|15-05-19, 07:00 AM||#1|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - May 18th, ’19
May 18th, 2019
InternetNZ Says Copyright Law is ‘Irrelevant and Unused,’ as File Sharing Crackdown Whimpers Out
InternetNZ is hoping New Zealand's updated Copyright Act will "last longer than UHT milk", with copyright holders no longer chasing Kiwi pirates using the so-called 'Skynet' law.
MBIE closed consultation on their review of the Copyright Act last month after seeking feedback on how well the law is working, with InternetNZ among those submitting on several aspects, including New Zealand's controversial anti-piracy file-sharing enforcement law.
The Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Act - or so-called 'Skynet' law - was passed under urgency in 2011, and allows rights holders to ask internet providers to send graduated warning notices to customers accused of illegal file sharing, before taking them to the Copyright Tribunal after the third notice.
In following years, a handful of cases were brought to the Tribunal - almost all of them by the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand, which is now Recorded Music NZ.
However, MBIE and industry representatives are now saying the law hasn't been used for years, is dysfunctional, and looks to have become almost completely redundant.
In Recorded Music NZ's 2017 response to the review's terms of reference, they elaborated on the many problems they faced while using the regime.
Notice requests sent to ISPs were lost, thrown away or invalidated by technicalities, rewards ordered by the Tribunal were disproportionate to the crime or little more than a slap on the wrist, and decisions took months to be released - in one case up to 329 days, they said.
InternetNZ engagement director Andrew Cushen said his organisation welcomes the review, and that New Zealand's copyright law around file sharing has become completely irrelevant and unused.
"Back in 2011, InternetNZ said that copyright rules on file sharing would quickly go out of date as new business models opened up new ways for New Zealanders to access and pay for creative works online - our prediction came true," Mr Cushen said.
"Uptake of services like NetFlix, Neon, and Spotify shows that New Zealanders are happy to access and pay for creative work online.
"The file-sharing law addressed a temporary problem.
"New Zealand's copyright law should last longer than UHT milk ... instead of writing rules with a built-in expiry date, we need a more flexible approach that allows for innovation."
In the MBIE discussion paper on the review, it was confirmed that Kiwi file-sharing pirates are essentially not being chased anymore.
"The use of pirate websites, which are usually hosted overseas and, therefore, beyond the jurisdiction of New Zealand’s laws, and the development of new technologies for online infringement create new challenges for copyright owners in addressing online infringements," the paper said.
"Traditional enforcement measures are becoming largely ineffective for addressing online infringements.
"Although a number of infringement cases using the infringing file sharing provisions were brought shortly after the regime came into effect in 2012, we understand that the regime is no longer being used by copyright owners.
"Since late 2015, ISPs do not appear to have been requested by copyright owners to send any notices to their account holders - the last claim to be taken to the Copyright Tribunal was also in 2015."
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said that, while their ministry administers the Copyright Tribunal, they were unable to supply the number of notices sent, and referred 1 NEWs to MBIE, which administers the Copyright Act.
However, a spokesperson for MBIE also said they don't have any record on the number of notices issued.
Spokespeople for four of New Zealand's largest ISPs - Spark, Vodafone, 2degrees and Vocus (Slingshot/Orcon) - either didn't respond to a request to provide the number of notices issued, or declined to provide them.
Independent research commissioned by Vocus, released this year in February, suggested services like Netflix have led to a dramatic reduction in peer-to-peer piracy.
Vocus Consumer General Manager Taryn Hamilton wrote that "the reason people are moving away from piracy is that it’s simply more hassle than it's worth.
"Piracy isn't driven by law-breakers, it's driven by people who can't easily or affordably get the content they want."
In InternetNZ's consultation submission for the review, they suggested rights holders may have also shied away from issuing notices because they could be perceived negatively for doing so, or because it was simply not worth their time.
Mr Cushen said, in short, "the file-sharing framework is not used because it is not relevant.
"Even the distributors who pushed for the law changes in 2011 have moved on."
Submissions to the review are currently being considered by MBIE before cabinet policy decisions are made and a draft bill is released - no timeline has been given.
'From Enemies to Allies': Google Removes Piracy Websites from Search Results
Google is voluntarily pulling down hundreds of websites involved in pirating popular movies and television shows after years of intensifying criticism from local film businesses and content creators.
The tech giant has entered into a voluntary agreement to help stop the spread of illegally downloaded material by removing sites blocked by internet service providers from its search results, allowing copyright holders to avoid taking the US-based behemoth to court.
Village Roadshow chief executive Graham Burke said there had so far been 832 sites blocked by the multibillion-dollar search platform, as part of a new collaborative approach between Google, internet service providers and content owners.
Mr Burke previously accused the US tech giant of "facilitating crime" for allowing pirate websites to be found in search results and told Google to "sue" him over the comments. He has been arguing for changes in the way the tech company handles illegally shared content over the last five years.
His movie business has lost millions of dollars due to piracy of hit films like Lion and Mad Max: Fury Road and he has repeatedly warned that local screen productions and creative industries have been decimated by those choosing to illegally download rather than pay for their entertainment.
Since 2015, there have been laws allowing copyright holders to obtain a court order to force internet service providers to block pirate websites. Roadshow Films was the first company to make a case under the site blocking regime.
Last year, these measures were tightened up to restrict the bypassing of the blocks and to enable copyright holders to get an injunction against a search engine.
Now, Google has agreed to 'de-index' these websites when they have been blocked by internet providers regardless of whether or not the court order applies to the search giant.
"This means we, as content owners, will be able to avoid the expense, effort, time and uncertainty of going to court," Mr Burke said.
"We've gone from being enemies to being allies ... because I believe Google is doing the right thing by Australians," he said.
"[The] pirates' business model is robbing and scamming people, they have sophisticated ways to take your information. Google has come down on the side that is right."
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield, who pushed for the tougher new laws to be introduced, said the legislation had helped change the companies' behaviours "in a positive way, so that hopefully there isn't the need to resort to the mechanisms the law provides".
"This is the sort of voluntary and positive partnership we want to see between platforms and content creators," Mr Fifield said.
"The norms and laws that apply in the physical world should also apply in the online world. Copyright law is no exception," he said.
A Google spokeswoman said the search platform "supports effective industry-led measures to fight piracy, and we invest significantly in the technology, tools and resources that prevent copyright infringement on our platforms".
Your 5G Phone Won’t Hurt You. But Russia Wants You to Think Otherwise.
RT America, a network known for sowing disinformation, has a new alarm: the coming ‘5G Apocalypse.’
William J. Broad
The cellphones known as 5G, or fifth generation, represent the vanguard of a wireless era rich in interconnected cars, factories and cities. Whichever nation dominates the new technology will gain a competitive edge for much of this century, according to many analysts. But a television network a few blocks from the White House has been stirring concerns about a hidden flaw.
“Just a small one,” a TV reporter told her viewers recently. “It might kill you.”
The Russian network RT America aired the segment, titled “A Dangerous ‘Experiment on Humanity,’” in covering what its guest experts call 5G’s dire health threats. U.S. intelligence agencies identified the network as a principal meddler in the 2016 presidential election. Now, it is linking 5G signals to brain cancer, infertility, autism, heart tumors and Alzheimer’s disease — claims that lack scientific support.
Yet even as RT America, the cat’s paw of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has been doing its best to stoke the fears of American viewers, Mr. Putin, on Feb. 20, ordered the launch of Russian 5G networks in a tone evoking optimism rather than doom.
“We need to look forward,” he said, according to Tass, the Russian news agency. “The challenge for the upcoming years is to organize universal access to high-speed internet, to start operation of the fifth-generation communication systems.”
Analysts see RT’s attack on 5G as geopolitically bold: It targets a new world of interconnected, futuristic technologies that would reach into consumers’ homes, aid national security and spark innovative industries. Already, medical firms are linking up devices wirelessly to create new kinds of health treatments.
“It’s economic warfare,” Ryan Fox, chief operating officer of New Knowledge, a technology firm that tracks disinformation, said in an interview. “Russia doesn’t have a good 5G play, so it tries to undermine and discredit ours.”
5G is also a growing point of friction between Washington and Beijing, with each side lining up allies in what has become a major technology race. Moscow and Beijing are seen as possibly forming a 5G political bloc.
The Kremlin “would really enjoy getting democratic governments tied up in fights over 5G’s environmental and health hazards,” said Molly McKew, head of Fianna Strategies, a consulting firm in Washington, D.C., that seeks to counter Russian disinformation.
RT’s assaults on 5G technology are rising in number and stridency as the American wireless industry begins to erect 5G systems. In March, Verizon said its service will soon reach 30 cities.
RT America aired its first program assailing 5G’s health impacts last May, its only one in 2018. Already this year, it has run seven. The most recent, on April 14, reported that children exposed to signals from 5G cellphone towers would suffer cancer, nosebleeds and learning disabilities.
