Trump’s new lawsuits against social media companies are going nowhere fast

Trump’s spicy trio of lawsuits against the social media platforms that he believes wrongfully banned him have succeeded in showering the former president with a flurry of media attention, but that’s likely where the story ends.

Like Trump’s quixotic and ultimately empty quest to gut Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act during his presidency, the new lawsuits are all sound and fury with little legal substance to back them up.

The suits allege that Twitter, Facebook and YouTube violated Trump’s First Amendment rights by booting him from their platforms, but the First Amendment is intended to protect citizens from censorship by the government — not private industry. The irony that Trump himself was the uppermost figure in the federal government at the time probably won’t be lost on whoever’s lap this case lands in.

In the lawsuits, which also name Twitter and Facebook chief executives Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg as well as Google CEO Sundar Pichai (Susan Wojcicki escapes notice once again!), Trump accuses the three companies of engaging in “impermissible censorship resulting from threatened legislative action, a misguided reliance upon Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and willful participation in joint activity with federal actors.”

The suit claims that the tech companies colluded with “Democrat lawmakers,” the CDC and Dr. Anthony Fauci, who served in Trump’s own government at the time.

The crux of the argument is that communication between the tech companies, members of Congress and the federal government somehow transforms Facebook, Twitter and YouTube into “state actors” — a leap of epic proportion:

“Defendant Twitter’s status thus rises beyond that of a private company to that of a state actor, and as such, Defendant is constrained by the First Amendment right to free speech in the censorship decisions it makes.”

Trump’s own Supreme Court appointee Brett Kavanaugh issued the court’s opinion on a relevant case two years ago. It examined whether a nonprofit running public access television channels in New York qualified as a “state actor” that would be subject to First Amendment constraints. The court ruled that running the public access channels didn’t transform the nonprofit into a government entity and that it retained a private entity’s rights to make editorial decisions.

“… A private entity… who opens its property for speech by others is not transformed by that fact alone into a state actor,” Justice Kavanaugh wrote in the decision.

It’s not likely that a court would decide that talking to the government or being threatened by the government somehow transform Twitter, YouTube and Facebook into state actors either.

Trump vs. Section 230 (again)

First Amendment aside — and there’s really not much of an argument there — social media platforms are protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a concise snippet of law that shields them from liability not just for the user-generated content they host but for the moderation decisions they make about what content to remove.

In line with Trump’s obsessive disdain for tech’s legal shield, the lawsuits repeatedly rail against Section 230. The suits try to argue that because Congress threatened to revoke tech’s 230 protections, that forced them to ban Trump, which somehow makes social media companies part of the government and subject to First Amendment constraints.

Of course, Republican lawmakers and Trump’s own administration made frequent threats about repealing Section 230, not that it changes anything because this line of argument doesn’t make much sense anyway.

The suit also argues that Congress crafted Section 230 to intentionally censor speech that is otherwise protected by the First Amendment, ignoring that the law was born in 1996, well before ubiquitous social media, and for other purposes altogether.

For the four years of his presidency, Trump’s social media activity — his tweets in particular — informed the events of the day, both nationally and globally. While other world leaders and political figures used social media to communicate or promote their actions, Trump’s Twitter account was usually the action itself.

In the shadow of his social media bans, the former president has failed to re-establish lines of communication to the internet at large. In May, he launched a new blog, “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,” but the site was taken down just a month later after it failed to attract much interest.

The handful of pro-Trump alternative social platforms are still struggling with app store content moderation requirements at odds with their extreme views on free speech, but that didn’t stop Gettr, the latest, from going ahead with its own rocky launch last week.

Viewed in one light, Trump’s lawsuits are a platform too, his latest method for broadcasting himself to the online world that his transgressions eventually cut him off from. In that sense, they seem to have succeeded, but in all other senses, they won’t.

#articles, #brett-kavanaugh, #ceo, #communications-decency-act, #congress, #donald-j-trump, #donald-trump, #federal-government, #google, #government, #jack-dorsey, #mark-zuckerberg, #new-york, #president, #qanon, #section-230, #social, #social-media, #social-media-platforms, #sundar-pichai, #supreme-court, #susan-wojcicki, #tc, #the-battle-over-big-tech, #twitter

Supreme Court backs cheerleader over school that punished her for Snapchat post

The Snapchat icon and other apps' icons on an iPhone home screen.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | stockcam)

The Supreme Court today ruled in favor of a cheerleader and against the Pennsylvania high school that suspended her from the junior varsity team for a “vulgar” Snapchat post.

Brandi Levy was 14 in 2017 when she used Snapchat to express her frustration after failing to make the Mahanoy Area High School varsity cheerleading squad. Her Snapchat post contained an image of herself and a friend with middle fingers raised and the caption “Fuck school fuck softball fuck cheer fuck everything.” A second post she made also complained about the varsity squad’s decision but didn’t contain any profanity. The posts were not widely distributed: as the Supreme court noted, Snapchat is “a social media application for smartphones that allows users to share temporary images with selected friends.”

“B.L.’s posts expressed frustration with the school and the school’s cheerleading squad, and one contained vulgar language and gestures,” the ruling said. “When school officials learned of the posts, they suspended B.L. from the junior varsity cheerleading squad for the upcoming year.”

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#first-amendment, #policy, #snapchat, #supreme-court

Supreme Court revives LinkedIn case to protect user data from web scrapers

The Supreme Court has given LinkedIn another chance to stop a rival company from scraping personal information from users’ public profiles, a practice LinkedIn says should be illegal but one that could have broad ramifications for internet researchers and archivists.

LinkedIn lost its case against Hiq Labs in 2019 after the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the CFAA does not prohibit a company from scraping data that is publicly accessible on the internet.

The Microsoft-owned social network argued that the mass scraping of its users’ profiles was in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, or CFAA, which prohibits accessing a computer without authorization.

Hiq Labs, which uses public data to analyze employee attrition, argued at the time that a ruling in LinkedIn’s favor “could profoundly impact open access to the Internet, a result that Congress could not have intended when it enacted the CFAA over three decades ago.” (Hiq Labs has also been sued by Facebook, which it claims scraped public data across Facebook and Instagram, but also Amazon Twitter, and YouTube.)

The Supreme Court said it would not take on the case, but instead ordered the appeal’s court to hear the case again in light of its recent ruling, which found that a person cannot violate the CFAA if they improperly access data on a computer they have permission to use.

The CFAA was once dubbed the “worst law” in the technology law books by critics who have long argued that its outdated and vague language failed to keep up with the pace of the modern internet.

Journalists and archivists have long scraped public data as a way to save and archive copies of old or defunct websites before they shut down. But other cases of web scraping have sparked anger and concerns over privacy and civil liberties. In 2019, a security researcher scraped millions of Venmo transactions, which the company does not make private by default. Clearview AI, a controversial facial recognition startup, claimed it scraped over 3 billion profile photos from social networks without their permission.

 

#amazon, #clearview-ai, #computer-fraud-and-abuse-act, #congress, #facebook, #facial-recognition, #hacking, #linkedin, #microsoft, #privacy, #security, #social-network, #social-networks, #supreme-court, #twitter, #venmo, #web-scraping

In search of a new crypto deity

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review!

Last week, I wrote about tech taking on Disney. This week, I’m talking about the search for a new crypto messiah.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.


The Big Thing

Elon has worn out his welcome among the crypto illuminati, and the acolytes of Bitcoin are searching out a new emperor god king.

This weekend, thousands of crypto acolytes and investors have descended on a Bitcoin-themed conference in Miami, a very real, very heavily-produced conference sporting crypto celebrities and actual celebrities all on a mission to make waves.

Even though I am not at the conference in person (panels from its main stage were live-streamed online), I have plenty of invites in my email for afterparties featuring celebrities, open bars and endless conversations on the perils of fiat. The cryptocurrency community has never been larger or richer thanks to its most fervent bull run yet, and despite a pretty noteworthy correction in the past few weeks, people believe the best is yet to come.

Despite having so much, what they still seem to be lacking is a patron saint.

For the longest bout, that was SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk who bolstered the currency by pushing Tesla to invest cash on its balance sheet into bitcoin, while also pushing for Tesla to accept bitcoin payments for its vehicles. As I’ve noted in this newsletter in the past, Musk had a tough time reconciling the sheer energy use of bitcoin’s global network with his eco warrior bravado which has seemed to lead to his mild and uneven excommunication (though I’m sure he’s welcome back at any time).

There are plenty of celebrities looking to fill his shoes — a recent endorsement gone wrong by Soulja Boy was one of the more comical instances.

Crypto has been no stranger to grift — of that even the most hardcore crypto grifters can likely agree — and I think there’s been some agreement that the only leader who can truly preach the gospel is someone who is already so rich they don’t even need more money. It’s one reason the community has offered up so much respect for Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin who truly doesn’t seem to care too much about getting any wealthier — he donated about $1 billion worth of crypto to Covid relief efforts in India. A Musk-like cheerleader serves a different purpose though, and so the community is in search of a Good Billionaire.

The best runner-up at the moment appears to be one Jack Dorsey, and while — like Musk — he is also another double-CEO, he is quite a bit different from him in demeanor and desire for the spotlight. He was, however, a headline speaker at Miami’s Bitcoin conference.

Dorsey gathers the most headlines for his work at Twitter but it’s Square where he is pushing most of his crypto enthusiasm. Users can already use Square’s Cash App to buy Bitcoin. Minutes before going onstage Friday, Dorsey tweeted out a thread detailing that Square was interested in building its own hardware wallet that users could store cryptocurrency like bitcoin on outside of the confines of an exchange.

“Bitcoin changes absolutely everything,” Dorsey said onstage. “I don’t think there is anything more important in my lifetime to work on.”

