The Courts

Pirate Music Site's Owner Sentenced to Five Years in Prison ( 31

An anonymous reader shares an update on Artur Sargsyan, who owned the music-pirating site Sharebeast as well as Newjams and Albumjams. TorrentFreak reports: Thursday a U.S. District Judge sentenced the 30-year-old to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and more than $642,000 in restitution and forfeiture... The RIAA claimed that ShareBeast was the largest illegal file-sharing site operating in the United States... "Millions of users accessed songs from ShareBeast each month without one penny of compensation going to countless artists, songwriters, labels and others who created the music," RIAA Chairman & CEO Cary Sherman commented at the time...

If Sargsyan had responded to takedown notices more positively, it's possible that things may have progressed in a different direction. The RIAA sent the site more than 100 copyright-infringement emails over a three-year period but to no effect. This led the music industry group to get out its calculator and inform the Deparmtment of Justice that the total monetary loss to its member companies was "a conservative" $6.3 billion "gut-punch" to music creators who were paid nothing by the service... "His reproduction of copyrighted musical works were made available only to generate undeserved profits for himself," said U.S. Attorney Byung J. "BJay" Pak. "The incredible work done by our law enforcement partners and prosecutors in light of the complexity of Sargsyan's operation demonstrates that we will employ all of our resources to stop this kind of theft."

David J. LaValley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, said "His sentence sends a message that no matter how complex the operation, the FBI, its federal partners and law enforcement partners around the globe will go to every length to protect the property of hard working artists and the companies that produce their art."

Today if you visit or, they display an "FBI anti-piracy warning" image notifying visitors the domain has been seized, adding "Willful copyright infringement is a federal crime that carries penalties for first time offenders of up to five years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine, forfeiture and restitution." The image is surrounded by a red border with the word "seized" written over and over again.

How Technology Caught the Austin Serial Bomber ( 85

Wednesday police in Austin, Texas finally located the "serial bomber" believed to be responsible for six package bombs which killed two people over the last three weeks. "The operation was aided by different uses of technology, including surveillance cameras and cell phone triangulation." An anonymous reader shares this article: The suspect, who has been identified as 24-year-old Mark Anthony Conditt, was killed near the motel he was traced to thanks to surveillance footage from a Federal Express drop-off store, The Austin American-Stateman reported. The authorities were able to gather information after police noticed the subject shipped an explosive device from a Sunset Valley FedEx store, a suburb approximately 25 minutes away from Austin. The evidence included the security footage from the store, as well as store receipts obtained showing suspicious transactions. The authorities were also able to look at the individual's Google search history, the Statesman noted, which gave them further insight into his dealings...

The authorities were also able to use cell phone triangulation technology, which provides a cell phone's location data via information collected from nearby cell towers... The phone's GPS capabilities can track the phone within 5 to 10 feet and can also provide "historical" or "prospective" location information. It can also "ping" the phone, forcing it to reveal its exact location... As cell phone companies store this type of data, law enforcement authorities must request it via the appropriate court processes.

"Authorities in Austin were able to use this technology to trace the suspect to a hotel in Williamson County."
The Internet

Tim Berners-Lee Urges Web Users: 'Care About Your Data' ( 83

"As the web celebrated its 29th birthday last week, Berners-Lee expressed disappointment with how his invention has turned out," reports MarketWatch. "He criticized Facebook and other tech heavyweights last week, saying they have 'made it possible to weaponize the web at scale.'

"But on Monday, the British computer scientist essentially told Zuck to buck up. 'I would say to him: You can fix it,' Berners-Lee tweeted. 'It won't be easy, but if companies work with governments, activists, academics and web users, we can make sure platforms serve humanity.'"

Tim Berners-Lee writes: This is a serious moment for the web's future. But I want us to remain hopeful. The problems we see today are bugs in the system. Bugs can cause damage, but bugs are created by people, and can be fixed by people.... My message to all web users today is this: I may have invented the web, but you make it what it is. And it's up to all of us to build a web that reflects our hopes & fulfils our dreams more than it magnifies our fears & deepens our divisions... Get involved. Care about your data. It belongs to you.

