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[l] at 1/25/22 7:25am
Last week, we noted how ATT-owned DirecTV had decided to axe OAN, the conspiracy and fantasy channel, from its cable lineup. The decision came just three months or so after a blockbuster report showed that ATT not only helped fund and set up the conspiracy theory spewing "news" outlet, but it came up with the idea. OAN has been notorious for spreading false claims ranging from non-existent election fraud to the false claim that COVID was developed in a North Carolina lab as part of a government plot. Of course things have shifted dramatically for ATT since OAN's creation several years ago. The company's $200 billion acquisitions of DirecTV and Time Warner flamed out spectacularly, forcing it to sell much of the assets to recoup its massive debt load as it backed away from its TV and video advertising ambitions and refocused on telecom. That included selling off DirecTV into a new joint venture with private equity firm TPG Capital, which now has a 30 percent stake. So the recent decision to axe the channel from the DirecTV lineup likely had more to do with TPG Capital not wanting to be associated with the venture than ATT (whose Dallas-based executives remain largely cozy with insurrectionists and right-wing conspiracy theorists). But the channel apparently thought attacking ATT board members would be their best path forward, with channel hosts now asking viewers to "find dirt" on ATT board member William Kennard: "Besides begging OAN viewers to “blow up” ATT’s phone lines with demands that they keep his channel, Ball also called on them to send them any salacious information about the conglomerate’s chairman. “If you have any dirt on Mr. Kennard, I’d love to see it and put it on this program,” the Real America host exclaimed. “You bring me concrete evidence of whatever it may be: cheating on his taxes, cheating on his wife, saying racial slurs against white people,” Ball added, unsubtly referencing the fact that Kennard is Black. “Whatever it may be. Find it for me. Bring it, and we will air it." Granted there are plenty of executives and board members at ATT that OAN could have singled out. But they chose Kennard not only because he was Black, but because he was a Democrat who was Federal Communications Commission chairman during the Clinton administration. That helps them portray the decision to axe them not as the justified decision of TPG Capital (which obviously wants nothing to do with the gibberish the channel engages in as it tries to salvage the struggling brand), but as an unfair partisan act of "censorship." OAN is obviously panicked because while the channel is still carried on a few providers (like Verizon's FiOS TV), DirecTV made up the vast, vast majority of its outreach footprint, giving it perceived legitimacy as a "news" organization. Without a sugar daddy like ATT propping up the organization with favorable carriage deals, the "news channel" is forced to heavily rely on the Internet for distribution, leaving it mired in a highly competitive scrum of conspiratorial influencers and other gibberish spewing Trump orbit hopefuls.
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[l] at 1/25/22 4:26am
Hope Mike Lindell has socked away some of his MyPillow millions. Trump toadying is proving to be an expensive hobby, and it's not as though the former president is doing anything to repay those whose support has been absurdly unwavering with anything like, you know, legal assistance. Or actual money. Trump cohorts and legal reps are being sued by Dominion Voting Systems for the weeks of (alleged) defamation they engaged in following Trump's loss at the polls. The MyPillow CEO is being sued by Dominion for the same thing, thanks to his sudden ascendance into the public sphere -- a position he used to spread plenty of false (and easily disproved) "stolen election" theories. Lindell responded to being sued by Dominion with a lawsuit of his own -- one that claimed Dominion's lawsuit was unconstitutionally silencing his company by naming it as a defendant. His lawsuit pointed out (correctly) that Lindell made all of the allegedly defamatory assertions before going on to claim his company was being censored by Dominion, preventing it from saying all the things Lindell just finished claiming it had never said, nor would ever say. Another voting tech company is now suing Lindell for defamation, raising a lot of the same allegations Dominion's lawsuit did. Smartmatic -- which was dragged into the post-election shitstorm by Trump acolytes pushing conspiracy theories -- says Lindell made tons of false claims about the company being involved in the "theft" of votes, as well as being compromised by Chinese hackers during the 2020 election. (h/t Mike Dunford) The lawsuit [PDF] doesn't waste any time letting the judge (and Lindell) know exactly what Smartmatic thinks of him and his assertions. Crazy like a fox. Mike Lindell knows exactly what he is doing, and it is dangerous. Mr. Lindell knows Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the 2020 election for President and Vice President of the United States. He knows the election was not rigged, fixed, or stolen. He knows voting machines did not switch votes from former President Trump to now President Biden. These facts do not matter to Mr. Lindell because he knows he can sell. Mr. Lindell knows he can sell xenophobia. He knows he can sell conspiracy theory. He knows he can sell a preconceived story about voting machines stealing democracy by stealing votes from a president who is incredibly popular with millions of Americans. And, of course, Mr. Lindell—“the MyPillow Guy”—knows he needs to sell pillows to keep and increase his fortune. That last point is repeated throughout the lawsuit: Lindell leveraged his position as the CEO of MyPillow to make public appearances. And he leveraged these public appearances to advertise for his company. The two are intertwined, even if, as Lindell claims, the company itself has never issued a public statement purporting to be the business's official take on election fraud theories. Here's what's bothering Smartmatic: Mr. Lindell’s message was as dangerous as it was factually inaccurate. Mr. Lindell told people that Smartmatic stole the 2020 U.S. election. He told people that Smartmatic’s election technology, hardware, and software were hacked by China and other foreign countries. He told people that Smartmatic election technology, hardware, and software were developed for the sole purpose of stealing foreign elections by switching votes. And he told people that Smartmatic deployed its election technology, hardware, and software to do just that in the 2020 U.S. election. All lies. Unlike Dominion's multiple, multi-billion dollar lawsuits, Smartmatic's lawsuit does not seek a set amount in damages. This suggests it has more than enough evidence on hand to show how Lindell's false statements harmed it. And the narrative that the 136-page lawsuit details is one in which Lindell -- despite being aware other entities like Fox News had retracted false claims about Smartmatic -- continued to make the same, disproven assertions over and over again. The lawsuit lays out -- in great detail -- the false claims made by Lindell on Fox News, as well as on other networks seeking to "outFox" the former leader in conspiratorial conservatives, like OAN and Newsmax. This went on for weeks, long after other conspiracy theorists had decided to abandon the "stolen" election narrative. The longer Lindell continued, the more evidence contradicting his claims he willingly ignored, as Smartmatic points out: Mr. Lindell had obvious reasons to doubt what he was saying about Smartmatic outside of the 2020 U.S. election because it had been publicly debunked for months prior to his statements. [...] Mr. Lindell possessed and had access to a significant volume of information that contradicted the story he told about Smartmatic. Mr. Lindell reviewed this information (and therefore knew his statements and implications were false) and/or purposefully avoided reviewing this information because he did not want to know the truth. A minimal amount of investigation would easily establish the falsity of Mr. Lindell’s statements about Smartmatic’s role in the U.S. election. Mr. Lindell has stated that he spent millions of dollars investigating Smartmatic. He would have needed to spend only a fraction of that amount to learn of Smartmatic’s limited, secure role as a voting technology and services provider in Los Angeles County. Lindell's persistence in the face of actual facts is likely to cost him more than just the legal fees he'll spend defending himself against this lawsuit. Smartmatic's lawsuit points out dozens of false statements made by Lindell that had already been disproven by the time he started making these assertions. That's actual malice and it's going to be very hard for Lindell to argue he was just engaging in heated political rhetoric that got a little out of hand. He has attached his personal brand -- along with MyPillow's -- to bizarre conspiracy theories that originated from a small but vocal minority that simply cannot bring themselves to believe their president got voted out of office.
