|22-05-19, 06:29 AM||#1|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - May 25th, ’19
May 25th, 2019
Apple, Amazon, Google, and Others Sued For Selling Thousands of Pirated Recordings
The lawsuit says they’re part of a ‘massive music piracy operation’
The estate of Harold Arlen, the man responsible for composing Over the Rainbow and numerous other classic songs, is suing Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Pandora for selling unauthorized recordings of some of the songwriter’s most famous music. Forbes notes that the lawsuit says the companies are involved in a “massive music piracy operation” involving over 6,000 pirated recordings.
Arlen composed some of the most famous soundtracks of the 20th Century for Hollywood films and Broadway musicals alike. Over the Rainbow, which he composed alongside the lyricist E. Y. Harburg for the film The Wizard of Oz, won an Academy Award in 1939 for Best Original Song. Arlen also composed music for the 1954 version of A Star is Born and collaborated with songwriters such as Ira Gershwin andJohnny Mercer. Arlen passed away in 1986.
It’s possible to see some of the unauthorized versions cited in the lawsuit in online stores. For example, there are two copies of the album Once Again… by Ethel Ennis available to stream on Apple Music, but the cover of one has been edited to remove the RCA Victor logo.
In another case, we can see a clear price difference between two digital copies of an original cast recording of the musical Jamaica being sold on Amazon. What appears to be an authorized version from the Masterworks Broadway label prices the full album at $9.99 for download, and individual tracks for $1.29, while a seemingly unauthorized copy from Soundtrack Classics lists them for $3.99, and $0.99 respectively. Like the Ethel Ennis album, the RCA Victor logo on the unauthorized cover also appears to have been edited out.
The lawsuit claims that these online retailers are selling and streaming these recordings with the full knowledge that they’re unauthorized. As the lawsuit says, “it is hard to imagine that a person walking into Tower Records, off the street, with arms full of CD’s and vinyl records and claiming to be the record label for Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald, could succeed in having that store sell their copies directly next to the same albums released by legendary record labels, Capitol, RCA, and Columbia, and at a lower price.”
In total, the filing makes 216 claims across its 148 pages. Along with the big tech companies, it also claims numerous distributors provided music catalogs containing the unauthorized recordings. It demands an end to the infringement in addition to the payment of damages and attorneys’ fees.
SET TV Reseller Ordered to Pay Dish Network $2 Million in Damages
• SET TV is already done, having paid more than 90 million USD last year to their plaintiffs.
• One of their resellers, however, has just been judged, and the result is a $2 million compensation.
• The reseller, “A-Box TV” was a US-registered company that openly advertised their illicit services.
The website and service of pirating IPTV reseller “SET TV” have been closed down since last summer, and the legal battle that started with the lawsuit that was submitted by Dish Network in 2018 is considered resolved. SET TV was previously accused of offering pirated IPTV subscription services that were based in the unlawful retransmission of Dish Network satellite signal. As a result, Dish had an easy job proving that SET TV was acting on the basis of copyright infringement as well as against all notions of market competition regulations.
The court announced their verdict on the case in November, awarding Dish and their encryption technology partner NagraStar the astronomical amount of $90.2 million. This was based on the fact that SET TV was serving 180398 subscribers, taking a penalty of $500 for each of them. SET TV was offering a lucrative package of 500 live-broadcasting channels for a cost of $20/month, so for customers that they had for more than two years, the penalty had been already covered. However, this was enough for SET TV to go defunct, and with the compensation having been decided upon, we expected no news on this front.
As it seems though, there was another lawsuit that was pending judgment against a reseller of the SET TV service, Julie Bishop, owner of “A-Box TV”. This company was involved in the reselling business and operated through various domains that are now off-line, but were nonetheless listed in the relevant complaint that was submitted by Dish Network again. According to it, A-Box TV was focused on the selling of Android TV Boxes that were pre-configured to be “piracy-ready”, and pre-loaded with the SET TV service software. Every box sold by A-Box TV had an acquisition cost, as well as the subscription service cost of $20 per month.
With this data in her hands, the Florida District Court Judge Mary S. Scriven has decided that A-Box TV should pay $10000 for each of the 200 violations that are listed in the complaint, adding up to a total amount of damage compensation of $2 million ordered for payment to Dish Network and NagraStar. A-Box TV LLC was based in the US, as was SET-TV, both of which were openly advertising their service and promoting their pirate IPTV services. That said, it was just a matter of time before they would find themselves in trouble. The following image shows how A-Box TV was advertising their “watch for free” services on Facebook, without any regards to the law, or fear of things going the way they did.
What Happens When the Copyright Pirate Is State Government?
A documentary filmmaker says North Carolina posted his footage without permission. North Carolina claims immunity. Now the Supreme Court is being told that copyright infringement by states is "once again a very serious problem."
A quick hypothetical: A state government, say North Carolina, is running short on cash. To cure the budget shortfall, Gov. Roy Cooper announces that within hours, the state's website will begin streaming Avengers: Endgame for just $1 a view. If Cooper did so without Disney's permission, could he get away with pirating the movie without punishment?
This specific scenario may seem ridiculous and unlikely to happen anytime soon, but nevertheless, the answer may be surprising. Last week, after the U.S. Supreme Court requested North Carolina's thoughts on a petition before the high court, the state argued that it had sovereign immunity from federal copyright claims. The position is disconcerting to some in the entertainment industry. For example, tackling this same petition, the Recording Industry Association of America told the Supreme Court that thanks to recent decisions, "States are once again free to engage in copyright infringement — no matter how widespread or blatant — without fear of having to pay any money as a result. Unsurprisingly, then, despite Congress's efforts, copyright infringement by States is once again a very serious problem."
Rick Allen is the documentary filmmaker challenging the new status quo.
In the mid-1990s, Allen shot footage of researchers salvaging the remains of notorious pirate Blackbeard's flagship, Queen Anne's Revenge, which ran aground at Beaufort, North Carolina, in 1718. Having taken video and still images of the wreck and salvage efforts, Allen registered the works with the U.S. Copyright Office. Those images were subsequently commercialized by Nautilus Productions.
In 2013, Allen accused North Carolina and its Department of Natural and Cultural Resources of copyright infringement because the state had posted a few images of the shipwreck on its website. North Carolina came to a settlement agreement with Allen, paying him $15,000 for the infringements, but after taking the images down, the Department then posted five short videos and one photograph from the recovery expedition. Allen filed suit. Afterwards, North Carolina state lawmakers passed §121-25(b) — Allen dubs it "Blackbeard's Law" — which treats all photographs, video recordings and other documentary materials of a derelict vessel or shipwreck or its contents as "public record."
Can North Carolina insulate itself by putting any copyrighted work in the public domain? That raises a constitutional question.
The Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits federal courts from entertaining citizen suits against a state. In the 1980s, a series of legal decisions took up the issue of whether the Copyright Act abrogated state sovereign immunity. The answer turned out to be "no." It was held that copyright holders suing a state couldn't recover monetary damages for infringements.
This was recognized to be a problem, so after the Register of Copyrights conducted a study of the issue, Congress passed a series of laws in 1990 that attempted to explicitly abrogate state sovereign immunity in regards to copyrights, patents and trademarks.
However, in Florida Prepaid v. College Savings Bank (1999), the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law allowing citizens to sue states for patent infringement. In a narrow 5-4 ruling, the justices in the majority rejected the argument that Congress had properly exercised its powers under the Fourteenth Amendment to enforce due process guarantees and held that such a law curtailing state immunity couldn't be justified under Article I of the Constitution.
What followed, of course, were attacks on the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act, giving citizens the right to hold states liable for copyright infringement. In July 2018, in Allen's lawsuit against North Carolina for posting his footage of Queen Anne's Revenge, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals pointed to Florida Prepaid and held that since Congress relied on the Copyright Clause in Article I instead of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Congress had unconstitutionally abrogated state sovereign immunity.
Now, Allen is seeking review before the Supreme Court and is arguing that absent a review, creators of original expression will be left without a remedy when states trample on their federal copyrights. He asserts that Congress indeed has constitutional authority to abrogate state sovereign immunity for copyright infringement and that various courts have overread Florida Prepaid and similar cases. He also points to "more nuanced instruction" from follow-up Supreme Court precedent (see Central Virginia Community College v. Katz).
North Carolina at first didn't want to respond, but after the case was discussed by the justices on March 1 at a conference, a response was requested.
On April 22, the state formally opposed a review and told the Supreme Court there was consensus by federal courts that the CRCA was unconstitutional and that even if Congress attempted to abrogate immunity under the Fourteenth Amendment, it wouldn't be proper. Congress never identified an instance where a state had violated copyright intentionally, North Carolina posited. And federal lawmakers barely gave consideration to state remedies for copyright infringement and hadn't tailored a solution to the problem at hand.
Give us a chance to write our own laws, North Carolina basically argued.
"Copyright infringement is not categorically unconstitutional," states North Carolina's opposition brief. "Instead, infringement violates the Constitution only when it rises to the level of a property deprivation without due process of law."
The RIAA is somewhat aghast at reasoning by lower courts. In an amicus brief, the lobbying arm of music labels argues that state law is unlikely to provide a viable alternative remedy to infringement since for starters, federal courts generally have exclusive jurisdiction over copyright claims. Moreover, lawsuits premised on state claims (like conversion) would involve untested legal theories.
Now back to what would happen if a state decided to stream Avengers: Endgame.
Disney might not be able to collect damages, but it could at least shoot for an injunction under how appellate courts have been interpreting the current state of law.
Would it be good enough?
"An injunction against a state officer barring copyright infringement is necessarily prospective only," states the RIAA brief. "Accordingly, a State that faces nothing more burdensome than an injunction can infringe with complete impunity until such time as the infringement is detected, a lawsuit against a State official is brought, and a court issues injunctive relief. ... And because any injunction will issue only against particular state officers in their official capacities, and will of necessity cover only specifically defined infringing activity, even in the face of an injunction a State may be able to continue with infringement very similar to the activity that the injunction addresses — especially given that enforcement of an injunction against a State officer through a contempt sanction may be an onerous undertaking."
Copyright Trolls Suing Thousands of Canadians for File Sharing
According to Techopedia, Wikipedia for geeks, file sharing is defined as “the practice of sharing or offering access to digital information or resources, including documents, multimedia (audio/video), graphics, computer programs, images and e-books.” It’s a definition — and an issue — lawyers in Canada may want to look at more closely.
U.S. companies have discovered there is money to be made, at least potentially, in suing Canadians for alleged copyright infringement. Now this practice may become more common and more contentious as the issue of reverse class action lawsuits are being debated in our courts.
In a recent article on the issue, lawyers at McInnes Cooper in Halifax noted that Hollywood production studios are suing hundreds of people every day in Canada, accusing them of illegally sharing and downloading their copyrighted content from the Internet. There is legal ground for the claims. The federal Copyright Act gives owners exclusive rights over the reproduction of their work. Unauthorized reproduction constitutes copyright infringement. That includes downloading movies, for example, from the Internet.
While there is legal ground for action, an accusation of copyright infringement in these cases may or may not have merit, said David Fewer, an intellectual property and technology lawyer and director of the University of Ottawa’s Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic at the Centre for Law. “There may be a copyright infringement. It doesn’t mean it was your client.”
“Plainly there is some bad faith in at least some of the actions,” he added. “Some lawyers have been subsequently disbarred.”