And while the billionaire Dorsey seems like a good choice on paper — he tweets about bitcoin often, but only good tweets. He defends its environmental effects. He shows up to House misinformation hearings with a bitcoin tracker clearly visible in the background. He is also unfortunately the CEO of Twitter, a company that’s desire to reign in its more troublesome users — including one very troublesome user — has caused a rift between him and the crypto community’s very vocal libertarian sect.

Dorsey didn’t make it very far into his speech before a heckler made a scene calling him a hypocrite because of all this with a few others piping in, but like any good potential crypto king would know to do, he just waited quietly for the noise to die down.


(Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Other things 

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

Facebook’s Trump ban will last at least 2 years
In response to the Facebook Oversight Board’s recommendations that the company offer more specificity around its ban of former President Trump, the company announced Friday that it will be banning Trump from its platforms through January 2023 at least, though the company has basically given itself the ability to extend that deadline if it so desires…

Nigeria suspends Twitter
Nigeria is shutting down access to Twitter inside the country with a government official citing the “use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.” Twitter called the shutdown “deeply concerning.”

Stack Overflow gets acquired for $1.8 billion
Stack Overflow, one of the most-visited sites of developers across the technology industry, was acquired by Prosus. The heavy hitter investment firm is best known for owning a huge chunk of Tencent. Stack Overflow’s founders say the site will continue to operate independently under the new management.

Spotify ups its personalization
Music service Spotify launched a dedicated section this week called Only You which aims to capture some of the personalization it has been serving up in its annual Spotify Wrapped review. Highlights of the new feature include blended playlists with friends and mid-year reviews.

Supreme Court limits US hacking law in landmark case
Justices from the conservative and liberal wings joined together in a landmark ruling that put limits on what kind of conduct can be prosecuted under the controversial Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

This one email explains Apple
Here’s a fun one, the email exchange that birthed the App Store between the late Steve Jobs and SVP of Software Engineering, Bertrand Serlet as annotated by my boss Matthew Panzarino.


illustration of money raining down

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:

For SaaS startups, differentiation is an iterative process
“The more you know about your target customers’ pain points with current solutions, the easier it will be to stand out. Take every opportunity to learn about the people you are aiming to serve, and which problems they want to solve the most. Analyst reports about specific sectors may be useful, but there is no better source of information than the people who, hopefully, will pay to use your solution..”

3 lessons we learned after raising $6 million from 50 investors
“…being pre-product at the time, we had to lean on our experience and our vision to drive conviction and urgency among investors. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough. Investors either felt that our experience was a bad fit for the space we were entering (productivity/scheduling) or that our vision wasn’t compelling enough to merit investment on the terms we wanted.

The existential cost of decelerated growth
“Just because a technology startup has a hot start, that doesn’t mean it will grow quickly forever. Most will wind up somewhere in the middle — or worse. Put simply, there is a larger number of tech companies that do fine or a little bit worse after they reach scale.”

 

Again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.

#analyst, #app-store, #bertrand-serlet, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #bryce-durbin, #ceo, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #digital-currencies, #elon-musk, #extra-crunch, #facebook, #india, #jack-dorsey, #king, #matthew-panzarino, #miami, #nigeria, #president, #prosus, #soulja-boy, #spacex, #spotify, #stack-overflow, #steve-jobs, #supreme-court, #svp, #tc, #technology, #tencent, #tesla, #trump, #twitter, #united-states, #vitalik-buterin, #week-in-review

Supreme Court reins in definition of crime under controversial hacking law

Protesters walking across a bridge. One holds a sign with a picture of Aaron Swartz that says,

Enlarge / In April 2013, more than 120 people attended a rally in Boston to remember Aaron Swartz and call for reform of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. (credit: Getty Images | Boston Globe)

The Supreme Court issued a ruling Thursday that imposes a limit on what counts as a crime under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).

The case involves a former Georgia police sergeant who “used his own, valid credentials” to get information about a license plate number from a law enforcement database, the court decision said. The sergeant ran the search in exchange for money and for non-law enforcement purposes, violating a department policy. He was charged with a felony under the CFAA, which says it’s a crime when someone “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access.” He was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison in May 2018.

A federal appeals court upheld the conviction, but the Supreme Court reversed it today in a 6-3 decision that said Van Buren did not violate the CFAA. Justices found that the cybersecurity statute does not make it a crime to obtain information from a computer when the person has authorized access to that machine, even if the person has “improper motives.”

Read 21 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#cfaa, #computer-fraud-and-abuse-act, #policy, #supreme-court

Supreme Court limits US hacking law in landmark CFAA ruling

The Supreme Court has ruled that a police officer who searched a license plate database for an acquaintance in exchange for cash did not violate U.S. hacking laws.

The landmark ruling concludes a long-running case that clarifies the controversial Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, or CFAA, by putting limits on what kind of conduct can be prosecuted.

The court ruled 6-3 in favor of Nathan Van Buren, a former Georgia police sergeant who brought the case. Van Buren was prosecuted on two counts, one for accepting a kickback for accessing the database as a serving police officer, and another for violating the CFAA. His first conviction was overturned, but the CFAA conviction was upheld — until today.

Although Van Buren was allowed to access the license plate database, the legal question became whether or not he had exceeded his authorized access.

In the ruling, the Supreme Court said that the CFAA “covers those who obtain information from particular areas in the computer — such as files, folders, or databases — to which their computer access does not extend,” and that while Van Vuren “plainly flouted” the police department’s rules for law enforcement purposes, he did not violate the CFAA, wrote Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who wrote the majority opinion.

The CFAA was signed into law in 1986 to prosecute hackers who gain “unauthorized” access to a computer or network. But courts have been split on what “unauthorized” means. Legal experts have argued that a broad reading of the law could criminalize violating a site’s terms of service, such as lying on a dating profile or sharing a password to a streaming service. The court said that the government’s interpretation of the law “would attach criminal penalties to a breathtaking amount of commonplace computer activity.”

Not all the justices agreed. “Without valid law enforcement purposes, he was forbidden to use the computer to obtain that information,” wrote Justice Thomas, who filed a dissenting opinion along with Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts.

Civil liberties experts said Congress should act to amend the CFAA following the court’s ruling.

“This is an important and welcome decision that will help protect digital research and journalism that is urgently necessary. But more is needed,” said Alex Abdo, litigation director of the Knight First Amendment Institute. “Congress should amend the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to eliminate any remaining uncertainty about the scope of the statute. It should also create a safe harbor for researchers and journalists who are working to study disinformation and discrimination online. Major technology companies should not have a veto over research and journalism that are manifestly in the public interest.”

#california, #cfaa, #computer-fraud-and-abuse-act, #georgia, #hacking, #security, #supreme-court, #united-states, #university-of-california, #university-of-california-berkeley

For Trump and Facebook, judgment day is around the corner

Facebook unceremoniously confiscated Trump’s biggest social media megaphone months ago, but the former president might be poised to snatch it back.

Facebook’s Oversight Board, an external Supreme Court-like policy decision making group, will either restore Trump’s Facebook privileges or banish him forever on Wednesday. Whatever happens, it’s a huge moment for Facebook’s nascent experiment in outsourcing hard content moderation calls to an elite group of global thinkers, academics and political figures and allowing them to set precedents that could shape the world’s biggest social networks for years to come.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Trump’s suspension from Facebook in the immediate aftermath of the Capitol attack. It was initially a temporary suspension, but two weeks later Facebook said that the decision would be sent to the Oversight Board. “We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in January.

Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs Nick Clegg, a former British politician, expressed hope that the board would back the company’s own conclusions, calling Trump’s suspension an “unprecedented set of events which called for unprecedented action.”

Trump inflamed tensions and incited violence on January 6, but that incident wasn’t without precedent. In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by Minneapolis police, President Trump ominously declared on social media “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” a threat of imminent violence with racist roots that Facebook declined to take action against, prompting internal protests at the company.

The former president skirted or crossed the line with Facebook any number of times over his four years in office, but the platform stood steadfastly behind a maxim that all speech was good speech, even as other social networks grew more squeamish.

In a dramatic address in late 2019, Zuckerberg evoked Martin Luther King Jr. as he defended Facebook’s anything goes approach. “In times of social turmoil, our impulse is often to pull back on free expression,” Zuckerberg said. “We want the progress that comes from free expression, but not the tension.” King’s daughter strenuously objected.

A little over a year later, with all of Facebook’s peers doing the same and Trump leaving office, Zuckerberg would shrink back from his grand free speech declarations.

In 2019 and well into 2020, Facebook was still a roiling hotbed of misinformation, conspiracies and extremism. The social network hosted thousands of armed militias organizing for violence and a sea of content amplifying QAnon, which moved from a fringe belief on the margins to a mainstream political phenomenon through Facebook.

Those same forces would converge at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 for a day of violence that Facebook executives characterized as spontaneous, even though it had been festering openly on the platform for months.

 

How the Oversight Board works

Facebook’s Oversight Board began reviewing its first cases last October. Facebook can refer cases to the board, like it did with Trump, but users can also appeal to the board to overturn policy decisions that affect them after they exhaust the normal Facebook or Instagram appeals process. A five member subset of its 20 total members evaluate whether content should be allowed to remain on the platform and then reach a decision, which the full board must approve by a majority vote. Initially, the Oversight Board was only empowered to reinstate content removed on Facebook and Instagram, but in mid-April began accepting requests to review controversial content that stayed up.

Last month, the Oversight Board replaced departing member Pamela Karlan, a Stanford professor and voting rights scholar critical of Trump, who left to join the Biden administration. Karlan’s replacement, PEN America CEO Susan Nossel, wrote an op-ed in the LA Times in late January arguing that extending a permanent ban on Trump “may feel good” but that decision would ultimately set a dangerous precedent. Nossel joined the board too late to participate in the Trump decision.

