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An anonymous reader points out a report at the Financial Times (paywalled) which says the European Parliament is preparing to call for the break-up of Google. According to the draft seen by the FT, a potential solution to ongoing anti-trust concerns with Google is "unbundling search engines from other services." The article notes, "The European parliament has no formal power to split up companies, but has increasing influence on the commission, which initiates all EU legislation. The commission has been investigating concerns over Google’s dominance of online search for five years, with critics arguing that the company’s rankings favour its own services, hitting its rivals’ profits. Unbundling cannot be excluded, said Andreas Schwab, a German MEP who is one of the motion’s backers."
An anonymous reader writes A Swedish court rejected an appeal by Julian Assange to revoke a detention order issued over allegations of sexual assault. "In the view of the Court of Appeal there is no reason to set aside the detention solely because Julian Assange is in an embassy and the detention order cannot be enforced at present for that reason," the appellate court added. "When it comes to the reasons for and against detention, i.e. the assessment of proportionality that is always made when use is made of a coercive measure such as detention, the Court of Appeal considers that Julian Assange's stay at the embassy shall not count in his favor since he can himself choose to bring his stay there to an end."
Robotron23 writes: The latest attempt at NSA reform has been prevented from passage in the Senate by a margin of 58 to 42. Introduced as a means to stop the NSA collecting bulk phone and e-mail records on a daily basis, the USA Freedom Act has been considered a practical route to curtailment of perceived overreach by security services, 18 months since Edward Snowden went public. Opponents to the bill said it was needless, as Wall Street Journal raised the possibility of terrorists such as ISIS running amok on U.S. soil. Supporting the bill meanwhile were the technology giants Google and Microsoft. Prior to this vote, the bill had already been stripped of privacy protections in aid of gaining White House support. A provision to extend the controversial USA Patriot Act to 2017 was also appended by the House of Representatives.
Bizzeh writes: A British couple has been "fined" £100 by a Blackpool hotel for leaving critical comments on Trip Advisor. The UK's Trading Standards organization is investigating the incident, saying it may breach regulations. The Broadway Hotel's booking policy reads (in small print), "Despite the fact that repeat customers and couples love our hotel, your friends and family may not. "For every bad review left on any website, the group organizer will be charged a maximum £100 per review."
Nerval's Lobster writes A senior executive at Uber reportedly told a Buzzfeed writer that the company "should consider hiring a team of opposition researchers to dig up dirt on its critics in the media — and specifically to spread details of the personal life of a female journalist who has criticized the company." As detailed by the executive, Uber would spend a million dollars on the effort, which would involve "four top opposition researchers and four journalists," and dig into personal lives and families. Uber has pushed back against the report, insisting that it's never done opposition research, but the idea of any company engaging in such practices seems more like something Nixon would have dreamed up at his worst than a strategy by a "disruptive" startup.
An anonymous reader writes A government-funded agency in Sweden is considering creating special labels for video games based on whether or not the games' portrayals of women are sexist. From the article: "Avoiding sexism and gender stereotypes in video games produced in Sweden will become a key goal for the association, which has been given a 272,000 kronor ($36,672) grant by Sweden's government-funded innovation agency, Vinnova. Inspired by the Bechdel test, which looks at whether fictional films or books feature at least two women talking about a topic other than men, Dataspelsbranchen will work with several game developers to analyze how Swedish video games portray female characters and gender issues.
George Maschke (699175) writes On Friday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the indictment (2.6 mb PDF) of Douglas Gene Williams, a 69-year-old former Oklahoma City police polygraphist turned anti-polygraph activist for teaching two undercover agents posing as federal law enforcement applicants how to pass (or beat) a polygraph test. Williams offers instruction on how to pass polygraph tests through his website, Polygraph.com, which remains online. Marisa Taylor of McClatchy, who has been covering polygraph policy issues for several years, has written an informative report. This appears to be a case where an individual was targeted for criminal prosecution to suppress speech that the U.S. government dislikes. AntiPolygraph.org, which may also have been the target of an attempted entrapment, has a commentary.