The disdain with which the issue is viewed is evident in the term used to describe lawyers and firms, primarily in the U.S., who target Canadians and other individuals: copyright troll. While there may be a legal, if not an ethical, case for the claims, for clients that point may be moot. “The emergence of lawsuits, including reverse class actions, are a significant issue,” said Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa. “Many recipients are frightened by these claims, even in instances where they believe the claim may be in error.”
Both fear and practicality may persuade many Canadians who receive a statement of claim to settle. It is important for lawyers to lay out the options and determine the client’s objectives, said Fewer. “Some are offended and want to fight. Some can’t sleep and just want this to end.”
Either way, cost is an issue. The offence, real or otherwise, calls for statutory damages, which usually range from $100 to $1,000. “The bigger risk is the legal cost of defending such an issue,” said Fewer. “Copyright trolls are monetizing fear and uncertainty in the justice system.”
Whether a legitimate claim, an error, or an outright attempt at making easy money, Canadians who receive notice they are being sued need to take action. It is not a good idea to ignore a lawsuit, stressed Geist. “That’s what makes this so problematic since the claims may be in error or seeking damages far in excess of actual damages.”
As a first step, it is important to determine whether the plaintiff is registered for business in Canada. If not, ask for security for costs, said Fewer. “If you show you are a bother, this reduces the risk of litigation. Any cost to them eats away at profit.”
A second option is negotiation, he noted. Is there any merit to the claim? If, as usual, profit is driving the claim, the plaintiff may be willing to take less money for less bother.
There is power, and more profit, in numbers. Many American companies, including movie studios, are now launching reverse class action lawsuits, which effectively bring together hundreds or even thousands of claims in one suit.
Because it is not known in advance who the defendants may be, companies head to court to compel Internet service providers to reveal the name of account holders associated with the alleged copyright infringement. A statement of claim is then sent to the individuals in question.
At present, Voltage Pictures, makers of The Hurt Locker, winner of six Academy Awards, is looking for legal permission to sue 55,000 Canadians through a reverse class action. That request will not be as profitable perhaps as originally anticipated. Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada in Rogers Communications Inc v. Voltage Pictures LLC 2018 SCC 38 ruled that Rogers is entitled to be reimbursed for the reasonable costs associated with disclosing the names of its account holders.
Next up: certification of the reverse class action. Fewer believes it is “extremely unlikely” the action will be certified in Canada. However, he noted, if this happens, “we will see more of these cases.”
Reddit Commenter's Fight for Anonynmity Is a Win for Free Speech and Fair Use
A fight over unmasking an anonymous Reddit commenter has turned into a significant win for online speech and fair use. A federal court has affirmed the right to share copyrighted material for criticism and commentary, and shot down arguments that Internet users from outside the United States can’t ever rely on First Amendment protections for anonymous speech.
EFF represents the Reddit commenter, who uses the name “Darkspilver.” A lifelong member of the Jehovah’s Witness community, Darkspilver shared comments and concerns about the Jehovah’s Witness organization via one of Reddit’s online discussion groups. Darkspilver’s posts included a copy of an advertisement asking for donations that appeared on the back of a Watch Tower magazine, as well as a chart they edited and reformatted to show the kinds of data that the Jehovah’s Witness organization collects and processes.
Earlier this year, Watch Tower subpoenaed Reddit for information on Darkspilver as part of a potential copyright lawsuit. The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, a group that publishes doctrines for Jehovah’s Witnesses, claimed that Darkspilver’s posts infringed their copyright, and that they needed Darkspilver’s identity to pursue legal action. EFF filed a motion to quash the subpoena, explaining that Watch Tower’s copyright claims were absurd, and that Darkspilver had deep concerns that disclosure of their identity would cause them to be disfellowshipped by their community. Accordingly, Watch Tower’s subpoena could not pass the well-established “Doe” test, which allows a party to use the courts to pierce anonymity only where they can show that their claims are valid and also that the balance of harms favors disclosure. The Doe test is designed to balance the constitutional right to share and access information anonymously with the right to seek redress for legitimate complaints.
In a hearing earlier this month, Watch Tower argued that they met the requirements of the Doe test, claiming that their copyright was infringed and also that the Doe test did not apply because Darkspilver is not a U.S. resident. On Friday, May 17, Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim rejected the latter argument, holding that the First Amendment can apply even if a Doe is not in the U.S. The court noted that because Darkspilver’s speech was on a U.S. company’s platform and has a U.S. audience, silencing them would have unavoidable domestic ripple effects. As Judge Kim explained, “The subpoena here was issued by a court in the United States, on behalf of a United States company (Watch Tower) and was directed against another United States company (Reddit). Moreover, the First Amendment protects the audience as well as the speaker.”
The court also rejected Watch Tower’s claim of infringement regarding the Excel spreadsheet. It held that Watch Tower had a potentially valid claim with respect to the advertisement, but went on to conclude that Darkspilver’s use was likely lawful under the fair use doctrine. The court carefully reviewed the fair use factors and concluded that “they tip sharply in Darkpilver’s favor.” We wholeheartedly agree.
But we disagree with the court’s final decision: to order limited disclosure so that Watch Tower might attempt to shore up its copyright claim. While the court agreed that “Watch Tower has not demonstrated any actual harm or likelihood of future harm”—the fourth fair use factor—it gave undue credence Watch Tower’s claim that “the harm it suffered from people infringing on its copyrights was directing others away from its website.” Based on the theory that “[p]erhaps Watch Tower, if provided the opportunity, could demonstrate that fewer people visited its website after Darkspilver’s posting,” the court decided to allow Watch Tower’s counsel access to Darkpsilver’s identifying information.
Based on the court’s approach, the Doe standard offers weak protections for fair users. Even a far-fetched theory regarding a particular fair use factor, like the one posited here, might be enough to justify disclosure even if the rest of the fair use analysis clearly suggests the use was lawful. That said, the disclosure is subject to strict limits. Reddit may disclose it only to Watch Tower’s counsel of record, and that counsel is prohibited from sharing that information with anyone else—including the client—without a separate court order. In addition, the court explicitly “admonished that any violation of this Order will be sanctioned.”
This case touches on a lot of EFF’s most important issues, and it’s a prime example of how intellectual property, free speech, and privacy can intersect in complicated ways, making it hard for people to speak out about controversial issues. We are considering next steps. But in the meantime, we are also celebrating a crucial win for the First Amendment and access to anonymous speech for Internet users everywhere.
4 Best SHAREit Alternatives For File Sharing
SHAREit app can be considered one of the best file-sharing or transferring app for Android or iOS devices and computer as well. The app, no doubt, offers fine speed to transfer stuff.
However, many people found some faults of failing to send and annoying things like ads and bugs whilst working with the app. For this reason, I have brought some SHAREit app alternatives that you may want to try out.
Xender is a pretty popular file sharing app, which is available for multiple mobile platforms for free ( but includes ads). Connecting your phone to your PC or Mac is pretty simple with Xender. You can visit the personalized link that Xender offers or scan the QR code in Xender’s web app. Once done, you will be able to see all the files on your phone. You can then go ahead and download files from your phone or transfer files from your PC to phone. It all works like a charm.
Download it here
Superbeam is a fast file sharing app that uses WiFi direct to share files. You can share files in other devices in three ways: by scanning a QR code to connect (QR code scanner is included), connect via NFC or enter a key to receive. Another good attribute of Superbeam is that file transfer can be resumed if the connection is lost.
You can also share files with your PC using a web interface. The Pro version, which has no ads, allows you to send files to more than one device, send entire folders.
Download it here
Zapya it is pretty speedy, it’s makers even claim that it is 200 times faster than Bluetooth. Just like Shareit or Xender, there are no restrictions when it comes to file sizes that need to be transferred between two devices. My own experience tells me that Shareit fails to send some large files like movies. Zapya allows you to share multiple files of all formats and can connect up to four devices simultaneously.
Download it here
The AirDroid app lets you wirelessly transfer different types of files among your computers and devices, as long as they are on the same Wi-Fi network. You can transfer and receive files from your Android to PC and vice-versa. Also, you can send and receive messages and access installed apps like WhatsApp, WeChat, etc. from your PC.
The basic version of AirDroid is free. With that, you can transfer, view, delete, and manage files on your phone from your computer or between two phones. You can also use your computer/phone to view and remotely control another android device.
Download it here
First Official Version of Tor Browser for Android Released on the Play Store
After eight months of alpha testing, Tor Browser for Android is now ready for rollout.
Today, the Tor Project released on the Google Play Store the first stable version of the Tor Browser for Android.
This new mobile browser integrates the Tor protocol stack into a standalone browser and replaces Orfox as the main way to navigate the Tor network from an Android device.
Tor Project developers have been working on this browser for eight months now, since September 2018, when they first released an alpha version for public testing.
"We made it a priority to reach the rising number of users who only browse the web with a mobile device," said Isabela Bagueros, Executive Director of the Tor Project. "These users often face heavy surveillance and censorship online, so it is critical for us to reach them."
"We made sure there are no proxy bypasses, that first-party isolation is enabled to protect you from cross-site tracking, and that most of the fingerprinting defenses are working," the Tor team added.
"While there are still feature gaps between the desktop and Android Tor Browser, we are confident that Tor Browser for Android provides essentially the same protections that can be found on desktop platforms."
The first version of the Tor Browser for Android has a version number of 8.5 and is in sync with the rest of the Tor Browser releases -- for Windows, Mac, and Linux. The Tor Browser v8.5 was also released today for the other platforms.
There is no official Tor Browser version for iOS, but the Tor Project recommends that iOS users install Mike Tigas' Onion Browser iOS app if they want to use Tor on iOS.
Mozilla is also currently funding a research grant for academics to find a way to integrate the Tor protocol into Firefox, where it plans to use it as a "Super Private Browsing Mode." Firefox is the browser on which the Tor Browser has been built on.
Chicago Becomes First City to Collect "Netflix Tax"
• Chicago has collected $2 million in tax from Sony, Eventbrite and Fandango, becoming the first large city to successfully tax digital streaming and service providers, Bloomberg reports.
• The four-year-old levy, dubbed the "Netflix tax," still faces a lawsuit from a group representing Netflix, Amazon Prime and Spotify customers.
• Other cities and states are considering taxing digital services, as more and more shopping moves online.
Four years ago, Chicago imposed a 9% tax on streaming entertainment services, leading to a flurry of lawsuits. Now, the city has collected $2 million in sales tax from Sony and two online ticketing services, making it the first major city to collect such a tax successfully, Bloomberg reported.
The city collected $1.2 million from Sony in January, on services including PlayStation Video live events and purchases of music and video, according to Bloomberg. It also collected nearly $800,000 from Eventbrite and $70,000 from Fandango, the outlet said. The levy has been dubbed the "Netflix tax" because it targets streaming video services in addition to gaming and other digital entertainment.
Sony didn't immediately reply to requests for comment from CBS News. The company, which is headquartered in Tokyo, had previously argued it didn't have a physical presence in Chicago, according to Bloomberg.
While Chicago seems to be the first city to successfully tax streaming services, it probably won't be the last. Rhode Island's governor proposed a budget this year that includes new sales taxes on digital videos, books and music. Pennsylvania enacted a similar tax in 2016 and is set to start enforcing it this summer.
"Cities and states are beginning to experiment with this," Mark Mazur, director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, told CBS News. "People are buying more and more services and less goods, so the sales tax pace is getting reduced, and you end up trying to find ways to raise revenue from services," he said.