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[l] at 1/24/22 9:06pm
And here we go again. When Microsoft acquired Zenimax/Bethesda last year, the first question that leapt to most people's minds was whether or not Microsoft would wall off long-running franchises from Bethesda with exclusivity to Xbox and/or PC platforms. Those looking for answers were surely initially confused by conflicting statements from both sides of the deal, which was then "clarified" later by Microsoft execs saying that titles would be "first/better on Microsoft platforms" but not exclusive. That was then clarified further by Microsoft's actual actions, which was to announce that the next Elder Scrolls game would indeed be a PC/Xbox exclusive. Well, as we were just discussing, Microsoft is finalizing its biggest ever acquisition into the game publishing market with a purchase of Activision Blizzard and King Digital Entertainment, and all the same questions immediately leapt to everyone's mind. And, because past is prologue, the players in this deal and those impacted by it are churning out vague, unclear statements on what this means for exclusivity for franchises from those studios. We'll start with what Sony said in comments to The Wall Street journal. “We expect that Microsoft will abide by contractual agreements and continue to ensure Activision games are multiplatform,” a Sony spokesman told The Wall Street Journal today. Read one way, it seems like confirmation that the owner of PlayStation thinks nothing will change. Read another, it means that existing Activision games will remain multiplatform, but doesn’t provide any clarity on what might happen to future projects that haven’t even been announced yet. Indeed. And, frankly, Sony can expect anything it likes, but Microsoft probably didn't spend $69 billion on these studios without its own plans in place. Whether that includes exclusivity... who knows? But the company has its plans and Sony's expectations probably don't factor into them all that much. Then came the public comments by Xbox's Phil Spencer. Spencer was one of the Microsoft folks commenting publicly about the Zenimax acquisition, vaguely saying that Microsoft could recoup its $7.5 billion investment even by excluding non-Microsoft platforms from future games, but that, hey, maybe it wouldn't go that route. Here he is commenting on his talks with Sony. Had good calls this week with leaders at Sony. I confirmed our intent to honor all existing agreements upon acquisition of Activision Blizzard and our desire to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation. Sony is an important part of our industry, and we value our relationship. — Phil Spencer (@XboxP3) January 20, 2022 Now the Twitter reaction to that was all sunshine and rainbows as everyone took it to mean there would be no exclusivity deals for CoD games. But go read that tweet again, because that isn't what it says at all. There are a million ways to read that tweet, including: we'll honor existing agreements for existing games by keeping them on PlayStation. Read that way, the tweet says virtually nothing about new or upcoming games. Nor anything about other Activision or Blizzard franchises. Also, there are a bunch of non-committal words sprinkled in there. Intent? I intended on losing weight after the new year. I very much did not. See how that works? It's all very unclear, which is annoying. Microsoft knows what it wants to do and the fact that they aren't making definitive statements tells you this is probably going to follow the Bethesda track. Not everything will be exclusive, but some franchises certainly will. According to Bloomberg’s report, “Microsoft plans to keep making some of Activision’s games for PlayStation consoles but will also keep some content exclusive to Xbox.” That could mean that Call of Duty, consistently the best-selling game every year, will remain multiplatform. Or it could mean that nearly every new Activision Blizzard game except for its free-to-play battle royale, Warzone, won’t be coming to PS5. While industry consolidation doesn't always have to be a bad thing, this is and always has been the major concern in the gaming industry. When the makers of the platform also make the games you play on them, you're at the mercy of corporate interests as to whether you'll have access to them or not. And whatever you think of any of this, that simply isn't how you continue to grow an exploding industry.
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[l] at 1/24/22 4:37pm
We're excited today to announce that we've received a grant from Grant for the Web to create a content series on Techdirt exploring the history (and future?) of web monetization, entitled "Correcting Error 402." We'll get more into this once the series launches, but lots of people are aware of the HTTP 404 Not Found error code -- and some people are at least vaguely aware of 403 Forbidden. What most people probably don't know about is the Error Code 402: Payment Required. It's been in the HTTP spec going back decades, with "This code is reserved for future use." But no one's ever actually done anything with it. And, arguably, the lack of standardization there has created some ancillary issues -- including a few giant, dominant payment processor companies, high transaction fees, as well as the current (and more recent) mad dash scramble to fill the gap by trying to build a zillion different kinds of cryptocurrencies, most of which are fluff and nonsense, but without actually understanding what makes the most sense for an open internet. Grant for the Web is a project of the Interledger Foundation. Interledger is an attempt to create an open protocol, web monetization standard for handling internet payments and monetization. We've talked a little about all this in the past, when we started experimenting with Coil (a provider of tools to help enable web monetization), and on the podcast we did with Coil founder and Interledger co-creator Stefan Thomas. But we wanted to dig deeper into the questions of what the web might look like if monetization was built on an open standard as part of the web, and that's what this content series will entail. Expect the series to startup in about a month, and to explore the history, present, and future of monetization. And, just to answer a few questions you might have: this series is not going to be about cryptocurrency (though it may get mentioned in passing), because that's not central to the questions here, and it's also not going to be just about Interledger/Coil's vision of the future. It's designed to be a deeper exploration of the question of monetization online and how it should work.
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[l] at 1/24/22 2:35pm
Register now for our online event featuring Rep. Zoe Lofgren » Ten years ago a massive, digital grassroots movement defeated the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House, and its Senate companion the Protect IP Act (SOPA/PIPA). Looking back, this signal victory drove an even more important outcome–the birth of a large wave of Internet activism organizations, including our own Internet Infrastructure Coalition (i2Coalition), a new, unified, independent voice for Internet infrastructure providers.  Our story began in 2011 when I led operations for a web hosting company called ServInt. My future co-founder of the i2Coalition David Snead, was our outsourced General Counsel. He and I became alarmed about the damaging impact on the Internet infrastructure layer of a little-known bill, the Combating Online Infringement, and Counterfeits Act, or COICA, introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT).  While well-intentioned to combat infringement by foreign “rogue” websites, the bill would have allowed for the mass blocking of websites by the Department of Justice without due process, on the say so of intellectual property holders. We met with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and his staff to seek advice about how to have a voice in the COICA debate. Their answer was direct : “get more of you.”  At that point, it seemed like just a handful of small Internet infrastructure enterprises were even aware of COICA. We realized that we needed to start a grassroots movement. We began intensive outreach to the Internet infrastructure community online and offline at conferences, meetings, and events, which led to formation of the “Save Hosting Coalition.”We launched letter writing campaigns to explain our deep concerns to legislators in Congress, which continued when SOPA/PIPA eventually superseded COICA.  Fortunately, as our group worked to build a social media campaign and to connect with legislators, we found that we were no longer alone. The Consumer Technology Association, known then as the Consumer Electronics Association, had an active lobbying team who invited us to join them in their efforts to convince Congress of the dangers of SOPA/PIPA. This broader collaboration became a turning point when we realized the crucial nature of our role in the SOPA/PIPA debate. As Internet infrastructure providers, we were best positioned to explain to policymakers how the technology works and that their well-intentioned proposals to fix problems actually would undermine the functioning of the Internet ecosystem. We showed that proposed SOPA/PIPA technical provisions would make it impossible for small and medium-sized Internet infrastructure businesses to continue operating at scale. Our campaign against SOPA/PIPA culminated in our decisive conversation with Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, which helped convince Senator Moran to join Senator Wyden in a bipartisan hold on PIPA in the Senate. This procedural move froze Senate action for a bit, and gave the time for our new friends at Reddit and Fight for the Future to organize the Internet Blackout Day, which shut down 115,000 sites and galvanized public support for stopping the bills. We aided in the coordination of this vital day, which effectively stopped SOPA/PIPA in its tracks. The power of facts made the difference in our collective victory. Concerned technology companies explained with one voice how the bills would destroy Internet infrastructure operations. Aligning with the CTA enabled a strong and unified advocacy campaign. Consequently, minds changed in Congress because members and staff heard rational arguments and listened to our concerns. The SOPA/PIPA legislative debate made clear the ongoing threat of uninformed Internet policy. We saw the need for continued educational advocacy from our Internet infrastructure provider vantage point.  Four companies in the Save Hosting Coalition (Rackspace, cPanel, Endurance (now Newfold Digital), and Softlayer) invested to keep our group going. On July 25th, 2012, we formally launched the Internet Infrastructure Coalition (i2Coalition) with 42 members with a mission to ensure that Internet infrastructure providers are at the table helping to solve future Internet policy problems.  We believed then, as we do now, that Internet policy solutions should be scaled appropriately without creating barriers for new, small entrants in the infrastructure layer, be they college students innovating in their dorm rooms, or entrepreneurs fulfilling a need. Policymakers must understand the technology underlying all these small digital businesses to avoid laws and regulations that inadvertently would disrupt their functioning, ultimately limiting incentives for future innovation and market entry We proudly reflect on our strong work a decade ago to educate Congress about how SOPA/PIPA would impair the Internet ecosystem. That successful fight led to the i2Coaltion’s formation, and our story is not unique. The most important outgrowth of the SOPA/PIPA saga turned out to be the creation of permanent organizations like ours, set up to defend Internet innovation. There will always be a need for more Internet education for legislators and regulators, and there will always be somebody coming out with another SOPA/PIPA-like proposal. The Internet needs permanent voices ready to address both. As we celebrate the i2Coalition’s 10 year anniversary in 2022, we know our work is always evolving. The Internet infrastructure industry today faces a diverse set of challenges involving security, safety, privacy, and more. We face many of the same intermediary liability focused challenges that we had when we started, particularly while engaging in complex issues such as Section 230 reform in the United States and the Digital Services Act in the EU.  We need to keep learning together and empowering alliances with other like-minded stakeholders, to ensure that an educated appreciation of the nuts and bolts of how the Internet works informs policy making fully. At the i2Coalition we are as excited as ever about the digital future, and look forward to continuing to be the voice for the multitudes of businesses that build the Internet.  Christian Dawson is the Co-Founder of the Internet Infrastructure Coalition (i2Coalition) where he works to make the Internet a better, safer place for the businesses that make up the Cloud. This Techdirt Greenhouse special edition is all about the 10 year anniversary of the fight that stopped SOPA. On January 26th at 1pm PT, we'll be hosting a live discussion with Rep. Zoe Lofgren and some open roundtable discussions about the legacy of that fight. Please register to attend.
