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Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - July 10th, ’21
July 10th, 2021
White House Executive Order Poised to Restore Net Neutrality
Order takes several steps to restore telecom oversight, ban sneaky fees, and kill harmful, exclusive landlord broadband deals.
The White House this week unveiled a new executive order that will rein in anticompetitive behavior across numerous industries, including a mandate to restore telecom oversight stripped away during the Trump era.
According to a fact sheet circulated by the White House, the executive order includes 72 different initiatives across a dozen federal agencies aimed at boosting competition and reining in predatory monopolies. Several aspects of the order specifically target big telecom, including a provision urging the current FCC to restore net neutrality.
83 million Americans are stuck under a broadband monopoly, and millions more live under a duopoly usually consisting of a cable giant or apathetic telco. This lack of competition directly results in high prices, spotty coverage, slow speeds, and terrible customer service.
Under Trump FCC boss Ajit Pai, the government’s answer to these problems was to largely ignore them. Or make the problem worse by eliminating consumer protections, removing barriers to media consolidation, or rubber stamping harmful mergers that reduced competition even further.
The FCC’s 2015 net neutrality rules not only prevented telecom giants from abusing their power to give their own services an unfair market advantage (like imposing pointless broadband caps to make using streaming alternatives more expensive), but required ISPs to be clear about any throttling or other restrictions imposed on your broadband connection.
The rules were repealed in 2017 by Pai in a wave of controversy. Not only were the justifications to repeal the rules proven repeatedly false, the broadband industry was caught using fake and dead people to create the illusion of support for the extremely unpopular decision.
The repeal also eliminated much of the FCC’s consumer protection authority, while also banning states from stepping in and protecting consumers in the wake of federal apathy. Both decisions proved problematic during the subsequent pandemic, which highlighted the essential importance of broadband for employment, education, and health care.
By law the White House can’t directly tell an independent agency what to do, so the executive order “encourages” the FCC to take steps to restore not only net neutrality rules, but the FCC’s consumer protection authority under the Communications Act.
The order also urges both the DOJ and FTC to engage in greater scrutiny of megamergers that eliminate jobs and reduce overall sector competition. That didn’t happen during the Sprint T-Mobile merger review, approved before many officials had even reviewed the data.
The order also bans annoying early termination fees on telecom bills, and urges the FCC to restore efforts (also scuttled during the Trump administration) that would have required ISPs include a “nutrition label” on broadband connections, making it clear if your broadband line includes any network throttling, hidden fees, usage caps, or other limitations.
The executive order also takes aim at exclusive arrangements between many landlords and ISPs that effectively create block-by-block broadband monopolies. While the practice is technically banned under 2007 FCC rules, loopholes in the restrictions have allowed ISPs to tap dance around them for years.
“This impacts low-income and marginalized neighborhoods, because landlord-ISP arrangements can effectively block out broadband infrastructure expansion by new providers,” the administration said.
There’s one problem: most of the initiatives require that the Biden administration first appoint a full suite of agency commissioners and a permanent FCC boss. The fact this hasn’t happened nearly six months into Biden’s term has started to annoy consumer groups, who warn that the process of appointing and confirming a permanent agency head alone will take months.
In recent years problems in the heavily monopolized US telecom industry have been put on the back burner as the lion’s share of DC policy attention fixates on the problems created by big tech. But the executive order makes it clear that while perhaps not its top priority, the government hasn’t forgotten about the massive problems consistently created by big telecom.
Barry Diller Headed 2 Hollywood Studios. He Now Says The Movie Business Is Dead
Barry Diller made his name in the film industry as the chairman and CEO of two Hollywood studios, Paramount Pictures and what was then 20th Century Fox. Now, he is declaring the industry dead.
"The movie business is over," Diller said in an exclusive interview with NPR on the sidelines of the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference, a media and technology conference in Idaho. "The movie business as before is finished and will never come back."
Yes, that has to do with a substantial decline in ticket sales and the closure of movie theaters during the coronavirus pandemic. But Diller, the chairman and senior executive of IAC, a company that owns Internet properties, said, "It is much more than that."
According to Diller, who ran Paramount and Fox several decades ago, streaming has altered the film industry in substantial ways, including the quality of movies now being made.