The Oversight Board’s earliest batch of decisions leaned in the direction of restoring content that’s been taken down — not upholding its removal. While the board’s other decisions are likely to touch on the full spectrum of frustration people have with Facebook’s content moderation preferences, they come with far less baggage than the Trump decision. In one instance, the Oversight Board voted to restore an image of a woman’s nipples used in the context of a breast cancer post. In another, the board decided that a quote from a famous Nazi didn’t merit removal because it wasn’t an endorsement of Nazi ideology. In all cases, the Oversight Board can issue policy recommendations, but Facebook isn’t obligated to implement them — just the decisions.

Befitting its DNA of global activists, political figures and academics, the Oversight Board’s might have ambitions well beyond one social network. Earlier this year, Oversight Board co-chair and former Prime Minister of Denmark Helle Thorning-Schmidt declared that other social media companies would be “welcome to join” the project, which is branded in a conspicuously Facebook-less way. (The group calls itself the “Oversight Board” though everyone calls it the “Facebook Oversight Board.”)

“For the first time in history, we actually have content moderation being done outside one of the big social media platforms,” Thorning-Schmidt declared, grandly. “That in itself… I don’t hesitate to call it historic.”

Facebook’s decision to outsource some major policy decisions is indeed an experimental one, but that experiment is just getting started. The Trump case will give Facebook’s miniaturized Supreme Court an opportunity to send a message, though whether the takeaway is that it’s powerful enough to keep a world leader muzzled or independent enough to strike out from its parent and reverse the biggest social media policy decision ever made remains to be seen.

If Trump comes back, the company can shrug its shoulders and shirk another PR firestorm, content that its experiment in external content moderation is legitimized. If the board doubles down on banishing Trump, Facebook will rest easy knowing that someone else can take the blowback this round in its most controversial content call to date. For Facebook, for once, it’s a win-win situation.

 

#biden-administration, #ceo, #computing, #donald-trump, #elite, #facebook, #george-floyd, #king, #mark-zuckerberg, #nick-clegg, #oversight-board, #president, #schmidt, #social, #social-media, #social-media-platforms, #social-network, #social-networks, #software, #stanford, #supreme-court, #tc, #trump, #world-wide-web

Supreme Court kills FTC’s “strongest tool” for getting refunds to scam victims

Supreme Court Justices John Roberts, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan sitting and listening to a State of the Union address in Congress.

Enlarge / Supreme Court Justices, from left, Chief Justice John Roberts, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan listen during then-President Trump’s State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

A Supreme Court ruling yesterday killed the Federal Trade Commission’s “strongest tool” for fighting scam artists and securing refunds for wronged consumers, the FTC’s acting chairwoman said.

“The Supreme Court ruled in favor of scam artists and dishonest corporations, leaving average Americans to pay for illegal behavior,” FTC Acting Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter said in a statement after the ruling. “With this ruling, the Court has deprived the FTC of the strongest tool we had to help consumers when they need it most. We urge Congress to act swiftly to restore and strengthen the powers of the agency so we can make wronged consumers whole.”

Though it was criticized by Slaughter and consumer advocates, the Supreme Court’s ruling in a case involving deceptive payday lending practices was unanimous. In AMG Capital Management v. Federal Trade Commission, the court ruled that Section 13(b) of the Federal Trade Commission Act “does not authorize the Commission to seek, or a court to award, equitable monetary relief such as restitution or disgorgement” for consumers.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#ftc, #policy, #supreme-court

A ‘more honest’ stock market

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review!

Last week, I talked about Clubhouse’s slowing user growth. Well, this week news broke that they had been in talks with Twitter for a $4 billion acquisition, so it looks like they’re still pretty desirable. This week, I’m talking about a story I published a couple days ago that highlights pretty much everything that’s wild about the alternative asset world right now.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.


The big thing

If you successfully avoided all mentions of NFTs until now, I congratulate you, because it certainly does seem like the broader NFT market is seeing some major pullback after a very frothy February and March. You’ll still be seeing plenty of late-to-the-game C-list celebrities debuting NFT art in the coming weeks, but a more sober pullback in prices will probably give some of the NFT platforms that are serious about longevity a better chance to focus on the future and find out how they truly matter.

I spent the last couple weeks, chatting with a bunch of people in one particular community — one of the oldest active NFT communities on the web called CryptoPunks. It’s a platform with 10,000 unique 24×24 pixel portraits and they trade at truly wild prices.

This picture sold for a $1.05 million.

I talked to a dozen or so people (including the guy who sold that one ^^) that had spent between tens of thousands and millions of dollars on these pixelated portraits, my goal being to tap into the psyche of what the hell is happening here. The takeaway is that these folks don’t see these assets as any more non-sensical than what’s going on in more traditional “old world” markets like public stock exchanges.

A telling quote from my reporting:

“Obviously this is a very speculative market… but it’s almost more honest than the stock market,” user Max Orgeldinger tells TechCrunch. “Kudos to Elon Musk — and I’m a big Tesla fan — but there are no fundamentals that support that stock price. It’s the same when you look at GameStop. With the whole NFT community, it’s almost more honest because nobody’s getting tricked into thinking there’s some very complicated math that no one can figure out. This is just people making up prices and if you want to pay it, that’s the price and if you don’t want to pay it, that’s not the price.”

Shortly after I published my piece, Christie’s announced that they were auctioning off nine of the CryptoPunks in an auction likely to fetch at least $10 million at current prices. The market surged in the aftermath and many millions worth of volume quickly moved through the marketplace minting more NFT millionaires.

Is this all just absolutely nuts? Sure.

Is it also a poignant picture of where alternative asset investing is at in 2021? You bet.

Read the full thing.


an illustration of a cardboard ballot box with an Amazon smile on the front

Other things

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

Amazon workers vote down union organization attempt
Amazon is breathing a sigh of relief after workers at their Bessemer, Alabama warehouse opted out of joining a union, lending a crushing defeat to labor activists who hoped that the high-profile moment would lead more Amazon workers to organize. The vote has been challenged, but the margin of victory seems fairly decisive.

Supreme court sides with Google in Oracle case
If any singular event impacted the web the most this week, it was the Supreme Court siding with Google in a very controversial lawsuit by Oracle that could’ve fundamentally shifted the future of software development.

Coinbase is making waves
The Coinbase direct listing is just around the corner and they’re showing off some of their financials. Turns out crypto has been kind of hot lately and they’re raking in the dough, with revenue of $1.8 billion this past quarter.

Apple share more about the future of user tracking
Apple is about to upend the ad-tracking market and they published some more details on what exactly their App Tracking Transparency feature is going to look like. Hint: more user control.

Consumers are spending lots of time in apps
A new report from mobile analytics firm App Annie suggests that we’re dumping more of our time into smartphone apps, with the average users spending 4.2 hours a day doing so, a 30 percent increase over two years.

Sonos perfects the bluetooth speaker
I’m a bit of an audio lover, which made my colleague Darrell’s review of the new Sonos Roam bluetooth speaker a must-read for me. He’s pretty psyched about it, even though it comes in at the higher-end of pricing for these devices, still I’m looking forward to hearing one with my own ears.


 

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:
The StockX EC-1
“StockX is a unique company at the nexus of two radical transitions that isn’t just redefining markets, but our culture as well. E-commerce upended markets, diminishing the physical experience by intermediating and aggregating buyers and sellers through digital platforms. At the same time, the internet created rapid new communication channels, allowing euphoria and desire to ricochet across society in a matter of seconds. In a world of plenty, some things are rare, and the hype around that rarity has never been greater. Together, these two trends demanded a stock market of hype, an opportunity that StockX has aggressively pursued.”

Building the right team for a billion-dollar startup
“I would really encourage you to take some time to think about what kind of company you want to make first before you go out and start interviewing people. So that really is going to be about understanding and defining your culture. And then the second thing I’d be thinking about when you’re scaling from, you know, five people up to, you know, 50 and beyond is that managers really are the key to your success as a company. It’s hard to overstate how important managers, great managers, are to the success of your company.

So you want to raise a Series A
“More companies will raise seed rounds than Series A rounds, simply due to the fact that many startups fail, and venture only makes sense for a small fraction of businesses out there. Every check is a new cycle of convincing and proving that you, as a startup, will have venture-scale returns. Moore explained that startups looking to move to their next round need to explain to investors why now is their moment.”

Until next week,
Lucas M.

And again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.

#alabama, #amazon, #app-annie, #apple, #bessemer, #blockchain, #bluetooth, #bluetooth-speaker, #christies, #coinbase, #cryptocurrency, #e-commerce, #extra-crunch, #gamestop, #google, #operating-systems, #oracle, #real-time-web, #smartphone, #software, #software-development, #sonos, #stockx, #supreme-court, #tc, #techcrunch, #text-messaging, #twitter, #week-in-review

Clarence Thomas plays a poor devil’s advocate in floating First Amendment limits for tech companies

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas flaunted a dangerous ignorance regarding matters digital in an opinion published today. In attempting to explain the legal difficulties of social media platforms, particularly those arising from Twitter’s ban of Trump, he makes an ill-informed, bordering on bizarre, argument as to why such companies may need their First Amendment rights curtailed.

There are several points on which Thomas seems to willfully misconstrue or misunderstand the issues.

The first is in his characterization of Trump’s use of Twitter. You may remember that several people sued after being blocked by Trump, alleging that his use of the platform amounted to creating a “public forum” in a legal sense, meaning it was unlawful to exclude anyone from it for political reasons. (The case, as it happens, was rendered moot after its appeal and dismissed by the court except as a Thomas’s temporary soapbox.)

“But Mr. Trump, it turned out, had only limited control of the account; Twitter has permanently removed the account from the platform,” writes Thomas. “[I]t seems rather odd to say something is a government forum when a private company has unrestricted authority to do away with it.”

Does it? Does it seem odd? Because a few paragraphs later, he uses the example of a government agency using a conference room in a hotel to hold a public hearing. They can’t kick people out for voicing their political opinions, certainly, because the room is a de facto public forum. But if someone is loud and disruptive, they can ask hotel security to remove that person, because the room is de jure a privately owned space.