The network distributes its programming by cable, satellite and online streaming. It also posts individual stories on Facebook and YouTube. A declassified U.S. intelligence report, released early in 2017, said that RT videos on YouTube have averaged 1 million views per day, “the highest among news outlets.”
Hundreds of blogs and websites appear to be picking up the network’s 5G alarms, seldom if ever noting the Russian origins. Analysts call it a treacherous fog.
Anna Belkina, RT’s head of communications in Moscow, defended the network’s coverage of 5G. “Unlike many other media, we show the breadth of debate,” she said in an email exchange.
Asked if Mr. Putin’s promotion of 5G technology in Russia conflicted with the health alarms raised by RT America, she said the U.S. network focused on local 5G issues, not “the roll-out in Russia.”
“Our American audience expects us to bring American concerns to the front, first and foremost,” Ms. Belkina said.
The 5G Playbook
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, in the 2017 report, described the network as “the Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet.” The report noted that RT’s most popular video on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election campaign stated that 100 percent of the Clintons’ charity “Went to … Themselves.” The video was viewed more than 9 million times.
Later that year, the national security division of the Justice Department forced RT America, formerly Russia Today, to register as a foreign agent.
Moscow’s goal, experts say, is to destabilize the West by undermining trust in democratic leaders, institutions and political life. To that end, the RT network amplifies voices of dissent, to sow discord and widen social divides. It gives the marginal a megaphone and traffics in false equivalence. Earlier campaigns took aim at fracking, vaccination and genetically modified organisms. One show called designer tomatoes “good-looking poison.”
The network is now applying its playbook against 5G by selectively reporting the most sensational claims, and by giving a few marginal opponents of wireless technology a conspicuous new forum.
All cellphones use radio waves. RT America tends to refer to the signals as “radiations,” seemingly associating them with the very strong rays at the far end of the electromagnetic spectrum, such as X-rays and ultraviolet rays, which in high doses can damage DNA and cause cancer.
But the radio waves used in cellphone communication lie at the opposite end of the spectrum, between radio broadcasting frequencies and the rainbow colors of visible light.
The frequencies employed in 5G are higher than those of past cellphones, allowing more information to be relayed more rapidly. Many other devices are expected to follow, including robots, drones and cars that send traffic information to one another.
Wireless high-speed communication could transform the news industry, sports, shopping, entertainment, transportation, health care, city management and many levels of government. In January, The Times announced a joint venture with Verizon to build a 5G journalism lab.
Over the years, plenty of careful science has scrutinized wireless technology for potential health risks. Virtually all the data contradict the dire alarms, according to public officials, including those at the World Health Organization.
Opponents of 5G claim the technology’s high frequencies will make the new phones and cell towers extraordinarily harmful. “The higher the frequency, the more dangerous it is to living organisms,” a RT reporter told viewers recently.
The truth is exactly the opposite, scientists say. The higher the radio frequency, the less it penetrates human skin, lowering exposure of the body’s internal organs, including the brain.
“5G emissions, if anything, should be safer than previous generations,” said Dr. Marvin C. Ziskin, a medical doctor and emeritus professor of radiology and medical physics at the Temple University School of Medicine.
Health concerns were raised last year when a large federal study showed that 2G signals could produce brain cancer in male rats. But officials discounted a direct link to humans, saying people received smaller doses.
Nonetheless, RT has taken an active role in stirring up apprehension, casting the debut of 5G in biblical terms. The caption superimposed on a January show read, “5G Apocalypse.” The anchor reported that doctors, scientists and environmental groups were now calling for its ban.
RT America taps the ranks of existing anti-cellular activists to wage its 5G campaign. Some have railed for decades against cellphones, power lines and other everyday sources of electromagnetic waves. Much of their work appears not in reputable science journals but little-known reports, publications and self-published tracts, at times with copious notes of dubious significance. They tend to cite each other’s research.
It’s unclear how many RT experts realize they are aiding a Russian network or that it acts as Mr. Putin’s mouthpiece. At times, RT simply mines existing videotape and print materials, editing them to reflect its perspective. And the intelligence report noted that some network staffers fail to disclose their RT affiliation when conducting interviews.
Even so, private analysts see the 5G attacks as reaching perhaps millions of online viewers — terrifying some, infuriating others.
“RT successfully feeds the conspiracy-oriented ecosystem,” said John Kelly, chief executive of Graphika, a network analytics firm. “This effort is having a real impact. It’s bearing fruit.”
A “Firehose of Falsehood”
RT America began its assault last year with a news show captioned “Wireless Cancer.” The featured guest was Dr. David O. Carpenter, a prominent 5G critic.
Dr. Carpenter, 82, received his medical degree from Harvard in 1964 and has published hundreds of scientific papers. For decades, he has warned of cancer risks for people living near high-voltage power lines, although federal studies have failed to find credible evidence that would support his claims.
“The rollout of 5G is very frightening,” Dr. Carpenter told RT America. “Nobody is going to be able to escape the radiation.”
Dr. Carpenter’s scariest alarms have been “widely dismissed by scientific bodies the world over,” according to David Robert Grimes, a cancer researcher at the University of Oxford, and his colleague, Dorothy V. M. Bishop, also of Oxford. They challenged Dr. Carpenter in a journal article that ran months before the RT program aired, calling his main claims “scientifically discredited.”
In an interview, Dr. Carpenter defended his work as having “served a major purpose” by revealing a global health threat. He said he was unaware that he had been featured on RT America. “I speak my mind to whomever I talk with,” he said.
RT America’s attacks on 5G have multiplied this year. On Jan. 14, the network aired “A Dangerous ‘Experiment on Humanity,’” which again featured Dr. Carpenter. RT followed a day later with “How to Survive Dangers of 5G.”
On Feb. 7, a segment claimed that “5G Tech is ‘Crime under International Law.’” Its featured expert was Arthur Firstenberg, who once charged that a neighbor’s wireless gear had hurt his health. He sued for $1.43 million in damages but lost after pressing his claim for five years.
The drumbeat continued. “‘Totally Insane’: Telecomm Industry Ignores 5G Dangers,” was the title of a segment that aired March 6.
A program on March 14 was aimed squarely at parents: “Could 5G Put More Kids at Risk for Cancer?” The RT reporter told of a California elementary school that recently churned with fear of radiation from a nearby cellphone tower, and how angry parents kept home 200 students.
Even as RT America has worked hard to damage 5G, the scientific establishment in Russia has embraced a contrary and questionable position: that the high frequencies of 5G communications are actually good for human health. It recommends their use for healing wounds, boosting the immune system and treating cancer. Millions of Russian patients are said to have undergone such high-frequency therapies.
Beauty clinics in Moscow use these high frequencies for skin regeneration, according to a scientific study. One company says the waves can remove wrinkles and fight hair loss.
A Rand study once called RT America’s approach a “Firehose of Falsehood.” For its part, Moscow has repeatedly denied allegations of meddling in the 2016 presidential election and has strongly defended RT’s news coverage as socially constructive.
Likewise, RT America strongly defended its position on the potential health risks of 5G technology.
“Nothing I’ve seen says the book is closed,” Rick Sanchez, an RT anchor on many of the 5G episodes, said in an interview. “I think there’s lots of unanswered questions. Before we commit to something on this scale, shouldn’t we consider if people could possibly be hurt?”
Mr. Fox, the operations chief of New Knowledge, the technology firm, said the network’s aggressive spin on 5G suggests Moscow is less interested in serving the public than dulling Washington’s edge in the global race for the digital future.
“It’s information warfare,” he said.
Additional reporting by Sophia Kishkovsky in Moscow.
Verizon’s 5G Network is Now Hitting Gigabit Download Speeds
A mind-blowing milestone
What a difference a few weeks can make. Last month, I came to Chicago for the launch of Verizon’s 5G network, which is now live both here and in Minneapolis. The inaugural 5G device was the Moto Z3 equipped with Motorola’s 5G MotoMod, and my experience — and that of many other tech journalists — was less than positive: 5G coverage was exceedingly difficult to find. Speeds were noticeably faster than LTE, but not wickedly so.
But today marks the release of Samsung’s $1,400 Galaxy S10 5G, which will briefly be a Verizon exclusive before moving to other carriers. And now that there’s a real, proper 5G phone on its network, Verizon has ramped things up. Coverage remains extremely limited: it varies widely and block by block.
But when you find a good spot, it’s amazing. I just ran a speed test that crossed 1Gbps, and my mind is frankly a little blown. This is in the real world, where my iPhone XS Max is barely hitting 20Mbps in the same spot.
Download speeds on Verizon’s 5G network now feel like a proper next-gen leap over current LTE performance. Going over 700Mbps is very typical, and crossing that gigabit marker can happen regularly if you’re standing near one of the carrier’s 5G nodes, which utilize millimeter wave technology to achieve the faster download rates.