If we each take a little of the time we spend using the web to fight for the web, I think we'll be ok. Tell companies and your government representatives that your data and the web matter.


New York Councilman Proposes Bill That Would Grant NYC Workers 'Right To Disconnect' ( 78

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: New York City councilman Rafael Espinal released a "Right to Disconnect" bill on Thursday, advocating for the rights of employees to stop answering work-related emails and other digital messages, like texts, after official work hours. "Our work lives have spilled into our personal lives because of technology," he told me. "It's time we unblur and strike a clear line." Brooklyn-based Espinal said he got the idea from France, where a bill passed early last year by the Ministry of Labor requires companies of over 50 employees to define out-of-office email rules. He wanted to create a similar guideline so that workers would not be penalized for disconnecting after work hours. But that's France -- known for joie de vivre -- and this is New York, known for not sleeping.

Answering work emails after work hours, or during weekends, or on vacation, has become par for the course here, and across the US. Statistics rarely account for the extra hours spent managing post-office work -- by most official counts, Americans work the same number of hours -- around 39 to 47 per week -- just as we did in the 1950s. But those of us living it know this isn't true: technology has completely changed the way we work, and burnout is rampant among American workers. If Espinal were able to implement the bill, it would face similar challenges to its European counterparts. Critics say the legislation in France has no teeth, and companies are still allowed to define their own guidelines, leaving room for exploitation. And the New York version of the "Right to Disconnect" bill includes exemptions for jobs that require 24-hour on-call periods.


Facebook Gets Hit With Four Lawsuits Over Cambridge Analytica Scandal ( 85

Facebook has had a terrible week. Since it was revealed that political data firm Cambridge Analytica obtained information about 50 million Facebook users, the social media company has been in damage control mode, apologizing for its mistakes and conducting forensic audits to determine exactly what happened. SFGate reports today that Facebook "has been hit with four lawsuits in federal court in San Francisco and San Jose thus far this week." From the report: One lawsuit was filed by a Facebook user who claims the Menlo Park company acted with "absolute disregard" for her personal information after allegedly representing that it wouldn't disclose the data without permission or notice. That lawsuit, filed by Lauren Price of Maryland in San Jose on Tuesday, seeks to be a class action on behalf of up to 50 million people whose data was allegedly collected from Facebook by London-based Cambridge Analytica. The lawsuit says that during the 2016 election, Price was "frequently targeted with political ads while using Facebook." It seeks financial restitution for claims of unfair business practices and negligence. Both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are named as defendants. Cambridge Analytica also announced today that the company will undergo an independent third-party audit to determine whether it still holds any data covertly obtained from Facebook users. "We take the disturbing recent allegations of unethical practices in our non-U.S. political business very seriously," CEO Alexander Tayler writes. "The Board has launched a full and independent investigation into SCL Elections' past practices, and its findings will be shared publicly."

UPDATE: Eighteen enforcement officers have entered the Cambridge Analytica headquarters in London's West End to search the premises after the data watchdog was granted a warrant to examine its records, reports The Guardian.

Firefox In 2018: We'll Tackle Bad Ads, Breach Alerts, Autoplay Video, Says Mozilla ( 81

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: Firefox maker Mozilla has outlined its 2018 roadmap to make the web less intrusive and safer for users. First up, Mozilla says it will proceed and implement last year's experiment with a breach alerts service, which will warn users when their credentials have been leaked or stolen in a data breach. Mozilla aims to roll out the service around October. Breach Alerts is based on security consultant Troy Hunt's data breach site Have I Been Pwned. Firefox will also implement a similar block on autoplay video to the one Chrome 66 will introduce next month, and that Safari already has. However, Dotzler says Firefox's implementation will "provide users with a way to block video auto-play that doesn't break websites". This feature is set to arrive in Firefox 62, which is scheduled for release in May.