Last year's Supreme Court decision allowing states to collect sales tax from all online purchases by their residents is likely to increase such efforts. As economic activity increasingly shifts online, digital taxes could provide a sizable revenue source for states and cities, Mazur said. The potential downside for consumers is that companies could raise prices in response.
Chicago's expanded digital entertainment and services tax could raise up to $12 million per year, according to estimates issued at the time it passed in 2015. A lawsuit filed by a libertarian group on behalf of Netflix, Spotify and Amazon Prime customers is currently in the appeal stage.
Cable TV Customer Satisfaction Falls Even Further Behind Streaming Video
Pay-TV again ranks last in customer satisfaction among all US industries.
Netflix and other online video services have expanded their customer-satisfaction lead over cable and satellite TV, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) found in its annual telecommunications report released today.
Streaming-video services averaged a score of 76 on the ACSI's 100-point scale, up from 75 last year. Meanwhile, the traditional subscription-TV industry's score remained unchanged at 62.
"For the past six years, customer satisfaction with subscription TV has languished in the mid-to-low 60s, not recovering enough to effectively compete with streaming services," the ACSI report said. "In 2018, subscription sales declined 3 percent to $103.4 billion. Customer service remains poor, and cord cutting is accelerating. As video-streaming services gain traction, a growing number of households may never subscribe to pay TV in the first place."
Pay-TV and broadband—two services that are generally offered in bundles by the same companies—each posted an industry average of 62, which is again in "last place among all  industries tracked by the ACSI," the report said. Pay-TV's satisfaction score peaked at 68 in 2013 and has dropped steadily since.
Streaming services rated significantly higher than cable and satellite in many categories, including the ease of understanding bills, mobile app quality and reliability, and call-center satisfaction.
Comcast remained near the bottom of pay-TV rankings with a score of 57, while AT&T's U-verse led the ranking despite dropping from 70 to 69:
The ACSI's subscription-television service ranking for 2019.
Coincidentally, AT&T's streaming service—DirecTV Now—also fell from 70 to 69. But while the AT&T U-verse TV score of 69 was good enough to lead all cable and satellite TV providers, the DirecTV Now score of 69 was in second-to-last place among streaming providers:
As you can see above, Netflix took the top spot in streaming satisfaction by raising its score from 78 to 79.
"Netﬂix shared the lead with Sony PlayStation Vue and Amazon’s Twitch a year ago, but a 1 percent gain puts Netflix alone in first place—and number one across all five telecom categories [streaming, pay-TV, broadband, landline phones, and on-demand video]," the ACSI report said. "The company has been rolling out original content at an unprecedented rate, which remains among its greatest strengths. According to ACSI data, Netﬂix ranks at the top for original content among all streaming services. In addition, its membership growth continues at a record pace."
Despite streaming's big lead over cable and satellite TV, the ACSI said that lower-ranked streaming services have problems, too. "Some of these services aren't enough of a departure from original cable and satellite offerings in that commercial interruptions abound, prices are high, and customer service is poor," the ACSI said.
There wasn't much change in the broadband rankings, with Verizon FiOS and AT&T leading the way while Mediacom and Frontier finished at the bottom:
The ACSI telecommunications report was based on interviews with 38,681 customers chosen at random. In all, the ACSI interviews 300,000 customers a year to track more than 400 companies in 46 industries.
Comcast Does so Much Lobbying that it Says Disclosing it all is Too Hard
Shareholders say Comcast should stop being secretive about lobbying activity.
Comcast may be harming its reputation by failing to reveal all of its lobbying activities, including its involvement in trade associations and lobbying at the state level, a group of shareholders says in a proposal that asks for more lobbying disclosures.
Comcast's disclosures for its lobbying of state governments "are often cursory or non-existent," and Comcast's failure to disclose its involvement in trade associations means that "investors have neither an accurate picture of the company's total lobbying expenditures nor an understanding of its priorities, interests, or potential risks from memberships," the proposal said. "Comcast's lack of transparency around its lobbying poses risks to its already troubled reputation, which is concerning in a highly regulated industry, especially given the rise of public Internet alternatives."
The proposal is on the ballot for Comcast's June 5 annual shareholder meeting and was filed by Friends Fiduciary, which "invest[s] based on Quaker values" and says it "actively screen[s] companies for social responsibility." Friends Fiduciary and other investors who joined the proposal collectively hold "over 1 million shares of Comcast stock," they said.
The shareholder resolution would be non-binding even if it passed. It asks for an annual report disclosing, among other things, "Payments by Comcast used for (a) direct or indirect lobbying or (b) grassroots lobbying communications" and information on "Comcast's membership in and payments to any tax-exempt organization that writes and endorses model legislation."
Comcast has been active in lobbying against state net neutrality laws and municipal broadband, which is restricted by laws passed in many US states. The Friends Fiduciary proposal pressures Comcast to disclose more of its state-level lobbying activity.
Comcast's board unanimously recommended that shareholders vote against the Friends Fiduciary resolution, saying that Comcast "already disclose[s] most of our government lobbying interactions" as required by law. "[O]ur Board believes that the requirements in this proposal are burdensome and an unproductive use of our resources and are not in the best interests of our shareholders," Comcast said in a rebuttal included in its proxy statement.
Friends Fiduciary acknowledged that its proposal is unlikely to pass. It needs a majority, but "CEO Brian Roberts holds 33.3 percent of the voting shares," a Friends Fiduciary spokesperson told Ars. Friends Fiduciary has filed similar proposals the past few years and received 19.1 percent of the vote in 2018, up from 16.6 percent in 2017, the group said.
Excluding Roberts' shares, the proposal received 32 percent of the vote in 2018, the group also said. "We see even proposals that don't pass as an important barometer of shareholder perspective, and over 30 percent of outside shareholders requesting more transparency from Comcast on their lobbying as a strong statement to the company," Friends Fiduciary told Ars.
Net neutrality and municipal broadband
The Friends Fiduciary proposal argued that more lobbying disclosures are necessary in part because "Comcast's lobbying spending is perceived to go counter to its public statements, a sentiment which has only grown given recent debates over net neutrality." As evidence, the group pointed to a November 2017 Slate article titled "Comcast wants you to think it supports net neutrality while it pushes for net neutrality to be destroyed."
Separately, Comcast should say how much it gives to Broadband for America, a "group which has been subpoenaed by the New York attorney general in the course of an investigation into the potential fraudulence of some of the 22 million comments submitted to the Federal Communication Commission" during the net neutrality repeal proceeding, Friends Fiduciary said. Comcast is a member of the group.
Friends Fiduciary also argued that Comcast's secrecy around lobbying could contribute to the rise of municipal broadband networks that compete against Comcast broadband. The shareholder proposal said:
Comcast's lack of lobbying transparency perpetuates its negative public image and could fuel regulatory backlash or contribute to the rise of municipal broadband, potentially threatening company profitability. In a highly regulated industry providing essential services such as telecommunications, we maintain that careful consideration of reputational risk becomes even more crucial. Municipal broadband has drawn bipartisan support, especially in conservative areas. More than 750 communities in the US have decided to operate their own networks. As one article puts it, "Our desire for better broadband, and our collective disdain for Comcast, tends to be one of the few things capable of bridging the partisan divide." Comcast's consistent low rankings in the areas of trust and citizenship speak to the potential for its lack of transparency to impact its future prospects.
State disclosures lag behind federal ones
While Comcast faces strict rules for disclosing federal lobbying activity, its lobbying disclosures are not sufficient at the state level, Friends Fiduciary said.
"Comcast expends significant company resources on lobbying at both the state and federal level in comparison with other companies," the Friends Fiduciary proposal also said. "Although required at the federal level, state and other disclosures are often cursory or non-existent—meaning that investors have no way of knowing how much the company is spending beyond the federal level."
Additionally, the group argues that Comcast's "board oversight structures are insufficient given the volume of Comcast's lobbying spending."
By contrast, AT&T "does comprehensively disclose its lobbying expenditures," the proposal said.
Comcast spent $30.3 million on lobbying at the federal level in 2017 and 2018, "the highest sum in the telecommunications sector and 4th highest sum of all reporting US companies," the proposal said. Comcast's spending on lobbying at the state level is also likely significant, given that "Comcast hired 241 lobbyists in 35 states in 2017," Friends Fiduciary said. But the full extent of Comcast's state lobbying is unknown, as "[l]obbying disclosure requirements are currently close to nonexistent in 22 states," the group said.
The shareholder proposal applauded Comcast's decision to leave the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), but said Comcast should also "disclos[e] the names of and amounts paid to trade associations and other tax-exempt organizations which lobby on the company's behalf."
Comcast: Expanding disclosures is too hard
As evidence that it sufficiently discloses political activity, Comcast pointed to a webpage with information on its political contributions—though the page only lists political contributions from 2014 to 2017.
"Because the information that this proposal seeks to be disclosed is generally publicly available in appropriate detail, implementing this proposal would require us to incur unnecessary expense, would divert management attention away from our primary business activities and would raise potential competitive concerns," Comcast said.
Comcast noted that it files quarterly reports with Congress about its federal lobbying activities and that it follows state disclosure laws.
Friends Fiduciary countered that public availability of Comcast's federal lobbying spending isn't enough and that "our proposal asks for more information about state level, trade association, and grassroots spending, all of which are not covered under federal disclosures."
Comcast's response also defends its lobbying activities. "For a company in highly regulated industries such as ours, providing information to legislators and regulators and their respective staffs and making sure they fully understand the implications of their policy decisions is a necessary cost of doing business and an extension of our right to petition our government," Comcast said. "Requiring a company to go through the unnecessary burden of gathering and disclosing such costs—particularly when much of this information is already publicly available either through our own filings or those of any trade associations of which we are members—would be a waste of resources."
FCC Chairman Backs T-Mobile, Sprint Merger With New Conditions
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai gave a thumbs-up to T-Mobile and Sprint’s proposed $26 billion merger, after the companies committed to enhanced 5G buildout commitments and agreed to spin off Sprint’s Boost Mobile.
T-Mobile and Sprint first announced their plans to merge in April 2018, looking to combine forces to take on industry leaders AT&T and Verizon. To clear regulatory hurdles, the companies have been forced to make additional guarantees. Those include a commitment to deploying a 5G network that would cover 97% of the U.S. population within three years of the closing of the merger and 99% within six years.
On Pai’s endorsement of the merger plan with new concessions, Sprint shares climbed more than 20% Monday and T-Mobile’s stock price was up around 5% in morning trading.
In addition, the revised T-Mobile/Sprint plan guarantees that their 5G network would reach deep into rural areas, with 85% of rural Americans covered within three years and 90% covered within six years. T-Mobile and Sprint also have promised that 90% of Americans would have access to mobile broadband service at speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and 99% would have access to speeds of at least 50 Mbps.
In another new commitment, the combined T-Mobile/Sprint pledged to roll out an in-home 5G broadband product including to rural households. Within three years, the “New T-Mobile” will market in-home broadband service to at least 9.6 million eligible households, of which at least 2.6 million will be in rural areas. Within six years of the closing, the combined entity will market in-home broadband service to at least 28 million eligible households, of which 5.6 million are rural households.
The companies also agreed to divest Sprint’s Boost Mobile prepaid division within 120 days of the closing of the merger, a move designed to address potential competitive issues in the prepaid wireless segment. And the companies pledged that new T-Mobile will not terminate Sprint’s reseller agreement with cable operator Altice upon closing and that the merged entity “will engage in good-faith negotiations to expand the existing agreement between Sprint and Altice to the New T-Mobile 5G network,” according to an 8-K filing by T-Mobile.