Yet the obvious third example, and the one clearly most relevant to the situation at hand, is skipped. What if it is the government representatives who are being loud and disruptive, to the point where the hotel must make the choice whether to remove them?

It says something that this scenario, so remarkably close a metaphor for what actually happened, is not considered. Perhaps it casts the ostensibly “odd” situation and actors in too clear a light, for Thomas’s other arguments suggest he is not for clarity here but for muddying the waters ahead of a partisan knife fight over free speech.

In his best “I’m not saying, I’m just saying” tone, Thomas presents his reasoning why, if the problem is that these platforms have too much power over free speech, then historically there just happen to be some legal options to limit that power.

Thomas argues first, and worst, that platforms like Facebook and Google may amount to “common carriers,” a term that goes back centuries to actual carriers of cargo, but which is now a common legal concept that refers to services that act as simple distribution – “bound to serve all customers alike, without discrimination.” A telephone company is the most common example, in that it cannot and does not choose what connections it makes, nor what conversations happen over those connections – it moves electric signals from one phone to another.

But as he notes at the outset of his commentary, “applying old doctrines to new digital platforms is rarely straightforward.” And Thomas’s method of doing so is spurious.

“Though digital instead of physical, they are at bottom communications networks, and they ‘carry’ information from one user to another,” he says, and equates telephone companies laying cable with companies like Google laying “information infrastructure that can be controlled in much the same way.”

Now, this is certainly wrong. So wrong in so many ways that it’s hard to know where to start and when to stop.

The idea that companies like Facebook and Google are equivalent to telephone lines is such a reach that it seems almost like a joke. These are companies that have built entire business empires by adding enormous amounts of storage, processing, analysis, and other services on top of the element of pure communication. One might as easily suggest that because computers are just a simple piece of hardware that moves data around, that Apple is a common carrier as well. It’s really not so far a logical leap!

There’s no real need to get into the technical and legal reasons why this opinion is wrong, however, because these grounds have been covered so extensively over the years, particularly by the FCC — which the Supreme Court has deferred to as an expert agency on this matter. If Facebook were a common carrier (or telecommunications service), it would fall under the FCC’s jurisdiction — but it doesn’t, because it isn’t, and really, no one thinks it is. This has been supported over and over, by multiple FCCs and administrations, and the deferral is itself a Supreme Court precedent that has become doctrine.

In fact, and this is really the cherry on top, freshman Justice Kavanaugh in a truly stupefying legal opinion a few years ago argued so far in the other direction that it became wrong in a totally different way! It was Kavanaugh’s considered opinion that the bar for qualifying as a common carrier was actually so high that even broadband providers don’t qualify for it (This was all in service of taking down net neutrality, a saga we are in danger of resuming soon). As his erudite colleague Judge Srinivasan explained to him at the time, this approach too is embarrassingly wrong.

Looking at these two opinions, of two sitting conservative Supreme Court Justices, you may find the arguments strangely at odds, yet they are wrong after a common fashion.

Kavanaugh claims that broadband providers, the plainest form of digital common carrier conceivable, are in fact providing all kinds sophisticated services over and above their functionality as a pipe (they aren’t). Thomas claims that companies actually providing all kinds of sophisticated services are nothing more than pipes.

Simply stated, these men have no regard for the facts but have chosen the definition that best suits their political purposes: for Kavanaugh, thwarting a Democrat-led push for strong net neutrality rules; for Thomas, asserting control over social media companies perceived as having an anti-conservative bias.

The case Thomas uses for his sounding board on these topics was rightly rendered moot — Trump is no longer president and the account no longer exists — but he makes it clear that he regrets this extremely.

“As Twitter made clear, the right to cut off speech lies most powerfully in the hands of private digital platforms,” he concludes. “The extent to which that power matters for purposes of the First Amendment and the extent to which that power could lawfully be modified raise interesting and important questions. This petition, unfortunately, affords us no opportunity to confront them.”

Between the common carrier argument and questioning the form of Section 230 (of which in this article), Thomas’s hypotheticals break the seals on several legal avenues to restrict First Amendment rights of digital platforms, as well as legitimizing those (largely on one side of the political spectrum) who claim a grievance along these lines. (Slate legal commentator Mark Joseph Stern, who spotted the opinion early, goes further, calling Thomas’s argument a “paranoid Marxist delusion” and providing some other interesting context.)

This is not to say that social media and tech do not deserve scrutiny on any number of fronts — they exist in an alarming global vacuum of regulatory powers, and hardly anyone would suggest they have been entirely responsible with this freedom. But the arguments of Thomas and Kavanaugh stink of cynical partisan sophistry. This endorsement by Thomas amounts accomplishes nothing legally, but will provide valuable fuel for the bitter fires of contention — though they hardly needed it.

#clarence-thomas, #donald-trump, #facebook, #first-amendment, #google, #government, #lawsuit, #opinion, #section-230, #social-media, #supreme-court, #tc, #trump

Supreme Court tosses ruling that said Trump blocking Twitter critics was unconstitutional

The Supreme Court has vacated a previous ruling that found former President Trump violated the First Amendment by blocking his Twitter foes.

The ruling was upheld by a Manhattan federal appeals court in 2019, which deemed Trump’s actions unconstitutional. The court found that because Trump used Twitter to “conduct official business” and interact with the public that his decision to block users ran afoul of the First Amendment.

“… The First Amendment does not permit a public official who utilizes a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from an otherwise open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees,” a trio of judges wrote in that decision.

The Supreme Court’s decision to vacate the prior ruling isn’t a total surprise — Trump is no longer president and he’s banned from Twitter for life at this point.

What was unexpected was an accompanying opinion issued by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas which pushed well beyond the issue at hand into novel criticisms of major tech platforms.

Thomas pivoted away from Trump’s Twitter behavior in the 12-page opinion, mounting an argument that the moderation powers of digital platforms like Twitter and Facebook are the real problem. “If the aim is to ensure that speech is not smothered, then the more glaring concern must perforce be the dominant digital platforms themselves,” Thomas wrote.

He went on to raise concerns about “concentrated control” of digital platforms by a handful of decision makers, arguing that digital platforms exercise too much power in making moderation decisions. “Much like with a communications utility, this concentration gives some digital platforms enormous control over speech,” Thomas wrote.

Thomas’s opinion Monday echoed his previous arguments that the protections conferred to digital platforms by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act should be “pared back” and interpreted far more narrowly.

With Democrats at the wheel in Congress, some Republicans have shifted their criticisms of big tech away from its moderation powers and toward other issues, like how those services affect mental health. But the suite of grievances stirred up over the course of Trump’s four years in office lives on in Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

In January, Thomas’s wife Ginni Thomas, a fervent Trump supporter, faced criticism for cheering on the pro-Trump crowd that went on to violently invade the U.S. Capitol.

Thomas was not joined by other justices in his opinion, but his interest in tech’s moderation decisions is a signal that the issue is far from dead.

“We will soon have no choice but to address how our legal doctrines apply to highly concentrated, privately owned information infrastructure such as digital platforms,” he warned.

#donald-trump, #government, #social-media, #supreme-court, #tc

Supreme Court rules copying APIs is fair use

A large Google sign seen on a window of Google's headquarters.

Enlarge / Exterior view of a Googleplex building, the corporate headquarters of Google and parent company Alphabet, May 2018. (credit: Getty Images | zphotos)

The Supreme Court has sided with Google in its decade-long legal battle with Oracle over the copyright status of application programming interfaces. The ruling means that Google will not owe Oracle billions of dollars in damages. It also has big implications for the broader software industry, since a ruling in the opposite direction could have triggered a wave of lawsuits against software companies that re-implemented other companies’ APIs.

The case dates back to the creation of the Android platform in the mid-2000s. Google decided to base Android on Sun’s Java programming language, enabling existing Java programmers to easily develop for the platform. Google independently implemented the Java API methods, but to ensure compatibility, it copied Java’s method names, argument types, and the class and package hierarchy.

A few years later, Oracle acquired Sun and soon afterward sued Google, arguing that Google’s copying had infringed Sun’s copyrights. Over a decade of litigation, Google won twice at the trial court level, but each time, the ruling was overruled by the Federal Circuit appeals court. The case finally reached the Supreme Court last year.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#copyright, #oracle-v-google, #policy, #supreme-court

Supreme Court’s pro-Facebook ruling could unleash “flood” of robocalls

Two people communicate via tin cans connected by string, except one is a cartoon robot.

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

A Supreme Court ruling today in favor of Facebook limits the reach of a 1991 US law that bans certain kinds of robocalls and texts. The court found that the anti-robocall law only applies to systems that have the ability to generate random or sequential phone numbers. Systems that lack that capability are thus not considered autodialers under the law, even if they can store numbers and send calls and texts automatically.

Advocates say the ruling will make it harder to block automated calls and texts, potentially unleashing a “flood” of new robocalls.

The ruling “nullifies one of the most important protections against unwanted robocalls: the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s (TCPA) prohibition against autodialed calls and texts to cellphones without the called party’s consent,” said the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), which had filed a brief in the case.

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#facebook, #policy, #robocall, #supreme-court

A Supreme Court ruling affirming Canada’s carbon tax opens the door for a startup explosion

Last week the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that the national government’s plan to tax carbon emissions was legal in a decision that could have significant implications for the nation’s climate-focused startup companies.

The ruling put an end to roughly two years of legal challenges and could set the stage for a boom in funding and commercial support for Canadian startup companies developing technologies to curb greenhouse gas emissions, according to investors and entrepreneurs representing some of the world’s largest utilities and petrochemical companies.

“The high price on carbon has the potential to make Canada a powerhouse for scaling up breakthrough decarbonization technologies and for deploying solutions like carbon capture, industrial electrification, and hydrogen electrolysis,” said one investor who works with a fund that backs startups on behalf of large energy businesses.

