When graded on tech issues, 2016 presidential candidates don’t do well

(credit: Engine)

On the same day that five key states voted in the presidential primaries, startup lobbying shop Engine took a close look at where the candidates stand on important tech issues like privacy, net neutrality, and patent reform. If your views on those issues align with Engine’s, you won’t find their 2016 Candidate Report Card an encouraging read.

After taking a look at the candidates’ records in four policy areas, Democrat Hillary Clinton got the highest overall grade: a B+. Her challenger Bernie Sanders got a B, while Republican candidates ranked lower: C+ grades for Marco Rubio and John Kasich, a D for Ted Cruz, and straight F’s for Donald Trump.

Candidates were ranked on “privacy and security” based on whether they understood the importance of strong encryption and supported reforming privacy and surveillance laws. Bernie Sanders (the only candidate who has suggested leniency for Edward Snowden), got a B. Both Sanders

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The six tech policy problems Congress failed to fix this year

Aurich Lawson

August isn’t the top time of year for thinking about tech policy. For many, it’s vacation time, a month when Americans are more focused on hacking a path to the nearest beach than hacking their computers.
Congress just left for vacation too, heading home last week for its traditional August recess. When it returns to Washington, election season will be in full swing, which means that betting on the passage of any bold legislation later this year is a long shot.

In light of that, now (and not December) is when we can look back at what activists, companies, and lawmakers were hoping to accomplish in the 113th Congress—compared to what actually happened. Which is to say “not much.”

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Judge nixes "Oil Orgy" scheme to scare P2P users into quick settlements

The federal judge hearing a Massachusetts file-sharing case has struck down a proposal to send all defendants a notice urging them to contact the plaintiff to work out a settlement. The move is yet another sign that federal judges are growing skeptical of the mass copyright litigation strategy.

The case involves the film Big Butt Oil Orgy 2 and a group of 39 Massachusetts residents who allegedly shared it with one another via BitTorrent. Critics of these lawsuits have long argued that even innocent defendants may be forced to settle simply to avoid the legal expense of a trial and the public embarrassment of having one’s name publicly identified with a pornographic film, regardless of the case’s merit.

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Twitter fights government subpoena demanding Occupy Wall Street protester info

Twitter has asked a New York state judge to throw out a court order requiring it to turn over three months worth of messages posted by an Occupy Wall Street protester being prosecuted for disorderly conduct.

In a motion (PDF) filed on Monday in New York City Criminal Court, Twitter lawyers argued the city’s district attorney’s office is overstepping its authority in ordering the handing-over of tweets and other subscriber info of Malcolm Harris, whose handle on the microblogging site is @destructuremal. Prosecutors seeking the data failed to get a court warrant based on probable cause, making an order they obtained earlier a violation of federal law and the Constitution’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures, the Twitter brief argued.

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Seized site’s lawyer: US breaking the law by taking domain names

Dajaz1, the hip hop blog whose domain was seized and then held for a year by the United States government before being returned without any charges filed, came out swinging against the government and the Recording Industry Association of America on Monday. In a blog post, Dajaz1 attorney Andrew Bridges called the government’s legal position “stunning” and compared the dajaz1.com domain’s year in legal limbo to a “digital Guantanamo.”

Bridges pointed out that Dajaz1’s alleged crime consisted of posting four links to infringing files hosted by third-party websites. “Seizing a blog for linking to four songs, even allegedly infringing ones, is equivalent to seizing the printing press of the New York Times because the newspaper, in its concert calendar, refers readers to four concerts where the promoters of those concerts have failed to pay ASCAP for the performance licenses,” he argued.

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Oracle, Google lawyers spar over Android’s Dalvik VM as patent phase begins

The second phase of the Oracle v. Google trial got into full swing today, following yesterday’s verdict, which left Oracle with a partial and inconclusive victory over Google. The subject matter has moved from copyrights to patents, and the next phase of the trial will deal with the “virtual machines” that both Android and Java use to speed up their operations. In opening statements, Oracle’s lawyer said that Android’s “Dalvik” virtual machine infringes two patents that originated at Sun but are now owned by Oracle, US Patents No. 6,061,520 and RE38,104.

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Myspace settles with FTC over sharing user data with advertisers

Myspace has agreed to settle charges that it misled users about sharing their personal information with advertisers, the Federal Trade Commission announced Tuesday. The FTC alleges that Myspace allowed advertisers to combine profile information with browsing information in ways that Myspace’s privacy did not cover.