T-Mobile and Sprint had already committed to not to raise prices for three years following their merger.
According to Pai’s office, in the next few weeks he will distribute a draft order to the FCC’s other commissioners that would clear the merger. Also Monday, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr — who, like Pai, is a Republican appointee — announced his support of the revised T-Mobile/Sprint merger plan.
“In light of the significant commitments made by T-Mobile and Sprint as well as the facts in the record to date, I believe that this transaction is in the public interest and intend to recommend to my colleagues that the FCC approve it,” Pai said in a statement. “This is a unique opportunity to speed up the deployment of 5G throughout the United States and bring much faster mobile broadband to rural Americans. We should seize this opportunity.”
Under the revised terms of the merger submitted with the FCC, the companies would “suffer serious consequences” — including billions of dollars in financial penalties — “if they fail to follow through on their commitments to the FCC,” according to Pai.
Consumer-advocacy group Free Press criticized Pai’s blessing of the T-Mobile/Sprint deal, arguing that the new concessions do not include anything to make wireless service more affordable.
“The digital divide the FCC should focus on is the affordability crisis,” Free Press VP of policy and general counsel Matt Wood said in a statement. “It leads to an adoption gap that makes it hard for poorer people to get online, and it keeps people of color disconnected more often than other demographic groups. People who rely on prepaid services won’t see any benefits from the conditions the FCC is touting with such glee this morning.”
The FCC opened a proceeding to consider the T-Mobile/Sprint transaction on June 15, 2018.
SpaceX Will Launch its First 60 Satellites to Deliver Internet from Space
SpaceX wants to beam cheap broadband internet all over the planet. It's gearing up for the first crucial step toward making that a reality.
Elon Musk's rocket company will try to deliver a batch of 60 satellites into low-Earth orbit, the first for a megaconstellation of satellites that SpaceX is calling Starlink. The launch could happen sometime next week.
It was scheduled to take off Wednesday night, but rough winds in the upper atmosphere caused a one-day delay. And SpaceX said in a Thursday tweet that it would wait another week so the company can "update satellite software and triple-check everything again."
The upcoming mission is a small part of what SpaceX ultimately wants to be a much grander project: a group of potentially thousands of satellites swirling over Earth that the company says could eventually make available low-cost internet for a significant portion of the world's population that isn't yet online.
If SpaceX is successful, the launch would mark the largest test yet for any company attempting such a project. It could even set SpaceX up to beat out competitors like Amazon and SoftBank-backed OneWeb, which each want to form internet constellations of their own.
The project is still in its early days. Musk told reporters during a conference call Wednesday that the satellites in the first batch will be virtually identical to the mass production version. The only feature they lack is the ability to communicate with each other while in orbit.
"There is a lot of new technology here, so it's possible that some of these satellites may not work," Musk said, adding that there is a "small possibility" that none will work.
SpaceX will need another six missions, he said, before Starlink can provide consistent internet coverage for small parts of the world. It will take 12 launches before the company can provide coverage for a significant portion of the world's population, according to Musk.
Getting the full constellation up and running will likely cost billions of dollars, and Musk has conceded that such efforts have bankrupted others, like the satellite operator Iridium. But when asked about SpaceX's funading, he said the company has "sufficient capital" to carry out its plans. He added that SpaceX's latest funding round attracted "more interest than we were seeking." In April, the company sought to raise about $400 million.
Right now, internet is mostly delivered via wireless cell towers or cables routed to your home or office. That leaves extremely rural or impoverished communities without affordable access. There are options for satellite-based internet, but those services are notoriously slow, expensive or unreliable. (The Wi-Fi you get on board a transatlantic flight, for example, is delivered from satellites.)
The biggest problems with satellite-based internet service right now are that it's too pricey for common consumers, and the satellites are so far from Earth that they have frustrating dial-up era lag times.
SpaceX is one of several companies that wants to overhaul internet delivery. The idea is to put up tiny satellites that stay in orbit much closer to home. In low-Earth orbit, though, satellites blaze across the sky extremely quickly — which is why a massive "megaconstellation" is needed, so as to blanket the lower altitude and avoid service interruptions.
A successful launch this month would "surely put SpaceX in the lead," said Shagun Sachdeva, an analyst at Northern Sky Research.
But Sachdeva has raised questions about whether SpaceX is wise to plan a constellation of satellites that could eventually total 12,000.
She expects the company will reach a tipping point at which deploying new satellites will no longer be worth it. For example, the company won't get much benefit out of providing full coverage over the oceans.
"It is crucial to recognize the point where" the costs start to outweigh the benefits, she wrote in a recent report.
Silicon Valley Pans White House Bias Tool as a Gimmick
The White House hasn't said how it plans to use the data it's collecting about people's experiences with bias on social media. But in Silicon Valley, it's viewed as the administration's latest political stunt.
Venky Ganesan, a partner at technology investor Menlo Ventures, told The Washington Post that the White House's new survey about bias on social media is "pure kabuki theatre" and an attempt to curry political points with conservatives. He said the Trump administration's repeated accusations that tech companies censor conservative voices are unfounded because even though most Silicon Valley executives are liberal or libertarian, they wouldn't let politics get in the way of their primary goal: making money.
"Algorithms and products don't have political biases because that's not how you optimise to make money," he said in an email. "The only bias the products have is to monetise users and make money for the companies."
The Internet Association, a trade association representing Facebook, Google and other tech companies, also pushed back on President Trump's repeated accusations that their products are biased against conservatives. The association says the platforms are open and enable the speech of all Americans - including the president himself.
"That's why the president uses Twitter so much," said Michael Beckerman, the Internet Association's chief executive. "He actually used Twitter for this particular announcement, which is perhaps ironic."
Silicon Valley is punching back as the Trump administration opens a new battleground in its tense war with the tech industry. But this time some of Silicon Valley's typical Washington foes - privacy advocates and Democrats in Congress - are on the tech industry's side, underscoring the broad criticism of the plan.
The Trump administration launched a tool allowing users to submit their experiences with what it described as bias on Wednesday evening, following years of President Donald Trump's repeated threats to regulate the companies for stifling conservative voices. The Trump administration declined to tell The Washington Post what it planned to do with the data it's amassing. "The White House wants to hear from all Americans - regardless of their political leanings - if they have been impacted by bias on social media platforms," spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement.
Privacy advocates want answers about how the data is being handled - and until they get them, they think the White House should stop using the tool. A consumer privacy nonprofit organization wrote a letter to Trump yesterday calling for the White House to halt the collection of personal information. The White House submission form requests respondents share their name, age, email addresses, phone number, citizenship status and links to their social media profiles and posts.
"The White House seeks to collect detailed sensitive personal information, yet there is no indication that privacy interests were considered," the Electronic Privacy Information Center wrote. The group also said the form raises "substantial First Amendment concerns" and that it believes the data collection is "unlawful, unconstitutional and itself a violation of the First Amendment."
EPIC is arguing that the federal agencies are required to conduct a privacy impact assessment before collecting personal data of this nature, and there's no indication the White House conducted such a review before launching the tool.
On the Hill yesterday, Democratic lawmakers say the survey raises serious questions about government ethics and abuse of power, according to Politico.
"I think it raises questions related to the abuse of power," Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) told reporters on Capitol Hill yesterday. "If it's not authoritarian, it's the first or second cousin of authoritarianism."
Google May Just have Killed Huawei's Bid to Become the World's Top Smartphone Brand
Google is restricting Huawei's access to its Android operating system and apps after the Trump administration blacklisted the Chinese tech firm.
Last week, the Trump administration barred American companies from selling to Huawei without a US government license in a significant escalation of the trade war with China.
The Silicon Valley giant is suspending much of that access, according to multiple reports, after Washington placed Huawei on a list of foreign firms deemed to undermine American national security or foreign policy interests. Listed companies are barred from receiving components and software unless the trade is licensed.
Existing Huawei phones unaffected
Huawei will only be able to use the public version of Android and will not be able to access apps and services from Google. The news was first reported by Reuters.
"Google Play and the security protections from Google Play Protect will continue to function on existing Huawei devices," the spokesperson added, without providing further details.
The ban threatens Huawei's supply chain and could delay the rollout of 5G services around the world. But the most immediate headache for Huawei is what the decision means for future smartphone sales.
But the company is hugely dependent on countries other than China. Roughly half its smartphone sales last year were made outside China, according to research firms Canalys and IDC.
Huawei said it is "examining the implications from the US actions for consumers," adding that it will continue to provide "security updates and after sales services" for all existing smartphones and tablets, including its Honor budget brand.
The Chinese tech company said it has spent at least three years working on its own operating system.
"Huawei has been building an alternative operating system just in case it is needed," said Huawei spokesperson Glenn Schloss. "We would like to be able to continue operating in the Microsoft and Google ecosystems," he added.
Beijing has repeatedly criticized the US-led campaign against Huawei, and called the addition of the company to the trade blacklist a political move.
"China supports Chinese companies defending their legitimate rights according to laws," Lu Kang, a spokesperson for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a press briefing on Monday.
"In terms of what measures either Chinese companies or Chinese government would take, please wait and see," he said.
The consumer business — which includes smartphones, laptops, tablets and wearable devices like smart watches — was the biggest contributor to Huawei's earnings last year. The division made nearly 349 billion yuan ($50 billion) in 2018, accounting for more than 45% of revenue.
For the millions of users outside of China, being cut off from Google's apps and services "kills the attractiveness of a Huawei phone," said IDC analyst Bryan Ma.
"It kills the usability of a Huawei phone outside of China, thus rendering them dead in the water," he added.
Theoretically, Huawei can try to win over consumers with its competitive hardware and innovation, and then convince them to download Google apps after they buy a Huawei phone, said Nicole Peng, an analyst with Canalys.
But evidence shows that "after sales installation is very challenging for users, unless they know what they're doing," said Peng.
Moreover, when customers start finding out that Huawei can't get Google's ecosystem on their phones, "it will affect trust, they will question if anything is wrong with the device," she added.
Even if customers were able to independently download Google apps on Huawei phones, the phones may still not have access to so-called Google Mobile Services.
Many third party apps, like ride hailing and food delivery platforms, rely on services like Google Maps. Most of those apps may no longer be supported on Huawei devices, said IDC's Ma.
Without that access, "the Huawei phone is a brick," he said.
Rob Mclean and Nanlin Fang contributed to this report.
Huawei Responds to Android Ban with Service and Security Guarantees, But its Future is Unclear
Manish Singh, Jon Russell
Huawei has finally gone on the record about a ban on its use of Android, but the company’s long-term strategy on mobile still remains unclear.
In an effort to appease its worried customer base, the embattled Chinese company said today that it will continue to provide security updates and after-sales support to its existing lineup of smartphones, but it’s what the company didn’t say that will spark concerns.
Huawei was unable to make guarantees about whether existing customers will continue to receive Android software updates, while its statement is bereft of any mention of whether future phones will ship with the current flavor of Android or something else.
The company, which is the world’s second largest smartphone vendor based on shipments, said it will continue to develop a safe software ecosystem for its customers across the globe. Huawei will also extend the support to Honor, a brand of smartphones it owns. Nearly 50 percent of all of Huawei’s sales comes from outside China, research firm Counterpoint told TechCrunch.