I’m still walking around Chicago and testing things out, but here are a few quick tests I ran:
The pilot episode of The Office downloaded from Netflix at “high” quality in eight seconds. That’s not a typo.
I pulled down Marvel’s Iron Man 2 from the Amazon Prime Video app at “best” quality in 90 seconds.
Downloaded Iron Man 2 from Prime Video at "best" quality in 90 seconds. You can see here that Verizon's network occasionally fell back to 4G LTE. I'm right across the street from the 5G node. pic.twitter.com/TAh2YgmzwD
— Chris Welch (@chriswelch) May 16, 2019
When looking at download speeds, you’ve also got to factor in what’s on the other side. Are the servers and CDNs of your favorite streaming services optimized for this level of mobile network performance? For home broadband, maybe. But we’re entering a new era of potential for the devices in our pocket.
Let me balance that excitement a bit: 5G deployment is going to take years before we hit the same saturation and blanket coverage that currently exists with LTE. Millimeter wave technology alone isn’t going to be enough: indoor coverage on Verizon’s 5G network is basically nonexistent, and that’s a major issue. And for now, uploads are still limited to LTE on Verizon’s 5G network. Tethering with the Galaxy S10 5G isn’t yet supported (at 5G speeds), which is annoying.
Speeds drop quickly as you walk down the block from any 5G node, and the 5G signal is basically gone once you lose line of sight. Bafflingly, the 5G icon only appears when your phone is actively using data. At all other times, it displays 4G. This makes it difficult to tell exactly when you’re leaving a 5G coverage area. How convenient for a very young network! And as impressive as these speeds are, remember that there’s barely anyone on Verizon’s 5G network right now. What’s going to happen to those 1Gbps speed tests once people actually start buying 5G devices in significant numbers? All of this is to say that buying a $1,400 phone like the Galaxy S10 5G when coverage remains this spotty still seems pretty silly to me.
But damn is it fast. And these speeds Verizon is hitting in Chicago and Minneapolis are only going to push the company’s rivals to get on the same playing field. Unfortunately, my time with the S10 5G is going to be rather limited; even though the device can be purchased in stores today, Verizon and Samsung are limiting press to just a few hours with it. I wish both companies would reconsider, as this is starting to feel like a different network. A proper 5G one. Even if it’s there on one street and gone the next, I’ve never seen anything this fast.
/e/ Rolls Out A Privacy-Focused Android Smartphone Line That Isn’t All Googled Up
Smart devices are necessary and ubiquitous in 2019, but it can be difficult to find a operating system or service that fully respects your privacy. Many users are concerned that major tech companies like Google are stealing and sharing your data. Now you do not need to choose between security and convenience. The e Foundation or /e/ will soon offer refurbished smartphones with its own /e/ operating system.
The e Foundation, or /e/, is a non-profit organization that was incorporated in 2018. Their mission is to provide an open-source OS and other mobile services that respect user privacy and are easy to use. They launched their own OS beta this past September and many people enjoyed it. The non-profit now plans to release refurbished smartphones with the /e/OS pre-installed. They argue that refurbished devices are the more economical and environmentally-friendly option.
Interested customers will be able to choose a refurbished Samsung Galaxy S7 32GB for 279€ ($313.47 USD), Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 32 GB for 299€ ($335.94), Samsung Galaxy S9 64Gb for 499€ ($560.65), or a Samsung Galaxy S9+ for 549€ ($667.39). All devices will be Grade A or the best quality refurbished product. They will also include a one year warranty and be unlocked for all carriers.
Interested users can register for a device and they will be notified when it is available. Customers will not need to make any payments until the devices are available. At the moment, there is not a release date.
The /e/OS only includes trusted apps that encourage a “privacy-enabled internal environment for mobile phones”. The OS is essentially a fork of Android and includes features like the default Android contact apps, clock, file manager, calculator, and keyboard. Other features include an “ungoogled fork of Chromium” and a “fork of K9 mail”. Most of the pre-installed apps are open-source with a few exceptions like the Map and Weather apps. All of the apps are unrelated to Google or other major data-sharing companies.
The /e/OS can also be installed on a variety of devices like the Pixel 2 XL and Moto Z2 Play. The developers plan on adding support for Android Pie, the ability to uninstall most pre-installed apps, several user profiles, and progressive web apps. They also hope to add more privacy features like VPNs.
For more information, you can check out their site here.
AT&T Promised 7,000 New Jobs to Get Tax Break—it Cut 23,000 Jobs Instead
AT&T also cut capital spending despite promising $1 billion capital boost.
AT&T has cut more than 23,000 jobs since receiving a big tax cut at the end of 2017, despite lobbying heavily for the tax cut by claiming that it would create thousands of jobs.
AT&T in November 2017 pushed for the corporate tax cut by promising to invest an additional $1 billion in 2018, with CEO Randall Stephenson saying that "every billion dollars AT&T invests is 7,000 hard-hat jobs. These are not entry-level jobs. These are 7,000 jobs of people putting fiber in ground, hard-hat jobs that make $70,000 to $80,000 per year."
The corporate tax cut was subsequently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump on December 22, 2017. The tax cut reportedly gave AT&T an extra $3 billion in cash in 2018.
But AT&T cut capital spending and kept laying people off after the tax cut. A union analysis of AT&T's publicly available financial statements "shows the telecom company eliminated 23,328 jobs since the Tax Cut and Jobs Act passed in late 2017, including nearly 6,000 in the first quarter of 2019," the Communications Workers of America (CWA) said yesterday.
AT&T's total employment was 254,000 as of December 31, 2017 and rose to 262,290 by March 31, 2019. But AT&T's overall workforce increased only because of its acquisition of Time Warner Inc. and two smaller companies, which together added 31,618 employees during 2018, according to an AT&T proxy statement cited in the CWA report.
Excluding employees gained via mergers, AT&T's workforce dropped from 254,000 to 230,672, a cut of 23,328 jobs, the CWA report points out. These numbers are for AT&T's global workforce, but the vast majority of its employees are in the US. AT&T reported having 44,892 non-US employees as of October 1, 2018.
The most recent layoffs affected 368 union technicians in California, the CWA said last week.
AT&T also cut more than 10,000 jobs each year in 2016 and 2017. AT&T had 281,450 employees as of December 31, 2015, 268,540 as of December 31,
2016, and 254,000 by the end of 2017.
AT&T slashed capital spending, too
"AT&T's annual report also shows the company boosted executive pay and suggests that after refunds, it paid no cash income taxes in 2018 and slashed capital investments by $1.4 billion," the CWA wrote.
AT&T reported $21.6 billion in capital expenses in 2017 and $21.3 billion in 2018, a cut of $300 million. CWA told Ars that the cut is $1.4 billion when "excluding federal government reimbursements for the construction of FirstNet," AT&T's government-funded public safety network.
AT&T capital spending is already down more than $900 million this year, as the telco reported Q1 2019 capital expenditures of $5.18 billion, down from $6.12 billion in Q2 2018.
"What AT&T is doing to hardworking people across America is disgraceful," CWA President Chris Shelton said in the union announcement. "Congress needs to investigate AT&T to find out how it is using its tax windfall since the company's own publicly available data already raise serious alarm bells. AT&T got its tax cut. Where are the jobs?"
AT&T's actual capital spending of $21.3 billion in 2018 is far short of what AT&T told investors to expect at the beginning of 2018, when it said that full-year capital spending would "approach" $25 billion and be "$23 billion net of expected FirstNet reimbursements."
AT&T cuts jobs in “declining” business units
When contacted by Ars, AT&T didn't deny any of the CWA's findings about job cuts. "We continue to hire in areas where we're seeing increasing demand for products and services, but technology is changing rapidly, and that affects hiring and employment," AT&T told Ars. "There are fewer jobs in parts of the business that are declining and facing technology shifts."
AT&T also said that it "recently opened new 500-seat call centers in Chicago; Houston; Sunrise, Fla.; and Mesa, Ariz. and that "[m]ost of the jobs at these call centers will be filled by union-represented employees."
AT&T said it takes several steps to keep existing employees despite lowering its overall workforce. AT&T said:
We work very hard to keep employees through these transitions: through normal attrition when possible, follow-the-work offers (frequently with a relocation allowance), internal job-matching programs, and voluntary severance offers.
Many union-represented employees have a job offer guarantee that ensures they are offered another job with the company if their current job is eliminated.
When we wrote about AT&T layoffs in January this year, AT&T told Ars that "we hired more than 20,000 new employees last year and more than 17,000 the year before." But the company's financial statements make it clear that new hirings fell far short of job cuts.
"While AT&T responds to criticism of its massive job cuts with boasts about hiring, hiring to address turnover is not the same as job creation," the CWA said yesterday.