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[l] at 1/24/22 1:12pm
A private company, that leveraged a bold (unproven) claim about $400 billion in pandemic unemployment fraud into government contracts allowing it to (mistakenly) lock people out of their unemployment benefits, is hoping to use both of these dubious achievements to secure even more government contracts. Here's the claim: Blake Hall, CEO of ID.me, a service that tries to prevent this kind of fraud, tells Axios that America has lost more than $400 billion to fraudulent claims. As much as 50% of all unemployment monies might have been stolen, he says. Here's at least one immediate reaction to Halls's claim. “The greatest theft of American tax dollars in history has risen unabated to $400 billion, with nearly half of all pandemic unemployment spending lost to fraud by criminals,” declared Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee. And here's the reality: In December, California, by far the largest state payee of benefits, said it had identified $20 billion in fraudulent unemployment payments during the pandemic, 11% of what it paid out overall. California was responsible for a quarter of all pandemic unemployment payouts in the U.S.; if its fraud experience held nationally over the past two years it would translate into roughly $95 billion. That’s a big sum, but still only a quarter of what Hall was estimating. And other states like Ohio and Texas have reported lower levels of fraudulent payments than California. But it made for a hell of a sales pitch. ID.me is currently used to verify the identity of unemployment benefit recipients in 27 states. It also secured a $1 billion contract from the Department of Labor to modernize state systems used to handle dispersal of these benefits. All of this snowballed into ID.me's biggest get: the Internal Revenue Service. If you created an online account to manage your tax records with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS), those login credentials will cease to work later this year. The agency says that by the summer of 2022, the only way to log in to irs.gov will be through ID.me, an online identity verification service that requires applicants to submit copies of bills and identity documents, as well as a live video feed of their faces via a mobile device. That's from Brian Krebs of Krebs On Security. His experience with the verification process was far from painless. The process requires users to take a live, video selfie from the same device being used to apply for the account. This means users can't use a laptop/desktop computer and take the selfie on their phone, even though that would be the most convenient way to accomplish both tasks (apply and verify). In Krebs' case, the application process got stuck when ID.me came to a halt during the phone verification process, prompting a request for Krebs to reupload three identification documents. Then it told him to wait: After re-uploading all of this information, ID.me’s system prompted me to “Please stay on this screen to join video call.” However, the estimated wait time when that message first popped up said “3 hours and 27 minutes.” The system has glitches, as is to be expected from any system engaging in identification verification over the internet. But the problems experienced here are far from abnormal, and that's going to cause lots of people lots of problems with tax filing season now underway. This only adds the IRS to the list of government entities that have discovered it's not performing as well as advertised. A log of complaints for California’s Employment Development Department (EDD), which signed up with ID.me in September 2020, details issues ranging from a transgender person being blocked from accessing benefits because the gender on their driver’s license didn’t match their passport to an applicant who went through ID.me’s verification process only to find their claim still on hold six weeks later. In a January 2021 letter to the EDD, California state Senator Anthony Portantino complained that his staff had been “inundated with urgent pleas” from constituents whose benefits were on hold as a result of problems with ID.me. “This recent purge has put thousands of legitimate claims in limbo, with no instructions for how to get out of ‘ID verification jail,’ ” Portantino wrote. Some of these problems can be traced back to ID.me's facial recognition AI, which has yet to be independently tested, despite being the only option for many people seeking access to their unemployment benefits or tax information. There has been some sort of testing, but not with any results ID.me is willing to share with the public. Hall says the company isn’t running images through a preexisting database, the way law enforcement does, and that it selects facial-recognition vendors that comply with federal standards, though he wouldn’t name them. The company also says ID.me put its facial-recognition software through two separate tests for racial bias in 2021 and found no evidence of discrimination. And CEO Blake Hall continues to insist ID.me is stopping billions of dollars of unemployment and tax fraud, even though it would appear that a lot of what Hall considers to be thwarted fraud may just be the inadvertent thwarting of legit benefits claimants. For example, between Jan. 28 and March 8, 2021, ID.me had 654,292 users start its verification process in California, according to data Hall provided. Just half of those users completed ID.me’s checks. Hall argues that any users who didn’t complete the process were clearly scammers. [...] On Nov. 17, 2020, for example, ID.me reported that the prior week, 101,050 people in California attempted to verify their identities with ID.me. Of those, just 40% succeeded. But you could see the frustrations unemployed workers and their advocates complain about playing out in the data: Almost a quarter of the people ID.me dealt with in California that week tried to get on a video call with a company rep, but only 10% of that group succeeded. More than 7,000 people also abandoned the ID.me process by either closing their browser midway through or having their session time out. Both situations are as easily attributable to tech glitches as fraud. This isn't very comforting. ID.me's CEO seems willing to declare failures of the company's system as victories against fraudsters. This unwillingness to even consider the possibility the system has flaws that might separate users from benefits or tax information isn't something you want to see in someone running a company that has already nailed down more than half the country's unemployment payments business. Becoming the point of entry for IRS accounts will just make local issues national issues. It's also not exactly comforting that one company holds so much biometric and personal data. That makes it a tempting target for malicious hackers, especially now that it's also home to Internal Revenue Service data. It's going to make people start asking for some sort of biometric data federalism -- one that keeps the federal government from intermingling its sensitive info with state data stashes by using the same vendor to collect ID verification info. Presumably, ID.me will get better at what it does. And it does appear to be doing everything it can to secure the information it's collecting on behalf of several government agencies. But it's being led by a CEO who is unwilling to allow independent inspection of its AI, who built his company's business on a questionable assertion about pandemic-related benefits fraud, and who has an alarming tendency to blame system issues on end users or to portray ID.me's failures as successful direct hits on benefits fraud. That's a lot of buck-passing for someone who is being entrusted with the financial, personal, and biometric information of millions of Americans. And it suggests if the shit ever really hits the fan, the CEO is going to ghost a bunch of taxpayers who were never given any input or options when it comes to accessing benefits that are rightfully theirs.
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[l] at 1/24/22 11:59am
For way too long now, short sighted publishers have insisted that ad blocking is "stealing." That's always been bullshit. Back before we turned off all our 3rd party ads last year, we were perfectly fine with people using ad blockers (and we even let you just turn off ads in your preferences, if you preferred that approach). But some publishers still don't get it. One of the worst is the German media giant Axel Springer, who was one of the most vocal proponents of the EU Copyright Directive, and owns tons of publications around the globe, including Politico and Business Insider in the US. As obnoxious as some publishers are regarding the internet, Axel Springer has been worse. Years back, Axel Springer sued the company behind Adblock Plus and lost. The courts found that adblocking is perfectly legal. Axel Springer decided that can't be left to stand, and decided to try again with everyone's favorite tool of control: copyright. In 2019 Springer came up with a bizarrely stupid argument that ad blocking is copyright infringement. The argument was that because the browser extensions change how a website is displayed in your browser, that it "changes the programming code of websites" and that makes it infringing. But that's nonsense. Adblockers work on content that is already directly in your browser that the company sent in an authorized manner. It's the equivalent of saying that taking a highlighter to a book that you own is copyright infringement. Thankfully, last week a court in Hamburg saw it that way as well and said that adblocking is not infringement. This is important not just for adblocking but for basically any kind of browser extension and for the concept of HTML itself. From an automated translation of the ruling, the court says that "there is no unauthorized duplication and/or reworking of copyrighted computer programs" under the meaning of copyright law. It further says: Although the HTML file and other elements are loaded into the user's main memory when the plaintiff's pages are called up, the storage takes place with the plaintiff's consent. Anyone who provides a website agrees that the corresponding programs are called up from the website operator's servers - and in some cases from third-party servers - and stored in the user's main memory. The very purpose of offering websites is that they are accessed by users. The intermediate steps that are absolutely necessary for this include the intermediate storage of the files provided by the website operator on the user's computer. Users who call up the pages of the plaintiff and use the program "AdBlock1 Plus" are also entitled to store the files. If the user calls up the files by calling up the website and the files - as provided by the plaintiff for the case of the website call-up - from the servers of the plaintiff - or third party servers - are stored by the plaintiff. If the files are transferred, an implied agreement is made that the user may save the files. Since the files themselves remain unchanged, no possible reservation regarding deviations from the intended program flow applies at this point. It is therefore irrelevant whether the permissibility of the unchanged storage of the files also follows from Section 69d (1) UrhG and/or Section 44a UrhG. The ruling also notes that the HTML files "are not changed by the program "AdBlock Plus." It merely "has an impact on the data structures generated by the browser." More importantly, the court notes that: It would also represent a disproportionate encroachment on the user's freedom of action if it were not up to the user to decide whether and how to execute a legally acquired program, as long as the user does not modify the program itself... This ruling may still be appealed, but as former EU Parliament member Julia Reda notes in response to this ruling: “This ruling sends an important signal that frivolous lawsuits will not be accepted. The court has correctly concluded that the copyright protection of software does not extend to the outputs of software. Just as copyright law does not entitle a book publisher to forbid readers from underlining sections of a book or writing in the margins, copyright law does not give digital publishers the power to tell users how to display a website,” But it certainly does tell us just how much big publishers like Axel Springer will seek to abuse copyright law to gain extra control over users...