After Firefox 62 the browser will gain an optional Chrome-like ad filter and several privacy-enhancing features similar to those that Apple's WebKit developers have been working on for Safari's Intelligent Tracking Prevention. By the third quarter of 2018, Firefox should also be blocking ad-retargeting through cross-domain tracking. It's also going to move all key privacy controls into a single location in the browser, and offer more "fine-grained" tracking protection. Dotzler says Mozilla is in the "early stages" of determining what types of ads Firefox should block by default. Also on the roadmap is a feature that arrived in Firefox 59, released earlier this month. A new Global Permissions feature will help users avoid having to deny every site that requests permission for location, camera, microphone and notifications. Beyond security and privacy, Mozilla plans to build on speed-focused Quantum improvements that came in Firefox 57 with smoother page rendering.


FCC Chief Cites Concerns on Spy Threats From Chinese Telecoms Firms ( 42

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, in a letter sent to lawmakers earlier this week (but released just now), said he shares the concerns of U.S. lawmakers about espionage threats from Chinese smartphone maker Huawei and plans to take "proactive steps" to ensure the integrity of the U.S. communications supply chain. From a report: Pai said he shares concerns over the "security threat that Huawei and other Chinese technology companies pose to our communications networks." Pai said he intends to take action in the "near future," but offered no specifics. Pai's letter follows the introduction of legislation by Republican Senators Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio in February that would block the U.S. government from buying or leasing telecoms equipment from Huawei, the world's third largest smartphone maker, or Chinese telecommunications equipment maker ZTE Corp, citing concerns the companies would use their access to spy on U.S. officials.
The Internet

Craigslist Personals, Some Subreddits Disappear After FOSTA Passage ( 131

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: In the wake of this week's passage of the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) bill in both houses of Congress on Wednesday, Craigslist has removed its "Personals" section entirely, and Reddit has removed some related subreddits, likely out of fear of future lawsuits. FOSTA, which awaits the signature of President Donald Trump before becoming law, removes some portions of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The landmark 1996 law shields website operators that host third-party content (such as commenters, for example) from civil liability. The new bill is aimed squarely at Backpage, a notorious website that continues to allow prostitution advertisements and has been under federal scrutiny for years. In a bizarre turn of events, the Department of Justice also warned the House in February 2018 that the bill "raises a serious constitutional concern," as it would apply retroactively -- a seeming violation of the Constitution's ex post facto clause. Congress passed it anyway. The Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote in a blog post: "It's easy to see the impact that this ramp-up in liability will have on online speech: facing the risk of ruinous litigation, online platforms will have little choice but to become much more restrictive in what sorts of discussion -- and what sorts of users -- they allow, censoring innocent people in the process."
Social Networks

My Cow Game Extracted Your Facebook Data ( 53

Ian Bogost, writing for The Atlantic: Already in 2010, it felt like a malicious attention market where people treated friends as latent resources to be optimized. Compulsion rather than choice devoured people's time. Apps like FarmVille sold relief for the artificial inconveniences they themselves had imposed. In response, I made a satirical social game called Cow Clicker. Players clicked a cute cow, which mooed and scored a "click." Six hours later, they could do so again. They could also invite friends' cows to their pasture, buy virtual cows with real money, compete for status, click to send a real cow to the developing world from Oxfam, outsource clicks to their toddlers with a mobile app, and much more. It became strangely popular, until eventually, I shut the whole thing down in a bovine rapture -- the "cowpocalypse." It's kind of a complicated story.