All Four Major Wireless Carriers Hit With Lawsuits Over Sharing, Selling Location Data
from the somebody's-watching-you dept
We've noted repeatedly that if you're upset about Facebook's privacy scandals, you should be equally concerned about the wireless industry's ongoing location data scandals. Not only were the major carriers caught selling your location data to any nitwit with a checkbook, they were even found to be selling your E-911 location data, which provides even more granular detail about your data than GPS provides. This data was then found to have been widely abused from everybody from law enforcement to randos pretending to be law enforcement.
Throughout all this, the Ajit Pai FCC has done absolutely nothing to seriously police the problem. Meaning that while carriers have promised to stop collecting and selling this data, nobody has bothered to force carriers to actually confirm this. Given telecom's history when it comes to consumer privacy, somebody might just want to double check their math (and ask what happened to all that data already collected and sold over the last decade).
Compounding carrier problems, all four major wireless carriers last week were hit with a class action lawsuit (correctly) noting the carriers had violated Section 222 of the Federal Communications Act by selling consumer proprietary network information (CPNI) data:
It's likely that the sale of 911 data is where carriers are in the most hot water, since that's their most obvious infraction of the law. It's of course worth pointing out that wireless carriers (and fixed-line ISPs, frankly) have been hoovering up and selling location, clickstream, and a vast ocean of other user data for decades with very few (any?) Congressional lawmakers much caring about it. It's another example of how Facebook's cavalier treatment of user data (and government apathy toward meaningful solutions) isn't just some errant exception -- it's the norm.
Back in 2016, the previous FCC uncharacteristically tried to impose some pretty basic rules that would have gone a long way in preventing these location data scandals by requiring that carriers be more transparent about what data is collected and who it's sold to. It also required consumers opt in to more sensitive (read: financial, location) data. But telecom lobbyists quickly convinced Congress to obliterate those rules in 2017 using the Congressional Review Act before they could even take effect.
Two years later finds the sector swimming in scandal, and everybody has a dumb look on their faces utterly perplexed as to how we got to this point.
A Year after Outcry, Carriers are Finally Stopping Sale of Location Data, Letters to FCC Show
Reports emerged a year ago that all the major cellular carriers in the U.S. were selling location data to third-party companies, which in turn sold them to pretty much anyone willing to pay. New letters published by the FCC show that despite a year of scrutiny and anger, the carriers have only recently put an end to this practice.
We already knew that the carriers, like many large companies, simply could not be trusted. In January it was clear that promises to immediately “shut down,” “terminate” or “take steps to stop” the location-selling side business were, shall we say, on the empty side. Kind of like their assurances that these services were closely monitored — no one seems to have bothered actually checking whether the third-party resellers were obtaining the required consent before sharing location data.
Similarly, the carriers took their time shutting down the arrangements they had in place, and communication on the process has been infrequent and inadequate.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has been particularly frustrated by the foot-dragging and lack of communication on this issue (by companies and the commission).
“The FCC has been totally silent about press reports that for a few hundred dollars shady middlemen can sell your location within a few hundred meters based on your wireless phone data. That’s unacceptable,” she wrote in a statement posted today.
To provide a bit of closure, she decided to publish letters (PDF) from the major carriers explaining their current positions. Fortunately it’s good news. Here’s the gist:
T-Mobile swiftly made promises last May, and in June of 2018, CEO John Legere said in a tweet that he “personally evaluated this issue,” and pledged that the company “will not sell customer location data to shady middlemen.”
That seems to have been before “T-Mobile undertook an evaluation last summer of whether to retain or restructure its location aggregator program… Ultimately, we decided to terminate it.” That phased termination took place over the next half a year, finishing only in March of 2019.
AT&T immediately suspended access to location data by the offending company, Securus, but continued providing it to others. One hopes they at least began auditing properly. Almost a year later, the company said in its letter to Commissioner Rosenworcel that “in light of the press report to which you refer… we decided in January 2019 to accelerate our phase-out of these services. As of March 29, 2019, AT&T stopped sharing any AT&T customer location data with location aggregators and LBS providers.”
Sprint said shortly after the initial reports that it was in the “process of terminating its current contracts with data aggregators to whom we provide location data.” That process sure seems to have been a long one:
As of May 31, 2019, Sprint will no longer contract with any location aggregators to provide LBS. Sprint anticipates that after May 31. 2019, it may provide LBS services directly to customers like those described above [i.e. roadside assistance], but there are no firm plans at this time.
Verizon (the parent company of TechCrunch) managed to kill its contracts with all-purpose aggregators LocationSmart and Zumigo in November of 2018… except for a specific use case through the former to provide roadside assistance services during the winter. That agreement ended in March.
It’s taken some time, but the carriers seem to have finally followed through on shutting down the programs through which they resold customer location data. All took care to mention at some point the practical and helpful use cases of such programs, but failed to detail the apparent lack of oversight with which they were conducted. The responsibility to properly vet customers and collect mobile user consent seems to have been fully ceded to the resellers, who as last year’s reports showed, did nothing of the kind.
Location data is obviously valuable to consumers and many services can and should be able to request it — from those consumers. No one is arguing otherwise. But this important data was clearly being irresponsibly handled by the carriers, and it is probably right that the location aggregation business gets a hard stop and not a band-aid. We’ll likely see new businesses and arrangements appearing soon — but you can be sure that these too will require close monitoring to make sure the carriers don’t allow them to get out of hand… again.
At Least 186 EU ISPs Use Deep-Packet Inspection to Shape Traffic, Break Net Neutrality
NGOs, academics warn about DPI's impact on user privacy, that net neutrality might be watered down in the EU.
Despite net neutrality regulation being in effect in the EU since 2016, European internet service providers are already breaking the rules and shaping traffic, according to a conglomerate of NGOs, academics, and private companies.
Earlier this week, this group -- made up of 45 entities from 15 countries -- has sent an open letter to EU authorities expressing concerns about European ISPs breaking net neutrality rules, and local regulators ignoring their actions.
The letter was sent as European authorities are in the midst of negotiations on the EU's new net neutrality rules. These negotiations are currently being held behind closed doors with national telecom regulators.
The group of NGOs and academics, spearheaded by the European Digital Rights (EDRi) organization, are worried that "some telecom regulators appear to be pushing for the legalisation of DPI [deep packet inspection]."
The EDRi is worried about the increased usage of deep-packet inspection technology as a whole, because this technology allows ISPs to shape traffic and enforce tiered pricing plans, but it also poses a threat to user privacy, as it allows telcos a deeper look at the sites users are accessing.
Some EU ISPs already breaking the rules
The current net neutrality rules allow European ISPs to inspect and shape traffic under certain circumstances, but only for network resource optimization, and not for commercial or surveillance purposes.
The EDRi points out in its letter that EU ISPs are already ignoring net neutrality rules, and, for the past years, have been deploying DPI to examine customer traffic and detect intended traffic destinations.
EDRi cited a report published in January 2019, which found that 186 European ISPs appeared to be using DPI to offer customers differential pricing offers.
"[ISPs] are increasingly using DPI technology for the purpose of traffic management and the differentiated pricing of specific applications or services (e.g. zero-rating) as part of their product design," the EDRi and partners said.
"DPI allows [ISPs] to identify and distinguish traffic in their networks in order to identify traffic of specific applications or services for the purpose such as billing them differently throttling or prioritising them over other traffic."
"Most regulators have so far turned a blind eye on these net neutrality violations. Instead of fulfilling their enforcement duties, they seem to now aim at watering down the rules that prohibit DPI," the EDRi said.
DPI should not be legalized
If ISPs get exemptions to use DPI technology legally, the fear is that telcos might use it as a legal loophole to mask tiered pricing plans as mundane traffic management operations and bypass any current net neutrality rules.
Further, the EDRi warns about the huge threat DPI poses to EU users' privacy, as it would also allow telcos access to user data without their consent, under the guise of "approved" traffic management operations.
European authorities are expected to hold a public consultation on new net neutrality rules in the autumn of 2019. The EU's revised net neutrality rules are expected to come under vote in March 2020. The EDRi and its partners hope DPI will not be legalized, and effectively neuter both net neutrality and EU privacy legislations.
Accused of ‘Terrorism’ for Putting Legal Materials Online
Carl Malamud believes in open access to government records, and he has spent more than a decade putting them online. You might think states would welcome the help.
But when Mr. Malamud’s group posted the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, the state sued for copyright infringement. Providing public access to the state’s laws and related legal materials, Georgia’s lawyers said, was part of a “strategy of terrorism.”
A federal appeals court ruled against the state, which has asked the Supreme Court to step in. On Friday, in an unusual move, Mr. Malamud’s group, Public.Resource.Org, also urged the court to hear the dispute, saying that the question of who owns the law is an urgent one, as about 20 other states have claimed that parts of similar annotated codes are copyrighted.