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[l] at 1/24/22 11:54am
The Microsoft Office Home and Business for Mac bundle is for families and small businesses who want classic Office apps and email. It includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Teams, and OneNote. A one-time purchase installed on 1 Mac for use at home or work. It's on sale for $50. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.
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[l] at 1/24/22 10:31am
Register now for our online event featuring Rep. Zoe Lofgren » Amid fears that the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) could be the first nail in the coffin of an open internet, our collective defeat of the legislation was a win for an emerging digital world that puts the interests of people first.  A decade later, many of our fears have come to reality, even without SOPA to speed them along. Worse yet: the optimistic, values-driven resistance of the SOPA era has transitioned to bitter conflict (or worse, nihilism) around digital life, rights, and restrictions. We now stand at a new inflection point that SOPA resistors are facing or ignoring in turns—despite the potential for a positive vision that might unite us all again. The SOPA Internet Blackout was a moment where digital citizens united with one voice to support the continuation of the internet’s innovation of “permissionless publishing” or “sharing” an infinitude of digital printing presses. The internet accelerated speech and connection, it brought together global communities of mutual interest, enabling organizing and activism on a scale never before seen. This has been a powerful tool. And yet, it was not accessible for many.  Platforms like Facebook filled some of the gaps, marketing ease of connection in exchange for data it could exploit. The internet granted anyone who could log on permission to publish and share in a way that newspapers in the 80s could never imagine.  But the technology of the time could not take the next step and allow everyday people to maintain the database tools necessary to ensure the integrity and function of social media networks. You could share, but you could not curate or control the related data with anything nearing the utility of sharing itself. Neoliberal capitalism did what it does amid this half-baked promise of internet freedom—locking in centralized players and championing monopoly. Monopolies are quite simply easier for entrenched gatekeepers to collude with. Powerful corporations recognized the momentum of protests like SOPA’s, the utility of an unfettered communications medium, as an existential threat to their profits and bad practices.  And so, they used the centralized databases that the people could not yet control to obscure their mechanisms of oppression, bringing about the era of algorithmic trade secrets, performative legislation, censorship, and conspiracy theories we live in now. The threats to our digital lives are compounding in darkness, even as our human lives become more digital. Regardless of ideology, everyone recognizes that something is fundamentally wrong. But, we don’t trust each other because of the pervasive cloud of darkness that intermediates our interactions. This distrust was seeded via the centralized, opaque databases of Facebooks and Amazons, and amplified by the very same. Our every “social” action online is leveraged to manipulate the internet out of its power and promise. Even digital rights activists who recognize and resist these harms find themselves in conflict because they have uncovered another fundamental shortcoming of our current system: any vision of a digital future, a digital life that is one-size-fits-all, will always be exclusionary.  These toxic database-powered social platforms are vivid proof that billions of dollars and extensive global legislative and social pressure, even when combined with the best thinkers and moderation that money can buy, will still miserably fail many different communities in ways as diverse as communities themselves are: by amplifying hate, by promoting harm, by expanding censorship, by profiting from mass surveillance, by capitulating to shareholders and governments at the expense of democracy, and more. We have found the outer limits of centralized database platforms as tools of liberation. Along the way, we have lost the optimism that characterized the dawn of the web and the anti-SOPA movement. Optimism is now frequently mocked as privilege, as white men’s myopia—and with all the compounding harms that would not have been possible without the internet, it is no wonder that those who speak well of the web are met with hostility. But just as the blunt rock eventually became a knife, the tool of the internet will continue to evolve. In the long shadow of SOPA, and at a time when new technologies are once again disrupting our digital lives, the question we must ask is who will hold that knife, and how will it be used? This question is pressing—as it appears the database limitations Facebook, Amazon, and Google exploited could mark them as the next newspapers in the ‘80s. New technologies like blockchain have the ability to make databases permissionless in the same way that the internet made publishing permissionless. This innovation could unlock a new digital future that, while still filled with human problems, may enable far better, community-owned tools to address them—as well as something we have not had for many years: a new, inclusive vision for the internet. Today, we could begin to fight for a future of many interoperable, decentralized webs, tools, and technologies. Community owned and governed databases as diverse as the world itself. A vision that brings organizers and technologists out of conflict over censorship and control by working together for the rights, education, and tools for each person and community to equitably build and own their digital experience. This is work that cannot succeed unless the marginalized people who have been traditionally excluded from technology and the policies that govern it lead in a central role. To ensure this just transition, we must also support new generations in gaining greater competency and higher expectations for their digital lives, and invest now in a collective vision of sharing open, transparent, and transformative tools that will render the legacy entities that have failed us obsolete. If we do not, others will invest in perverting these technologies all over again. There isn’t one answer for what the future of the internet should be. Let’s reclaim the hope that defeated SOPA and work together toward a world where everyone can equitably build, own, moderate, control, and access their own digital lives and communities. Lia Holland is Campaigns Communications Director at digital rights organization Fight for the Future, where she focuses on web3 and copyleft issues. This Techdirt Greenhouse special edition is all about the 10 year anniversary of the fight that stopped SOPA. On January 26th at 1pm PT, we'll be hosting a live discussion with Rep. Zoe Lofgren and some open roundtable discussions about the legacy of that fight. Please register to attend.
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[l] at 1/24/22 7:25am
U.S. broadband suffers from significant regional monopolization, which directly results in the country being mediocre on nearly every broadband metric that matters... be it broadband prices, coverage, speeds, and customer service. This isn't something to debate; the data is everywhere, and anybody who has spent much time dealing with giants like ATT or Comcast knows the sector has major problems. By developing national standards U.S. broadband is slow, expensive, inconsistently available, with terrible customer support. The cause has always been regional monopolization and the state and federal corruption that protects it. Granted if you asked think tanks funded directly by the telecom industry, U.S. broadband is secretly fantastic, and critics are unhinged radicals. For example, the "Information Technology and Innovation Foundation," which has ATT, Charter, Comcast, Verizon, and T-Mobile as financial backers, penned a new report this week trying to frame every single meaningful criticism of the sector as falsehoods being spread by "radicals" and "broadband populists" exclusively looking to undermine the industry. I was tagged by the study's author, so I guess I'm to assume I'm one of the radical populists being mentioned? Want to know what the Broadband Populists’ Real Agenda is?: Hint: its not better broadband. @freepress; @scrawford; @publicknowledge; @OpenTechFund; @ChadAaronMarlow; @fightfortheftr; @evan_greer; @KarlBode; https://t.co/HSYvkZADtp — Robert D. Atkinson (@RobAtkinsonITIF) January 18, 2022 Using cherry picked data (or no data at all), the whole piece amusingly tries to argue that every major criticism of the U.S. broadband sector is false, whether we're talking about the sector's high prices (due to a lack of competition) to its well documented privacy scandals. The obvious motivation for the piece? The industry isn't very happy about the continued rise of local community broadband networks as grass roots alternatives to monopoly control: "The anticorporate broadband populists (and radicals) know that calling for the replacement of large Internet service providers (ISPs) with smaller community-based and municipal providers is likely a losing strategy." Of course that's not true. Over 1,000 communities around the U.S. have started building their own broadband networks as a direct, organic, grass roots response to market failure. The movement saw renewed growth during COVID, thanks to ongoing frustration with cost and availability. Several studies (like this one out of Harvard) indicate such options often provide better, faster, cheaper service by folks with a vested interest in the communities they serve (because they often live in said communities). The solutions are far from homogenous: they come in all shapes and sizes, from local cooperatives and public/private partnerships, to broadband built on the backs of local utilities. And they're usually tailored to local needs in a way service from ATT, well, isn't. The "study" tries to frame these efforts as those of "radicals" and "socialists," despite the fact that most community broadband networks are being built in conservative cities. Again, these folks aren't getting into the broadband business because they've been spurred by "radical socialist ideology," they're building these networks because they're angry about literally 30 years of market failure (and the federal failure that accompanies regulatory capture). This organic, bipartisan market response to monopolization is framed by the ITIF as some kind of nefarious plot to ruin ATT and Comcast's good time: "As such, broadband populists understand that a more effective strategy is to burrow into the foundations, gradually chipping away at the credibility of the industry (which they derisively label “Big Broadband”), and advancing endless claims about poor performance, including that U.S. corporate-provided broadband speeds are too slow, coverage and privacy protection are too limited, prices and profits are too high, and the “pipes” are not neutral." The industry's credibility isn't in the gutter because some "radical populists" were mean to ATT. The industry's credibility is in the sewer for literally decades of well documented, terrible behavior, relentless bullying of competitors, high prices, slow speeds, and statistically some of the worst customer satisfaction ratings of any industry in America (really think about that last one for a moment). If the industry really wanted to thwart the movement, they could offer better, faster, cheaper service. Instead they've found it cheaper to lobby lawmakers into apathy (aka regulatory capture) and pay for reports that deny factual reality. The combination of limited competition and feckless regulators means the U.S. telecom industry generally doesn't see much accountability for market failure. If you're a regional monopoly like ATT or Comcast, creative, local broadband solutions with broad bipartisan public support are just about the only real, existential threat to your continued domination of a broken sector. And instead of directly addressing the problem by spending money on better support and better service, it's far less expensive to lobby DC and portray critics as unhinged radicals exclusively interested in attacking "traditional values."
