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  1. In case you've forgotten: Google sends Mozilla about $400m a year Mozilla has responded to news of the US government’s antitrust lawsuit against Google by saying it welcomes it … provided it doesn’t get hurt. Mozilla has weighed in on two fronts, firstly as an organisation that likes an open web. “Like millions of everyday internet users, we share concerns about how Big Tech’s growing power can deter innovation and reduce consumer choice,” wrote chief legal officer Amy Keating, before getting to the hear of the matter: Mozilla has a deal to funnel search traffic to Google and the resulting royalties represent over 90 percent of the Mozilla revenue. Mozilla's second position is as an organisation that has a recently renewed deal to send search traffic to Google that is thought to see around $400m a year flow from the ad giant to the browser contender. That's around 90 percent of Mozilla's income. Which is where things get complex, because as Keating noted: “In this new lawsuit, the DOJ referenced Google’s search agreement with Mozilla as one example of Google’s monopolization of the search engine market in the United States.” So what’s a not-for-profit to do when it worries about Big Tech, but is also utterly dependent on it for revenue? Keating has recommended the USA kick Google as hard as it wants, so long as Mozilla still gets paid by ... someone. “Small and independent companies such as Mozilla thrive by innovating, disrupting and providing users with industry leading features and services in areas like search,” she wrote. “The ultimate outcomes of an antitrust lawsuit should not cause collateral damage to the very organizations – like Mozilla – best positioned to drive competition and protect the interests of consumers on the web.” “Unintended harm to smaller innovators from enforcement actions will be detrimental to the system as a whole, without any meaningful benefit to consumers — and is not how anyone will fix Big Tech," she added, before concluding: “remedies must look at the ecosystem in its entirety, and allow the flourishing of competition and choice to benefit consumers.” But the US action is against Google the ad giant, not Google the browser-maker. It is unclear exactly how Mozilla – which funnels plenty of ad-carrying search traffic to Google – represents a bulwark against Google's dominance. Indeed, Mozilla only survives by helping to sustain Google. Advising lawmakers to beware the law of unintended consequences, and to preserve both public and private interests, is nothing out of the ordinary. Doing so while advocating a position that would preserve revenue is quite the contortion, and not a pretty one. Source
  2. The US government has filed antitrust charges against Google A huge legal challenge to one of the nation’s largest tech companies Photo by MANDEL NGAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images The Justice Department filed suit against Google on Tuesday for illegal monopolization of the search and ad markets, kicking off one of the largest antitrust cases in US history. As first reported by The Wall Street Journal, the case focuses on search and search-focused advertising, rather than the company’s broader targeted ad business. “Countless advertisers must pay a toll to Google’s search advertising and general search text advertising monopolies,” the complaint reads, “American consumers are forced to accept Google’s policies, privacy practices, and use of personal data; and new companies with innovative business models cannot emerge from Google’s long shadow.” In a call this morning, Justice Department officials emphasized the scale and power of Google’s control over the search market. “Google’s conduct is illegal under traditional antitrust principles and must be stopped.... Google owns or controls search distribution channels accounting for about 80 percent of general search queries in the United States,” said Ryan Shores, the Justice Department’s senior advisor for tech industries. “We’re asking the court to break Google’s grip on search distribution so that competition and innovation can take hold.” Google disagrees, insisting that its high share of the search market is the result of consumer choice. “Today’s lawsuit by the Department of Justice is deeply flawed,” the company said in a statement. “People use Google because they choose to — not because they’re forced to or because they can’t find alternatives. The case is one of the most ambitious antitrust actions ever undertaken against a tech company, drawing together parallel investigations from the Department of Justice and a range of state attorneys general. The Department of Justice briefed state AGs on the case at the end of September, according to a report from The Washington Post. Eleven different state attorneys general are expected to sign onto the case, per the Journal, but others are likely to file separate antitrust charges. Google has faced antitrust action before, but never on this scale. The most significant investigation concluded in 2013, when the company changed its AdSense policies to resolve a Federal Trade Commission investigation without formal legal action. Google has also faced a string of fines from regulators in the European Union, including €1.5 billion over its AdSense policy, €4.3 billion over software bundling in Android, and €2.4 billion for manipulating shopping results in Google search. Google drew significant criticism from lawmakers at Congress’ tech antitrust hearing in July, suggesting the