The issue, the group said, is whether citizens can have access to “the raw materials of our democracy.”
The case, Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org, No. 18-1150, concerns the 54 volumes of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, which contain state statutes and related materials.
The state, through a legal publisher, makes the statutes themselves available online, and it has said it does not object to Mr. Malamud doing the same thing. But people who want to see other materials in the books, the state says, must pay the publisher.
This is part of a disturbing trend, according to a new law review article, “Who Owns the Law? Why We Must Restore Public Ownership of Legal Publishing,” by Leslie Street, a law professor and librarian at Mercer University in Macon, Ga., and David Hansen, a librarian at Duke. It will be published in The Journal of Intellectual Property Law.
States have struck deals with legal publishers, the article said, that have effectively privatized the law. “Publishers now use powerful legal tools to control who has access to the text of the law, how much they must pay and under what terms,” the article said.
Mr. Malamud said those arrangements have complicated his efforts. “When I started Public Resource,” he said, “I thought our mission would be a focus on making the laws easier to use and read, but because of a buzz saw of opposition we have spent much of our time fighting back takedown notices and lawsuits.”
There is no question that judicial opinions cannot be copyrighted. The last time the Supreme Court addressed the matter, in 1888, it ruled that “the whole work done by the judges constitutes the authentic exposition and interpretation of the law, which, binding every citizen, is free for publication to all.”
Lower courts have said the same thing about statutes. But the status of other sorts of legal materials has not been definitively resolved. In the Georgia case, the question is whether annotations commissioned and approved by the state may be copyrighted.
The annotations include descriptions of judicial decisions interpreting the statutes. Only a very bad lawyer would fail to consult them in determining the meaning of a statute.
For instance, Georgia has a law on the books making sodomy a crime. An annotation tells the reader that the law has been held unconstitutional “insofar as it criminalizes the performance of private, unforced, noncommercial acts of sexual intimacy between persons legally able to consent.”
Professor Street said she tells her law students to be sure to consult the annotations in Georgia’s official code.
“When you go to a statute, you see the language of the statute, but that doesn’t necessarily tell you the meaning,” she said. “You go to the annotations, which leads you to the court decisions, where the judges actually tell you what the words mean.”
In ruling for Mr. Malamud, the appeals court made a similar point.
“The annotations clearly have authoritative weight in explicating and establishing the meaning and effect of Georgia’s laws,” Judge Stanley Marcus wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel of the court, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta. “Georgia’s courts have cited to the annotations as authoritative sources on statutory meaning and legislative intent.”
Still, the annotations are not themselves law, Judge Marcus wrote, making the case a hard one. But he concluded that the annotations were “sufficiently lawlike” that they could not be copyrighted.
The annotations were prepared by lawyers working for LexisNexis as part of a financial arrangement with the state. Georgia holds the copyright to the annotations, but the company has the right to sell them while paying the state a royalty.
The state says this is a sensible cost-saving measure, “minimizing burdens on taxpayers” by sparing them from paying for the preparation of annotations.
Professor Street said there was no good reason for the state to outsource the task. “States are privatizing the functions of government,” she said. “But the incentives are different for a private company when it comes to publishing the law than it is for a state government.”
I asked Mr. Malamud why he had urged the Supreme Court to hear his case even though he had won in the appeals court.
“Repeating the laws of our country should not be considered a crime,” he said. “I would like the Supreme Court to tell us which laws we are allowed to speak.”
Our Legal Dispute With Shiva Ayyadurai Is Now Over
It's possible that some of you saw the news earlier this week that the legal dispute, in which Shiva Ayyadurai sued us for defamation over 14 posts on Techdirt, has been settled. Many people -- including lawyers I know -- had been under the impression that this case ended a long time ago, but it has actually continued for nearly two and a half years. As you may recall, back in September of 2017, the district court dismissed the case, largely on First Amendment grounds, saying that everything we wrote about Ayyadurai was protected speech. Unfortunately, the court did not accept our argument that California’s anti-SLAPP law should apply, which would have allowed us to recover our legal fees.
Ayyadurai appealed this dismissal, and we cross-appealed the anti-SLAPP question. For the past 18 months, we have held ongoing negotiations to settle the case, which concluded with the announcement earlier this week. The settlement is that we agreed to add links on the articles at issue, to a statement on one of Ayyadurai's sites that he says is a response to our articles. No money exchanged hands. We found the terms of this settlement acceptable, as basically all of our posts were linking to and responding to Ayyadurai's claims in the first place, so, if he wants to repeat those claims, he is more than free to do so. We have no interest in silencing anyone. We continue to stand by everything that we wrote about those claims, and suggest that you read our posts as well.
You may wonder how it could possibly take 18 months to negotiate a settlement about adding links to old articles -- and, indeed, I wonder that myself. The entire process has been quite a pain for us. I cannot and would not describe this result as a victory, because this has been nearly two and a half years of wasted time, effort, resources, attention and money just to defend our right to report on a public figure and explain to the world that we do not believe his claims to have invented email are correct, based on reams of evidence.
During those 18 months, we stopped all the fundraising we had done around the lawsuit, as, for nearly all of that time, it did appear that a settlement was close, and we did not wish to mislead anyone into believing that we were raising money on the premise that our continued existence was in grave danger only to settle the case immediately after doing so. We did not, in any way, expect this process to drag out this long, and we now have significant legal and other bills that we still have to pay. We are glad the lawsuit is done, but we now need to ask for your support. If we are able to raise more than our bills, any excess will go towards our ongoing reporting. If you would prefer to support us in other ways -- including via Patreon or in exchange for t-shirts and other merch, all the various options are available to check out here.
We are glad this chapter is behind us, and we have a bunch of other plans that we've been working on, which we hope we can now focus on without this major distraction.
Separately, we would like to give a tremendous thank you to our legal team at Prince Lobel Tye, mainly Rob Bertsche and Jeff Pyle, who were truly wonderful partners through this harrowing experience. While I personally hope to never require their services again -- for anyone on the receiving end of this kind of lawsuit, I cannot recommend them more. I'd also like to say thank you to Chris Bavitz at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society for his help and support.
Silicon Valley Makes Everything Worse: Four Industries that Big Tech has Ruined
The tech industry sells itself as improving our lives. So why does it seem to always do the opposite?
Keith A. Spencer
Adapted from “A People’s History of Silicon Valley: How the Tech Industry Exploits Workers, Erodes Privacy and Undermines Democracy,” by Keith A. Spencer, on sale now from major booksellers. © 2018 Eyewear Publishing. Excerpted with permission.
The word “innovation” has become synonymous with Silicon Valley to the point of absurdity. Indeed, the tech industry's entrepreneurs and "thoughtfluencers" throw it around as casually as a dodgeball in a middle-school P.E. class; what it really means is perpetually unclear and purposefully hazy. It is vague enough to be suitable in nearly any situation where a new product, service or "thing" is advertised as superior to the old — never mind if the so-called "old" thing has some distinct advantages, or if the new thing's superiority is solely that it makes more money than the old thing, or if there are other old things that are actually superior yet which won't make anyone rich. (Consider Apple removing the headphone jack from its new phones to be Exhibit A.)
That summary may sound flippant, but it is a good explication of the path of the tech industry over the past two decades: Some venture capital–backed entrepreneurs jackhammer their way into a new industry, "tech"-ify it in some way, undermine the competition and declare their new way superior once the old is bankrupted.
Thus, rather than confine themselves to operating systems and PC software like they did in the 1980s and 1990s, the tech industry has figured out that the real money lies in being a middleman. By that I mean serving as the in-between point for, say, web traffic to newspapers and magazines (like this one); or being the go-between for taxi services, coordinating drivers and passengers through apps. In both of these examples, the original product isn't that different from the pre-tech world: a taxi ride, in the latter case, a news article in the former. The difference is that a tech behemoth takes a cut of the transaction. And also in many cases, the labor — the people making and producing and doing the things the tech industry takes a slice from — is more precarious, less well-remunerated, and less safe than it was in the pre-tech era.
Looking at it this way, the tech industry doesn't really seem innovative at all. Or rather, its sole innovation seems to be exploiting workers with more cruelty, and positioning itself in the middle of more transactions. Granted, there are certain services that have become more convenient because of apps and smartphones — but there is no reason that convenience must come at the high cost that it does, besides the tech industry's insatiable lust for profit. Here are but a few examples of how our livelihoods and our societies have been worsened by Silicon Valley as it sinks its talons into new industries.
Public transit was never great in the United States, with the exception of a few big cities like New York, and thus private taxi services were around to supplement. Being a taxi driver was once a much-vaunted job, so much so that a taxi medallion was perceived of as a ticket to the middle class.