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[l] at 1/24/22 4:22am
What's the greatest threat to children since the invention of contraceptives? Why, encryption, of course. Just ask (almost) anyone. FBI directors have pointed to device and end-to-end encryption as an aider and abettor in child sexual abuse. Government leaders from around the world have claimed the addition of end-to-end encryption to Facebook's messaging service will result in millions of abused kids. Others who find the chanting of "national security concerns" just isn't getting the job done have often chosen to lean on abused children to make their points (badly) about the "dangers" encryption poses. The UK government is trying to regulate encryption into nonexistence. It doesn't have the strength of character to flat-out demand encryption backdoors so it's trying to apply indirect pressure to accomplish the same thing. Its efforts are being aided by an extremely manipulative ad campaign -- one detailed here with righteous anger by Rianna Pfefferkorn. The ad flips the script on the sanctity of the home -- one given ultimate protection from government intrusion -- turning it into a black box where evildoers are free to sexually assault children. The shitty metaphor equates a home with curtains drawn to end-to-end encryption, turning privacy into secrecy while suggesting only criminals are interested in private communications. But encryption is good for kids, argues none other than the… UK government??? The UK data watchdog has intervened in the debate over end-to-end encryption, warning that delaying its introduction puts “everyone at risk” including children. The Information Commissioner’s Office said strongly encrypting communications strengthens online safety for children by reducing their exposure to threats such as blackmail, while also allowing businesses to share information securely. Huh. Well, that severely undercuts the rest of the government, which has claimed repeatedly that encrypted communications only aids criminals. The narrative is that the innocent have nothing to fear from pervasive surveillance and unsecured communications. The most innocent of all are the children, who the UK government apparently feels aren't worthy of strong device or communications security. The UK government -- the ICO notwithstanding -- is seemingly willing to feed the kids to the proverbial wolves in exchange for nominal law enforcement gains. The ICO, fortunately, is pointing out how the UK government will endanger children (as well as other at-risk groups) by regulating encryption out of existence. “E2EE [end-to-end encryption] serves an important role both in safeguarding our privacy and online safety,” said Stephen Bonner, the ICO’s executive director for innovation and technology. “It strengthens children’s online safety by not allowing criminals and abusers to send them harmful content or access their pictures or location.” That's the salient point that almost always goes ignored by critics of encryption: whatever holes are created for law enforcement can be exploited by bad people as well. It's not as though criminals steer clear of legislatively-mandated security flaws. They'll abuse any opening, no matter its genesis. Pretending this won't happen is an extremely popular form of denial -- one exercised loudly and repeatedly by government officials who believe security tradeoffs should only negatively affect the largest group of stakeholders: the governed. After all, if they knew what was best for the nation (and the nation's children), surely they would have been elected by now and busily foisting security flaws on their constituents. Presumably, the ICO's input will be ignored in favor of the UK government's insistence that privacy and security are just tools of the criminal trade, rather than something that should be revered, protected, and strengthened by legislation. The fact that some criminals are getting away with something continues to irk those who seem irritated that the government is incapable of controlling everything. The Online Safety bill is just a naked power grab, brought to UK residents by legislators willing to expose their indifference for the public to everyone and their children.
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[l] at 1/23/22 1:00pm
This week, our first place winner on the insightful side Stephen T. Stone with a comment about our latest example of brazen DMCA abuse: To everyone who thinks ATT dropping OANN is “censorship”: No, this is censorship. In second place, it's Samuel Abram, with a comment about the cops who were fired for playing Pokémon Go: I said this before… It's really sad (really more outrageous and infuriating) that playing Pokémon GO! would cause cops to get fired as opposed to killing blacks and Latinxs in cold blood. For editor's choice on the insightful side, we've got a pair of comments from our post about the annoying DRM on Diablo 2: Resurrected. First, it's That One Guy with the perennial bottom line: And the ultimate punchline to this and all DRM: Actual copyright infringers are, as always, completely unaffected. Next, it's PaulT with a response to some comments in the blog post that started the conversation about the issue: "While I understand that this is a way to combat piracy" But, of course, as already mentioned it's really not. People wanting to pirate will still do so, and when they do they will still have a better product than the one bought legally. I fact, as often seen, the presence of this DRM is actually a driver for "piracy", since some people who recognise this fact will download a cracked copy after they buy the legit version, safe in the knowledge that they're not "stealing" since they paid for a copy, they just want access to the version that doesn't try to stop them playing the game they bought. "Or better yet, wasn’t there a better way of implementing it without restricting players who bought it legitimately?" No, there isn't. DRM is software whose entire purpose is to try the stop people from running the software it's attached to. Like all software, it may have bugs or design issues that make it work imperfectly. It can never operate as well as it not being present in the first place for legal owners of the software it's infected. Over on the funny side, both our winners come in response to the post about the Pokémon-playing cops. David took first place: You think firing those officers is a smart move? Let's see whether you still think that when Snorlax holds up a bank. In second place, it's an anonymous comment: They're even wrong about the pokemon but they insisted they did so... to “chase this mythical creature.” Your honor, I can assure you that despite claims to the contrary, Snorlax is not a mythical pokemon. For editor's choice on the funny side, we start out on our post about the legal fight over calling cheese Gruyere, where one commenter wondered if they could get away with making a "Champagne Gruyere cheese drink", and Rocky had the answer: No, but if you had called it Champagne Gruyere Monster cheese drink on the other hand... And finally, we loop all the way back around to the beginning, where Toom1275 had a response to the Most Insightful winner: Thst's a bit of an awkward statement, seeing as how "AT$T dropping OANN is censorship!" and "thinks" are mutually exclusive. That's all for this week, folks!
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[l] at 1/22/22 1:30pm
Five Years Ago This week in 2017, outgoing FCC boss Tom Wheeler warned about the perils of killing net neutrality, while leaked details of Trump's FCC transition plan revealed his plans to gut all the agency's consumer protection powers — then, on Friday, it was confirmed that Ajit Pai would become the new FCC boss. Meanwhile, we marked the five year anniversary of the SOPA protests (and be sure to check out our much bigger celebration for the ten year anniversary) by reminding lawmakers of what happened and discussing what it could teach them about tech. Also, in surprising but welcome news, this was the week that President Obama commuted Chelsea Manning's sentence. Ten Years Ago This is it: the week of the 2012 SOPA/PIPA blackout protest. First, it was announced that Wikipedia was officially on board. Then Google promised to do something big, and the Internet Archive announced plans, as did Rock, Paper, Shotgun. The day before the protest, Lamar Smith and the MPAA brushed it all off as a publicity stunt and Smith announced that markup on SOPA would resume in February. Then, on Wednesday, it began. Many sites went dark, Google blacked out their logo, and here at Techdirt we focused on covering the events as they unfolded. Although the MPAA was in denial, and being condescending (and one-upped by the RIAA the next day), the effects were clear: Rep. Lee Terry was the first co-sponsor to remove his name from SOPA, then Senator Marco Rubio ditched PIPA followed by several other senators — and when the dust settled, we couldn't help but notice that most of them were Republicans, since Democrats seemed to be dropping the ball. Ultimately, the internet won, and the bills were officially, indefinitely delayed. But, of course, the week couldn't be all good news. At the very same time as this was all going down, the DOJ unilaterally shut down Megaupload and arrested many of the principles with the help of New Zealand law enforcement. The details of the case raised massive concerns, and the internet was quick to strike back: Anonymous managed to take down the DOJ, RIAA and MPAA websites. The war for internet freedom was far from over... Fifteen Years Ago That was a lot of detail on 2012, and this week in 2007 was nowhere near as exciting — but there were two developments that were small and interesting at the time, but in hindsight were pretty big deals. First, DVD rental company Netflix started rolling out a new feature allowing some users to stream a limited selection of movies. Second, we covered the announcement of a curious experiment that aimed to support dissident government employees in oppressive regimes: "a new site called Wikileaks".