Here’s the statement in full:
Huawei has made substantial contributions to the development and growth of Android around the world. As one of Android’s key global partners, we have worked closely with their open-source platform to develop an ecosystem that has benefitted both users and the industry,
Huawei will continue to provide security updates and after sales services to all existing Huawei and Honor smartphone and tablet products covering those have been sold or still in stock globally. We will continue to build a safe and sustainable software ecosystem, in order to provide the best experience for all users globally.
In addition, the company said it plans to launch the Honor 20 as planned. The device is set to be unveiled at an event in London tomorrow. While Honor is a sub-brand, any sanctions levied on Huawei will likely be reflected in its business, too.
Huawei’s lukewarm response isn’t unexpected. Earlier, Google issued a similarly non-committal statement that indicated that owners of Huawei phones will continue to be able to access the Google Play Store and Google Play Protect, but — like the Chinese firm — it made no mention of the future, and that really is the key question.
Indeed, sources within both Google and Huawei have told TechCrunch that the immediate plan of action for what happens next remains unclear.
It could turn out that Huawei is forced to use the open source version of Android, AOSP, which comes stripped of Google Mobile Services, a suite for Google services such as Google Play Store, Gmail, and YouTube. That’s unless it doesn’t plump for its own homespun alternative, which media reports have claimed it has built in the case of an emergency situation.
Huawei’s response comes a day after Reuters reported that Google had suspended some of its businesses with the Chinese technology giant. The Android-maker is complying with a U.S. Commerce Department’s directive that placed Huawei and 70 of its affiliates on an “entity list” that requires any U.S. company to gain government approval before doing business with the Chinese tech company.
In the meantime, the troubles are mounting for Huawei. In addition to Android, the U.S. government’s move has seen Intel, Qualcomm, Xilinx, and Broadcom reportedly pause supplying chips to Huawei until a resolution has been reached.
U.S. Eases Restrictions on Huawei; Founder Says U.S. Underestimates Chinese Firm
Karen Freifeld, David Shepardson, Brenda Goh
The United States has temporarily eased trade restrictions on China’s Huawei to minimize disruption for its customers, a move the founder of the world’s largest telecoms equipment maker said meant little because it was already prepared for U.S. action.
The U.S. Commerce Department blocked Huawei Technologies Co Ltd from buying U.S. goods last week, saying the firm was involved in activities contrary to national security.
The move came amid an escalating dispute over trade practices between the United States and China. The two countries increased import tariffs on each other’s goods over the past two weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump said China had reneged on earlier commitments made during months of negotiations.
On Monday, the Commerce Department granted Huawei a license buy U.S. goods until Aug. 19 to maintain existing telecoms networks and provide software updates to Huawei smartphones.
The Chinese company is still prohibited from buying American-made hardware and software to make new products without further, hard-to-obtain licenses.
The reprieve is intended to give telecom operators that rely on Huawei equipment time to make other arrangements, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a statement on Monday.
“In short, this license will allow operations to continue for existing Huawei mobile phone users and rural broadband networks,” Ross said.
Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei on Tuesday said in a series of interviews with Chinese state media that the reprieve bore little meaning for the telecom gear maker as it had been making preparations for such a scenario.
“The U.S. government’s actions at the moment underestimate our capabilities,” Ren said in an interview with CCTV, according to a transcript published by the Chinese state broadcaster.
The temporary license suggests changes to Huawei’s supply chain may have immediate, far-reaching and unintended consequences for its customers.
“The goal seems to be to prevent internet, computer and cell phone systems from crashing,” said Washington lawyer Kevin Wolf, a former Commerce Department official. “This is not a capitulation. This is housekeeping.”
The reprieve also appeared aimed at telecom providers in countries where Huawei equipment is pervasive, said Washington trade lawyer Douglas Jacobson.
The Commerce Department said it will evaluate whether to extend the license period beyond 90 days.
Huawei is currently on the receiving end of a U.S. government accusation that it engaged in bank fraud to obtain embargoed U.S. goods and services in Iran and move money via the international banking system. Huawei has pleaded not guilty.
Adding to its U.S. troubles on Thursday, the U.S. Commerce Department placed Huawei and 68 entities to an export blacklist, making it nearly impossible for those listed to purchase goods made in the United States.
On Sunday, Reuters reported citing a person familiar with the matter that Alphabet Inc’s Google suspended business with Huawei that requires the transfer of technical service, hardware and software except what is publicly available via open-source licensing.
Monday’s temporary license is likely to allow companies such as Google to continue providing service and support, including software updates or patches, to Huawei smartphones that were available to the public on or before May 16.
Google did not respond to a request for comment on the license.
The license also allows Huawei to engage in the development of standards for fifth-generation (5G) telecom networks.
Ren put up a strong front on Tuesday, reiterating claims that the restrictions will not hurt Huawei’s prospects and that no other company will be able to catch up with Huawei in 5G technology in the next two to three years.
China was nevertheless still “far behind” the United States in technology, he said.
Chip experts have called out Huawei on its claims that it could ensure a steady supply chain without U.S. help, saying the technology the Chinese telecoms network gear maker buys from American companies would be “hard to replace”.
Nearly 16 percent of Huawei’s expenditure on components last year went to U.S. firms including Qualcomm Inc, Intel Corp and Micron Technology Inc, analysts said.
Ren said Huawei was at odds with the U.S. government, not U.S. firms, and in a comment that trended on Chinese social media, he praised Apple Inc’s iPhones, saying that he gifted the American firm’s devices to family members.
“Apple has a good business ecosystem... We cannot think narrow-mindedly that loving Huawei equals loving its phones.”
U.S. firms could lose up to $56.3 billion in export sales over five years from stringent export controls on technologies involving Huawei or otherwise, the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation said in a report. Missed opportunities threatened as many as 74,000 jobs, the foundation said.
John Neuffer, president of the Semiconductor Industry Association which represents U.S. chipmakers and designers, called on the government to ease Huawei restrictions further.
Reporting by Karen Freifeld in New York, David Shepardson in Washington and Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Additional reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington and Angela Moon, Ryan Woo and Lusha Zhang in Beijing, ; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Sayantani Ghosh
As Huawei Loses Google, the U.S.-China Tech Cold War Gets Its Iron Curtain
The White House’s hard-line approach threatens to speed up the development of two technology worlds, further isolating one-fifth of internet users.
China has spent nearly two decades building a digital wall between itself and the rest of the world, a one-way barrier designed to keep out foreign companies like Facebook and Google while allowing Chinese rivals to leave home and expand across the world.
Now President Trump is sealing up that wall from the other side.
Google said on Monday that it would limit the software services it provides to Huawei, the telecommunications giant, after a White House order last week restricted the Chinese company’s access to American technology. Google’s software powers Huawei’s smartphones, and its apps come preloaded on the devices Huawei sells around the world. Depending on how the White House’s order is carried out, that could come to a stop.
For Huawei, the big impact will be abroad, since Chinese customers already have limited access to Google’s services. Google’s move will have its biggest effect in places like Europe, where it has emerged as a big smartphone seller. Other companies will inevitably follow. In effect, the move puts pressure on Huawei’s international expansion dreams.
If China and the United States have begun a technological Cold War, then the Huawei order can best be seen as the beginnings of a digital Iron Curtain. In this potential vision of the future of technology, China will continue to keep out much of the world. The United States and many other countries, goes this thinking, will in turn block Chinese technology.
The tougher American stance is closing off many of the ways that the United States and China exchanged ideas and did business despite the strict Chinese censorship regime. Those closed doors could have profound effects not only on the business of technology, but also on how the world will use and understand the devices and services of the future.
Already, China’s censorship and tight control of its citizens’ digital lives have effectively isolated one-fifth of the world’s internet-using population, giving rise to a generation that doesn’t know what it means to Google something or to subscribe to a YouTube channel.
The aggressive new stance by the United States will only speed up that process, opening a potential window to a day when Chinese people can use only Chinese phones and gadgets powered by homegrown chips and software. All this is happening with a speed that has shocked many in China.
“The move by the Trump administration is much more comprehensive than many Chinese expected,” said Nicole Peng, an analyst at technology research firm Canalys. “It also came much earlier. Many people only realize now that it’s for real.”
It is far from clear whether the Trump administration’s moves will truly isolate Huawei from the rest of the world. The White House has struggled to persuade other countries to stop buying Huawei’s telecommunications equipment, citing potential espionage concerns. (Huawei denies that it spies for the Chinese government.) Huawei has already developed its own chips and other capabilities, and has said that it has stockpiled equipment for a day when it would lose access to American know-how and equipment.
The attack on Huawei is also taking place against the backdrop of a worsening trade war, making it one piece on a larger game board. Just as it did last year, when the White House relented on a similar order that crippled Huawei’s rival ZTE, the United States could lift its pressure on Huawei to ease tensions between Washington and Beijing.
China has ways it could retaliate. On Monday, China’s state media reported that Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, visited a site that mines and processes rare earths, which are essential minerals for a number of manufacturers in low-carbon technologies. His visit was a none-too-subtle reminder that China has a commanding presence in rare earths and could shut off global supplies — something it has done once before.
The digital Iron Curtain has been long in the making. From its earliest days dealing with the internet, the Chinese government has squelched content it didn’t like. Today, the Chinese internet at first glance doesn’t look much like the one the rest of the world uses. It has different platforms, ideals and business strategies, all tended carefully by censors.
But the wall was mostly one-sided. American chips and software power Chinese servers and mainframes. China has been a big revenue driver for Apple, Oracle, Intel, Qualcomm and other big names in tech. Much of this was by necessity, since China couldn’t make all this stuff itself, but it still gave American companies a role in the direction of the Chinese digital future.
The ties go deeper. Many of the founders of China’s most successful technology companies were educated in the United States. American investors helped them get established, and some of those Chinese companies turned around and invested in American companies. Academics from the two countries regularly teamed up and swapped notes.
Now the United States, concerned about securing intellectual property, is working to block some of those channels. It has tightened limits on Chinese investment in American companies. Some Chinese students who focused on science and technology have had problems getting visas to the United States. Some Chinese scholars have had their American visas revoked over spying fears.
With the Huawei limits, the Trump administration cited safety. The Commerce Department announced last week that it had placed Huawei and its dozens of affiliates on a list of firms deemed a risk to national security. The listing will prevent Huawei from buying American parts and technologies without seeking United States government approval.
The executive order, issued after trade talks with China collapsed this month, could ripple through all parts of Huawei’s business. It has said American suppliers account for nearly one-fifth of its procurement spending. Even small parts could be crucial. Nobody wants to buy a high-end Huawei router that is only 95 percent complete.
But in international expansion, companies like Google give Huawei a common platform for customers outside China. Its phones come loaded with Google Play, the app and media store, as well as popular apps like Gmail and YouTube. Its license to use Android gives Huawei access to security updates and new features.
Without Google’s cooperation, Huawei would have to come up with its own version of Android or use its own homegrown operating system. Many customers in places like Europe would rather not deal with that fuss. China has been trying to build its own operating systems over the past three decades but has not had much success.
In China, many people see the American moves as a naked ploy to stop a rising Chinese competitor. The United States can’t beat Huawei’s innovation and moxie, goes this thinking, so it will use the power of government to keep a Chinese rival down.
Others in China point to the country’s own barriers against competitors as a strategy that was going to provoke retaliation sooner or later. At some point, the United States was bound to use reciprocity in dealing with a closed Chinese internet market. One popular blog post explained that reciprocity has been translated into “mutual benefit” in Chinese, which explains why many in China didn’t understand that the idea could be used in retaliation.