This 2018 Greenhouse Gas Pricing Act is the cornerstone of the Canadian climate policy pushed through by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It establishes minimum pricing standards that all provinces have to meet but gives the provinces the ability to set higher prices. So far, seven of the nation’s 13 provinces are currently paying the “backstop” rate set by the national government.

That price is C$30 per tonne of carbon dioxide released, but is set to rise to C$170 per tonne by 2030. That figure is just a bit higher than the current prices that Californians are charged under the state’s carbon pricing plan and roughly four times the price on carbon set by the Northeastern Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Under the plan, much of the money raised through the tax levied by the Canadian government would be used to support projects and technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or create more sustainable approaches to industry.

“Climate change is real. It is caused by greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activities, and it poses a grave threat to humanity’s future,” Chief Justice Richard Wagner wrote, on behalf of the majority, in the Supreme Court ruling.

Three provinces — Alberta, Ontario, and Saskatchewan challenged the legality of the greenhouse gas policy, and Alberta’s challenge was allowed to proceed to the high court — holding up the national implementation of the pricing scheme.

With the roadblocks removed, entrepreneurs and investors around the world expect the carbon scheme to quickly boost the prospects of Canadian startups.

“This represents underlying government support and a huge pot of money. If you wanted macro support for an underlying shift in sectoral developments that could substantiate and support tech companies working on climate change mitigation what better then when the government has told you that we care about this and money is free?” said BeZero Carbon founder, Tommy Ricketts. “There couldn’t be a better condition for startups in Canada.”

Companies that stand to directly benefit from a carbon tax in Canada include businesses like Kanin Energy, which develops decarbonization projects, including waste heat to power; CERT, which is currently competing in the carbon Xprize and is working on a way to convert carbon dioxide to ethylene; and SeeO2, a company also working on carbon dioxide conversion technologies.

Geothermal technologies like Quaise and Eavor could also see a boost as will companies that focus on the electrification of the transportation industry in Canada.

Farther afield are the companies like Planetary Hydrogen, which combines hydrogen production and carbon capture in a way that also contributes to ocean de-acidification.

“Think about the gas at the pump. That is going to get charged extra,” said one investor who works for the venture arm of one of the largest oil and gas companies in the world, who was not authorized to speak to the press.  “For cleaner energy the price will definitely be reduced. And think about where this tax is going. Most of the tax is going to go to government funding into cleantech or climate-tech companies. So you have a double boost for startups in the carbon footprint reduction area.”

#articles, #canada, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #justin-trudeau, #oil-and-gas, #supreme-court, #tc

Google, Facebook tell SCOTUS it should be harder for you to sue them

Google, Facebook tell SCOTUS it should be harder for you to sue them

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images / Aurich Lawson)

Suing technology firms when they mess up is already hard, especially over privacy violations. Now, Facebook, Google, and the trade groups representing all the big tech firms are asking the Supreme Court to make it even harder for class actions to pursue cases against them.

Facebook, Google, and all the others submitted a filing (PDF) to the Supreme Court this week basically arguing that if you cannot prove the specific extent to which their screwup injured you, you should not have any grounds to be part of a lawsuit against them.

Class-action suits start with a lead plaintiff—basically a representative of the group who stands in for hundreds or thousands of other individuals in a similar or theoretically similar, but not necessarily identical, situation. This is particularly key in cases relating to privacy and data, where a small handful of plaintiffs for whom something goes badly wrong may be the reason that hundreds, thousands, or even millions of users then discover that their data is being similarly mishandled.

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#alphabet, #amicus-curiae, #facebook, #google, #lawsuits, #policy, #scotus, #supreme-court, #transunion

Institutional trust is the real meme

Hello friends, this is Week in Review.

Last week, I dove into the AR maneuverings of Apple and Facebook and what that means for the future of the web. This week, I’m aiming to touch the meme stock phenomenon that dominated American news cycles this week and see if there’s anything worth learning from it, with an eye towards the future web.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox every Saturday morning from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.


Robin Hood statue in Nottingham

(Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

The big thing

This week was whatever you wanted it to be. A rising up of the proletariat. A case of weaponized disinformation. A rally for regulation… or perhaps deregulation of financial markets. Choose your own adventure with the starting point being one flavor of chaos leading into a slightly more populist blend of chaos.

At the end of it, a lot of long-time financiers are confused, a lot of internet users are using rent money to buy stock in Tootsie Roll, a lot of billionaires are finding how intoxicating adopting a “for-the-little-guy!” persona on Twitter can be, and here I am staring at the ceiling wondering if there’s any institution in the world trustworthy enough that the internet can’t turn it into a lie.

This week, my little diddy is about meme stocks, but more about the idea that once you peel away the need to question why you actually trust something, it can become easier to just blindly place that faith in more untrustworthy places. All the better if those places are adjacent to areas where others place trust.

The Dow Jones had its worst week since October because retail investors, organized in part on Reddit, turned America’s financial markets into the real front page of the internet. Boring, serious stocks like Facebook and Apple reported their earnings and the markets adjusted accordingly, but in addition to the serious bits of news, the Wall Street page was splashed with break neck gains from “meme stocks.” While junk stocks surging is nothing new, the idea that a stock can make outrageous gains based on nothing and then possibly hold that value based on a newly formed shared trust is newer and much more alarming.

The most infamous of these stocks was GameStop. (If you’re curious about GameStop’s week, there are at least 5 million stories across the web to grab your attention, here’s one. Side note: collectively we seem to have longer attention spans post-Trump.)

So, Americans already don’t have too much institutional faith. Looking through some long-standing Gallup research, compared to the turn of the century, faith in organized religion, the media, most wings of government, big business and banks has decreased quite a bit. The outliers in what Americans do seem to trust more than they did 20 or so years ago are small businesses and the military.

This is all to say that it’s probably not stellar that people don’t trust anything, and me thinking that the internet could probably disrupt every trusted institution except the military probably only shows my lack of creative thinking when it comes to how the web could democratize the Defense Department. As you might guess from that statement, I think democratizing access to certain institutions can be bad. I say that with about a thousand asterisks leading to footnotes that you’ll never find. I also don’t think the web is done disrupting institutional trust by a long shot, for better or worse.

Democratizing financial systems sounds a lot better from a populist lift, until you realize that the guys users are competing against are playing a different game with other people’s money. This saga will change plenty of lives but it won’t end particularly well for a most people exposed to “infinite upside” day trading.

Until this week, in my mind Robinhood was only reckless because it was exposing (or “democratizing access to” — their words) consumers to risk in a way that most of them probably weren’t equipped to handle. Now, I think that they’re reckless because they didn’t anticipate that OR how democratized access could lead to so many potential doomsday scenarios and bankrupt Robinhood. They quietly raised a $1 billion liquidity lifeline this week after they had to temporarily shut down meme stock trading, a move that essentially torched their brand and left them the web’s most hated institution. (Facebook had a quiet week)

This kind of all feeds back into this idea I’ve been feeding that scale can be very dangerous. Platforms seem to need a certain amount of head count to handle global audiences, and almost all of them are insufficiently staffed. Facebook announced this week in its earnings call that it has nearly 60,000 employees. This is a company that now has its own Supreme Court; that’s too big. If your institution is going to be massive and centralized, chances are you need a ton of people to moderate it. That’s something at odds with most existing internet platforms. Realistically, the internet would probably be happier with fewer of these sweeping institutions and more intimate bubbles that are loosely connected. That’s something that the network effects of the past couple decades have made harder but regulation around data portability could assist with.

Writing this newsletter, something I’m often reminded is that while it feels like everything is always changing, few things are wholly new. This great NYT profile from 2001 written by Michael Lewis is a great reminder of that, chronicling a 15-year-old who scammed the markets by using a web of dummy accounts and got hounded by the SEC but still walked away with $500k. Great read.

In the end, things will likely quiet down at Robinhood. There’s also the distinct chance that they don’t and that those meme traders just ignited a revolution that’s going to bankrupt the company and torch the globals markets, but you know things will probably go back to normal.

 

Until next week,
Lucas Matney


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law

(Photo by MANDEL NGAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Other things

SEC is pissed
I’ll try to keep these updates GameStop free, but one quick note from the peanut gallery. The SEC isn’t all that happy about the goings ons in the market this week and they’re mad, probably mostly at Robinhood. They got pretty terse with their statement. More

Facebook Oversight Board wants YOU
Zuckerberg’s Supreme Court wants public comment as it decides whether Facebook should give Trump his Instagram and Facebook accounts back. I’m sure any of Facebook’s executives would’ve stopped building the platform dead in its tracks in the years after its founding if they knew just how freaking complicated moderation was going to end up being for them, but you could probably have changed their mind back by showing them the market cap. More

Apple adtech-killing update drops in spring
After delaying its launch, Apple committed this week to the spring rollout of its “App Tracking Transparency” feature that has so much of the adtech world pissed. The update will force apps to essentially ask users whether they’d like to be tracked across apps. More

Robert Downey Jr. bets on startups
Celebrity investing has been popular forever, but it’s gotten way more common in the venture world in recent years. Reputation transfer teamed with the fact that money is so easy to come by for top founders, means that if you are choosing from some second-tier fund or The Chainsmokers, you might pick The Chainsmokers. On that note, actor Robert Downey Jr. raised a rolling fund to back climate tech startups, we’ve got all the deets. More

WeWork SPAC
Ah poor Adam Neumann, poor SoftBank. If only they’d kept their little “tech company” under wraps for another couple years and left that S-1 for a kinder market with less distaste for creative framing. It seems that WeWork is the next target to get SPAC’d and be brought onto public markets via acquisition. I’m sure everything will go fine. More

Tim Cook and Zuckerberg spar
Big tech is a gentlemen’s game, generally big tech CEOs play nice with each other in public and save their insults for the political party that just fell out of power. This week, Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg were a little less friendly. Zuckerberg called out Apple by name in their earnings investor call and floated some potential unfair advantages that Apple might have. Them’s fighting words. Cook was more circumspect as usual and delivered a speech that was at times hilariously direct in the most indirect way possible about how much he hates Facebook. More


Extra things

Tidbits from our paywalled Extra Crunch content:
The 5 biggest mistakes I made as a first-time startup founder
“I and the rest of the leadership team would work 12-hour days, seven days a week. And that trickled down into many other employees doing the same. I didn’t think twice about sending emails, texts or slacks at night and on weekends. As with many startups, monster hours were simply part of the deal.”

