'Plaintiffs' allegations are sufficient to show that they would have behaved differently had defendants disclosed the security weaknesses of the Yahoo Mail System," Koh wrote. She also said the plaintiffs could try to show that liability limits in Yahoo's terms of service were "unconscionable," given the allegations that Yahoo knew its security was deficient but did little.


Dial P for Privacy: The Phone Booth Is Back ( 110

As mobile phone use exploded and the pay phone was increasingly linked to crime, the booth began to disappear. But things are appear to be changing. From a report: Now, the phone booth -- or at least a variation of it -- is making a modest comeback. When the women-only club and work space The Wing opened its first location in the Flatiron neighborhood of Manhattan in October of 2016, the interior featured marble tables, pink velvet couches, and one small, windowless, reflective glass-doored room dubbed the Phone Booth. One year later, when another location of The Wing opened in Soho, eight built-in, glass-doored call rooms were included in the design. [...]

Other companies that have recently purchased Zenbooths include Volkswagen, Lyft, Meetup and Capital One. The Berkeley, Calif., company was launched in 2016, and its products range from $3,995 (for a standard one-person booth) to $15,995 (for a two-person "executive" booth). The one-person booth is a soundproof, eco-friendly, American-made box that's about 36 inches wide and 34 inches deep, with an insulated glass door, a ventilation fan, power outlets and a skylight -- and it can be assembled in roughly an hour. (It does not, however, contain an actual phone.) Sam Johnson, a co-founder of the company, said it produced "hundreds" of Zenbooths a month in 2017. This year, it's on track to quadruple that production. But he doesn't call them phone booths. "We're manufacturing quiet spaces and privacy," he said.

Zenbooth is not the only free-standing office phone booth in the game. Companies like Cubicall, Nomad, and TalkBox, among others, are offering up solutions to the modern office's privacy problem.


New Traces of Hacking Team in the Wild ( 19

Previously unreported samples of Hacking Team's infamous surveillance tool -- the Remote Control System (RCS) -- are in the wild, and have been detected by ESET systems in fourteen countries. From a report: Our analysis of the samples reveals evidence suggesting that Hacking Team's developers themselves are actively continuing the development of this spyware. Since being founded in 2003, the Italian spyware vendor Hacking Team gained notoriety for selling surveillance tools to governments and their agencies across the world. The capabilities of its flagship product, the Remote Control System (RCS), include extracting files from a targeted device, intercepting emails and instant messaging, as well as remotely activating a device's webcam and microphone. The company has been criticized for selling these capabilities to authoritarian governments -- an allegation it has consistently denied. When the tables turned in July 2015, with Hacking Team itself suffering a damaging hack, the reported use of RCS by oppressive regimes was confirmed. With 400GB of internal data -- including the once-secret list of customers, internal communications, and spyware source code -- leaked online, Hacking Team was forced to request its customers to suspend all use of RCS, and was left facing an uncertain future.

Lawmakers Continue Fighting For Net Neutrality in the US Senate, Courts, and States ( 57

Here's the latest developments in the ongoing fight over net neutrality rules:
  • CNET reports that Democrats in the Senate "have been pushing to use the Congressional Review Act to roll back the FCC's repeal of net neutrality rules. They've gotten the support of 50 senators for the measure, including one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine. Sen. John Kennedy from Louisiana , who's been undecided in his support of the CRA bill, was being courted by Democrats as the tie-breaking vote to pass the measure in the Senate...

    "On Wednesday, Kennedy introduced a piece of legislation that would ban companies like AT&T and Comcast from slowing down or blocking access to websites or internet services. But the bill wouldn't prevent these broadband and wireless companies from offering paid prioritization, which many critics fear could lead to so-called internet 'fast lanes.'"
  • The Associated Press reports that on Monday, Washington became the first state to set up its own net-neutrality requirements. But they add that governors in five states -- Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Montana and Vermont -- "have signed executive orders related to net-neutrality issues, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Montana's order, for instance, bars telecommunications companies from receiving state contracts if they interfere with internet traffic or favor higher-paying sites or apps."

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