company may have few allies left in Washington. In opening remarks, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) accused the company of using its privileged position as a search engine to crush competitors in other areas. “It is Google’s business model that is the problem,” Cicilline said. “Our documents show that Google evolved from a turnstile to the rest of the web to a walled garden that increasingly keeps users within its sites.” At the time, Google CEO Sundar Pichai defended the company’s actions as part of a broader commitment to serving users. “When I run the company, I’m really focused on giving users what they want,” Pichai said. “We conduct ourselves to the highest standard.” Update 10:31AM ET: Updated with statements from Google and the Justice Department. Update 10:49AM ET: Updated with the official Justice Department complaint. The US government has filed antitrust charges against Google
  3. US government investigators have lost a case to force Facebook to wiretap calls made over its Messenger app. A joint federal and state law enforcement effort investigating the MS-13 gang had pushed a district court to hold the social networking giant in contempt of court for refusing to permit real-time listening in on voice calls. According to sources speaking to Reuters, the judge later ruled in Facebook’s favor — although, because the case remains under seal, it’s not known for what reason. The case, filed in a Fresno, Calif. district court, centers on alleged gang members accused of murder and other crimes. The government had been pushing to prosecute 16 suspected gang members, but are said to have leaned on Facebook to obtain further evidence. Reuters said that an affidavit submitted by an FBI agent said that “there is no practical method available by which law enforcement can monitor” calls on Facebook Messenger . Although Facebook-owned WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption to prevent eavesdroppers, not even the company can listen in — which law enforcement have long claimed that this hinders investigations. But Facebook Messenger doesn’t end-to-end encrypt voice calls, making real-time listening in on calls possible. Although phone companies and telcos are required under US law to allow police and federal agencies access to real-time phone calls with a court-signed wiretap order, internet companies like Facebook fall outside the scope of the law. Privacy advocates saw this case as a way to remove that exemption, accusing the government of trying to backdoor the encrypted app, just two years after the FBI sued Apple over a similar request to break into the encrypted iPhone belonging to San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. Neither Facebook nor the FBI responded to a request for comment. Source
  4. from the COME-DOWN-TO-DATA-KING-FOR-ALL-YOUR-USER-DATA-NEEDS-OPEN-SATURDAY dept Facebook's new transparency report is up, and the company has released a baker's dozens of National Security Letters along with it. Thanks to the USA Freedom Act, companies finally have a way to challenge the indefinite gag orders the government attaches to its demands for user info -- a process it deploys thousands of times a year without having to run anything by a judge. NSLs are gifts the FBI gives itself. With these self-issued pieces of paper, the agency can demand internet platforms turn over info about targeted accounts. What it can actually demand is fairly limited, although there appears to be no limit to the number of accounts the FBI can target with a single NSL. Many of the NSLs in this batch [PDF] cleared for release ask for data on multiple Facebook and Instagram users. Only one of the released NSLs still carries the pre-Freedom Act boilerplate: the one that demands tons of info the DOJ's own internal legal guidance says the FBI can't ask for. That NSL contains a long list of things the FBI chose to consider "phone billing records" before being steered back to reality by legislation and leaked documents. Subscriber name and related subscriber information Account number(s) Date the account opened or closed Physical and or postal addresses associated with the account Subscriber day/evening telephone numbers Screen names or other on-line names associated with the account All billing and method of payment related to the account including alternative billed numbers or calling cards All e-mail addresses associated with the account to include any and all of the above information for any secondary or additional e-mail addresses and/or user names identified by you as belonging to the targeted account in this letter Internet Protocol (IP) addresses assigned to this account and related e-mail accounts Uniform Resource Locator (URL) assigned to the account Plain old telephone(s) (POTS), ISDN circuit(s), Voice over internet protocol (VOIP), Cable modem service, Internet cable service, Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) asymmetrical/symmetrical relating to this account The names of any and all upstream and providers facilitating this account's communications The post-USA Freedom Act NSLs all carry identical demands for user info, which is far more limited than what's contained in this 2014 artifact. The reason we're even seeing these NSLs published can be tied directly to the Snowden leaks, which led to the modification of several secretive government programs and policies with the USA Freedom Act. While these modifications may have altered how the government demands data and communications, it hasn't really slowed the government's roll. As Zack Whittaker notes for TechCrunch, the government is demanding more from Facebook more often. If it's data you're seeking, you go to where the data is. A platform with a billion users is a good start, especially when Instagram adds another 600 million user accounts to the mix. While it's good to see the uptick in demands is matched with an uptick in warrants and other orders that require the input of a court, the continued use of NSLs to acquire user info is concerning. These subpoenas -- issued and approved by the agency demanding user data -- more resemble fishing licenses than legal documents, which explains their continued popularity among FBI agents. Source