Fintechs could see $100 billion of liquidity in 2021
“For the fourth straight year, the publicly traded fintechs massively outperformed the incumbent financial services providers as well as every mainstream stock index. While the underlying performance of these companies was strong, the pandemic further bolstered results as consumers avoided appearing in-person for both shopping and banking. Instead, they sought — and found — digital alternatives.”

Rising African venture investment powers fintech, clean tech bets in 2020
“What is driving generally positive venture capital results for Africa in recent quarters? Giuliani told TechCrunch in a follow-up email that ‘investment in Africa is being driven on the one hand by a broadening base for early-stage ecosystem support organizations, including accelerators, seed funds, syndicates and angel investing,” and “consolidation,” which is aiding both “growth-stage deals and a burgeoning M&A market.’”

 

#adam-neumann, #africa, #america, #apple, #apple-inc, #banking, #computing, #department-of-defense, #facebook, #gamestop, #lucas-matney, #mark-zuckerberg, #mike, #robinhood, #softbank, #supreme-court, #tc, #technology, #the-social-network, #tim-cook, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #week-in-review, #wework

As it hits $100 million run rate, The Pill Club adds former Uber exec Liz Meyerdirk as CEO

Liz Meyerdirk made a name for herself at Uber as the Senior Director & Global Head of Business Development for the company’s Uber Eats business and she’s now turning her attention to women’s health as the new chief executive of The Pill Club.

The move comes at a perilous time for the remote delivery of women’s healthcare as the Supreme Court has taken steps to limit the provision of sexual healthcare to women in recent months.

“Women’s health care has never been more tested than right now,” Meyerdirk noted in a blog post announcing her new role. “COVID-19 has upended access to care; dozens of states have—and continue—to try and limit women’s choice; and last year, the Supreme Court voted to uphold the rollback of the ACA contraceptive mandate decision, a stunning move that could end up impacting as many as 126,000 women who previously received covered contraception through employer-based health insurance.”

A seasoned corporate executive, Meyerdirk is hoping to navigate The Pill Club through these treacherous times. “These events have shown that reliable, safe, and affordable access to women’s health and birth control is
just one more vulnerability in our health care system,” Meyerdirk wrote.

Liz Meyerdirk, chief executive of The Pill Club: Image Credit: The Pill Club

As it faces an uncertain legal environment on some fronts, the company couldn’t be in a better position financially.

The Pill Club, which is profitable and now has a $100 million run rate, is now ready for its closeup with Meyerdirk at the helm.

The company has managed to make its mark in the crowded world of online prescriptions and refill fulfillment by focusing specifically on women’s health and ensuring that those services are available to as many potential patients as possible.

“We’re now serving hundreds of thousands of women nationwide with 20% on Medicaid,” says Meyerdirk. “We prescribe in 43 states and the District of Columbia.”

For Meyerdirk, the background she had in logistics and fulfillment from her time at Uber Eats made the transition to the pill prescription and delivery service natural.

“There is a heavy logistics element to it,” said Meyerdirk.

As Meyerdirk takes the reins of the company, she said there’s a few areas that The Pill Club will expand into beyond its focus on birth control and contraception. “There are areas that our customers are asking for,” Meyerdirk said.

These areas include, initially, dermatology. Last year the company launched a delivery service for contraceptives and women’s hygiene products like pads and tampons.

As it continues to expand its product suite, it’s also growing its executive staff. The company not only added Meyerdirk, but also David Hsu as chief financial officer and Jeremy Downs as senior vice president of growth. Hsu joins the company from Honey, where led the $4 billion acquisition negotiations with PayPal, and Downs comes from Uber Eats, where he spent five years leading growth.

“We need sustained, long-term access to women’s health care, not just a bridge while the pandemic persists; and we need coverage for essential health services like birth control and prenatal care, regardless of whether or not you’re insured,” Meyerdirk wrote. “Reproductive care has and continues to be an essential part of our business, but there are countless opportunities to serve women in all of their life stages from puberty to menopause.”

#articles, #birth-control, #chief-financial-officer, #contraception, #health, #health-care, #health-services, #healthcare, #paypal, #reproductive-health, #supreme-court, #tc, #uber, #uber-eats, #womens-health

Decrypted: Google finds a devastating iPhone security flaw, FireEye hack sends alarm bells ringing

In case you missed it: A ransomware attack saw patient data stolen from one of the largest U.S. fertility networks; the Supreme Court began hearing a case that may change how millions of Americans use computers and the internet; and lawmakers in Massachusetts have voted to ban police from using facial recognition across the state.

In this week’s Decrypted, we’re deep-diving into two stories beyond the headlines, including why the breach at cybersecurity giant FireEye has the cybersecurity industry in shock.


THE BIG PICTURE

Google researcher finds a major iPhone security bug, now fixed

What happens when you leave one of the best security researchers alone for six months? You get one of the most devastating vulnerabilities ever found in an iPhone — a bug so damaging that it can be exploited over-the-air and requires no interaction on the user’s part.

The AWDL bug under attack using a proof-of-concept exploit developed by a Google researcher. Image Credits: Ian Beer/Google Project Zero

The vulnerability was found in Apple Wireless Direct Link (AWDL), an important part of the iPhone’s software that among other things allows users to share files and photos over Wi-Fi through Apple’s AirDrop feature.

“AWDL is enabled by default, exposing a large and complex attack surface to everyone in radio proximity,” wrote Google’s Ian Beer in a tweet, who found the vulnerability in November and disclosed it to Apple, which pushed out a fix for iPhones and Macs in January.

But exploiting the bug allowed Beer to gain access to the underlying iPhone software using Wi-Fi to gain control of a vulnerable device — including the messages, emails and photos — as well as the camera and microphone — without alerting the user. Beer said that the bug could be exploited over “hundreds of meters or more,” depending on the hardware used to carry out the attack. But the good news is that there’s no evidence that malicious hackers have actively tried to exploit the bug.

News of the bug drew immediate attention, though Apple didn’t comment. NSA’s Rob Joyce said the bug find is “quite an accomplishment,” given that most iOS bugs require chaining multiple vulnerabilities together in order to get access to the underlying software.

FireEye hacked by a nation-state, but the aftermath is unclear

#apple, #articles, #computer-security, #cyberattacks, #cyberwarfare, #decrypted, #dragos, #fireeye, #google, #government, #infrastructure, #iphone, #massachusetts, #national-security-agency, #online-platforms, #orca-security, #president, #ransomware, #ron-wyden, #security, #series-b, #supreme-court, #the-washington-post, #trump, #u-s-government, #white-house, #wi-fi

The Supreme Court will finally rule on controversial US hacking law

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch, back, and Stephen Breyer, right, seemed skeptical of the government's broad reading of the CFAA. Justice Thomas, center, seemed more sympathetic to the government's view. Chief Justice Roberts, left, kept his cards close to his chest.

Enlarge / Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch, back, and Stephen Breyer, right, seemed skeptical of the government’s broad reading of the CFAA. Justice Thomas, center, seemed more sympathetic to the government’s view. Chief Justice Roberts, left, kept his cards close to his chest. (credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The Supreme Court on Monday considered how broadly to interpret the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, America’s main anti-hacking statute.

Here’s how I described the case back in September:

The case arose after a Georgia police officer named Nathan Van Buren was caught taking a bribe to look up confidential information in a police database. The man paying the bribe had met a woman at a strip club and wanted to confirm that she was not an undercover cop before pursuing a sexual—and presumably commercial—relationship with her.

Unfortunately for Van Buren, the other man was working with the FBI, which arrested Van Buren and charged him with a violation of the CFAA. The CFAA prohibits gaining unauthorized access to a computer system—in other words, hacking—but also prohibits “exceeding authorized access” to obtain data. Prosecutors argued that Van Buren “exceeded authorized access” when he looked up information about the woman from the strip club.

But lawyers for Van Buren disputed that. They argued that his police login credentials authorized him to access any data in the database. Offering confidential information in exchange for a bribe may have been contrary to department policy and state law, they argued, but it didn’t “exceed authorized access” as far as the CFAA goes.

Obviously, no one is going to defend a cop allegedly accepting bribes to reveal confidential government information. But the case matters because the CFAA has been invoked in prosecutions of more sympathetic defendants. For example, prosecutors used the CFAA to prosecute Aaron Swartz for scraping academic papers from the JSTOR database. They also prosecutied a small company that used automated scraping software to purchase and resell blocks of tickets from the TicketMaster website.

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#cfaa, #policy, #supreme-court, #van-buren-case

The Supreme Court will hear its first big CFAA case

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Monday in a case that could lead to sweeping changes to America’s controversial computer hacking laws — and affecting how millions use their computers and access online services.

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act was signed into federal law in 1986 and predates the modern internet as we know it, but governs to this day what constitutes hacking — or “unauthorized” access to a computer or network. The controversial law was designed to prosecute hackers, but has been dubbed as the “worst law” in the technology law books by critics who say it’s outdated and vague language fails to protect good-faith hackers from finding and disclosing security vulnerabilities.

At the center of the case is Nathan Van Buren, a former police sergeant in Georgia. Van Buren used his access to a police license plate database to search for an acquaintance in exchange for cash. Van Buren was caught, and prosecuted on two counts: accepting a kickback for accessing the police database, and violating the CFAA. The first conviction was overturned, but the CFAA conviction was upheld.