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[l] at 1/21/22 8:39pm
You will recall that we had several posts covering when Microsoft acquired Zenimax Media for $7 billion, as well as some of the potential fallout from that acquisition. Much of the focus was on what the purchase of Zenimax and its child studios, such as Bethesda, would mean for long-running game franchises from those studios going exclusive to PC and/or Xbox. Microsoft made a bunch of vague, lightly-conflicting statements on the topic before ripping the bandaid off by making the next Elder Scrolls game an Xbox/PC exclusive. Most folks in the gaming community are either agnostic about exclusives, or decidedly hate them. There are very few cheerleaders for exclusives in other words, which is why most news about larger publishers acquiring small or mid-sized publishers is greeted with very narrow eyes. That being said, there are acquisitions, and then there are acquisitions. You might have heard the news: Microsoft has announced plans to acquire gaming behemoth Activision Blizzard King (ABK) and its subsidiary development studios. The deal is valued at $68.7 billion—or roughly 17 acquisitions of the Star Wars franchise—and that kind of money isn't spent without an expectation of major moves (and revenue) going forward. From there, the ArsTechnica post digs into some predictions as to what those moves will be: more games going into Xbox's Game Pass, more mobile games spun out through the King studio, and, of course, the potential for franchises like World of Warcraft going exclusive. A good portion of the reaction to this deal being announced is focused on what titles will go exclusive. But this deal is much, much bigger than that. It is the largest acquisition in the gaming space by Microsoft and the read on it in the financial space is that this is the real start to a much larger trend of consolidation in the industry. “It’s going to start a major ripple effect in terms of consolidation for other videogame publishers,” said Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives. Microsoft’s purchase of Activision will accelerate more deals in the industry, analysts said, as big tech companies seek to broaden their consumer offerings by acquiring game publishers and developers that attracted players during the pandemic. Microsoft’s purchase of Activision, which owns the Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Candy Crush franchises, would also help the company edge into the streaming and metaverse spaces, they added. Notably, once news of this deal broke, stocks for publishers like EA, Ubisoft, and Nintendo all rose significantly. That's the market buying this as a trend and trying to get out ahead of the eventual stock climb when future deals are announced. So, what does this mean for the industry? It doesn't have to be bad, so long as these large acquisitions are backfilled by new entrants from smaller players. But there are a lot of ways for this consolidation to go wrong. Kotaku's writeup is a bit over the top for my taste, but there are some valid points to consider in there. This is the future. There is zero chance that boardrooms everywhere from EA to Ubisoft to Sony aren’t going to be full this week with panicked executives talking about their options for something similar, because their only instinct will be to match this. To keep up, keep those share prices growing, until there are only 2-3 companies left at the top of the food chain, and things are just a little worse still for the rest of us. Because they know nothing else. We're unlikely to reach a reality in which there are 3 parent gaming companies out there. If we did, yeah, that would be bad. Instead, I think the real danger in all of this could be the coordinated fragmentation of the gaming industry along platform lines. If the same companies that make the platforms (PCs, Playstations, Xboxs, etc) also makes some sizable plurality or majority of the games, that absolutely will lead to more exclusivity, more walled gardens, more hoarding of the culture that is games. And that would ultimately be bad for the industry, no matter how many billions of dollars are exchanged in these acquisitions.
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[l] at 1/21/22 4:38pm
It's been obvious for a while that the future of internet television is starting to look increasingly like traditional cable. Initially, the streaming sector was all about innovation, choice, and lower costs to drive subscriber interest. But as the market has matured and become dominated by bigger players, some familiar patterns have emerged, including giant companies trying to lock down as much content as possible in exclusives, and a steady parade of price hikes that slowly, surely, start to erode the value proposition. Last week Netflix announced that the company would be imposing yet another price hike. Here in the U.S., the company's 720p "basic" tier is increasing $1 to $10 per month, its 1080p "standard" tier is increasing $1.50 to $15.50 per month, and its 4K "premium" will see a $2 increase to $20 per month. Similar hikes are also on their way to Canadian subscribers. In a statement, Netflix justified the hikes using familiar rhetoric about "improving the customer experience": "We understand people have more entertainment choices than ever, and we’re committed to delivering an even better experience for our members," the statement said. "We’re updating our prices so that we can continue to offer a wide variety of quality entertainment options. As always, we offer a range of plans so members can pick a price that works for their budget." Granted every time the company imposes a rate hike, folks act as if the world is falling. Back when the company bungled its "Qwikster" DVD unit spin off and imposed price hikes there were no shortage of critics insisting the company was doomed. But for now, consumers continue to find the value proposition streaming offers to be worthwhile, especially in comparison to the still high prices of traditional cable TV options. Streaming still generally sees the kind of customer satisfaction ratings traditional cable companies can only dream of. But the price hikes that have hit streaming TV services (especially live streaming services) haven't been without repercussion. Not only did more customers cut the traditional TV cord last year, streaming TV services saw a significant reduction in growth. Netflix itself saw a significant drop in subscriber growth across 2021 and a loss in total subscribers in the U.S. and Canada, in no small part due to a 2020 price hike. With the pricing for live streaming TV services like YouTube TV increasingly looking more and more like traditional cable, and the hunt to lock down exclusives driving increased confusion among consumers trying to find their favorite content, there continues to be a real risk the entire sector simply forgets to learn anything from the plight of traditional TV. As in, keep pushing price hikes for the same or an eroded value proposition, and you can expect a lot of potential subscribers to move to alternatives... whether that's over the air broadcasts using an antenna, or TikTok.
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[l] at 1/21/22 2:31pm
Ten years ago this week, I watched my computer screen as much of the Internet slowly switched off. Over a hundred thousand websites, including that of our predecessor organization CEA, were going dark in a last-ditch protest of a House bill called the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) and its Senate counterpart, the “Protect IP Act” (PIPA). These bills were backed by large content companies concerned that the Internet would disrupt their longstanding business models. While we sympathized with their concerns about unauthorized downloading, we could not agree with their proposed solution: allowing content owners to easily "take down" entire websites, without due process or notification, if they claimed that the site hosted unauthorized content. If these bills had passed, the consequences for the Internet would have been devastating. Any website featuring third-party content, including libraries and community bulletin boards, would have been vulnerable to sudden and permanent removal after a single complaint. Sites would vanish and have little recourse. Bad actors would run rampant, using the SOPA-PIPA process to harass competitors and censor opposing viewpoints. Opposition to SOPA-PIPA had been slowly growing. A strange-bedfellows coalition ranging from the Electronic Frontier Foundation to the Heritage Foundation was opposing the bills. Artists like Amanda Palmer and OKGO denounced the bills’ impacts on creativity. A group of startup founders including Alexis Ohanian, Micah Shaffer, and Christian Dawson walked the Capitol meeting with legislators, many of whom had never previously been face-to-face with an internet entrepreneur. And at the 2012 CES, Republican Rep. Darrell Issa and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden stood together and declared they would do anything in their power to stop the bills. But this opposition, vigorous as it was, shrank in comparison to the bills’ support. SOPA and PIPA were backed by dozens of DC's biggest players, including the Motion Picture Association, the Recording Industry Association, and the powerful US Chamber of Commerce. SOPA had dozens of Congressional sponsors, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith. In the Senate, PIPA sailed unanimously through the Judiciary Committee and Majority Leader Reid announced that he planned to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. By normal DC rules, the game was over and the bills were sure to pass. But the Internet blackout drew public attention, and the tide quickly turned as Americans began calling and emailing their members of Congress. In total, more than 14 million Americans contacted their lawmakers to protest the legislation. I remember sitting in a legislator’s office the morning after the blackout and watching in sincere astonishment as the phone rang off the hook. The impact was swift, as legislators rushed to take their names off the bills. For the first time, policymakers realized that the Internet wasn’t some fringe domain for computer geeks, it was a central and treasured element of their constituents' daily lives. Within a week, SOPA and PIPA had been pulled from consideration in the House and Senate. The death of SOPA/PIPA unleashed a Cambrian Explosion of online innovation. Companies like Instagram, Tinder Slack, Patreon, and thousands of others changed the way we work, play, and live. Anyone who attended CES 2022 could not help but see the extraordinary dynamism and competition that currently exists in the technology industry. The content industry also thrived once they stopped treating the internet as an enemy and began treating it as an asset. While content companies once declared that ”you can’t compete with free,” in the wake of SOPA-PIPA they pivoted to offering well-designed, consumer-friendly services at reasonable prices.  According to the RIAA, U.S. recorded music revenues grew 9.2% in 2020, with 83% of the revenue coming from Internet streaming. The movie industry has seen similar gains, with global streaming video revenue projected to hit $94 billion by 2025. Meanwhile, independent creators used new internet platforms to present their work directly to fans without having to go through gatekeepers or intermediaries. Most importantly, the post-SOPA-PIPA Internet has proven to be the most impactful communications platform in human history. On May 25, 2020, 17-year-old Darnell Frazier used her smartphone to document the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Posted to Facebook, this video kicked off an ongoing national conversation on race and injustice. Similarly, in 2017 women took to the Internet to respond to sexual assault allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and describe their own experiences under the hashtag #MeToo. Widespread media coverage changed the way our society responds to sexual harassment. For the first time, regular people have been empowered to speak to millions on important issues, and they are using the power to change society for the better. Over the last decade, we have learned many lessons. We have learned that the Internet, while it provides tremendous benefits, is not perfect. That is why we need clear federal guidelines in areas like online privacy and digital currencies that protect consumers and promote innovation. We have learned that Americans continue to care passionately about the Internet. Over the last two years during COVID, millions have gone online to work, educate their children, access health care, keep in touch with loved ones, and arrange delivery of critical goods. No wonder online companies rank highly in surveys of America’s most-loved brands. However, the SOPA-PIPA fight is not over. In “Groundhog Day” fashion, threats to the free and open Internet are reemerging. Policymakers are threatening to increase government control over Internet speech, and impose other limitations that would harm online companies and small businesses. Many of those pushing today’s “anti-tech” narrative are the same disgruntled competitors and legacy industries that engineered SOPA-PIPA. In fact, some broadcasters and content companies are even opposing an eminently qualified FCC nominee, Gigi Sohn, because of her correct and pro-consumer opposition to SOPA-PIPA a decade ago Congress is now considering legislation that would eliminate products like Google Docs and Amazon Prime. These services are woven into the lives of millions who rely on them to surmount the difficulties of COVID. If Congress breaks these services, the reaction from voters could make the SOPA-PIPA earthquake look like a mild tremor. Similarly, you could predict a SOPA-PIPA-type backlash if the government places unreasonable restrictions on the 46 million Americans who own digital assets. A few weeks after SOPA-PIPA died, I was ordering coffee when the barista pointed at the “STOP SOPA” sticker on my laptop. “I emailed my member of Congress about that, and it worked…It was the first time I felt I could actually change things in Washington,” he said. Thankfully, ten years after SOPA-PIPA, the Internet’s ability to empower American expression and innovation is only just beginning. Michael Petricone is the Senior VP, Government Affairs, at the Consumer Technology Association. This Techdirt Greenhouse special edition is all about the 10 year anniversary of the fight that stopped SOPA. On January 26th at 1pm PT, we'll be hosting a live discussion with Rep. Zoe Lofgren and some open roundtable discussions about the legacy of that fight. Please register to attend.