Last year, several media conglomerates, including Disney and WarnerMedia, decided to debut new releases in movie theaters and on streaming services simultaneously. That was a radical change, and theater chains protested it.
"There used to be a whole run-up," Diller said, remembering how much time, energy and money studios invested in distribution and publicity campaigns.
The goal, he said, was to generate sustained excitement and enthusiasm for new movies. "That's finished," he said.
The way companies measure success is also different, according to Diller.
"I used to be in the movie business where you made something really because you cared about it," he said, noting that popular reception mattered more than anything else.
During Diller's tenure at Paramount in the late 1970s and 1980s, the studio released movies like Saturday Night Fever. But since then, he has been known for his work in television. He helped create the Fox TV network, for example.
Now at IAC, he's more closely associated with internet ventures, including the Daily Beast.
Diller on how the quality of movies has suffered
Today, streaming is a multibillion-dollar industry, and competition among companies for content and customers is fierce. Diller pointed to Prime Video, Amazon's streaming service, as an example of how incentives in the entertainment business have changed. In May, the company announced plans to buy MGM for almost $8.5 billion.
"The system is not necessarily to please anybody," Diller said, suggesting Prime Video's primary purpose is to get more customers to sign up for Amazon Prime. "It is to buy more Amazon stuff. That's not a terrible thing. It just doesn't interest me."
During the pandemic, there has been a massive spike in on-demand video. In the first quarter of 2020, Netflix added 15.8 million new subscribers. Since then, its growth rate has slowed, but the company says it ended the year with more than 200 million customers.
Diller acknowledged the recent success of streaming services and how indispensable they became during the pandemic, but he was less complimentary of their expensive efforts to create more original content.
"These streaming services have been making something that they call 'movies,' " he said. "They ain't movies. They are some weird algorithmic process that has created things that last 100 minutes or so."
For Diller, this is about seismic change and nostalgia, but it is also about semantics. The definition of "movie," he said, "is in such transition that it doesn't mean anything right now."
Companies are trying to figure out what viewers want and how they want it. That has led to hits and misses.
Diller dishes on the spectacular failure of Quibi
Asked about Quibi, the now-defunct streaming platform founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg, the former chairman of Walt Disney Studios, Diller was unequivocal. "Quibi was just a bad idea," he said. "I mean, it's that simple."
The company raised $1.75 billion, and it spent most of that money commissioning content — short videos designed to be watched on smartphones.
In the months that followed its launch last year, Quibi failed to get any traction, and it ended its streaming service in December.
"It was a bad idea that had no testing ground other than a big-scale investment," Diller said. "Otherwise, it would have slithered around for a while. But it was such a big-scale thing that it lived and died in a millisecond."
In January, Quibi sold its assets — 75 shows and documentaries — to Roku, reportedly for less than $100 million.
"It has no relevance on anything," Diller said. "The idea of professional, A-quality 10-minutes-or-less stuff just made no sense."
Related Story: Quibi, Short-Form Streaming Service, Shutting Down
Katzenberg was a Diller protégé — part of a group of people whom Diller mentored known as the Killer Dillers — and he is also in Idaho this week, participating in the Allen & Co. conference. Through a spokesperson, Katzenberg declined to comment.
Diller said he has "almost zero" interest in the movie business today. In recent months, he has turned his attention to producing plays on Broadway.
"I find that far more creative," he said.
The Road Towards a Free Ebook Reader
One corollary to the FSF's mission to bring freedom to all computer users is the need to bring freedom to every type of computer. While many users are not prone to thinking about it often, any device that runs software is a computer in this sense, whether it's on your lap or desk, or in your pocket. Most ebook readers run some version of the kernel Linux, and some even run the GNU/Linux operating system. This puts ebook readers a few steps closer to freedom than other devices, but closing the gap will still require a significant amount of work.
Accordingly, as we announced at the LibrePlanet 2021 conference, we've decided this year to prioritize facilitating the process for an ebook reader to reach the high standards of our Respects Your Freedom (RYF) hardware certification program, whether this means adapting an existing one from a manufacturer, or even contracting its production ourselves.