But one worth revisiting today, in the context of the scandal over Facebook's sanctioning of user-data exfiltration via its application platform. It's not just that abusing the Facebook platform for deliberately nefarious ends was easy to do (it was). But worse, in those days, it was hard to avoid extracting private data, for years even, without even trying. I did it with a silly cow game. Cow Clicker is not an impressive work of software. After all, it was a game whose sole activity was clicking on cows. I wrote the principal code in three days, much of it hunched on a friend's couch in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I had no idea anyone would play it, although over 180,000 people did, eventually. And yet, if you played Cow Clicker, even just once, I got enough of your personal data that, for years, I could have assembled a reasonably sophisticated profile of your interests and behavior. I might still be able to; all the data is still there, stored on my private server, where Cow Clicker is still running, allowing players to keep clicking where a cow once stood, before my caprice raptured them into the digital void.


US Charges Iranians For Global Cyber Attacks on Behalf of Tehran ( 35

The United States on Friday charged nine Iranians and an Iranian company with attempting to hack into hundreds of U.S. and international universities, dozens of companies and parts of the U.S. government on behalf of the Tehran government. From a report: The cyber attack pilfered more than 31 terabytes of academic data and intellectual property from 144 U.S. universities and 176 universities in 21 foreign countries, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement. The U.S. Treasury Department said on its website that it was placing sanctions on those accused and the Mabna Institute, a company described by U.S. prosecutors as designed to help Iranian research organizations steal information.
The Internet

FCC's New 5G Rules Favor Fast Setup Over Federal Reviews ( 53

In a 3-2, party-line vote Thursday, FCC commissioners passed a measure that exempts small cell radio deployments from federal environmental and historical preservation reviews originally meant for large cell phone towers. The vote didn't affect reviews from towns and cities, but the agency may consider exemptions for those reviews later this year. CNET reports: Republican FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr has been leading the agency's charge in promoting 5G. He said the exemptions are sorely needed because reviews have been costing wireless operators too much and have slowed deployments. In 2017, these federal reviews cost providers $36 million. He anticipates that as 5G deployments increase in the coming year they could cost providers as much as $241 million. Meanwhile, he said FCC records show that less than 1 percent of cases reviewed resulted in any changes to planned deployments.

"The disproportionate fees are the product of a broken and outdated system," Carr said. "This threatens to hold us back in the race to 5G or limit the business case to densely populated or affluent areas." He added that with Thursday's rule change, the FCC "can flip the business case for thousands of communities." Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, however, said that though the current reviews process does involve red tape, Thursday's change "misses the mark" and also runs afoul of key environmental and historic preservation values.


Atlanta City Government Systems Down Due To Ransomware Attack ( 64

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The city of Atlanta government has apparently become the victim of a ransomware attack. The city's official Twitter account announced that the city government "is currently experiencing outages on various customer facing applications, including some that customers may use to pay bills or access court-related information." According to a report from Atlanta NBC affiliate WXIA, a city employee sent the station a screen shot of a ransomware message demanding a payment of $6,800 to unlock each computer or $51,000 to provide all the keys for affected systems. Employees received emails from the city's information technology department instructing them to unplug their computers if they noticed anything suspicious. An internal email shared with WXIA said that the internal systems affected include the city's payroll application. "At this time, our Atlanta Information Management team is working diligently with support from Microsoft to resolve the issue," a city spokesperson told Ars. "We are confident that our team of technology professionals will be able to restore applications soon." The city's primary website remains online, and the city government will continue to post updates there, the spokesperson added.
United States

Trump Announces $60 Billion Tariff on Chinese High-Tech and Other Goods ( 522

Following months of investigations by the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, the Trump administration announced on Thursday at a White House briefing that the administration intends to place about $60 billion of tariffs on Chinese goods, with the bulk of them likely to be focused on the high-tech industry. The White House will announce a final list of goods subject to the tariffs in the next few weeks. From a report: "We've lost over a fairly short period of time, 60,000 factories in our country. Closed, shuttered, gone. Six million jobs at least, gone. And now they are starting to come back," President Trump said during the briefing. "The word that I want to use is reciprocal -- when they charge 25 percent for a car to go in, and we charge 2 percent for their car to come into the United States, that's not good. That's how China rebuilt itself."