Van Buren may have been allowed to access the database by way of his police work, but whether he exceeded his access remains the key legal question.

Orin Kerr, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said Van Buren vs. United States was an “ideal case” for the Supreme Court to take up. “The question couldn’t be presented more cleanly,” he argued in a blog post in April.

The Supreme Court will try to clarify the decades-old law by deciding what the law means by “unauthorized” access. But that’s not a simple answer in itself.

“The Supreme Court’s opinion in this case could decide whether millions of ordinary Americans are committing a federal crime whenever they engage in computer activities that, while common, don’t comport with an online service or employer’s terms of use,” said Riana Pfefferkorn, associate director of surveillance and cybersecurity at Stanford University’s law school. (Pfefferkorn’s colleague Jeff Fisher is representing Van Buren at the Supreme Court.)

How the Supreme Court will determine what “unauthorized” means is anybody’s guess. The court could define unauthorized access anywhere from violating a site’s terms of service to logging into a system that a person has no user account for.

Pfefferkorn said a broad reading of the CFAA could criminalize anything from lying on a dating profile, sharing the password to a streaming service, or using a work computer for personal use in violation of an employer’s policies.

But the Supreme Court’s eventual ruling could also have broad ramifications on good-faith hackers and security researchers, who purposefully break systems in order to make them more secure. Hackers and security researchers have for decades operated in a legal grey area because the law as written exposes their work to prosecution, even if the goal is to improve cybersecurity.

Tech companies have for years encouraged hackers to privately reach out with security bugs. In return, the companies fix their systems and pay the hackers for their work. Mozilla, Dropbox, and Tesla are among the few companies that have gone a step further by promising not to sue good-faith hackers under the CFAA. Not all companies welcome the scrutiny and bucked the trend by threatening to sue researchers over their findings, and in some cases actively launching legal action to prevent unflattering headlines.

Security researchers are no stranger to legal threats, but a decision by the Supreme Court that rules against Van Buren could have a chilling effect on their work, and drive vulnerability disclosure underground.

“If there are potential criminal (and civil) consequences for violating a computerized system’s usage policy, that would empower the owners of such systems to prohibit bona fide security research and to silence researchers from disclosing any vulnerabilities they find in those systems,” said Pfefferkorn. “Even inadvertently coloring outside the lines of a set of bug bounty rules could expose a researcher to liability.”

“The Court now has the chance to resolve the ambiguity over the law’s scope and make it safer for security researchers to do their badly-needed work by narrowly construing the CFAA,” said Pfefferkorn. “We can ill afford to scare off people who want to improve cybersecurity.”

The Supreme Court will likely rule on the case later this year, or early next.

Read more:

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The Supreme Court hears Oracle v. Google tomorrow—here’s what’s at stake

Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai. (credit: Sam Churchill)

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Oracle v. Google, a landmark case that considers whether application-programming interfaces can be protected by copyright. We first published this article about the case in early 2019, when Google asked the Supreme Court to consider the case. It has been edited to reflect the fact that oral arguments are this week.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in one of the decade’s most significant software copyright decisions: the 2018 ruling by an appeals court that Google infringed Oracle’s copyrights when Google created an independent implementation of the Java programming language. More broadly, the case could decide the copyright status of application-programming interfaces, with huge implications for the software industry.

An application-programming interface is the glue that holds complex software systems together. Until 2014, it was widely assumed that no one could use copyright law to restrict APIs’ use—a view that promoted software interoperability.

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#api-copyrights, #api-trolls, #google, #oracle, #oracle-v-google, #policy, #supreme-court

Standing by developers through Google v. Oracle

The Supreme Court will hear arguments tomorrow in Google v. Oracle. This case raises a fundamental question for software developers and the open-source community: Whether copyright may prevent developers from using software’s functional interfaces — known as APIs — to advance innovation in software. The court should say no — free and open APIs protect innovation, competition and job mobility for software developers in America.

When we use an interface, we don’t need to understand (or care) about how the function on the other side of the interface is performed. It just works. When you sit down at your computer, the QWERTY keyboard allows you to rapidly put words on the screen. When you submit an online payment to a vendor, you are certain the funds will appear in the vendor’s account. It just works.

In the software world, interfaces between software programs are called “application programming interfaces” or APIs. APIs date back to the 1950s and allow developers to write programs that reuse other program functionality without knowing how that functionality is performed. If your program needs to sort a list, you could have it use a sorting program’s API to sort the list for your program. It just works.

Developers have historically used software interfaces free of copyright concerns, and this freedom has accelerated innovation, software interoperation and developer job mobility. Developers using existing APIs save time and effort, allowing those savings to be refocused on new ideas. Developers can also reimplement APIs from one software platform to others, enabling innovation to flow freely across software platforms.

Importantly, reusing APIs gives developers job portability, since knowledge of one set of APIs is more applicable cross-industry. The upcoming Google v. Oracle decision could change this, harming developers, open-source software and the entire software industry.

Google v. Oracle and the platform API bargain

Google v. Oracle is the culmination of a decade-long dispute. Back in 2010, Oracle sued Google, arguing that Google’s Android operating system infringed Oracle’s rights in Java. After ten years, the dispute now boils down to whether Google’s reuse of Java APIs in Android was copyright infringement.

Prior to this case, most everyone assumed that copyright did not cover the use of functional software like APIs. Under that assumption, competing platforms’ API reimplementation allowed developers to build new yet familiar things according to the API bargain: Everyone could use the API to build applications and platforms that interoperate with each other. Adhering to the API made things “just work.”

But if the Google v. Oracle decision indicates that API reimplementation requires copyright permission, the bargain falls apart. Nothing “just works” unless platform makers say so; they now dictate rules for interoperability — charging developers huge prices for the platform or stopping rival, compatible platforms from being built.

Free and open APIs are essential for modern developers

If APIs are not free and open, platform creators can stop competing platforms from using compatible APIs. This lack of competition blocks platform innovation and harms developers who cannot as easily transfer their skills from project to project, job to job.

MySQL, Oracle’s popular database, reimplemented mSQL’s APIs so third-party applications for mSQL could be “ported easily” to MySQL. If copyright had restricted reimplementation of those APIs, adoption of MySQL, reusability of old mSQL programs and the expansion achieved by the “LAMP” stack would have been stifled, and the whole ecosystem would be poorer for it. This and other examples of API reimplementation — IBM’s BIOS, Windows and WINE, UNIX and Linux, Windows and WSL, .NET and Mono, have driven perhaps the most amazing innovation in human history, with open-source software becoming critical digital infrastructure for the world.

Similarly, a copyright block on API-compatible implementations puts developers at the mercy of platform makers say so — both for their skills and their programs. Once a program is written for a given set of APIs, that program is locked-in to the platform unless those APIs can also be used on other software platforms. And once a developer learns skills for how to use a given API, it’s much easier to reuse than retrain on APIs for another platform. If the platform creator decides to charge outrageous fees, or end platform support, the developer is stuck. For nondevelopers, imagine this: The QWERTY layout is copyrighted and the copyright owner decided to charge $1,000 dollars per keyboard. You would have a choice: Retrain your hands or pay up.

All software used by anyone was created by developers. We should give developers the right to freely reimplement APIs, as developer ability to shift applications and skills between software ecosystems benefits everyone — we all get better software to accomplish more.

I hope that the Supreme Court’s decision will pay heed to what developer experience has shown: Free and open APIs promote freedom, competition, innovation and collaboration in tech.

#android, #apis, #column, #developer, #google, #government, #java, #lawsuit, #open-source-software, #operating-system, #opinion, #oracle-corporation, #supreme-court

‘The Real Facebook Oversight Board’ launches to counter Facebook’s ‘Oversight Board’

Today a group of academics, researchers and civil rights leaders go live on with ‘The Real Facebook Oversight Board’ which is designed to criticize and discuss the role of the platform in the upcoming US election. The group includes Facebook’s ex-head of election security, leaders of the #StopHateForProfit campaign and Roger McNamee, early Facebook investor. Facebook launched its own ‘Oversight Board’ last November to deal with thorny issues of content moderation, but Facebook has admitted it will not be overseeing any of Facebook’s content or activity during the course of the US election, and will only adjudicate on issues after the event.

The press conference for the launch is streamed live today, below:

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg claimed last November that the Oversight Board was “an incredibly important undertaking” and would “prevent the concentration of too much decision-making within our teams” and promote “accountability and oversight”.

The move was seen as an acknowledgment of the difficulty of decision-making inside Facebook. Decisions on what controversial posts to remove fall on the shoulders of individual executives, hence why the Oversight Board will act like a ‘Supreme Court’ for content moderation.

However, the Oversight Board has admitted it will take up to three months to make a decision and will only make judgments about content that has been removed from the platform, not what stays up. 

Facebook has invested $130 million in this board and announced its first board members in May, including ex-prime minister of Denmark, Helle Thorning-Schmidt and the ex-editor-in-chief of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger.

The activist-led ‘Real Facebook Oversight Board’ includes the ex-President of Estonia, Toomas Henrik Ilves, an outspoken critic of Facebook and Maria Ressa, the journalist currently facing imprisonment in the Philippines for cyberlibel.

Board members also include Shoshana Zuboff, author of Surveillance Capitalism, Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, Yael Eisenstat, former head of election integrity at Facebook, Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, and Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League .

This issue of how Facebook moderates its content and allows its users to be targetted by campaigns has become ever more pressing as the US election looms closer. It’s already been revealed by Channel 4 News in the UK that 3.5 million Black Americans were profiled and categorized on Facebook, and other social media, as needing to be deterred from voting by the Trump campaign.

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Online voting vendor Voatz urges Supreme Court to limit security research

Online voting vendor Voatz urges Supreme Court to limit security research

Enlarge (credit: Traitov | Getty Images)

The Supreme Court is considering whether to adopt a broad reading of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act that critics say could criminalize some types of independent security research and create legal uncertainty for many security researchers. Voatz, an online voting vendor whose software was used by West Virginia for overseas military voters in the 2018 election, argues that this wouldn’t be a problem.