  5. WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A partial U.S. government shutdown over President Donald Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border entered its 22nd day on Saturday, making it the longest shuttering of federal agencies in U.S. history, with no end in sight. PHOTO: A sign the reads "Federal employees all day happy hour" is displayed at a local bar as the partial U.S. government shutdown enters its third week in Washington, U.S., January 11, 2019. Trump, holed up in the White House with Congress adjourned for the weekend, warned of a much lengthier impasse and blamed the Democrats. “We will be out for a long time unless the Democrats come back from their ‘vacations’ and get back to work,” he tweeted. Democrats say Trump shut the government in a “temper tantrum” by refusing to sign bipartisan funding legislation last year that did not include money for his wall. The closure, which began on Dec. 22, broke a decades-old record by a 1995-1996 shutdown under former President Bill Clinton that lasted 21 days. Federal workers affected missed their first paychecks on Friday, heightening concerns about mounting financial pressures on employees, including air traffic controllers and airport security officials who continue to work without pay. Roughly 800,000 federal workers did not receive paychecks that would have gone out on Friday. Some have resorted to selling their possessions or posting appeals on online fundraising sites to help pay their bills. Miami International Airport said it will close one of its terminals early over the next several days due to a possible shortage of security screeners, who have been calling in sick at twice the normal rate. A union that represents thousands of air traffic controllers sued the Federal Aviation Administration on Friday, saying it had violated federal wage law by failing to pay workers. It is at least the third lawsuit filed by unions on behalf of unpaid workers. The head of the U.S. Secret Service, which is responsible for protecting Trump, has warned employees that financial stress can lead to depression and anxiety. “Keep an eye out for warning signs of trouble,” Director R.D. “Tex” Alles wrote in a memo seen by Reuters. The Transportation Security Administration, responsible for airport security screening, said its rate of unscheduled absences rose to 5.6 percent on Saturday from 3.3 percent a year ago but that security standards have not been compromised. The Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees air traffic controllers, said on Saturday it had seen no unusual rates of sick leave among its air traffic controllers and no disruptions to air traffic control operations. To support its workforce, TSA said it was processing pay for employees who worked on the first day of the shutdown and announced $500 bonuses for uniformed screening officers. Trump is considering a possible national emergency declaration that would end the shutdown and allow him to obtain his wall funding by circumventing Congress. But on Friday, he said he would not take such a step “right now”. “Democrats should come back to Washington and work to end the Shutdown, while at the same time ending the horrible humanitarian crisis at our Southern Border. I am in the White House waiting for you!” he tweeted. Trump also urged his 57.2 million Twitter followers to contact Democratic lawmakers and “Tell them to get it done!” Democrats, who call a wall an ineffective, outdated answer to a complex problem, have passed several bills in the House of Representatives to reopen the government without funding for Trump’s barrier. But the legislation has been ignored by the Republican-controlled Senate. Trump originally pledged Mexico would pay for the wall, which he says is needed to stem the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs. But Mexico has refused. U.S. government departments including the Treasury, Energy, Commerce and State departments, shut down when funding lapsed on Dec. 22. Funding for other portions of the government, including the Department of Defense and Congress, was approved, allowing them to continue regular operations. Trump has repeatedly described the situation at the Mexico border as a “humanitarian crisis” as speculation has increased this week that he would circumvent Congress to begin building his signature wall - a move that would be sure to draw a court challenge from Democrats who say the barrier would be barbaric and ineffective. Instead, the president urged lawmakers to provide him the $5.7 billion he is seeking for border security. A national emergency would allow Trump to divert money from other projects to pay for the wall, which was a central promise of his 2016 campaign. That, in turn, could prompt him to sign bills that restore funding to agencies that have been affected by the shutdown. Source