Online Piracy Is More Popular Than Ever, Research Suggests ( 72

An anonymous user writes: A broad and detailed report from piracy tracking outfit MUSO shows that visits to pirate sites went up last year. The company recorded more than 300 billion visits in 2017, which suggests that "piracy is more popular than ever." TV remained the most popular category and most pirates prefer streaming over torrents or direct downloading.

Facebook Gave Data About 57 Billion Friendships To Academic ( 114

Before Facebook suspended Aleksandr Kogan from its platform for the data harvesting "scam" at the centre of the unfolding Cambridge Analytica scandal, the social media company enjoyed a close enough relationship with the researcher that it provided him with an anonymised, aggregate dataset of 57bn Facebook friendships. From a report: Facebook provided the dataset of "every friendship formed in 2011 in every country in the world at the national aggregate level" to Kogan's University of Cambridge laboratory for a study on international friendships published in Personality and Individual Differences in 2015. Two Facebook employees were named as co-authors of the study, alongside researchers from Cambridge, Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley. Kogan was publishing under the name Aleksandr Spectre at the time. A University of Cambridge press release on the study's publication noted that the paper was "the first output of ongoing research collaborations between Spectre's lab in Cambridge and Facebook." Facebook did not respond to queries about whether any other collaborations occurred. "The sheer volume of the 57bn friend pairs implies a pre-existing relationship," said Jonathan Albright, research director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. "It's not common for Facebook to share that kind of data. It suggests a trusted partnership between Aleksandr Kogan/Spectre and Facebook."

UK Launches Task Force To Scrutinize Cryptocurrency Risks and Benefits ( 27

U.K. Finance Minister Philip Hammond unveiled a task force that examines the risks and benefits of cryptocurrencies on Thursday. From a report: Hammond announced Thursday that the task force includes Britain's central bank, the Bank of England (BOE), and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) watchdog. He said that the BOE and FCA would also take the "first steps" toward automating financial compliance in Britain. The cryptocurrency task force is part of a wider fintech, or financial technology, strategy laid out by Westminster. As part of its initiative, the U.K. signed an agreement dubbed a "fintech bridge" with Australia on Thursday that will enable British fintech firms to sell products and services in Australia. The deal will also look to build cooperation on policies and regulation surrounding the sector, Hammond said. Hammond said he wanted to make the U.K. the "most attractive home" for global fintech firms.

Mark Zuckerberg Apologizes For the Cambridge Analytica Scandal, Says He Isn't Opposed To Regulation ( 179

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Mark Zuckerberg apologized on Wednesday evening for his company's handling of the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal. "This was a major breach of trust and I'm really sorry this happened," he said in an interview on CNN. "Our responsibility now is to make sure this doesn't happen again." Zuckerberg's comments reflected the first time he apologized following an uproar over how Facebook allowed third-party developers to access user data. Earlier in the day, Zuckerberg wrote a Facebook post in which he said the company had made mistakes in its handling of the Cambridge Analytica data revelations. The company laid out a multipart plan designed to reduce the amount of data shared by users with outside developers, and said it would audit some developers who had access to large troves of data before earlier restrictions were implemented in 2014. Zuckerberg also told CNN that he is not totally opposed to regulation. "I'm not sure we shouldn't be regulated," he said. "There are things like ad transparency regulation that I would love to see."

Other highlights of Zuckerberg's interviews:
-He told multiple outlets that he would be willing to testify before Congress.
-He said the company would notify everyone whose data was improperly used.
-He told the New York Times that Facebook would double its security force this year, adding: "We'll have more than 20,000 people working on security and community operations by the end of the year, I think we have about 15,000 now."
-He told the Times that Facebook would investigate "thousands" of apps to determine whether they had abused their access to user data.