Each Myspace user has an assigned persistent unique identifier, called a “Friend ID,” associated with their profile on the site. Even protected profiles contain a certain amount of personal information, such as display name, full name, age, gender, and profile picture (though users had no incentive or obligation from Myspace to make this true to life).

Myspace’s privacy policy states that personally identifiable information would not be used in a way inconsistent with the purpose for which it was submitted. The company also says that data used to customize ads would not identify users to third parties, and that it wouldn’t share non-anonymized browsing activity.

But in 2009, researchers at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute and AT&T Labs noticed that Myspace was handing the Friend IDs associated with visited pages to advertisers. Advertisers could then associate the browsing data with the users’ full names, and associate broader browsing activity with that personal profile. The FTC found this behavior in violation of federal law, and found that as a result of this data sharing, Myspace had lied about its compliance with the US-EU Safe Harbor Framework.

Myspace’s settlement is not an admission of guilt, but the company must now establish a “comprehensive privacy program” and submit to third-party audits for the next 20 years. It seems that this won’t do much good, as Myspace is already on a significant decline—in short, we’ll be surprised if the site lasts that long.

Facebook and Digg were implicated for similar activity at the same time as Myspace, almost exactly two years ago in May 2010. Facebook settled with the FTC on the matter in December 2011, also committing to the 20-year third-party evaluation plan.

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Facebook "Likejackers" agree to stop sending misleading spam

A US-based advertising firm has promised to stop bombarding Facebook users with fraudulent messages in exchange for Washington State officials dropping a lawsuit that claimed the practice violated a federal antispam statute.

Adscend Media also agreed to pay $100,000 in attorneys’ fees to settle charges Washington state’s attorney general brought in January claiming the misleading messages violated a federal law known as the CAN-SPAM, short for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing. The settlement also requires Adscend Media to regularly monitor its affiliate partners to make sure they’re in compliance as well.

According to documents filed in US District Court in Seattle (PDF), Adscend Media used a proprietary network of affiliates to target Facebook users with unsolicited messages that had been manipulated to appear as if they originated from friends. Carrying headlines such as “OMG! See What Happens to his Ex Girlfriend” the bait pages required users to click buttons that masqueraded as age verification checks from Facebook but really caused the messages to get posted on users’ Facebook News Feeds to allow them to spread virally.

The messages never disclosed that they originated with Adscend Media for purposes of driving traffic to the websites of its customers, Washington officials alleged. The company had a gross monthly revenue of about $1.2 million, and 80 percent of its income was derived from Facebook solicitations. Facebook recently settled a civil lawsuit with Adscend Media over the same practice. Adscend Media didn’t admit any wrongdoing in Monday’s settlement.

Security researchers have dubbed attacks that cause Facebook users to unwittingly endorse websites and products “Likejacking.”

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Feature: Government asks: when can we shut down wireless service?

Nine months ago, a tremendous controversy began with a simple e-mail:

“Gentlemen, The BART Police require the M-Line wireless from the Trans Bay Tube Portal to the Balboa Park Station, to be shut down today between 4 pm & 8,” wrote Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) construction supervisor Dirk Peter on August 11, 2011. (The Transbay Tube runs beneath the Bay, moving people to and from San Francisco; Balboa Park is a residential city neighborhood.) “Steve,” the note continued, “please help to notify all carriers.”

The message was addressed to Steve Dutto of Forzatelecom, a wireless project management company situated across the Bay in Oakland. BART requested the wireless network shutdown in response to an expected station demonstration that day to protest the killings of Oscar Grant and Charles Hill by BART officers a few days earlier.

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Google gets license to test drive autonomous cars on Nevada roads

On Monday, the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles approved Google’s license application to test autonomous vehicles on the state’s roads. The state had approved such laws back in February, and has now begun issuing licenses based on those regulations.

The state previously outlined that companies that want to test such vehicles will need an insurance bond of $1 million and must provide detailed outlines of where they plan to test it and under what conditions. Further, the car must have two people in it at all times, with one behind the wheel who can take control of the vehicle if needed.

The Autonomous Review Committee of the Nevada DMV is supervising the first licensing procedure and has now approved corresponding plates to go with it, complete with a red background and infinity symbol.

“I felt using the infinity symbol was the best way to represent the ‘car of the future,’” Nevada DMV Director Bruce Breslow said in a statement.

“The unique red plate will be easily recognized by the public and law enforcement and will be used only for licensed autonomous test vehicles. When there comes a time that vehicle manufacturers market autonomous vehicles to the public, that infinity symbol will appear on a green license plate.”