  6. For the second time, Senator Cory Booker announced a bill to make recreational marijuana use legal across the entire US. The Marijuana Justice Act, which Booker and Representatives Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna announced on Thursday, would not only legalize marijuana but also retroactively erase marijuana possession charges from Americans' criminal records, according to Rolling Stone — a monumental shift in U.S. drug policy. Cory Booker, a 2020 Democratic hopeful, first introduced a similar bill in 2017 that didn't make it out of the Senate. Still, Booker has made it clear that a major component of his presidential bid will center around ending the War on Drugs, which has led to the over-policing and incarceration of racial minorities for nonviolent crimes. "The failed War on Drugs has really been a war on people — disproportionately criminalizing poor people, people of color & people with mental illness," Booker tweeted Thursday morning. "I'm reintroducing the [Marijuana Justice] Act to begin reversing our failed federal drug policies." So far, other Democratic candidates Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Kamala Harris have all co-sponsored Booker's new bill, according to NPR. Meanwhile, Senator Ron Wyden introduced a similar bill earlier this month. A major component of the Marijuana Justice Act is its retroactive effect on people who were previously charged for marijuana possession and either served time in prison or are still incarcerated. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reports that black people are four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people, despite similar rates of drug use. When various states have legalized recreational marijuana, it largely benefited wealthy, white business owners who opened up distribution centers. Meanwhile, black people continued to be arrested at higher rates and the predominantly-black cohort currently in prison remained there, Vox reports. If Booker's bill makes it through the Senate this time, those people wouldn't be left behind. The new bill would allow people currently in prison for possession to appeal for re-sentencing. People who already served time would have their criminal records expunged, according to Rolling Stone. "It's not enough to simply decriminalize marijuana. We must also repair the damage caused by reinvesting in those communities that have been most harmed by the War on Drugs," Booker said in a statement sent to Rolling Stone. "And we must expunge the records of those who have served their time. The end we seek is not just legalization, it's justice." source
  7. Brad Smith tells Bloomberg he wants evidence backing up the Trump administration's ban on the Chinese company. Microsoft provides its Windows OS to Huawei. Microsoft President Brad Smith said in a Bloomberg interview that the Trump administration hasn't provided enough evidence about the national security threat posed by Huawei. Acts like blacklisting the Chinese company shouldn't be taken without a "sound basis in fact, logic, and the rule of law," he said. When Microsoft asked US lawmakers to explain the threat, they've been too vague for Smith's liking. Huawei is a major customer of his company: Its laptops come with Microsoft's Windows operating system. "Oftentimes, what we get in response is, 'Well, if you knew what we knew, you would agree with us'," Smith told Bloomberg. "And our answer is, 'Great, show us what you know so we can decide for ourselves. That's the way this country works.' " The US Commerce Department added Huawei to its blacklist following a May executive order from President Donald Trump, over security concerns due to Huawei's alleged links to the Chinese government. As a result, American companies will have to get licenses to sell to Huawei once its recently extended reprieve ends. Smith, who's also Microsoft's chief legal officer, said his company argued that the department should limit its ban to sales that pose national security risks, such as universities with Chinese military links -- an approach he compared to a "scalpel" rather than its current "meat cleaver" method. Neither Huawei nor the White House immediately responded to requests for comment. Source
  8. Cisco agreed today to pay $8.6 million to settle a legal case brought forward by a former contractor who accused the company of failing to fix several security flaws and continuing to sell vulnerable video surveillance software to US government agencies for years. According to court documents obtained by ZDNet, the case was handled under the US False Claims Act (FCA), which allowed the former contractor to report fraud in government contracts by filing a "qui tam" lawsuit on the government's behalf. Cisco ignored bug report In the lawsuit, filed in May 2011 but kept under seal until today, James Glenn, who worked in Denmark at Cisco subcontractor NetDesign, claimed he found security flaws in Cisco's Video Surveillance Manager (VSM) -- a multi-software package that could be used to control video surveillance cameras, to store recorded video feeds, and allow operators to manipulate camera-recorded videos. Glenn said the vulnerabilities could have allowed a hacker to gain unauthorized access to data stored inside VSM installations, turn cameras off to aid intruders, and even gain "administrative" access over a client's entire network. Glenn said he notified Cisco of these issues in October 2008, but the company failed to patch the reported bugs. Furthermore, Cisco continued to sell its VSM package to customers all over the