Regarding moderation, Zuckerberg told Recode: "[The] thing is like, 'Where's the line on hate speech?' I mean, who chose me to be the person that did that?" Zuckerberg said. "I guess I have to, because of where we are now, but I'd rather not."
United States

US Spending Bill Contains CLOUD Act, a Win For Tech and Law Enforcement ( 116

The 2,232 page spending bill released Wednesday by House and Senate leaders includes the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data [CLOUD] Act, which provides a legal framework for law enforcement to request data from overseas servers. The CLOUD Act currently sits high atop the wish list of tech firms, law enforcement and even foreign nations. Axios reports: The Supreme Court is currently mulling a case determining whether the Department of Justice had the right to force Microsoft to produce client emails stored on a server in Ireland without permission from Ireland's government. Microsoft fears the DOJ will force it to violate the laws of Ireland. The DOJ hopes to avoid the often years long process of abiding by treaties dealing with evidence. But both have publicly urged lawmakers to render the pending decision moot by passing the CLOUD act, a way to streamline the treaty process for requesting digital data.

The CLOUD Act provides a framework for reciprocal treaties for nations to request data from computers located within each other's borders. It also provides a mechanism for a Microsoft to take a law enforcement demand to court if it would force them to violate another country's rules. But when neither apply, law enforcement will be able to demand files in accordance with U.S. law.


Russia Secretly Helped Venezuela Launch a Cryptocurrency To Evade US Sanctions ( 106

According to an exclusive report by Time, Russia helped Venezuelan officials create the world's first state-backed cryptocurrency to skirt U.S. sanctions. The cryptocurrency was launched in late February and was banned by the Trump administration earlier this week. From the report: The new cryptocurrency, a form of digital cash that is supposedly linked to the value of Venezuela's oil reserves, was launched on Feb. 20 during a ceremony in the presidential palace in Caracas. Nicolas Maduro, the socialist leader of Venezuela, declared that it would serve as a kind of "kryptonite" against the power of the U.S government, which he sarcastically referred to as "Superman." Sitting in the front row at that ceremony were two of Maduro's Russian advisers, Denis Druzhkov and Fyodor Bogorodsky, whom the President thanked for aiding his fight against American "imperialism." Both men have ties to major Russian banks and billionaires close to the Kremlin. But they were not the most senior Russians involved. According to an executive at a Russian state bank who deals with cryptocurrencies, senior advisers to the Kremlin have overseen the effort in Venezuela, and President Vladimir Putin signed off on it last year. "People close to Putin, they told him this is how to avoid the sanctions," says the executive, who spoke to TIME on condition of anonymity. "This is how the whole thing started."

AT&T Suffers Another Blow In Court Over Throttling of 'Unlimited' Data ( 39

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A federal judge has revived a lawsuit that angry customers filed against AT&T over the company's throttling of unlimited mobile data plans. The decision comes two years after the same judge decided that customers could only have their complaints heard individually in arbitration instead of in a class-action lawsuit. The 2016 ruling in AT&T's favor was affirmed by a federal appeals court. But the customers subsequently filed a motion to reconsider the arbitration decision, saying that an April 2017 decision by the California Supreme Court "constitutes a change in law occurring after the Courts arbitration order," Judge Edward Chen of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California said in the new ruling issued last week. The state Supreme Court "held that an arbitration agreement that waives the right to seek the statutory remedy of public injunctive relief in any forum is contrary to California public policy and therefore unenforceable," Chen wrote.

AT&T argued that the court shouldn't consider the new argument, saying that plaintiffs raised it too late. The plaintiffs could have made the same argument before the April 2017 Supreme Court ruling, since the ruling was based on California laws that "were enacted decades ago," according to AT&T. Chen was not persuaded, noting that "there had been no favorable court rulings" the plaintiffs could have cited earlier in the case. "The Court also finds that Plaintiffs acted with reasonable diligence once there was a ruling favorable to them," Chen wrote. As a result, the plaintiffs can now proceed with their case in U.S. District Court against AT&T. However, AT&T will appeal Chen's latest decision, presumably in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

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