In general, there hasn't been much pressure on hardware manufacturers to hold the freedom of their devices to a high level of scrutiny. As with general purpose computers, this means that several critical components of the device will not function without nonfree software. In ebook readers, this includes components as critical as the e-ink screen that powers the display.
The free software community has made some good strides in the area of freeing ebooks. Denis "GNUToo" Carikli has composed a page on the LibrePlanet wiki documenting the components of ebook readers and other single-board computers; this has laid the groundwork for our investigation into releasing an ebook reader, and is one of the wiki's more active projects. Also, earlier in the year, a user on the libreplanet-discuss mailing list documented their project to port Parabola GNU/Linux to the reMarkable tablet, thereby creating a free ebook reader at the same time. It's steps like these that make us feel confident that we can bring an ebook reader that respects its user's freedom to the public, both in terms of hardware and the software that's shipped with the device.
Yet even when you have a free ebook reader in your hands, you will still need to be vigilant about your freedom. Many ebooks on the market are laden with Digital Restrictions Management (DRM), which prevents you from exercising the freedom to read and share the books you buy and own. Consenting to the DRM that many ebooks are distributed with is a sure way to lose control of your digital autonomy, no matter what kind of device you have. Despite the Internet giving us the means to share textbooks or works of literature seamlessly and without cost, publishing companies still operate under old assumptions, meaning that libraries and storefronts alike ignore the "solved problem of lending" and distribute books under restrictive terms.
Despite the technology behind ebooks having been with us for years, ebook DRM has only gotten more restrictive. It's common for textbooks to now require a constant and uninterrupted Internet connection, and that they load only a discrete number of pages at a time. Such requirements, especially when placed on students in the global south, where connections aren't as reliable, directly detract from the quality of their education. This is what motivated our decision to make textbook DRM (and one of its top peddlers, Pearson) our target for the International Day Against DRM (IDAD) in 2019. And though the pandemic may have prevented people from meeting, DRM was undeterred. Even libraries fell victim to "lending" services like Canopy, putting an artificial lock on digital copies of books, the last place it makes sense for them to be.
If the FSF is successful in landing RYF certification on an ebook reader, which I fully believe we will be, we can ensure that users will have the ability to read digitally while retaining their freedom. It's up to all of us to make sure we have the right to read, by avoiding ebook DRM in each and every case, and celebrating free (as in freedom) resources like Wikibooks and the Internet Archive, bridging the divide between the movement for free software and the movement for free culture, empowering both readers and computer users around the globe.
Biden Sets Up Tech Showdown With ‘Right-to-Repair’ Rules for FTC
President Joe Biden will direct the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to draft new rules aimed at stopping manufacturers from limiting consumers’ ability to repair products at independent shops or on their own, a person familiar with the plan said.
While the agency will ultimately decide the size and scope of the order, the presidential right-to-repair directive is expected to mention mobile phone manufacturers and Department of Defense contractors as possible areas for regulation. Tech companies including Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have imposed limits on who can repair broken consumer electronics like game consoles and mobile phones, which consumer advocates say increases repair costs.
The order is also expected to benefit farmers, who face expensive repair costs from tractor manufacturers who use proprietary repair tools, software, and diagnostics to prevent third-parties from working on the equipment, according to the person, who requested anonymity to discuss the action ahead of its official announcement.
The executive order, which is expected to be released in the coming days, is broadly designed to drive “greater competition in the economy, in service of lower prices for American families and higher wages for American workers,” White House economic adviser Brian Deese said Friday.
The Biden Administration effort comes as the European Commission has also announced plans for new right-to-repair rules that would govern smart phones, tablets, and laptops. Environmental activists have said that restrictions on repairs encourage waste by making consumers more likely to throw out damaged items because of the high cost of repair.
But tech companies and manufacturers have warned that opening access to underlying software and services could endanger Americans, from improperly installed batteries on tech devices to modifications on tractors and other heavy equipment that could bypass environmental and safety systems.
The order is expected to include a number of other actions designed to boost the agriculture industry, including new rules that make it easier for cow, pig, and poultry farmers to sue large processors if they are underpaid or retaliated against. Biden’s action will also call on the Agriculture Department to update current “Product of USA” labeling rules to restrict companies from labeling food produced overseas as American-made even if it was processed domestically.