world, including US government agencies. "This video surveillance software is used by airports, police departments, and schools. It is supposed to make us safer, making the vulnerabilities at issue all the more troubling," said Hamsa Mahendranathan, an attorney at Constantine Cannon, the law firm that represented Glenn. After seeing that his reports were ignored, Glenn filed a whistleblower case under the FCA, which was later joined by 18 US states, including California, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Cisco eventually patched the bugs reported by Glenn in 2013 and stopped selling the VSM package altogether, a year later, in 2014. Settlement fee represent a partial refund "We are pleased to have resolved a 2011 dispute involving the architecture of a video security technology product we added to our portfolio through the Broadware acquisition in 2007. There was no allegation or evidence that any unauthorized access to customers' video occurred as a result of the architecture," a Cisco spokesperson told ZDNet via email, when reached out for comment. According to Mark Chandler, Cisco's Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer, the $8.6 million sum represents "a partial refund to the US federal government and 16 states for products purchased between Cisco's fiscal years 2008 and 2013." Of the $8.6 million, roughly $1.6 million will go to Glenn and his lawyers. Qui tam lawsuits allow whistleblowers to receive a percentage of any imposed penalties. Chandler said Cisco never made huge profits from these contracts, and the total sales of VSM software to US government entities were "well under one one-hundredth of one percent of Cisco's total sales." "While this is a legacy issue which no longer exists, it matters to us to recognize that times and expectations have changed," Chandler said. Source
  9. U.S. government staff told to treat Huawei as blacklisted WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senior U.S. official told the Commerce Department’s enforcement staff this week that China’s Huawei should still be treated as blacklisted, days after U.S. President Donald Trump sowed confusion with a vow to ease a ban on sales to the firm. FILE PHOTO: The Huawei logo is pictured in central Warsaw, Poland, June 17, 2019. Picture taken June 17, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel Trump surprised markets on Saturday by promising Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Japan that he would allow U.S. companies to sell products to Huawei Technologies Co Ltd. In May, the company was added to the so-called Entity List, which bans American firms from selling to it without special permission, as punishment for actions against U.S. national security interests. Trump’s announcement on Saturday - an olive branch to Beijing to revive stalled trade talks - was cheered by U.S. chipmakers eager to maintain sales to Huawei, the world’s largest telecoms equipment maker and a key U.S. customer. But Trump’s comments also spawned confusion among industry players and government officials struggling to understand what Huawei policy he had unveiled. In an email to enforcement staff on Monday that was seen by Reuters, John Sonderman, Deputy Director of the Office of Export Enforcement, in the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), sought to clarify how agents should approach license requests by firms seeking approval to sell to Huawei. All such applications should be considered on merit and flagged with language noting that “This party is on the Entity List. Evaluate the associated license review policy under part 744,” he wrote, citing regulations that include the Entity List and the “presumption of denial” licensing policy that is applied to blacklisted companies. He added that any further guidance from BIS should also be taken into account when evaluating Huawei-related license applications. Huawei told Reuters earlier on Wednesday that founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei had said Trump’s statements over the weekend were “good for American companies”. “Huawei is also willing to continue to buy products from American companies. But we don’t see much impact on what we are currently doing. We will still focus on doing our own job right,” a Huawei spokesman said in an email. The Commerce Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A person familiar with the matter said the letter was the only guidance that enforcement officials had received after Trump’s surprise announcement on Saturday. A presumption of denial implies strict review and most licenses reviewed under it are not approved. It is unclear when the Commerce Department will provide its enforcement staff with additional guidance, based on Trump’s promises, and how that might alter the likelihood of obtaining licenses. The internal memo, not previously reported, came as White House advisers also scrambled to shed light on Trump’s announcement. White House trade adviser Peter Navarro noted on Tuesday that the government would allow “lower tech” chip sales to the company, which don’t impact national security. The United States has accused Huawei of stealing American intellectual property and violating Iran sanctions. It has launched a lobbying effort to convince U.S. allies to keep Huawei out of next-generation 5G telecommunications infrastructure, citing concerns the company could spy on customers. Huawei has denied the allegations. Source: U.S. government staff told to treat Huawei as blacklisted
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