Then came Uber and Lyft, who flooded the market for private transit and undercut the taxi industry by de-skilling the industry and paying their workers far, far less. Driving a taxi is no longer a middle class job; once-valuable taxi medallions have become burdens for some taxi drivers. The outlook for career taxi drivers is so dismal that an alarming number of taxi drivers have been committing suicide.
Meanwhile, because of the precarious nature of Lyft and Uber jobs, those drivers are frequently not vetted or under-vetted — resulting in significant safety concerns for passengers. And unlike a taxi back in the old days, being a rideshare driver isn't a ticket to the middle-class at all: a recent study of such employees revealed that most contractors use these kinds of jobs not as their sole source of income, but as supplementary jobs to make ends meet.
Richard D. Wolff, an economics professor at the New School in New York City, describes gig economy companies like Uber as "winning the competition" by taking shortcuts that "frequently endanger the public." Regulatory agencies for taxis were created in most countries, Wolff says, because taxi companies were historically unsafe. "Taxi companies are required now to have insurance, training for drivers, well-inspected cars, and other safeguards to protect the public. The cost of riding in a taxi reflects those safeguards," Wolff said, adding:
...there’s always the incentive for somebody to come in and operate, once again, inadequately insured, inadequately maintained, inadequately vetted drivers — to come in with a cheaper cab service [that is] unregulated by the taxi commission. That’s all that Uber and Lyft [are]... they undercut the old arrangement and offer cheaper and more competitive services by cutting corners.
Lightbulbs have existed for around 140 years, and home refrigerators for about 100. In that span, they haven't changed too much, besides getting more energy-efficient, mostly because they haven't really needed to: we need to keep food cold, and we need light. The appliances that do these things don't really need to do much else.
Now, tech companies are putting wi-fi and Bluetooth chips in all kinds of things that didn't used to be internet-connected. They call it the "smart home," and while the word is open-ended, the common thread with smart home devices is that they can generally be monitored via an app.
The smart home is sold to us as next-gen, a new advance on traditional appliances. But these devices tend to waste more of our time, and have both privacy and safety risks that regular appliances lack. You can't just put a wi-fi chip in a mundane household object like a lightbulb or a smoke detector without doing something to fix the security holes that emerge with having another device connected 24/7 to the web. But that is exactly what happened: a tremendous number of smart home devices have been hacked and turned into digital soldiers forming massive botnets that can be called up by hackers to engage in distributed denial of service attacks. An Atlantic reporter did an experiment that found that their fake smart home device attracted hundreds of hacking attempts in a matter of hours after being plugged in.
Part of the reason that companies are so eager to market the smart home to us is because these devices can be used to build digital dossiers on customers to market things to them. A refrigerator without an internet connection can't generate any data about a consumer, but a fridge with one can regularly report back all kinds of data on the person using it — data that can be monetized and sold.
Even barring the hacking issue or the privacy issue, smart home devices aren't necessarily an innovation because their whole function seems to be to create more work for us and turn us into (essentially) managers. There is a certain managerial mindset that trickles down from the device's creators (who are, at some level, managers themselves) to consumers — as if I wanted to spend my days and nights studying graphs and charts of my fridge's power consumption, or do a data analysis on my Roomba's path. That sounds horrible.
Additionally, the difficulty of setting up many of these devices in the first place can be mind-numbing for those lacking technical savvy; notably, drastically increasing the number of wi-fi enabled devices in one's house often means that you need to invest in new internet equipment, either routers or faster internet service or both. Not everyone is an engineer, nor wants to be, but smart home devices often compel us to be — and this increasingly complex domain of appliances is supposed to be superior to the simplicity of flicking a lightswitch on the wall.
And speaking of turning us into managers...
Steve Jobs' greatest genius was not in engineering, but in marketing. He understood that late capitalism no longer fulfill needs, but create them; inevitably, Apple became the premier exporter of desire, master marketers who compel us lust over their clean-looking products and obsess over them once we own them.
To that end, there was never really anything wrong with fitness; it wasn't an industry that needed to be "disrupted," to use Silicon Valley's favorite dystopian verb. But if you slap monitoring devices on your shoes, your watch, your armband, and your water bottle, suddenly you have a huge cache of data points about your body and activity that you can analyze later. Apple and a slew of other apps even help you monitor your ovulation cycle, and some analyze and monetize that intimate customer data. This can create some funny situations when those devices stop being updated or get corrupted; Nike was widely mocked when a $350 pair of "smart" sneakers were ruined by a faulty update. The idea of being able to hack into someone's shoes and ruin them is not exactly where I thought the future was headed.
I suppose if you were dreaming of being a statistician collecting data on your body constantly might seem kind of interesting, but if you aren't, it's just a new source of busyness in your life. Again, building devices to quantize as much fitness data as possible wasn't an example of capitalism fulfilling consumer desire — no one, save a few data scientists, ever said, "I want to turn my leisure activities and exercise regime into spreadsheets" — but the tech industry has been very effective at making us desire just that.
This obsession with quantifying our existence is known in academic circles as "computationalism." Previously I interviewed Professor David Golumbia, who has written about this extensively, and who describes computationalism as "the philosophical idea that the brain is a computer" as well as "a broader worldview according to which people or society are seen as computers, or that we might be living inside of a simulation."
“There is a small group of people who become obsessed with quantification,” Golumbia told me. “Not just about exercise, but like, about intimate details of their life — how much time spent with one’s kids, how many orgasms you have — most people aren’t like that; they do counting for a while [and] then they get tired of counting. The counting part seems oppressive.”
In many of the above cases, Silicon Valley has torn into an industry and taken good jobs and turned them into bad jobs. In the case of the corner store, Silicon Valley's aim seems to be to eliminate the human component altogether.
There are a few different business spins on how this might be done. The most infamous is Bodega (now known as Stockwell), which we reported on in 2017:
Two former Google employees are hoping to take over street corners, dorm rooms, gyms, or anywhere convenient in urban residential neighborhoods, with their reinvention of the vending machine.
Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan launched a new startup called "Bodega," with the goal of making convenient stores all but a thing of the past. "Bodega sets up five-foot-wide pantry boxes filled with non-perishable items you might pick up at a convenience store," Fast Company reported. "An app will allow you to unlock the box and cameras powered with computer vision will register what you’ve picked up, automatically charging your credit card."
Employees? They would become things of the past as well, because no one will work the bodegas, and all transactions will be electronic.
Unsurprisingly given that the friendly neighborhood corner marketplace is something that has existed for centuries across most cultures, seeing a group of out-of-touch tech bros working hard to destroy that touched a collective nerve. In the wake of internet outrage, the two of them apologized and then later rebranded.
Stockwell/Bodega is far from the only example of Silicon Valley's crusade against human interaction. There's a company that is trying to make robots that make, serve and sell smoothies, which we reported on ruefully last year. There are multiple companies, including CafeX, making robot baristas. Amazon is creating Amazon Go stores that lack cashiers, and rather rely on cameras to track what people pick up and then bill them accordingly.
The thing is, baristas and cashiers aren't things that we are all dying to get rid of; this isn't a comparable situation to the horse-and-buggy days, where cars felt like a serious improvement on using beasts of burden for transit. Silicon Valley is only trying to put baristas and cashiers out of business because human labor costs money; the difference between a $4 coffee from a robot and a $4 coffee from a human is that there are no labor costs in the former purchase, something that makes Silicon Valley go googly-eyed with dollar signs. The tech industry's vision of the future is of a world with less human interaction, less conversation, less humanity; and more surveillance and more monetization of our buying habits. No one wants this, but it's being forced upon us.
# # #
Excerpted with permission from “A People’s History of Silicon Valley: How the Tech Industry Exploits Workers, Erodes Privacy and Undermines Democracy,” by Keith A. Spencer, available now from major booksellers. © 2018 Eyewear Publishing.
Nest, the Company, Died at Google I/O 2019
The Nest ecosystem is dead. Nest accounts are dead. Nest's privacy firewall is dead.
Don't be distracted by the shiny new "Nest" smart display that was just announced: Nest died at Google I/O 2019. "Google Nest" is the new reality now, where Nest is no longer a standalone company but instead is a sub-brand (not even a division) of Google. The shutdown of Nest as an independent company was announced in 2018, but the pile of announcements at and around I/O 2019 marks the first time we're seeing what the future of Nest looks like inside of Google.
Nest laid out its future in an ominously titled "What's Happening" page on Nest.com and a notice on the Works with Nest page. It sounds like a brutal outcome for users, who are looking at a dead-end ecosystem, potentially broken smart homes, and the shattering of the Google/Nest privacy firewall.
Meet the “Google Nest Learning Thermostat”
First up is Google's salvaging of the Nest brand as a general purpose smart home sub-brand. Just as Google has the "Pixel" brand for smartphones and laptops, it will now use the "Nest" brand similarly, so get used to saying and reading "Google Nest," which now means "a Google smart home product."