“Necessary research and testing can be performed by authorized parties,” Voatz writes in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court. “Voatz’s own security experience provides a helpful illustration of the benefits of authorized security research, and also shows how unauthorized research and public dissemination of unvalidated or theoretical security vulnerabilities can actually cause harmful effects.”

As it happens, we covered a recent conflict between Voatz and an independent security researcher in last Thursday’s deep dive on online voting. And others involved in that altercation did not see it the way Voatz did.

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#cfaa, #policy, #supreme-court, #voatz

New Jersey court say police can force you to give up your phone’s passcode

New Jersey’s top court has ruled that police can compel suspects to give up their phone passcodes, and does not violate the Fifth Amendment.

The Fifth Amendment protects Americans from self-incrimination, including the well-known right to remain silent.

But the courts remain split on whether this applies to device passcodes. Both Indiana and Pennsylvania have ruled compelling a suspect to turn over their device’s passcode would violate the Fifth Amendment.

New Jersey’s Supreme Court thinks differently. In this week’s ruling, the court said the Fifth Amendment protects only against self-incriminating testimony — as in speech — and not the production of incriminating information.

Much of the legal debate is not about the passcodes, rather the information contained on the devices. Courts like Indiana found that compelling a suspect to turn over their passcode can give the government unfettered access to the suspect’s device, which may contain potentially incriminating information that the government might not have been aware of. The courts have likened this to a fishing expedition and ruled it unconstitutional.

But in the New Jersey case, the court said it’s a “foregone conclusion” that the phone’s data wouldn’t reveal anything the government didn’t already know.

Law enforcement have spent years trying to break into suspects’ phones, either using phone hacking technology with mixed results, or — in the case of modern phones — by using a suspect’s fingerprint or face to unlock their devices.

With courts divided on the matter, the final arbiter on the legality of whether police can compel a suspect to turn over their password will fall to the U.S. Supreme Court.


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#new-jersey, #pennsylvania, #privacy, #security, #supreme-court

Decrypted: As tech giants rally against Hong Kong security law, Apple holds out

It’s not often Silicon Valley gets behind a single cause. Supporting net neutrality was one, reforming government surveillance another. Last week, Big Tech took up its latest: halting any cooperation with Hong Kong police.

Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, and even China-headquartered TikTok said last week they would no longer respond to demands for user data from Hong Kong law enforcement — read: Chinese authorities — citing the new unilaterally imposed Beijing national security law. Critics say the law, ratified on June 30, effectively kills China’s “one country, two systems” policy allowing Hong Kong to maintain its freedoms and some autonomy after the British handed over control of the city-state back to Beijing in 1997.

Noticeably absent from the list of tech giants pulling cooperation was Apple, which said it was still “assessing the new law.” What’s left to assess remains unclear, given the new powers explicitly allow warrantless searches of data, intercept and restrict internet data, and censor information online, things that Apple has historically opposed if not in so many words.

Facebook, Google and Twitter can live without China. They already do — both Facebook and Twitter are banned on the mainland, and Google pulled out after it accused Beijing of cyberattacks. But Apple cannot. China is at the heart of its iPhone and Mac manufacturing pipeline, and accounts for over 16% of its revenue — some $9 billion last quarter alone. Pulling out of China would be catastrophic for Apple’s finances and market position.

The move by Silicon Valley to cut off Hong Kong authorities from their vast pools of data may be a largely symbolic move, given any overseas data demands are first screened by the Justice Department in a laborious and frequently lengthy legal process. But by holding out, Apple is also sending its own message: Its ardent commitment to human rights — privacy and free speech — stops at the border of Hong Kong.

Here’s what else is in this week’s Decrypted.


THE BIG PICTURE

Police used Twitter-backed Dataminr to snoop on protests

#5g, #apple, #artificial-intelligence, #beijing, #bt, #cell-phones, #china, #companies, #data-mining, #dataminr, #decrypted, #facebook, #george-floyd, #google, #government, #huawei, #internet-data, #iphone, #law-enforcement, #microsoft, #officer, #palantir, #peter-thiel, #privacy, #security, #spokesperson, #supreme-court, #surveillance, #techcrunch, #technology, #telecommunications, #telecoms-infrastructure, #twitter, #united-kingdom, #united-states

Supreme Court strikes down 2015 law allowing robocalls by debt collectors

The words

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Olivier Le Moal)

The US Supreme Court today struck down a provision in US law that let debt collectors make robocalls to cell phones, ruling that the law violates the First Amendment by favoring debt-collection speech over other speech.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) of 1991 prohibits “almost all robocalls to cell phones,” but Congress in 2015 amended the law to add “a new government-debt exception that allows robocalls made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States,” the Supreme Court noted in today’s ruling. The opinion was written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

“As the Government concedes, the robocall restriction with the government-debt exception cannot satisfy strict scrutiny,” the ruling said. “The Government has not sufficiently justified the differentiation between government-debt collection speech and other important categories of robocall speech, such as political speech, issue advocacy, and the like.” Government-backed loans affected by the ruling include student loans, home mortgages, veterans’ loans, farm loans, and business loans.

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#policy, #robocalls, #supreme-court, #tcpa

Supreme Court says generic domains like booking.com can be trademarked

A multistory red-brick building with a clocktower.

Enlarge / The headquarters of Booking Holdings in Amsterdam. (credit: poludziber / Getty)

The US Patent and Trademark Office erred by finding the term booking.com was too generic for trademark protection, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.

Trademark law prohibits anyone from registering generic terms that describe a class of products or services. Anyone can start a store company called “The Wine Company,” but they can’t use trademark law to stop others from using the same name. When the online travel giant Bookings Holdings sought to trademark its booking.com domain name almost a decade ago, the US Patent and Trademark Office concluded that the same rule applied.

Booking Holdings challenged this decision in court. The company pointed to survey data showing that consumers associated the phrase “booking.com” with a specific website as opposed to a generic term for travel websites. Both the trial and appeals courts sided with booking.com, finding that booking.com was sufficiently distinctive to merit its own trademark—even if the generic word “booking” couldn’t be trademarked on its own.

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#booking-com, #generic-marks, #policy, #supreme-court

Affirming the position of tech advocates, Supreme Court overturns Trump’s termination of DACA

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that President Donald Trump’s administration unlawfully ended the federal policy providing temporary legal status for immigrants who came to the country as children.

The decision, issued Thursday, called the termination of the Obama-era policy known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals “arbitrary and capricious.” As a result of its ruling, nearly 640,000 people living in the United States are now temporarily protected from deportation.

While a blow to the Trump Administration, the ruling is sure to be hailed nearly unanimously by the tech industry and its leaders, who had come out strongly in favor of the policy in the days leading up to its termination by the current President and his advisors.

At the beginning of 2018, many of tech’s most prominent executives, including the CEOs of Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google, joined more than 100 American business leaders in signing an open letter asking Congress to take action on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program before it expired in March.

Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and Sundar Pichai who made a full throated defense of the policy and pleaded with Congress to pass legislation ensuring that Dreamers, or undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children and were granted approval by the program, can continue to live and work in the country without risk of deportation.

At the time, those executives said the decision to end the program could potentially cost the U.S. economy as much as $215 billion.

In a 2017 tweet, Tim Cook noted that Apple employed roughly 250 of the company’s employees were “Dreamers”.

The list of tech executives who came out to support the DACA initiative is long. It included: IBM CEO Ginni Rometty; Brad Smith, the president and chief legal officer of Microsoft; Hewlett-Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman; and CEOs or other leading executives of AT&T, Dropbox, Upwork, Cisco Systems, Salesforce.com, LinkedIn, Intel, Warby Parker, Uber, Airbnb, Slack, Box, Twitter, PayPal, Code.org, Lyft, Etsy, AdRoll, eBay, StitchCrew, SurveyMonkey, DoorDash, Verizon (the parent company of Verizon Media Group, which owns TechCrunch).

At the heart of the court’s ruling is the majority view that Department of Homeland Security officials didn’t provide a strong enough reason to terminate the program in September 2017. Now, the issue of immigration status gets punted back to the White House and Congress to address.

As the Boston Globe noted in a recent article, the majority decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts did not determine whether the Obama-era policy or its revocation were correct, just that the DHS didn’t make a strong enough case to end the policy.

“We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action,” Roberts wrote. 

While the ruling from the Supreme Court is some good news for the population of “dreamers,” the question of their citizenship status in the country is far from settled. And the U.S. government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has basically consisted of freezing as much of the nation’s immigration apparatus as possible.

An Executive Order in late April froze the green card process for would-be immigrants, and the administration was rumored to be considering a ban on temporary workers under H1-B visas as well.

The President has, indeed, ramped up the crackdown with strict border control policies and other measures to curb both legal and illegal immigration. 

More than 800,000 people joined the workforce as a result of the 2012 program crafted by the Obama administration. DACA allows anyone under 30 to apply for protection from deportation or legal action on their immigration cases if they were younger than 16 when they were brought to the US, had not committed a crime, and were either working or in school.

In response to the Supreme Court decision, the President tweeted “Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?”

 

 

#adroll, #advisors, #airbnb, #amazon, #apple, #att, #brad-smith, #cisco-systems, #congress, #donald-trump, #doordash, #ebay, #etsy, #facebook, #ginni-rometty, #google, #hewlett-packard-enterprise, #ibm, #immigration, #intel, #jeff-bezos, #linkedin, #lyft, #mark-zuckerberg, #meg-whitman, #microsoft, #obama, #paypal, #president, #salesforce-com, #sundar-pichai, #supreme-court, #tc, #techcrunch, #tim-cook, #trump-administration, #twitter, #u-s-government, #uber, #united-states, #upwork, #verizon-media-group, #white-house