Eagle-eyed Ars readers: if you spot this car in Nevada, snap a pic and let us know!

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Exercises in democracy: building a digital public library

Most neighborhoods in America have a public library. Now the biggest neighborhood in America, the Internet, wants a library of its own. Last week, Ars attended a conference held by the Digital Public Library of America, a nascent group of intellectuals hoping to put all of America’s library holdings online. The DPLA is still in its infancy—there’s no official staff, nor is there a finished website where you can access all the books they imagine will be accessible. But if the small handful of volunteers and directors have their way, you’ll see all that by April 2013 at the latest.

Last week’s conference set out to answer a lot of questions. How much content should be centralized, and how much should come from local libraries? How will the Digital Public Library be run? Can an endowment-funded public institution succeed where Google Books has largely failed (a 4,000-word meditation on this topic is offered by Nicholas Carr in MIT’s April Technology Review)?

Enthusiasm for the project permeated the former Christian Science church where the meeting was held (now the church is the headquarters of Brewster Kahle’s Internet Archive). But despite the audience’s applause and wide-eyed wonder, there’s still a long way to go.

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Schools can’t stop wondering what students are up to on Facebook

It’s graduation season, which means that students, teachers, and administrators alike are all thinking about one thing: Facebook.

Schools around the globe have a fascination with—indeed, sometimes a fixation on—the social networking site and what their students are getting up to online. Questions about the appropriate response to student material on social networking sites have existed for years, but they’re exploding into serious policy questions (and even laws) as such sites become almost ubiquitous teen hangouts.

For instance: can school administration use social networking to keeps tabs on what students do during the school day? What about things they do after leaving school property?

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Leave only footprints: how Google’s ethical ignorance gets it in trouble

“According to a well written and thorough article in the Virginia Journal of Law & Technology, what we’ve been saying for over three years has been determined to be true: WarDriving is not a crime.”

That’s the text of a September 8, 2004 blog post by Marius Milner, the engineer who developed NetStumbler, a tool used to map WiFi networks using a WiFi card and GPS (also known as “wardriving”). Milner is also the engineer Google has claimed was solely responsible for the code that collected personal data from WiFi networks, including e-mail addresses and passwords, with the company’s Street View cars between May 2007 and May 2010.

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Week in review: Craigslist creeps, Samsung Galaxy S III, and copyright trolls

“Free babysitting”: how would-be pedophiles use Craigslist—and how they get caught: Craigslist is full of outrageous and ridiculous ads. But what happens when the guy offering “free babysitting” and asking for young girls’ panties isn’t kidding—and when he wants to meet children in person for sex?

Samsung Galaxy S III hands on: fast, thin, and a little bit cheap feeling : Samsung has unveiled the Galaxy S III, the latest iteration of its flagship Galaxy line of handsets, and we’ve had a chance to play with it. It’s fast and feature-packed with some neat software features. But it doesn’t quite feel like the flagship it’s supposed to be.

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Oracle-Google jury reaches verdict on all but one Java copyright question

The jury in the Oracle/Google Java copyright case has ruled on three of the four questions it must answer, but a verdict has not been revealed because the presiding judge has sent jurors back to deliberate on the unresolved issue.

As you know, Oracle accuses Google of infringing Java copyrights and patents in the Android mobile operating system. The copyright portion of the trial has ended. Jurors reportedly told Judge William Alsup that they have reached a decision on all but one of the questions, and a court hearing was held today in which Alsup and the two sides’ lawyers discussed whether to hear a partial verdict and then move on to the patent portion of the case.

Instead, Alsup told the jury to keep working on the copyright questions Monday, according to reports in ZDNet and other sources. Of the four questions, only three are consequential, because the fourth question was asked for advisory purposes to help Alsup make decisions that aren’t left up to the jury. But it is one of the first three matters the jury has not ruled unanimously upon.

Exactly which question is holding things up has not been revealed. The jury is ruling on whether Google violated the law by using 37 Java API packages, whether Google’s use of documentation related to the Java API packages counts as infringement, and whether other violations occurred involving the use of source code, English language comments in Java files, and methods. Click here to read the full questions.

If the jury is deadlocked Monday, it could still deliver a partial verdict, allowing the trial to move on to Oracle’s allegations of patent infringement.

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Google may face massive fine from FTC for bypassing Safari privacy controls

Google is said to be in the process of negotiating a fine with the Federal Trade Commission for circumventing Safari’s privacy settings, according to Bloomberg. Citing an unnamed “person familiar with the matter,” Bloomberg says Google faces being fined up to $10 million once the FTC files formal charges against the company, though unsurprisingly, neither Google nor the FTC has publicly commented.