Another popular blog post drives the point even more clearly.
“You’ve been opposing the U.S. for many years,” said the headline. “You should be long prepared that the U.S. will oppose you one day.”
Pixel 3a and 3a XL Randomly Shut Down for Some Users
Pixels have always had a considerable amount of issues, making some phone enthusiasts wary of them. We've even dedicated an unofficial bug tracker for the Pixel 3 here at Android Police to monitor the problems we've encountered. With the Pixel 3a and 3a XL being far from Google’s first attempt at smartphone manufacturing, we've been hoping that a lot of the wrinkles that plagued earlier models would be ironed out by now. It appears that this isn't the case, as many users are reporting that their new devices are randomly shutting down.
The problem affects both the regular 3a and the XL version. The shutdowns occur unpredictably during day and night when the device is not in active use. When it happens, the screen won't turn on anymore, and users need to do a hard reset by pressing the power button for ~30 seconds. Once that's done, they can continue to use the phone until another random shut down.
Some users tested if a third-party app was the culprit, but even when they used their device in Safe Mode (leaving only first-party software running), their phones would randomly shut down. One user also speculated whether the bug was WiFi-related since the problem only ever occurred when they were connected to their home network, but this case is too isolated to be confident that this is the issue.
While this appears to be similar to the Nexus 6P early shut down debacle (where affected customers received some compensation), I don't think it's related. On the 6P, shut downs usually occurred when the battery was running lower, and you didn't have to do a hard reset to get it up and running again.
For now, no fix is known. Users are returning their devices, hoping for new units that don't exhibit the behavior. Let's cross our fingers that this is the only bigger letdown the Pixel 3a has to offer, as we're growing tired of issue after issue with the Pixel line.
Group Seeks Investigation of Deep Packet Inspection Use by ISPs
European Digital Rights Organization Seeks Investigation Into Internet Service Providers' Use of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI)
European Digital Rights (EDRi), together with 45 NGOs, academics and companies across 15 countries, has sent an open letter to European policymakers and regulators, warning about widespread and potentially growing use of deep packet inspection (DPI) by internet service providers (ISPs).
In simple terms, DPI is the analysis of the content of a packet. This is far more than is required by the ISP to perform its basic purpose -- to provide user access to the internet, and route that access to its required destination. It is therefore by its nature privacy invasive, and not strictly legal within the EU.
Nevertheless, EDRi is concerned that its practice and use within Europe is growing, and that "some telecom regulators appear to be pushing for the legalization of DPI technology." One of the drivers appears to be the growing use of 'zero-rating' by mobile operators. "A mapping of zero-rating offers in Europe conducted by EDRi member Epicenter.works identified 186 telecom services which potentially make use of DPI technology," writes (PDF) EDRi. Zero-rating is the inclusion of specified services where any use counts as zero usage of the purchased bandwidth.
It's a complex area. Net neutrality is required, but some traffic management is allowed, and zero-rating is permissible under certain conditions. EDRi's concern is that the practice of zero-rating encourages the use of DPI which could be used to bring down net neutrality. "DPI," it says in the letter, "allows IAS [internet access service] providers 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 prioritizing them over other traffic."
Zero-rating is not the subject of this letter, but is also a concern for EDRi. Mobile operators sell the idea as a 'value-added service' for their subscribers -- offering it as something for free. There are suggestions, however, that the overall effect is the opposite -- regions with plentiful zero-rated offerings tend to have higher charges for their bandwidth.
"Zero rating only helps big companies to cement their market position and kill off their competition. Without zero rating, your internet access provider could be offering you more data volume that you could freely decide how to use," wrote EDRi in 2016. Using this argument, there is perhaps an anti-competitive argument against the practice -- but for now, EDRi is primarily concerned about the growing use of DPI, at least partly as a result of the increasing use of zero-rated offerings.
To a large degree, Europe has separated telecommunications issues from user privacy issues. DPI, however, cuts through both -- and EDRi sees a lack of communication between the two regulatory areas. "We observe a lack of cooperation between national regulatory authorities for electronic communications and regulatory authorities for data protection on this issue, both in the decisions put forward on these products as well as cooperation on joint opinions on the question in general."
EDRi wants this to change. Europe is now discussing new net neutrality rules. The discussions are not currently being made public, but a public consultation on proposals is expected in autumn 2019. The final rules are expected in March 2020. To a degree, this current open letter is an attempt to get the EDRi voice heard before the public consultation begins (by which time, the basic proposals will have been decided). EDRi's primary request is that the principles of personal privacy protection also be applied to net neutrality provisions.
"We recommend to the Commission and BEREC to explore an interpretation of the proportionality requirement included in Article 3, paragraph 3 of Regulation 2015/2120 in line with the data minimization principle established by the GDPR. Finally, we suggest to mandate the European Data Protection Board to produce guidelines on the use of DPI by IAS providers."
It's going to be a hard sell. There is little political will to control ISPs' access to personal data. DPI at ISP level enables too many political priorities -- control for copyright infringement detection, censorship, and the detection of criminals, pedophiles and terrorists to name a few. Political control of the internet starts at the ISP; and especially the internet usage data that DPI can provide.
Senator Proposes Strict Do Not Track Rules in New Bill
‘People are fed up with Big Tech’s privacy abuses’
Online advertising has become more invasive than ever, and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) announced today that he plans to introduce a bill that would create a Do Not Call list but for data tracking.
Hawley’s Do Not Track Act would, if approved, allow people using an online service to opt out of any data tracking that isn’t necessary for that particular service to properly work. It would create a national list that would provide people with an option to block any secondary data tracking and penalize companies that continued to collect unnecessary data.
“Big tech companies collect incredible amounts of deeply personal, private data from people without giving them the option to meaningfully consent,” Hawley said. “They have gotten incredibly rich by employing creepy surveillance tactics on their users, but too often the extent of this data extraction is only known after a tech company irresponsibly handles the data and leaks it all over the internet.”
Hawley’s bill is similar to a draft do-not-track bill published by DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg earlier this month, who presented it as a way to rein in the power of targeted advertising. “People are fed up with Big Tech’s privacy abuses and are actively seeking out ways to protect themselves,” Weinberg said in a statement. “This bill finally closes this Do Not Track loophole while still taking advantage of the signal’s preexisting technical implementation and mainstream consumer adoption.”
The Do Not Track standard was first introduced in 2009, but it fizzled out as browsers and ad networks were unable to come to a consensus about how to treat the opt-out. But millions of users still have their browsers set to Do Not Track, and the new bill would add severe penalties for ignoring the signal. If a company like Google were to knowingly collect secondary datasets from users who opt out, the company would be penalized up to $1,000 a day per person — so long as the total is over $100,000. If a company collected the data unknowingly, it would still be required to pay out $50 a day per person.
‘Frightening’: Charges Against Julian Assange Alarm Press Advocates
Michael M. Grynbaum and Marc Tracy
Journalists and press freedom groups reacted with alarm on Thursday after the Trump administration announced new charges against Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks leader, for publishing classified information, in a case that legal experts say takes direct aim at previously sacrosanct protections for the news media.
In indicting Mr. Assange for obtaining, accepting and disseminating classified materials, the Department of Justice opened a new front in its campaign against illegal leaks. While past cases involved government employees who provided material to journalists, the Assange indictment could amount to the pursuit of a publisher for making that material available to the public.
“It’s not criminal to encourage someone to leak classified information to you as a journalist — that’s called news gathering, and there are First Amendment protections for news gathering,” said Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., a lawyer who frequently represents media organizations like CNN. “The ramifications of this are so potentially dangerous and serious for the ability of journalists to gather and disseminate information that the American people have a right to know.”
Federal prosecutors under President Trump have drawn criticism for extending a crackdown on leakers that had ramped up during President Barack Obama’s administration. The indictment of Mr. Assange — which related to WikiLeaks’ publication of secret documents leaked by Chelsea Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst — struck some experts as a grave escalation.
“It is one thing to charge a government official who has sworn an oath not to disclose classified information,” said Matthew Miller, who served as the Justice Department’s chief spokesman under Mr. Obama’s attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr. “It’s another thing to charge someone outside the government who published information or solicited information, which is something that reporters do all the time.”
The charges against Mr. Assange are likely to face a challenge on First Amendment grounds. And journalists’ use of illegally obtained materials has been upheld in Supreme Court cases. But Mr. Miller said prosecutors had now skated to the edge of criminalizing journalistic practices.
“The Espionage Act doesn’t make any distinction between journalists and nonjournalists,” Mr. Miller said, referring to the law that Mr. Assange is accused of violating. “If you can charge Julian Assange under the law with publishing classified information, there is nothing under the law that prevents the Justice Department from charging a journalist.”
A deeply divisive figure, Mr. Assange is in some ways an unlikely martyr for press freedoms. A crusader for radical transparency, he is faulted by many American liberals for releasing hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee at the height of the 2016 presidential race.
“The calculation by the Department of Justice is that here’s someone who people don’t like,” Mr. Boutrous said. “There’s a real element of picking the weakest of the herd, or the most unpopular figure, to try to blunt the outcry.”
Justice Department officials on Thursday cited Mr. Assange’s mixed reputation as they tried to reject the notion that they were interfering with the free press.
“The department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy, and we thank you for it,” John Demers, the head of the department’s National Security Division, said at a briefing with reporters. “It is not, and has never been, the department’s policy to target them for reporting.”
“Julian Assange is no journalist,” Mr. Demers added.
Still, press advocates were quick to condemn the Justice Department on Thursday. The American Civil Liberties Union called the indictment “a direct assault on the First Amendment.” The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press described it as “a dire threat.”
Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard lawyer who has been a recent ally of Mr. Trump, said the case against Mr. Assange was “really the first time since the Pentagon Papers that the government has gone after publishers.”
“We all think there’s a difference between The New York Times and Assange from a practical point of view, but from a constitutional point of view, it’s hard to find that difference,” Mr. Dershowitz said. “They’re both publishing classified, stolen material.”
“This is analogous to if The New York Times and The Washington Post had been prosecuted after publishing the Pentagon Papers,” Mr. Dershowitz added, referring to the top-secret report on Vietnam whose publication in 1971 was upheld by the Supreme Court. “It’s a very, very frightening development.”
But Asha Rangappa, a lawyer and former F.B.I. counterintelligence agent, said she believed that the Justice Department had made a crucial distinction between Mr. Assange’s activity and the work of traditional journalists.
“He wasn’t simply a passive recipient of classified information; he actively participated in the breaking of the law,” Ms. Rangappa said. She added that Mr. Assange’s efforts to help his source, Ms. Manning, illegally obtain documents amounted to “aiding and abetting the criminal act itself.”
“That is a meaningful distinction from a bona fide news organization that truly has a public interest goal,” Ms. Rangappa said.
Seymour Hersh, the investigative journalist who exposed the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War and misconduct by the C.I.A., among other revelations, wrote in an email that the move against Mr. Assange was troubling.
“Today Assange,” Mr. Hersh wrote. “Tomorrow, perhaps, The New York Times and other media that published so much of the important news and information Assange provided.”
Katie Benner contributed reporting.