The U.S. will also invest in new and regional markets in a bid to increase competition and lessen the influence of dominant processors, the person said. The Associated Press reported the planned agricultural actions earlier.
Biden’s executive order will also include new rules for the airline industry that guarantee bag charge refunds if a passenger’s luggage does not arrive on time. In-flight internet service fees will also be refunded if passengers are unable to connect under the new rules.
EU Device-Cracking Platform to Receive Major Upgrade
The European Union has allocated €4 million in funding to upgrade Cerberus, a platform used by EU law enforcement agencies to crack passwords and access encrypted devices.
Developed in 2019 for an initial cost of €2.3 million, Cerberus stands for Child Exploitation Response by Beating Encryption and Research to Unprotect Systems.
The platform is a collection of finely tuned algorithms that utilize high-performance computers to crack passwords for devices seized during law enforcement investigations.
Sources close to the project have told The Record today that the new €4 million in funding will be used as part of a new project called Overclock, which aims to expand the Cerberus platform with new algorithms that can be used to crack passwords on a broader set of new devices.
Once finished, EU law enforcement hopes to be able to expand their digital forensics capabilities in regards to extracting and recovering data from secure devices.
Work on the new Overclock update will be led by two of the Cerberus creators: the Forensic Research Institute of the French Gendarmerie (IRCGN) and the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI).
Other participating members include Norway’s National Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS), the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), and French cybersecurity firm Synacktiv.
Microsoft's Latest Security Flaw could have Major Repercussions
Samantha Murphy Kelly
Microsoft's latest security vulnerability could have a lingering impact both on consumers and businesses at a time when many around the world are already on high alert for disruptive cyber attacks.
Researchers at security firm Sangfor recently found a Windows vulnerability, called PrintNightmare, that could allow hackers to remotely gain access to the operating system and install programs, view and delete data or even create new user accounts with full user rights. The firm accidentally leaked instructions on how the flaw could be exploited by hackers, exacerbating the need for Windows users to update their systems immediately.
Here's what you should know about the issue and how to address it:
Has my Windows device been impacted?
Microsoft (MSFT) is urging all Windows users to install an update that affects the Windows Print Spooler service, which allows multiple users to access a printer. The company has already rolled out fixes for Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows 7 and some server versions. Microsoft ended support for Windows 7 last year, so the decision to push an update to that software highlights the severity of the PrintNightmare flaw.
Although many Windows users don't have remote access capabilities on their home computers, business computers or people working remotely and connecting back to the office could be most affected, according to Michela Menting, a cybersecurity expert at ABI Research.
How big a deal is this?
Windows 10 runs on about about 1.3 billion devices worldwide, according to market research firm CCS Insight, so the magnitude of the vulnerability's reach is massive. "This is a big deal because Windows 10 is the most popular desktop OS out there with over 75% market share," Menting said.
Because Windows 10 is used by desktop computers as well as some servers, it could potentially enable hackers to infiltrate a network "very quickly" and get in "practically anywhere to find the most lucrative databases and systems," Menting said.
Once Sangfor shared a proof-of-concept exploit code on the Microsoft-owned code hosting platform Github, it was copied by users before it was deleted.
How to download the patch
Windows users can visit the Settings page, then select the Update & Security option, followed by Windows Update, or else visit the Microsoft website to download the new software.
However, one researcher on Twitter showed how the emergency update isn't entirely effective, leaving room for potential actors to still exploit the vulnerability. Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Menting said a buggy patch is in many ways like "years in cybercrime time," adding it's "highly likely" ransomware attacks or data theft could occur as a result. "There is no doubt that not every company will have updated their OS before attackers get in," she said.
The big takeaway
Still, the incident serves as a reminder for both businesses and consumers to routinely update any kind of software to ensure impacted systems aren't left exposed. For anyone who believes they could be at risk to a vulnerability or isn't sure, Menting suggested disabling impacted functions until a company rolls out an official fix.
Until next week,
Current Week In Review
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July 3rd, June 26th, June 19th, June 12th
Jack Spratts' Week In Review is published every Friday. Submit letters, articles, press releases, comments, questions etc. in plain text English to jackspratts (at) lycos (dot) com. Submission deadlines are Thursdays @ 1400 UTC. Please include contact info. The right to publish all remarks is reserved.
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