The first item announced under this new branding was the Google Nest Hub Max, a bigger version of the Google Home Hub smart display. The original Home Hub is getting renamed as well and is now the Google Nest Hub.
The new branding hasn't hit the Google Store yet, but dig through Google's help pages and you'll see that every Nest product has been renamed to "Google Nest." Now we have the "Google Nest Learning Thermostat," the "Google Nest Protect," "Google Nest Secure Alarm System," "Google Nest Hello" (this one is a doorbell), and the "Google Nest Cam IQ Outdoor." These are all a bit awkward and wordy, but they have nothing on the "Nest x Yale Lock with Google Nest connect," which is the actual name of a Nest door lock now.
The takeaway here is that since Nest is not a standalone company anymore, "Nest" doesn't get to be a standalone product brand anymore. Officially, it will always be "Google Nest."
So far, the Google Home speakers have not been renamed, but if Google is really serious about this, we might end up with "Google Nest Speakers" or something similar. Google Wi-Fi is also not yet called "Google Nest Wi-Fi." The Chromecast has not gotten a name change yet, either—though as a streaming stick named after a Web browser, it still has the strangest branding of any Google product.
Nest’s smart home platform is dead
The second big thing to come out of the show is that Google is killing the "Works with Nest" platform. This was a smart home platform that would let the Nest thermostat act as a hub and coordinator for a lot of your other smart home products. A notice on the "Works with Nest" webpage reads, "Works with Nest is winding down." Google's smart home strategy will now revolve around only the "Works with Google Assistant" program, and Nest's ecosystem will shut down in a bit over three months, on August 31, 2019.
I'm sure there are "Works with Nest" ecosystem users out there that bought products specifically because they "Worked with Nest." When the service shuts down in August, it sounds like all of those (probably expensive) third-party smart home products will stop working with any Nest-based automation workflows. This mandatory feature removal situation is pretty much a smart home owner's worst nightmare.
Nest-branded products will continue to work with each other, but since "Works with Nest" was a program that let other services talk to Nest, a lot of third-party integrations will be going away. The Verge has a good rundown of just how many services are going to break, and it's a brutal who's who of smart home products. Amazon Alexa, Philips Hue, IFTTT, Logitech Harmony, Lutron lights, August Home, and Wemo switches will all be affected.
Alexa, it seems, will be getting special treatment and will continue to work. Google has a special page for Alexa, which reads, "We are working with Amazon to migrate the Nest skill on Amazon Alexa to ensure a smooth transition for Nest customers prior to winding down the Works With Nest program in August." Google and Amazon have had trouble working together in the past, but they seem to have called a truce lately. Other services have not been so lucky, and there are already emails out from IFTTT, Lutron, and others declaring the death of their Nest integration.
"Works with Nest" users will be facing a broken smart home and will have to pick up the scraps of their smart home ecosystem and MacGyver together another solution out of the pieces. The somewhat good news is that most smart home products are compatible with multiple smart home ecosystems, so it should be rare for something to turn into a complete brick. You'll just have to switch to a new ecosystem, go through a ton of setup, and be ready to deal with all the things that won't work the same way they worked before. Theoretically ,some of these services could continue to talk to Nest by supporting the Google Assistant system instead.
"Works with Nest" was always a bit of a strange solution for smart home management. It made the thermostat the center of your smart home not because that made any sense from a smart home architecture perspective but because a thermostat was Nest's most popular product. "Works with Nest" didn't offer any kind of control interface for this ecosystem of smart devices, either. If you, for example, managed to find a "Works with Nest" smart lighting system, Nest didn't give you a way to actually control the lights—just location detection through the Nest app.
"Works with Google Assistant" is a voice and touch-centric smart home solution, which makes a lot more sense. The system revolves around Google Home speakers and Google Nest smart displays, which are both excellent control interfaces. You can turn on lights and lock doors with voice or touch commands; you can raise the temperature on a thermostat; and you can run routines that do a lot of these things at once.
Nest accounts and data separation is dead
As part of the Googification of Nest, Nest accounts are being phased out of Google's smart home strategy. Existing users won't have their Nest accounts taken away, but the FAQ on Nest.com "strongly recommends" Nest users migrate to a Google account. Nest's FAQ warns that "As Nest offers new connected home devices and services in the future, many of those will only be available to our users with Google Accounts." New Nest users will be required to use a Google account.
• We will be transparent about the data we collect and why
• We will never sell your personal information to anyone
• We will empower you to review, move, or delete your data
There are even special pages outlining principles and data retention for cameras, microphones, home sensors, and Wi-Fi data.
Keeping the Nest data separate from Google was a big concession made when Google bought the company, designed to allay privacy fears. Now that that is going away, I would imagine some Nest users are not happy.
Other Nest things that will probably die in the future
So far it seems like the plan is to remove as many Nest-proprietary things as possible and get Nest people on Google versions of those products and services. Nest's website promises that "over the coming months, you’ll begin seeing changes across our products, accounts, services, and policies as we bring everything together under Nest." It would not surprise me to hear that all of these "changes" involve shutting down a Nest product or service in favor of a Google version.
We just had a clash between "Works with Nest" and "Works with Google Assistant," and the Nest product was shut down, so let's whip out our crystal ball and extend this to a few other points of crossover.
The Google Home app versus the Nest App
The app situation is a mess right now, with both a "Google Home" app and a "Nest" app. The Nest app is for thermostats, cameras, the security system, smoke detectors, and any other old Nest products, while the smart speakers, Chromecast, and "Google Nest" smart displays use the Google Home app.
The Google Nest hardware rebranding muddies the app situation. People buying a newly branded Google Nest Hub or Google Nest Hub Max might be tempted to install the Nest app, but that would be wrong—these products need to be set up in the Google Home app. The Nest Hub Max smart display has a camera on top, and while this is a "Nest cam" that can record video to Nest's security camera cloud system, the video feed is also viewable in the Google Home app.
Having two smart home apps for inconsistently named products seems like a really clunky solution, and with the Google Home app already picking up some basic Nest camera compatibility, it would not surprise me to hear that the Nest app will shut down. As a Nest thermostat user, I would love for the Nest app to die because it's awful. It is unable to get basic functionality right, like reliable background location, which is kind of important for a "smart" thermostat designed to sync the house temperature with your comings and goings. Nest app crashes frequently and even when it does work, it doesn't follow any of Google's design language.
The Nest transition FAQ page asks, "What will happen to the Nest app?" and gives a curt response of "At this time, the Nest app will continue to be available." Google could have answered this question with lots of flowery language about how great the Nest app is and how it empowers users to do more with their smart home ecosystem experience, but this answer instead makes it sound like the Nest app will be jettisoned as soon as Google Home re-implements all of its features.
Nest Aware versus Google One
Another overlap is in the area of cloud storage subscriptions, where Nest has Nest Aware and Google has Google One. Nest Aware gives you online storage of Nest Cam video footage for $5-$30 a month, depending on how far back you want your video history to go. Google One is an upsell for more storage on your Google Account. A basic Google account gets 15GB of storage for Gmail, Drive, documents, and photos, and Google One offers upgrades starting at 100GB for $2 a month and going to stratospherically high prices, like 30 terabytes for $300 a month.
Double dipping on storage subscriptions would be pretty lame, but given that Nest products will start to use a Google account and Google One is for more storage on your Google account, it would make sense for Google One to give you storage for Nest camera footage. Google has other subscription products, but those are always for content, like ad-free YouTube, YouTube TV, or Google Music streaming. In these cases, Google is paying a third-party for content, and that money needs to come from somewhere.
RIP Nest the company, hello Google Nest
While Google wanted to spin the Google Nest Hub Max unveiling at Google I/O as some kind of positive thing, it feels like we are witnessing the end of Nest as it used to be. The new "Google Nest" will be all Google, all the time, and anything that isn't a built-by-Google device, application, or service now seems like a legacy item. At some point in the future, it seems like only the brand will be left.
I've gone to Nest product launches several times, and every time, the company would talk about how Nest was the most recognized brand in smart homes. Clearly Google still values the Nest mark and wants to keep the brand around inside Google, but first it has to go through a clumsy and awkward shutdown process, which will almost certainly be damaging to the brand's reputation with existing users (and anyone else paying attention).
Google has been on a bit of a product shutdown rampage in 2019, and you can add "Works with Nest" to the list of things Google has murdered lately, along with Google Inbox, Google+ Google Hangouts, Google Music, and Chromecast Audio.
WhatsApp Voice Calls Used to Inject Israeli Spyware on Phones
• Messaging app discovers vulnerability that has been open for weeks
• NSO's Pegasus software can allegedly penetrate any iPhone via one simple missed call on WhatsApp
A vulnerability in the messaging app WhatsApp has allowed attackersto inject commercial Israeli spyware on to phones, the company and a spyware technology dealer said.