3D-Printed Guns are Back, and This Time they are Unstoppable
A decentralised network of gun-printing advocates is mobilising online, they're anonymously sharing blueprints, advice and building a community. There's no easy way they can be halted
A new network of 3D-printed gun advocates is growing in America – and this time things are different. Unlike previous attempts to popularise 3D-printed guns, this operation is entirely decentralised. There’s no headquarters, no trademarks, and no real leader. The people behind it reckon that this means they can’t be stopped by governments.
“If they [the government] were to come after me, they’d first have to find my identity,” says Ivan the Troll, a member of the group. “I’m one of many, many like-minded individuals who’re doing this sort of work.”
Known only by his online moniker, Ivan the Troll is the de facto spokesman of an underground wave of 3D-printing gunsmiths. Ivan says he knows of at least 100 people who are actively developing 3D-printed gun technology, and he claims there are thousands taking part in the network. This loose-knit community spans across the whole world.
They communicate across several digital platforms, including Signal, Twitter, IRC, and Discord. They critique each other's work, exchange 3D gun CAD files, offer advice, talk theory, and collaborate on future blueprints. These 3D-printed gun enthusiasts – who share similar ideas and political viewpoints on gun control – mostly found each other online via gun control subreddits and forums.
Ivan is just one small part of this network. He says he is from Illinois, and is of “college age”, but otherwise he remains mostly anonymous, to lie low. At the same time though, he’s launched bombastic PR videos demonstrating the new 3D-printed gun parts he’s created in his garage, including a Glock 17 handgun frame.
One of his most recent videos shows the polymer Glock 17 frame in various stages of production in his workshop. The footage is set to fast-paced synthwave music and is run through a trendy VHS filter – the aesthetics are important. Toward the end, Ivan fires several rounds with the fully built handgun, as text flashes up saying “ANYONE CAN MAKE IT”, “LIVE FREE OR DIE”, and “GO AHEAD TRY TO STOP THIS YOU FILTHY STATISTS”. He’s also uploaded the complete CAD reference model designs for a 3D-printed AR-15 assault rifle to his file-sharing space online. It’s clear Ivan is trying to provoke his detractors as much as possible.
In February of this year, Ivan and his group decided to name themselves “Deterrence Dispensed”, which is a tongue-in-cheek nod to the notorious Defence Distributed – a 3D-printing gun company formerly run by Texan crypto-anarchist Cody Wilson.
In September 2018, Wilson, 30, was arrested and charged with sexual assault against a minor. He is alleged to have paid $500 to have sex with a 16-year-old girl in his home city of Austin, Texas. Needless to say, this arrest effectively took Wilson out of the 3D-printed gun world entirely. Many of the people who looked up to him were either disgusted or realised that his time was up. He stepped down from Defence Distributed, which was before seen as the driving force behind 3D-printed guns since it launched in 2012. Wilson was released on a $150,000 bail, but has remained silent since.
Defence Distributed has many other ongoing legal battles. Attorney generals from more than 20 US states are currently in the process of suing the company – which has countersued – in a bid to reverse a court win that momentarily allowed Defence Distributed to upload and share 3D-printed gun blueprints online. Their headaches are long, drawn out, and ongoing. (New York State has just passed a law to ban 3D-printed guns).
For Ivan’s group, Deterrence Dispensed, none of this is relevant. They’re uploading these files individually on services such as Spee.ch, a media-hosting site underpinned by the LBRY blockchain, and they aren’t waiting for anyone to give them permission. They’ve made their own 3D-printed gun designs, modified old ones, and are keeping all the Defence Distributed ones available for free too.
“Even if there was no government telling me I couldn’t do this, I think that I would still do it,” Ivan says. “Some people get a kick out of video games, I like spending hours and hours drawing stuff on CAD.”
Ivan isn’t just “drawing stuff on CAD” though. He’s providing free files to help anyone with a half-decent FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) 3D printer and some hand tools to make a workable handgun. Once the CAD file is downloaded, it’s opened in a “slicer” program that translates the CAD files into instructions that the 3D printer can understand. Once the 3D-printed gun parts are ready, they can be assembled into a fully workable gun.
The CAD gun designs put out by Deterrence Dispensed are so well-made, according to Ivan, that they’re not just “workable”, but superior. “Our AR15 CAD model is the best in the public domain without a doubt,” says Ivan.
Despite being overtly antagonistic Ivan has had no real run-ins with the authorities so far. His Twitter account was permanently suspended after New Jersey state senator Bob Menendez lobbied for it to be taken down, but as far as the government and law enforcement goes, things have been mostly quiet.
Ivan sees himself, and other radical 3D-printing gun groups such as FOSSCAD (another decentralised group of 3D-printing enthusiasts who focus on firearms), simply as hobbyists who’ve chosen the “wrong” thing to build. He sees 3D-printed guns as somewhat of a paper tiger. He points out that while 3D-printed gun parts can be built to kill people, zip guns (homemade firearms built from crude materials) have been around for decades and are arguably more deadly. The hysteria and backlash, to Ivan at least, is completely misplaced.
“Take it from me as someone who’s printed a gun. Making a slam-fire shotgun is 100 times easier, 100 times quicker, and about 100 times cheaper than printing a [regular] gun. For eight dollars I can pop down to Home Depot and build a shotgun.”
Already in 2019, 156 people have already been killed in US mass shootings, and gun-related deaths are at a 20-year high. In March, a terrorist armed with two semi-automatic rifles and two shotguns killed 51 people in an anti-muslim attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. In such circumstances, do the US (and the world) really need more guns – zip gun, 3D-printed, or otherwise? Ivan thinks yes.
“The cops killed more people alone last year than all active shooter incidents in the last ten years,” he says. “We live in a society, in America, where you run the risk of a cop blowing your ass up for no specific reason. You don’t even have to present a threat to them. A cop can kill you and get away with it just because he really wanted to do it.”
He then went on to cite the many police shootings of unarmed black men in American, specifically mentioning Stephon Clark. Clark, 22, was shot to death by police in his own back garden while holding nothing but a mobile phone. “I believe it is inherently important that … you should be able to own a gun,” Ivan continued. “You should be able to own the same legal force that the cops are using to control you.”
But the facts are clear. The majority of gun deaths around the world come from just six countries – one of which is the US. And analysis from Harvard University shows where there are more guns, more murders happen.
Anti-gun campaigners, obviously, disagree with the notion of a downloadable gun. Avery Gardiner, the co-president of the Brady Campaign, has said 3D-printed guns present a "supreme threat to our safety and security". Speaking after a court decision in August Gardiner said: "Already, there have been a wave of dangerous actors seeking to illegally post the blueprints online".
A mix of a libertarian attitude and the rewarding hobby aspect of designing and creating something is often what drives members of these decentralised 3D-printed gun networks to do what they do – that is, uploading schematics, sharing them, improving designs, and making 3D-printed gun work more easily accessible while remaining largely under the radar. Ivan claims he does this for a love of freedom and “radical” belief in the US first and second amendment: free speech and the right to bear arms.
He takes this to such a radical degree though, that he even theorises he should technically be able to have his own Tomahawk Missiles, saying that they would be safer in his hands than in those of the US Military and its allies – given the country's track record for accidentally targeting civilians, including a wedding party in Afghanistan and a school bus in Yemen.
Referring to the mounting list of civilian killings carried about by US forces in foreign wars, Ivan sounds at times more like a radical leftist than the right wing “gun nut” many in America label him as. He claims not to have any specific ideology though, saying: “I get to be my own special snowflake.”
As of now, Ivan the Troll, Deterrence Dispensed, and the thousands many more 3D-printed gun enthusiasts connected to each other worldwide, have essentially let the cat out the bag. There is no way to stop the anonymous file sharing of 3D-printed guns online. Whether they’re just pretending to be doing this for reasons of liberty or otherwise, their message is clear: it’s already too late to stop.
After 15 Years, the Pirate Bay Still Can’t Be Killed
As the internet continues to evolve at an unprecedented rate, one thing always remains constant — The Pirate Bay
In a quiet corner of my high school’s study room in 2009, I booted up my busted laptop while making sure nobody could peer over my shoulder. I knew it was a risk to do this on a school Wi-Fi connection, but it sure felt safer than doing it at home. All it took was one website and a desktop app. The result was getting my hands on, well, pretty much any digital content I wanted, all for free.
Little did I know that the site I was using, The Pirate Bay, was facing major legal turmoil at that time because of millions of users just like me. I also never expected that I’d still be using the same site, 10 years later, as if nothing ever changed.
The explosion of the internet in the early 2000s introduced me to many things: search engines, pornography, chat rooms, e-commerce. But nothing captured my attention quite like piracy, which seemed like a glorified label to give the act of illegally downloading copyrighted content. I grew up in the 1990s consuming VHS and cassettes. Now, here was an alternative — a trove of songs, TV and movies, ready for download with a few quick clicks thanks to the magic of so-called peer-to-peer file-sharing technology. For a kid without much money to spend on CDs, this was a godsend. The problem was that so many early programs came loaded with viruses, unreliable files and unstable connections.
Then there was The Pirate Bay.
Every longtime user of The Pirate Bay seems to remember how they fell in love with the site, which was born in 2003 but remains an online juggernaut today. John, a 35-year-old redditor in London who asked to use a pseudonym, describes discovering The Pirate Bay as “feeling a ray of sunlight, just beckoning me to a better world of pirating without dealing with garbage user interfaces and shit files.” Alex (also a pseudonym, since he’s a practicing lawyer), a 28-year-old in L.A., says The Pirate Bay became “the clear favorite” upon first use, thanks to the organization and layout that felt “way less sketchy” than other platforms. Thomaz Paschoal, one of my college roommates, sums it up best. “It was always easy to find exactly what you wanted, not like, clicking on a link that says Batman and you get some crazy porn movie,” he tells me with a laugh. “It changed everything.”
Unlike some early peer-to-peer file-sharing programs, The Pirate Bay uses a system of torrent files that allows for a faster, more efficient method of downloading content. Instead of receiving a shared file from a single uploader, torrents create decentralized downloads, meaning the data is assembled from multiple users in different places rather than the site or program itself. The more people share a file, the faster download speeds you can get.
But this general advantage of torrents doesn’t explain why the internet’s love affair with The Pirate Bay remains so strong. Other competitors have succumbed to lawsuits, criminal cases and the competitive marketplace. The people who created and run The Pirate Bay have been smacked by those blows, too. Yet despite widespread legal scrutiny, blockages in multiple countries, millions of dollars in fines and beyond, the site with the iconic mahogany pirate ship logo sails on, supported by an anonymous crowd of diehard pirates who revive the site every time it seems down for good. “It’s absurd to me that this platform still works and it’s still so widely popular, given that it’s so… illegal. I’m really impressed by the longevity,” Paschoal says. “I remember one time when they took down the original URL, the dot-org site, and the next day you could go on Google and find 100 identical Pirate Bay mirror sites with the same torrents.”
A decade ago, the Swedish government decided to try and punish the founders of The Pirate Bay, all Swedish men, with a barrage of 34 charges based on copyright infringement. While half of the charges were quickly dropped due to a lack of evidence, the case concluded with an unprecedented result: A year of prison and roughly $3.5 million in fines for the four defendants. Legal experts at the time considered it the most important file-sharing case in Europe, as significant as the previous U.S. crackdown against the pioneering P2P service Napster (which effectively died as a result of that verdict).