MojoKid writes Comcast is one of two companies to have earned Consumerist's "Worst Company in America" title on more than one occasion and it looks like they're lobbying for a third title. That is, unless there's another explanation as to how the cable giant can claim (with straight face) that it's in agreement with President Barack Obama for a free and open Internet. Comcast issued a statement of its own saying they back the exact same things, it just doesn't want to go the utility route. Comcast went on to list specific bullet points that they're supposedly in wholehearted agreement with, such as: Free and open Internet. We agree — and that is our practice. No blocking. We agree — and that is our practice. No throttling. We agree — and that is our practice. Increased transparency. We agree — and that is our practice. No paid prioritization. We agree — and that is our practice. Really? Comcast conveniently fails to address the giant elephant in the room whose name is Netflix. Earlier this year, Netflix begrudgingly inked a multi-year deal with Comcast in which the streaming service agreed to pay a toll to ensure faster delivery into the homes of Comcast subscribers, who prior to the deal had been complaining of frequent buffering and video degradation when watching content on Netflix. Comcast would undoubtedly argue that it's not a paid fast lane, but it's hard to see the deal as anything other than that.
HughPickens.com writes Pat Garofalo writes in an op-ed in US News & World Report that with the recent drop in oil prices, there's something policymakers can do that will offset at least some of the negative effects of the currently low prices, while also removing a constant thorn in the side of American transportation and infrastructure policy: Raise the gas tax. The current 18.4 cent per gallon gas tax has not been raised since 1993, making it about 11 cents per gallon today, in constant dollars. Plus, as fuel efficiency has gotten better and Americans have started driving less, the tax has naturally raised less revenue anyway. And that's a problem because the tax fills the Highway Trust Fund, which is, not to put too fine a point on it, broke so that in recent years Congress has had to patch it time and time again to fill the gap. According to the Tax Policy Center's Howard Gleckman, if Congress doesn't make a move, "it will fumble one of those rare opportunities when the economic and policy stars align almost perfectly." The increase can be phased in slowly, a few cents per month, perhaps, so that the price of gas doesn't jump overnight. When prices eventually do creep back up thanks to economic factors, hopefully the tax will hardly be noticed.
Consumers are already starting to buy the sort of gas-guzzling vehicles, including Hummers, that had been going out of style as gas prices rose; that's bad for both the environment and consumers, because gas prices are inevitably going to increase again. According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, taxes last year, even before the current drop in prices, made up 12 percent of the cost of a gallon of gasoline, down from 28 percent in 2000. And compared to other developed countries, US gas taxes are pretty much a joke. While we're at it, an even better idea, as a recent report from the Urban Institute makes clear, would be indexing the gas tax to inflation, so this problem doesn't consistently arise. "The status quo simply isn't sustainable, from an infrastructure or environmental perspective," concludes Garofalo. "So raise the gas tax now; someday down the line, it will look like a brilliant move."
An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt from Techdirt: A few years ago, we mocked then Senator Joe Lieberman's request that internet companies put "report this content as terrorist content" buttons on various types of online content. The plan went nowhere, because it's a really bad idea, prone to massive abuse. Yet, over in the UK, some apparently think it's such a grand idea that they're actually moving forward with it. This isn't a huge surprise — the current UK government has been going on for quite some time about banning "extremist" content, and just recently ramped up such efforts. And now it appears that a bunch of big UK broadband access providers have agreed to play along: The UK's major Internet service providers – BT, Virgin, Sky and Talk Talk – have this week committed to host a public reporting button for terrorist material online, similar to the reporting button which allows the public to report child sexual exploitation. They have also agreed to ensure that terrorist and extremist material is captured by their filters to prevent children and young people coming across radicalising material.
Tyketto writes The US Department of Justice has been using fake communications towers installed in airplanes to acquire cellular phone data for tracking down criminals, reports The Wall Street Journal. Using fix-wing Cessnas outfitted with DRT boxes produced by Boeing, the devices mimic cellular towers, fooling cellphones into reporting "unique registration information" to track down "individuals under investigation." The program, used by the U.S. Marshals Service, has been in use since 2007 and deployed around at least five major metropolitan areas, with a flying range that can cover most of the US population. As cellphones are designed to connect to the strongest cell tower signal available, the devices identify themselves as the strongest signal, allowing for the gathering of information on thousands of phones during a single flight. Not even having encryption on one's phone, like found in Apple's iPhone 6, prevents this interception. While the Justice Department would not confirm or deny the existence of such a program, Verizon denies any involvement in this program, and DRT (a subsidiary of Boeing), AT&T, and Sprint have all declined to comment.