WhatsApp, which is used by 1.5bn people worldwide, discovered in early May that attackers were able to install surveillance software on to both iPhones and Android phones by ringing up targets using the app’s phone call function.
The malicious code, developed by the secretive Israeli company NSO Group, could be transmitted even if users did not answer their phones, and the calls often disappeared from call logs, said the spyware dealer, who was recently briefed on the WhatsApp hack.
WhatsApp is too early into its own investigations of the vulnerability to estimate how many phones were targeted using this method, a person familiar with the issue said.
As late as Sunday, as WhatsApp engineers raced to close the loophole, a UK-based human rights lawyer’s phone was targeted using the same method.
Researchers at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab said they believed that the spyware attack on Sunday was linked to technology developed by NSO, which was recently valued at $1bn in a leveraged buyout that involved the UK private equity fund Novalpina Capital.
NSO’s flagship product is Pegasus, a program that can turn on a phone’s microphone and camera, trawl through emails and messages and collect location data.
NSO advertises its products to Middle Eastern and Western intelligence agencies, and says Pegasus is intended for governments to fight terrorism and crime.
In the past, human rights campaigners in the Middle East have received text messages over WhatsApp that contained links that would download Pegasus to their phones.
WhatsApp said that teams of engineers had worked around the clock in San Francisco and London to close the vulnerability. It began rolling out a fix to its servers on Friday last week, WhatsApp said, and issued a patch for customers on Monday. The US Department of Justice has also begun looking into the situation.
“This attack has all the hallmarks of a private company known to work with governments to deliver spyware that reportedly takes over the functions of mobile phone operating systems,” the company said. “We have briefed a number of human rights organisations to share the information we can, and to work with them to notify civil society.”
NSO said it had carefully vetted customers and investigated any abuse. Asked about the WhatsApp attacks, NSO said it was investigating the issue.
“Under no circumstances would NSO be involved in the operating or identifying of targets of its technology, which is solely operated by intelligence and law enforcement agencies,” the company said. “NSO would not, or could not, use its technology in its own right to target any person or organisation, including this individual [the UK lawyer].”
NSO declined to comment on whether it had hacked WhatsApp’s messaging service, and marketed the technology to clients, or on the US DoJ inquiry.
The UK lawyer, who declined to be identified, has helped a group of Mexican journalists and government critics and a Saudi dissident living in Canada, sue NSO in Israel, alleging that the company shares liability for any abuse of its software by clients.
John Scott-Railton, a seniorresearcher at the University of Toronto’s Citizen lab, said the attack had failed. “We had a strong suspicion that the person’s phone was being targeted, so we observed the suspected attack, and confirmed that it did not result in infection,” said Mr Scott-Railton. “We believe that the measures that WhatsApp put in place in the last several days prevented the attacks from being successful.”
Other lawyers working on the cases have been approached by people pretending to be potential clients or donors, who then try and obtain information about the ongoing lawsuits, the Associated Press reported in February.
“It's upsetting but not surprising that my team has been targeted with the very technology that we are raising concerns about in our lawsuits,” said Alaa Mahajne, a Jerusalem-based lawyer who is handling lawsuits from the Mexican and Saudi citizens. “This desperate reaction to hamper our work and silence us, itself shows how urgent the lawsuits are, as we can see that the abuses are continuing.”
On Tuesday, NSO will also face a legal challenge to its ability to export its software, which is regulated by the Israeli ministry of defence.
Amnesty International, which identified an attempt to hack into the phone of one its researchers, is backing a group of Israeli citizens and civil rights group in a filing in Tel Aviv asking the ministry of defence to cancel NSO’s export licence.
“NSO Group sells its products to governments who are known for outrageous human rights abuses, giving them the tools to track activists and critics. The attack on Amnesty International was the final straw,” said Danna Ingleton, deputy director of Amnesty Tech.
“The Israeli ministry of defence has ignored mounting evidence linking NSO Group to attacks on human rights defenders. As long as products like Pegasus are marketed without proper control and oversight, the rights and safety of Amnesty International’s staff and that of other activists, journalists and dissidents around the world is at risk.”
Why Play a Music CD? ‘No Ads, No Privacy Terrors, No Algorithms’
Streaming services have revolutionized the discovery of songs, but here’s why Ben Sisario, who covers the music industry, still likes to listen to compact discs.
How do New York Times journalists use technology in their jobs and in their personal lives? Ben Sisario, a reporter who covers the music industry, discussed the tech he’s using.
What are your most important tech tools for doing your reporting?
Probably 75 percent of my reporting is done by phone and email, and when I am writing I print out drafts and notes. So that part of it is about as current as 1995. But I also use Signal and ProtonMail for sources who require secure communication.
I constantly scan social media — Twitter, mostly — for news, and in breaking news situations I sometimes find sources to quote there. But I am wary of letting social media itself tell the story.
You need to actually talk to people, check facts, find contrary viewpoints, weed out nonsense.
When it comes to organizing my work, I think cloud computing is the greatest thing since the manila folder. I have 15-plus years of notes instantly searchable through Dropbox and Google Docs. It’s amazing to type in five characters and find that phone number from an obit you wrote a decade ago.
And then there are sites like WhoSampled and Discogs, incredible repositories of information that are deeply addictive for music nerds like me. My time there often starts with legitimate research — say, checking the original writing credit on an old single — but then an hour later I’ve spent $50 on vinyl and reminded myself of the slide whistle sample on “Groove Is in the Heart.”
What does your music setup look like, and how has it evolved over time?
I try to keep an eye on all the major platforms out there, which means regularly poking around on about a dozen apps. My go-to sources are Spotify, SoundCloud, Bandcamp and Mixcloud, which has excellent D.J.-style mixes and to me feels more human than most.
At home I have a Sonos Play:5 speaker, which plays streaming music and podcasts, and is a piece of cake to use. I also have Google Chromecast Audio, a little plug-in device (now discontinued) that allows me to send high-fidelity streams to my stereo. It sounds better that way, but it’s not nearly as easy to use as the Sonos.
To be honest, my preferred way to listen to music is on CD, as unfashionable as that might be. You push a button, the music plays, and then it’s over — no ads, no privacy terrors, no algorithms!
What are the pros and cons of the streaming model for musicians big and small?
The big positive is the vast potential exposure. Streaming eliminated the cost barrier to sampling new music, and playlists constantly put new songs in front of people. Theoretically, at least, there are more chances than ever for a song to be a hit.
But, as they say, you can die of exposure. Megahits still generate millions of dollars in royalties, and Spotify’s official mission statement is “giving a million creative artists the opportunity to live off their art.”
Yet for artists beneath the megahit level — and that is the vast majority of them — the jury is still out. I’ve seen royalty statements for well-known indie acts that suggest they can earn a decent middle-class living from their streams. I’ve also talked to very successful songwriters who say their income has been decimated by streaming and by the new model for pop songwriting, in which five or six — or 30 — people divvy up the same sliver of royalties.
In general, though, I’m optimistic about streaming and its potential. It has reinvigorated the music industry and made listening a lot easier, more fun and more dynamic.
Apple and Spotify have been fighting publicly over antitrust issues. Where is this fight going, and what impact might it have on streaming music?
I tend to think of this as mostly a matter of corporate warfare. These companies are in a race for market dominance around the world, and the gloves are off. For Spotify, anything that hinders Apple, even a little, can provide an advantage. On the other hand, Apple’s gigantic size means it will always be on the defensive against regulation.
I don’t see these issues having a big effect on streaming music. Competition in this market has benefited consumers, and as much as Spotify accuses Apple of anticompetitive practices, it has still signed up far more users — both free and paid — than Apple Music.
What emerging tech trends might change the way people listen to music?
A great deal of attention is being paid to smart speakers like Amazon’s Alexa. This is something that genuinely feels futuristic: walking into a room and saying, “Play relaxation playlist” or “Play NPR news,” and it just happens. I think we’re still in the early stages of this.
Video sharing apps like TikTok are also having a palpable effect on music, and I think that will only grow. TikTok makes it easy to generate video memes using music, and these are fast moving and viral by nature. The best example is Lil Nas X’s song “Old Town Road,” which was a TikTok sensation well before it hit the pop charts.
Outside of work, what tech product are you currently obsessed with?
Not to be too much of a grouch, but for me it is more about an opposite kind of phenomenon: What formerly hyped, supposedly essential technology has since been exposed for gross privacy violations, or for how easily it has become a tool for predatory disinformation?
Way too many of them, of course, but the really dispiriting thing is realizing that it is nearly impossible to disengage. We have become only more conscious of the risks and dangers surrounding us at all times.
That said, in my house we are really happy with our Instant Pot Duo, a beeping digital pressure cooker that makes perfect biriyani or chicken soup in like five minutes. I really hope it is not collecting any private data.
Until next week,
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