Copyright cases brought down other legacy names like Kazaa and Limewire as well as two of the biggest torrent sites in the world, Kickass Torrents and ExtraTorrents. Meanwhile, despite widespread concern that the Swedish case would cripple the site, The Pirate Bay lives today, still hosting torrents that have survived for 15 years. Part of the reason for the site’s longevity may simply be because it hasn’t been caught red-handed in a jurisdiction with tougher punishments, says Annemarie Bridy, a professor of law at the University of Idaho with extensive expertise on online piracy issues. “But part of the problem, too, is that there’s this legacy that The Pirate Bay has, where it’s grown into something more than the people who first operated the site,” Bridy tells me. “It’s a phenomenon. And there are people who are just ideologically committed to the operation of The Pirate Bay. For as long as that’s the case, it’s going to be very, very hard to shut down.”
This is the story of a plain-looking website that sprung from the most fertile period of the early internet, blatantly raised its middle fingers at intellectual property laws and copyright owners and lived for what is an eternity in the timeline of digital evolution. It’s thrived, growing from 25 million users to reportedly more than double that figure over the last 10 years, and shows little sign of slowing down. “It’s a testament to what an anonymous crew can do if they really believe in the cause of giving us access to these products that are so corporatized and endlessly monetized,” John says.
The prosecution of Pirate Bay began in 2006, a little past noon on May 31st, with a raid in a data center in Stockholm. While 65 police officers were enlisted for the high-profile mission, it went off without much drama: Surveillance footage shows the men calmly walking into the server room and searching through the aisles (and eventually, covering the cameras up).
The Pirate Bay was initially established three years prior by the Swedish anti-copyright group Piratbyrån, and its operations were managed by Fredrik Neij and Gottfrid Svartholm Warg. The two coders took the ideals of a free, uncensored internet seriously, but also appeared to find some joy in the act of pissing off authorities. In 2004, they created their own internet service provider, dubbed PRQ, that had a “no questions asked” hosting policy — even if other ISPs and web hosts had censored a site, it could find safe harbor there.
The duo were soon joined by Peter Sunde, a fellow Piratbyrån member, who became a third co-founder of The Pirate Bay and worked as its spokesman. It didn’t take long for the trio to attract negative attention, and in the months leading up to the May 2006 raid, Neij and Svartholm Warg noticed they were being followed and surveilled by private investigators. So Svartholm Warg wasn’t exactly shocked when he heard that police had arrived at the data center on the morning of May 31st. He immediately called Neij, urging him to get to the facility. At that point, the exact purpose of the raid wasn’t clear, but Neij paused before leaving his apartment. If the target was the torrent “tracker” for The Pirate Bay, it would be safest to back up the entire website immediately, Neij thought. So he did.
It’s a move that observers now consider the “pivotal” moment in time for The Pirate Bay’s survival. The confiscation of servers shut down the website, but the backup allowed the site to come back online within just two days (with a new logo featuring the ship firing cannonballs at a Hollywood sign, for kicks). TPB’s founders believed that the crackdown from Swedish authorities came as a result of pressure from powerful international industry trade groups, primarily the Motion Picture Association of America. They also stood defiant in the aftermath. “I’m quite sure we won’t be convicted, anyhow,” Sunde told ARS Technica two years later, as prosecutors began assembling the case.
In the meantime, the founders had work to do, too. They tried to create a physical safe haven for operations by buying the Isle of Sealand, a human-made structure seven miles off the coast of Britain that’s not technically part of any nation. But they couldn’t raise enough money, and instead “sold” The Pirate Bay off to a shadowy company named Reservella in the Seychelles, later claiming in court that it was a legit sale despite offering zero evidence of a transaction. Sunde, Svartholm Warg and Neij were also outright arrogant about ignoring content takedown requests from industry groups and copyright holders. One such request from Dreamworks SKG once inspired Svartholm Warg to reply, “It is the opinion of us and our lawyers that you are fucking morons, and that you should please go sodomise yourself with retractable batons.” That attitude didn’t dissipate as the actual trial kicked off in February 2009, with charges of copyright infringement against the three operators and Carl Lundström, a Swedish businessman accused of providing support for TPB.
The fact that half the charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence on the second day of the trial seemed auspicious, and the three founders remained confident as the examinations dragged on. At one point in the 2013 documentary TPB AFK, which follows the trial, we see Neij testify to how he literally programmed an email filter to ignore and forward messages that refer to a copyright takedown request. “I get a lot of spam. Spam are emails that I haven’t requested,” Neij concludes with a straight face. (Neij also won applause across the internet for stating that he had literally tweaked Pirate Bay code and fixed a site shutdown while sitting in court during the final trial day.)
Despite the attitude — or perhaps because of it, if allegations about the presiding judge’s bias for pro-copyright organizations are to be believed — the four men got hit with guilty convictions on April 17, 2009. They were each sentenced to a year in jail, plus an initial total of about $3.5 million in fines and damages. Once again, Sunde, Svartholm Warg and Neij refused to capitulate. “We can’t pay, and we wouldn’t pay,” Sunde said at a press conference. “Even if I had the money I would rather burn everything I owned, and I wouldn’t even give them the ashes.”
Instead, he made a sign with a sheet of paper, reading “I OWE U 31,000,000 SEK,” referring to Swedish Krona currency. “That’s as close as you’re going to get,” Sunde continued. “We have seen that some people that we don’t know have started collecting donations for us, so we can pay those silly fines. We firmly ask you NOT to do this. Do not gather or send any money. We do not want them since we will not pay any fines!”
They may have taken it in stride, with mocking smiles, but the incident divided the trio. Neij immediately bolted from Sweden for Malaysia and migrated into Laos, where he spent much of the next three years and even ended up marrying a Thai woman. He was arrested in November 2014 while crossing into Thailand, and was taken to Sweden to serve 10 months in jail. Thai officials at the time said a “U.S.-based movie association,” not Swedish government authorities, had hired a lawyer in Thailand to raise flags about Neij’s Interpol warrant with local immigration police and find him. (Leaked emails from Sony Pictures show MPAA leadership, including Executive Vice President Jan Van Voorn and anti-piracy head Mike Robinson, celebrating Neij’s arrest; Sony attorney Aimee Wolfson adds it’s a “huge win.”)
Svartholm Warg also went down a similar path, fleeing Sweden for Cambodia, where he would live peacefully until being tracked down and deported in 2012. He served his shortened sentence in Sweden but ended up back in jail on unrelated hacking charges in Denmark, and ultimately became a free man in 2015, cracking jokes about being imprisoned the entire way.
Sunde, meanwhile, managed to hide out in southern Sweden for two years before being caught and serving his own shortened sentence. “People ask if I would have done anything different if I could,” he told the Guardian while behind bars. “The answer is no. This has been nothing more than five months of wasted time.”
Since their respective releases from jail, the three co-founders have remained fairly low-key. Sunde has been the most visible, creating (and selling) the microtransaction app Flattr and being involved in socialist politics, even running for a seat in the European Parliament as the representative of Finland’s Pirate Party. Svartholm Warg is reportedly getting back into IT work, albeit behind the scenes. And Neij is back in Southeast Asia, raising a family with his wife.
Each of the founders say they’re no longer involved in The Pirate Bay. There’s no real way to prove that, but it’s accepted by experts that TPB operates via an anonymous staff. Three iconoclastic men have been replaced, in other words, by an obscured network of hardcore supporters. What remains is the trio’s vision: that a free and open internet is paramount, that the institution of copyright should be challenged and that running a technologically complex project like TPB is, in the words of Neij, “great fun.” That legacy is hard to fade. “The Pirate Bay was operated by a very vocal group of people that didn’t mind confronting copyright holders. They were unique in that sense,” says Ernesto Van der Sar, who uses a pseudonym as editor and founder of TorrentFreak.com, which covers the industry closely.
Pirate Bay is no longer the gleaming standard for decentralized file-sharing on the internet, he adds, and it’s easy to find complaints that it’s not as reliable, or feature-rich, as some newer platforms like YTS or 1337x. But the current proliferation of torrenting, and the evolution of other technologies used for pirating digital content, is directly tied to the experience The Pirate Bay created 15 years ago. Ironically, the raid and trial helped boost its appeal higher than ever — the operators reported that traffic doubled practically overnight after the 2006 raid shut the site down for a day, for starters.
Van der Sar notes, though, that even if the site is still up, the 2009 prosecution did shatter the myth that legislators and law enforcement couldn’t actually levy concrete punishments to people who run decentralized file-sharing sites. While the death of Napster had shown the danger of running a file-sharing program that directly connected people to copyrighted material, the clever tech behind torrents were supposed to create plausible deniability. “So to many people, the site appeared to be invincible, but the prosecution showed that this wasn’t the case. It was a turning point,” he adds.
Perhaps that created a silver lining, of sorts. The Pirate Bay has since been more mobile and flexible than ever, with staffers relocating operations to “the cloud” rather than a physical location, among other savvy moves. Even a massive 2014 raid, which led to a two-month shutter for TPB, didn’t kill the original site. It seems Sunde was right when, in a Reddit AMA in 2013, he wrote, “TPB being blocked in a country has, in every single attempt, given more traffic to it. It’s like trying to shoot a black hole with a bow and arrow.”
Naturally, the site’s biggest fans are relieved for now, but are unsure about how prosecuting tactics will adapt in coming years. Alex says that he has always supported the site as a kind of “Robin Hood” figure, providing content to the masses without unfair price tags. He’s also worried that the political climate around copyright and piracy hasn’t changed much, even with a number of studies that show illegal downloads don’t impact bottom-line revenues for artists and creators. “The Pirate Bay came back, again and again. I don’t know the future, but it’s still standing. But the problem of the system is still there, the persistent pursuit of the government against people who advocate for something like The Pirate Bay,” Alex says. “That hasn’t changed at all.”
Bridy, the legal expert, agrees that anti-piracy efforts remain a focus of industry groups like the MPAA or the Recording Industry Association of America. She says it’s worth keeping an eye on the decision to extradite the operator of Kickass Torrents, Artem Vaulin, to the U.S. for trial. But a critical distinction, she adds, is that torrent sites like The Pirate Bay are no longer the white whales for prosecution. “Most civil efforts are targeted at illegal streaming services and sites now. They’re more popular in 2019 than ever. So yeah, they’ll keep going after stream rippers and other cases the industry thinks it can win, and where it’s good PR for them,” Bridy tells me. “There is this whole seamy underbelly that’s suing peer-to-peer file-sharing sites, but they’re mostly pornography suits. The trade groups aren’t about that anymore.”
I admit I still log onto The Pirate Bay every once in a while, but the evolution of legal streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu and Spotify has taken a big edge off my piracy appetite. Like Alex, Bridy is quick to observe that affordably priced content remains the “No. 1 fix to piracy.” But we’re also seeing the splitting of streaming services, with Disney pulling out of Netflix for its own site and other major networks planning similar platforms. To my eyes, this feels like a consumer threat — now I’m going to have to pay for two sites to get a similar amount of content?
It’s a question many people are mulling as they consider the value of their entertainment in 2019. And it’s a question that makes me think The Pirate Bay still has a long journey ahead, even if Sunde has recently been deeply cynical about TPB and the “lost war” for a free internet. It also reminds me of a scene in TPB AFK, when the three men were far more idealistic about the world and their role in it. Sunde and Svartholm Warg are at a press conference, where a moderator asks what will happen to The Pirate Bay if the operators are found guilty.
“Nothing,” Sunde says. He looks at Svartholm Warg, who nods.
“What are they going to do about it?” the latter adds. “They already tried shutting it down once. They’re welcome to come and fail again.”
Until next week,
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