An anonymous reader writes According to a lawsuit filed Friday in a New York court, when Jeremy Zielinski signed up for Time Warner Internet service after seeing an ad that it was $34.99 a month, he didn't expect his first bill to be more than $94. He didn't expect he'd have to fight for weeks to resolve it. And he didn't expect that, Time Warner's next step would be to sell him faster speeds, not bother to tell him his modem couldn't handle them, send him a bill anyway, then demand that he drive to the local office at his own expense to get a compatible modem. So he's taking the cable giant to court, accusing it of false advertising and deceptive business practices. While a lone individual fighting in court against the second largest cable company in the world certainly doesn't have the odds in his favor, this could get interesting. According to the complaint, he opted out of TWC's binding arbitration clause a few days after he opened his account, so he might have a shot of keeping this issue in real court. Stay tuned for more.
An anonymous reader writes AT&T says it will halt its investment on broadband Internet service expansion until the federal rules on open Internet are clarified. "We can't go out and just invest that kind of money, deploying fiber to 100 cities other than these two million [covered by the DirecTV deal], not knowing under what rules that investment will be governed," AT&T Chief Randall Stephenson said during an appearance at a Wells Fargo conference, according to a transcript provided by AT&T. "And so, we have to pause, and we have to just put a stop on those kind of investments that we're doing today."
An anonymous reader writes: After extended talks on the issue of climate change, the U.S. and China have reached a landmark accord to curb emissions in the near future. The two countries are the top carbon polluters, so their actions are likely to have a major effect on world pollution levels and also set the standard for other countries. The agreement includes China's first-ever commitment to stop the growth of its emissions by 2030. They plan on shifting a big chunk of their energy production to renewables in that time. The U.S. agreed to emit 26-28% less carbon in 2025 than it did in 2005. Their efforts could spur greater enthusiasm for a new global climate agreement in 2015.
Reader jones_supa adds details of another interesting part of the U.S.-China talks:
Technology products look likely to gain more access to international markets as a result of upgrade between the U.S. and China on a 1996 tariff-eliminating trade agreement that President Obama announced Tuesday in Beijing. The agreement is expected to lower prices on a raft of new technology products by eliminating border tariffs — a price impact that's expected to be larger outside the United States, since U.S. tariffs on high-tech goods are generally lower than those overseas. "This is a win-win-win agreement for information and communication technology industries in the U.S., Europe, Japan and China, for businesses and consumers who purchase IT products and for the global economy."
By stripping out this flag, these ISPs prevent the email servers from successfully encrypting their conversation, and by default the servers will proceed to send email unencrypted. Some firewalls, including Cisco's PIX/ASA firewall do this in order to monitor for spam originating from within their network and prevent it from being sent. Unfortunately, this causes collateral damage: the sending server will proceed to transmit plaintext email over the public Internet, where it is subject to eavesdropping and interception.
blindbat writes: A new YouTube account is pushing local police agencies to reconsider their use of body-mounted cameras. Poulsbo Police have been wearing body cameras for about a year, and the department says the results have been good. But last month reality hit, in the form of a new YouTube user website, set up by someone under the name, "Police Video Requests." The profile says it posts dash and body cam videos received after public records requests to Washington state police departments. "They're just using it to post on the internet," said Chief Townsend, "and I suspect it's for commercial purposes." In September, "Police Video Requests" anonymously asked Poulsbo PD for every second of body cam video it has ever recorded. The department figures it will take three years to fill that request. And Chief Townsend believes it is a huge privacy concern, as officers often see people on their worst days. "People with mental illness, people in domestic violence situations; do we really want to have to put that video out on YouTube for people? I think that's pushing it a little bit," he said.
Drinking Bleach writes Groupon has released a tablet-based point of sale system called Gnome, despite the well-known desktop environment's existence and trademark status. This is also not without Groupon's internal knowledge of the GNOME project; they were contacted about the infringement and flatly refused to change the name of their own product, in addition to filing many new trademark applications for theirs. The GNOME project is seeking donations to help them in a legal battle against these trademark applications, and to get Groupon to stop using their name. They are seeking at least $80,000 to challenge a first set of ten trademark applications from Groupon, out of 28 applications that have been filed.