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[l] at 1/21/22 1:04pm
Vice News has some really great reporters on tech issues who work for its Motherboard publication. For reasons that don't make sense, last week they had some other reporter write an absolutely ridiculously bad story trying to argue that the "stop the steal" idiots were helped along by the amazingly important work done by folks in the famed "Voting Village" at the DEFCON conference. The full article is long and bad and has the ridiculous and misleading title: How an "Ethical" Hacker Convention Is Fueling Trump's Big Lie. But the very premise of this story is not just wrong, but dangerously stupid. It's shameful that anyone at Vice thought this was an appropriate story to publish. The facts are this: there have been quite reasonable concerns about the security and technology in certain electronic voting machines going back decades. In fact, Techdirt covered tons of these stories, which were often about problems with the security in early machines, the lack of paper trails for the votes, and (perhaps most importantly) the unwillingness of the voting machine companies to work transparently with actual security researchers who could help harden those machines. Voting Village was set up in DEFCON as a response to that, in which these ethical hackers would get their hands on voting machines, seek out the vulnerabilities in order to help harden the security and improve these machines. It's how cybersecurity has always worked. And while it is true that some of the Stop the Steal grifters have tried to take some of the headlines or presentations from DEFCON and pretend that they prove that the 2020 election was hacked or broken or whatnot, that's got nothing to do with Voting Village "helping" them. If it weren't for Voting Village, those same grifters would have found other reports and other news stories to misinterpret and to make their unsubstantiated claims. The simple fact is that just because security researchers have concerns about some voting machines, and have worked to highlight where security vulnerabilities might be, that does not mean that an election is easily hacked, or that any election was actually hacked. That's the kind of thing that the "stop the steal" grifters have never been able to show and all of the evidence to date has failed to substantiate. Paragraphs like this are utter nonsense: And then there is DEFCON. The experts here agree that there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, and many have worked hard to debunk those conspiracy theories. But with its sensationalist rhetoric, flashy theatrics, unstructured hacking, and lack of context about how elections operate, DEFCON also emphasizes the vulnerabilities that are possible, even when they’re not necessarily probable. As a result, the event serves as easy fodder for dis- and malinformation, showing how even well-intentioned experts are being used to prop up the Big Lie. Yeah, it emphasizes vulnerabilities are possible because of course they're possible. That's just being factual and accurate. And, on top of that, the way to minimize those vulnerabilities and to better protect elections is to allow security researchers to find those vulnerabilities, report them, and seek better ways of protecting voting. And that's exactly what Voting Village does. Arguing that they should somehow be blamed because idiots are misrepresenting their work, as if the work was the problem is so disingenuous to be effectively disinformation. Or as security researchers Rob Graham rightly notes: 1/ Buckle up kids, time for me to dunk on this story. Suppressing the truth because it hurts the cause is never the right answer. Its the reason that truth is suppressed by the corrupt.https://t.co/AEjMAT1KY9 — Robᵉʳᵗ Graham (@ErrataRob) January 11, 2022 As he notes later in the thread, "pretty much all government transparency information is at some point misrepresented by conspiracy theorists" but that's no excuse to say we should have less transparency. Others, like Kim Zetter -- one of the best cybersecurity reporters ever -- point out that the reporter's main sources for the article appear to be people close to voting tech companies and election officials, which are the two groups of people who are most frequently embarrassed by the security research that comes out of Voting Village. In other words, this was a hit piece, put in place by folks who have long wanted to destroy Voting Village. In fact, Zetter highlights that one of the main sources quoted in the article has complained about Voting Village for years, which seems like extremely relevant context that was left out of the article. I’m disappointed in Vice for publishing. He quotes David Becker, whose org works with election officials, and Michelle Shafer, a former spokes for voting machine vendors, but doesn’t speak with Matt Blaze or Alex Halderman. And he implies that Harri was a consultant for Lindell. — Kim Zetter (@KimZetter) January 11, 2022 Others noted that many of the actual experts in this space -- names which have been mentioned on Techdirt frequently, like Alex Halderman and Matt Blaze -- are not quoted in the article at all. The author claimed that while he spoke to many such experts he didn't have room to include their quotes. Maggie MacAlpine, a Voting Village organizer notes that neither she nor any of her colleagues were quoted, and the article is full of "unattributed, and factually incorrect statements." Hi Im a Voting Village organizer and I "enjoyed" the part of this article where none of my colleagues were quoted, the quotes used were unattributed, and factually incorrect statements littered the piece. This is poorly researched to the point of being misinformation itself. — Maggie MacAlpine (@MaggieMacAlpine) January 11, 2022 Matt Blaze -- again, one of the foremost experts on election security issues -- summed up the nonsense premise of the article perfectly: Im not going to give more O2 to that dreadful voting article that came out the other day. But I will say that "dont find things out or tell other people about them because bad people might misinterpret them out of context" is a weird premise for a journalist to start from. — matt blaze (@mattblaze) January 13, 2022 He later notes three important facts about the complicated world of computer security: There's been great progress securing US election infrastructure. There are still serious vulnerabilities and much work is left to be done. Yet there's no evidence technical attacks have altered election outcomes. And the only reason the first bullet point is as true as it is, is because of the work of the security researchers like those who populate Voting Village every year at DEFCON. The only reason more work is progressing on the second point is because of the same thing. And articles like this one in Vice make that much, much more difficult. Do better, Vice.
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[l] at 1/21/22 11:49am
Multiple governments have been relying on contact-tracing apps to limit the spread of COVID. This has gone on nearly uninterrupted for the last couple of years in more than a few countries. Given the type of data collected -- contact information and location data -- it was only a matter of time before some government decided to abuse this new information source for reasons unrelated to tracking COVID infections. I guess the only surprise is that it took this long to be abused. Authorities in Germany faced increasing criticism on Tuesday over their misuse of a COVID contact tracing app to investigate a case. [...] The incident concerns authorities in the city of Mainz. At the end of November, a man fell to his death after leaving a restaurant in the city, prompting police to open a case. While trying to track down witnesses, police and prosecutors managed to successfully petition local health authorities to release data from the Luca app, which logs how long people stayed at an establishment. Authorities then reached out to 21 potential witnesses based on the data they had unlawfully acquired from the app. The Luca app used in Germany collects data on visitors to public places. Users enter their contact info into the app and scan QR codes posted at restaurants, bars, and public events. When they leave the venue, Luca users sign out of the location. This app has proven very useful in Germany, mostly due to it automating the mandatory paperwork required of restaurant and venue owners, who were required to gather contact information on patrons and log the time they spent in their businesses. The Luca app does this automatically and encrypts the info, protecting it from the prying eyes of malicious outsiders. Both the venue and the health department have to agree to decrypt the data and, once decrypted, it remains solely in the hands of the health department. It is only supposed to be used to track potential infections, hence the backlash against police and prosecutors in Mainz. Following the backlash, prosecutors are now promising to never do this again. But that pledge only applies to these law enforcement officials. According to Luca's developers, lots of cops are asking for this data. The app's developers, culture4life, sharply criticized the actions of authorities in Mainz. "We condemn the abuse of Luca data collected to protect against infections," the company said in a statement. Culture4life added that it receives frequent requests for its data from the law enforcement — but those requests are routinely denied. This may be Germany's first scandal related to misuse of COVID-tracking data. Hopefully, the public response to this news will help it to be its last. But if the rules that have been in place since the app went into use aren't sufficient to deter law enforcement from seeking data it's clearly illegal for it to obtain, it's unlikely a little bad press targeting another agency will have much of an effect on investigators who think they've found a better way to round up suspects or witnesses.