Google was found to be working its way around Safari’s tool that allows users to block third-party cookies earlier this year in order to, well, “track” users with cookies. (The code used by Google was part of its program to place the “+1” button in advertisements.) At the time, the company issued a statement saying that the circumvention wasn’t intentional, but privacy groups were still quick to file complaints with the FTC over Google’s actions. That was quickly followed by a class-action lawsuit and an investigation by European regulators.

According to Bloomberg’s source, the FTC plans to charge Google with violating its consent decree with the US government that came out of the Google Buzz settlement. The company had agreed not to mislead users about its privacy policies or what it’s doing with user data, and critics were quick to point out that circumventing a browser’s privacy controls seem to fall under that umbrella. No expected timeframe was given for when the FTC will officially charge Google.

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Waiting on the RIAA, feds held seized Dajaz1 domain for months

Documents unsealed this week reveal that the year-long delay in returning the seized Dajaz1 domain name occurred in part because the government was waiting for copyright holders, including the Recording Industry Association of America, to provide more information. The documents were released in response to a joint request from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the First Amendment Coalition and Wired (which shares a parent company with Ars). The documents raise fresh questions about the domain seizure process created by Congress in the 2008 PRO-IP Act.

Dajaz1.com was (and is) a popular hip hop music blog. In its application to seize the site’s domain name, the government cited four links to allegedly infringing songs hosted on cyber-locker sites. Dajaz1’s attorney says the site complied with the DMCA takedown process, and has also suggested to Ars that some of the music was leaked by agents of the music labels themselves in an effort to create “buzz” for forthcoming albums.

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Yahoo: Facebook’s Open Compute Project also violates our patents

You already know Yahoo is suing Facebook, claiming its “entire social network model” was made possible by Yahoo’s patented Web technologies. Now, it turns out Yahoo is indicating it may assert another 16 patents against Facebook that Yahoo claims are being used in open source technology Facebook adopted for its data centers and servers.

In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing yesterday, Facebook said “We received a letter dated April 23, 2012 from Yahoo indicating that they believe 16 patents they claim to hold ‘may be relevant’ to open source technology they allege is being used in our data centers and servers. Yahoo has not threatened or initiated litigation with respect to matters described in this letter but it may do so in the future.”

The letter from Yahoo has been reprinted on ZDNet and TechCrunch. It reveals the 16 specific patents in question, with Yahoo claiming Facebook’s Open Compute Project is the source of much of the alleged infringement. The April 23 letter requests a meeting with Facebook by April 26. Facebook’s SEC filing yesterday doesn’t say whether such a meeting has taken place.

Among the 16 new patents, one describes a “method for garbage collection in an object cache,” several discuss methods of serving up Web content from Web servers, and another discusses a server farm cooling system. Yahoo’s suit against Facebook was filed March 12, citing 10 patents related to social networking, privacy, messaging, and customization. Facebook fired back with a counterclaim alleging that Yahoo infringed 10 Facebook patents, only to see Yahoo file a further counterclaim last week alleging two more.

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"Literally" the day he was arrested, hacker Sabu helped the FBI

It didn’t take much time to turn Hector “Sabu” Monsegur into an FBI informant—just a few hours, in fact. “Since literally the day he was arrested, the defendant has been cooperating with the government proactively,” Assistant US Attorney James Pastore told a federal judge last August.

Monsegur had been a key member of Anonymous and later the “happy hackers” of LulzSec, a spinoff group that broke into servers around the world during the summer of 2011 and taunted the FBI about it. But the moment that Monsegur was arrested at his public housing apartment in June, his life took a dramatic turn.

“The defendant has literally worked around the clock with federal agents,” Pastore continued. “He has been staying up sometimes all night engaging in conversations with co-conspirators that are helping the government to build cases against those co-conspirators.”

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Oracle v. Google judge asks for comment on EU court ruling

The copyright phase of the Oracle v. Google trial is winding down. While the world waits for a jury verdict on the facts, the judge overseeing the case is wrestling with the complexities of the law. Oracle has argued that the “structure, sequence and organization” of the Java API is eligible for copyright protection, while Google disagrees.

On Thursday, Judge William Alsup asked each party to submit a 20-page brief answering a series of 13 in-depth questions about the Java API and the relevant precedents. Among other things, he asked the parties to weigh in on the implications of this week’s EU court decision that allowing functional characteristics of programming languages to be copyrighted would “monopolize” ideas.

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