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[l] at 1/21/22 11:44am
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[l] at 1/21/22 10:37am
Crony capitalism is alive and well, and can only be contained (if at all) by sustained popular action. SOPA/PIPA were broadly bipartisan bills designed to adapt techniques developed from the financial arm of the war on terror to pad the pockets of one of the most powerful business lobbies in Washington DC. The bills proposed to create an extrajudicial process, invoked and driven either directly by industry lawyers or by their revolving door colleagues in the White House (the MPA and RIAA leveraged bipartisan neoliberalism), which would trigger obligations, levied with all the fine precision of a sledge hammer, for payment systems providers and advertising delivery systems to cut off whole sites that the industry lawyers alleged were hosting copyrighted made available without a license or privilege.  It was, in other words, a travesty to anything remotely resembling a balanced, expression-respecting version of copyright law. None of this troubled the bipartisan alliance of sage legislators who supported the bill—too ignorant to study its details; too captivated by the ideology of private property; or too corrupt to care. The bill embodied the kind of public-private-partnership that Niva Elkin Koren and Michael Birnhack had warned about a decade earlier: the Invisible Handshake. An alliance between states and companies handing off to each other functions that neither could do on its own, with companies harnessing the state to do their work in SOPA/PIPA, in this case, just as other companies were collecting data for the state in ways disclosed by Edward Snowden not long after. For those who now yearn for bipartisan regulation of content moderation, at a time with Mark Zuckerberg is asking for regulation—be careful what you wish for. If it really constrains business, it won’t be broadly bipartisan. It will be hard fought and narrowly won, and only with hard, sustained political mobilization. Networked mobilization has played an important democratizing role, using the same affordances that also undergird radicalization. How quaint to remember that ten years ago people still thought that copyright policy was a big enough deal to go out on the streets in the US and Europe, carrying signs like Stop ACTA! In this world of ours, when the US seems to be teetering on the edge of an authoritarian takeover, at least for a while or in some major states; in which hundreds of thousands went out on the streets to protest police killings of Black men and women; that seems like a time long, long ago. But the core lesson was that online mobilization, coupled with real-world protests, can and does work. It’s not just armchair activism; or at least it isn’t if it wants to be effective. As Zeynep Tufekci argued effectively, what we’ve learned in the past decade is that mobilization on social media is far from a silver bullet, and has real costs alongside benefits; but it is a source of enormous power. As we read, day in day out, about online mobilization of the far right, disinformation and propaganda, and imagine new ways for networks to police their users’ radical politics, let’s not forget that radically decentralized protest has worked across the political spectrum, pursuing liberatory and oppressive projects alike. Whatever powers of suppression we invest in the parties to the Invisible Handshake will be at least as available to would-be authoritarians are they are to would-be egalitarians, and likely more so because of the shamelessness of the former. Democratically governed critical infrastructures are central to the power of a citizens’ strike. On January 18, 2012, ProPublica recorded 80 supporters and 31 opponents of SOPA/PIPA. On January 19, the ratio in favor had shifted from 80:31 to 65:101. By January 20, the ratio would continue to go against passage of the bills to 55:205. What happened on January 18 was the Internet Blackout, when thousands of sites, including Wikipedia and Reddit, blacked out. What happened was a massive citizens strike, but it was centrally anchored around democratically governed critical infrastructures, none more critical than Wikipedia. Yes, I know, Wikipedia is far from a utopian democratic public sphere. And yet, here was the world’s most important knowledge utility shut down following extensive public debate, in which over 2,000 Wikipedia editors participated, because the community reached a conclusion to shut it down to stop a grave threat to the core values of the community. Other than Wikipedia itself, there are no other democratically produced and governed pieces of Internet infrastructure on a global scale. There continue to be efforts at platform and open cooperatives, and periodically open source alternative platforms are developed. But we all know that more and more of our online infrastructures are fully commoditized and controlled centrally. That’s why the protests of employees of those companies have become such a critical dimension of democratic resistance. But increasingly internet activism of this type is limited to consumer boycotts or ethical consumption, which usually garners more symbolic support than actual behavioral change. With the overwhelming corporatization and enclosure of all levels of the infrastructure, we are losing a critical base of power for democratic accountability that can be based outside of the twin pillars of crony capitalism. Yochai Benkler is the Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard Law School, and faculty co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.  This Techdirt Greenhouse special edition is all about the 10 year anniversary of the fight that stopped SOPA. On January 26th at 1pm PT, we'll be hosting a live discussion with Rep. Zoe Lofgren and some open roundtable discussions about the legacy of that fight. Please register to attend.
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[l] at 1/21/22 7:32am
This week Representatives Anna Eshoo and Jan Schakowsky, and Senator Cory Booker introduced the Banning Surveillance Advertising Act, which the trio proclaim will dismantle the snoopvertising industry and make everybody immeasurably safer: "Surveillance advertising is a predatory and invasive practice. The hoarding of people’s personal data not only abuses privacy, but also drives the spread of misinformation, domestic extremism, racial division, and violence,” said Senator Booker. “With the introduction of the Ban Surveillance Advertising Act, advertisers will be forced to stop exploiting individuals’ online behavior for profits and our communities will be safer as a result." Except it's not really clear the bill actually does that. This bill does claim to prohibit digital advertisers from flinging targeted ads at users based on protected class information like race and sexual orientation. But "broad" location-based targeting would still be allowed as would "contextual advertising," or ads linked to specific online content being viewed. It also continues to allow a lot of behavior just as long as ad market participants pinky swear they're doing the right thing: "Paragraph (1) does not apply to the targeting of the dissemination of an advertisement based on information described in clauses (i) through (iv) of subparagraph (B) of such paragraph that is provided to an advertising facilitator by an advertiser or by a third party on behalf of an adver6 tiser, if the advertising facilitator is provided a written attestation that the advertiser is not in violation of subsection (b) with respect to such information. So basically, if companies proclaim they're doing the right thing (which they often won't be, and over-extended regulators likely won't be able to consistently confirm), they'll get a bit of a pass: Read the bill, though. Advertisers can still dump your purchases and other activity to FB/G for targeting, as long as they "attest" they arent revealing "protected class" info about you. A partial ban at best, and does not address riskiest/least accepted surveillance practices — Don Marti (@dmarti) January 18, 2022 That's the real problem here. The entire digital advertising space is such an intentionally complicated mess, even reporters who cover it for a living are often utterly dumbfounded as to what's actually happening. Some of this is just because internet technology can be complicated, something that's a challenge for Luddite lawmakers. Some of it is because making it intentionally complicated makes it extremely difficult for even competent regulators to effectively regulate. The idea that a single bill can fix vast problems across an ocean of global industries seems a bit simplistic at this point. emarketer just put out a v good (v paywalled) report detailing aaaallllllllllll the data thats typically used to target u with ads + where that data comes from + the new horrifying data sources tech cos are planning to start mining next https://t.co/P7exElXlPx pic.twitter.com/1w22cbdWiI — shoshana wodinsky (she/her) (@swodinsky) August 18, 2021 All policed by U.S. regulators that are so underfunded, understaffed, under-resourced, or just plain corrupt that they can't even tackle the majority of obvious fraud occurring everyday, much less the elaborate data monetization systems driving the global economy. Which is why we keep seeing a rotating parade of ad and privacy related scandals that take years for policymakers to even identify, much less address. More often than not, these scandals end with adorable wrist slaps long after the fact (see: the tale of Verizon's "zombie cookie," or the wireless industry's recent location data scandals) and fines that are paltry in comparison to the money made off of the offense. Much like the recent bill to force companies to shorten overlong terms of service, this bill feels like a feel-good venture to fix a very complicated problem with language that doesn't actually do what it promises to do. There are so many reasons we don't really effectively police the entire massive data collection realm (from telecom networks and app stores to data brokers), but a major reason is we don't actually enable and fund our regulators to actually do a job of this (or any real) scope. And the regulators we do have tend to be of the revolving door variety -- utterly disinterested in any solution that might topple the money trough for their previous or future employees. A core underlying component of U.S. dysfunction is corruption. And our regulators are so dysfunctional, under-resourced, and corrupt they can't even tackle very basic, obvious examples of fraud and monopolization (see the telecom, banking, pharmaceutical, and energy sectors). This idea that they're going to fix the entire data collection ecosystem (which again includes telecom, data brokers, app makers, the entirety of modern tech, and even the prison industry) without first fixing those problems -- much less with a bill filled with loopholes -- feels a tad performative and naïve.

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