May 2, 2011

Wikileaks Founder: Facebook is the most appalling spy machine that has ever been invented

Matt Brian:

Despite awaiting extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is still the subject of much media interest.

Russia Today (RT) interviewed Assange, getting his viewpoint on political unrest in Egypt and Libya, particularly probing what the Wikileaks founder makes of social media's roles in the recent revolutions in both countries. In his interview, Assange focuses particularly on Facebook calling it the "most appalling spy machine that has ever been invented".

Posted by jez at 8:35 PM

April 28, 2011

Seven tricky questions for Mr Buffett

Andrew Hill:

Until this week, only one topic was off-limits for questions to Warren Buffett at Saturday's annual gathering of Berkshire Hathaway shareholders in Omaha: how serious is the Dave Sokol affair?

On Wednesday, however, the company issued an 18-page report from its audit committee about the former star executive's trading in shares in Lubrizol, a chemicals group later bought by Berkshire, and declared open season for all questions to Mr Buffett.

Here are my seven:

1. How serious is the Dave Sokol affair?

You are the world's most famous long-term investor. Recently, Berkshire's shares have lagged behind the S&P 500, but your record of outperformance over more than four decades speaks for itself. Even big, conservative bets, such as the 2009 investment in Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway, have been well timed. But Mr Sokol was a frontrunner to succeed you as chief executive. You lauded him regularly in your annual letter to shareholders. His abrupt resignation and the circumstances surrounding it seem to suggest that this is more than just a blip.

2. Do you love some of your managers too much?

Posted by jez at 10:17 PM

April 13, 2011

White House visitor logs leave out many

Viveca Novak & Fred Schulte:

A foot of snow couldn't keep Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Jennifer Hudson and other celebrities away from a star-studded celebration of civil-rights-era music, hosted by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama at the White House in February 2010.

Dylan's haunting rendition of "The Times They Are a-Changin'" was a highlight of the dazzling evening. The digitally friendly White House even posted the video of his performance on its website.

But you won't find Dylan (or Robert Zimmerman, his birth name) listed in the White House visitor logs -- the official record of who comes to call at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., which is maintained by the Secret Service.

Ditto Joan Baez.

Posted by jez at 10:37 AM

January 30, 2011

GOP pushing for ISPs to record user data

Declan McCullagh:

he House Republicans' first major technology initiative is about to be unveiled: a push to force Internet companies to keep track of what their users are doing.

A House panel chaired by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin is scheduled to hold a hearing tomorrow morning to discuss forcing Internet providers, and perhaps Web companies as well, to store records of their users' activities for later review by police.

One focus will be on reviving a dormant proposal for data retention that would require companies to store Internet Protocol (IP) addresses for two years, CNET has learned.

Tomorrow's data retention hearing is juxtaposed against the recent trend to protect Internet users' privacy by storing less data. Last month, the Federal Trade Commission called for "limited retention" of user data on privacy grounds, and in the last 24 hours, both Mozilla and Google have announced do-not-track technology.

Amazing. I thought the economy was job #1 for the Republicans.

Posted by jez at 8:18 PM

January 24, 2011

Antitrust bulldog Gary Reback pushes Google probe

James Temple:

In the 1990s, attorney Gary Reback helped goad the Department of Justice into launching the landmark antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft Corp. by hauling willing witnesses and damning information before any government body that would listen.

Reback, of Menlo Park law firm Carr & Ferrell LLP, is now waging a similarly relentless campaign against a technology giant of this era, Google Inc.

In an extensive interview with The Chronicle, he argued the Mountain View search company is engaging in a host of anti-competitive behaviors that are no less egregious than the earlier actions of Microsoft.

He also claims the Federal Trade Commission recently backed off an inquiry into certain of Google's practices at the behest of the DOJ. It's known to be conducting a separate investigation into, and possibly preparing to block, the company's proposed acquisition of travel data company ITA Software. (Read on for his take on what that means.)

Posted by jez at 10:08 PM

January 13, 2011

Goldman's pieties go too far

Sebastian Mallaby:

For sheer, toe-curling embarrassment, it's hard to choose between last year's populist attack on Goldman Sachs by the US Securities and Exchange Commission and this week's cringe-worthy response from the investment bank.

Last April, when the SEC filed suit against Goldman, the bank could have fought back. The suit complained it had sold fancy mortgage securities without disclosing that a hedge-fund manager, John Paulson, was betting that those same securities would blow up. To which Goldman could have answered: so what? Any time an investment bank sells any derivative, it should be obvious to the buyer that somebody somewhere must be taking the other side. The SEC's assertion that Goldman had misled customers about the nature of Paulson's involvement was potentially more damaging, except that the SEC produced no evidence to make this charge stick.

It was surely not beyond the wit of Goldman's publicists to communicate these simple points. Banks cannot be held responsible for the profits or losses of their clients, since middle-men necessarily have customers who lose as others win. But after one vain attempt to explain market making at a belligerent Senate hearing, Goldman's boss, Lloyd Blankfein, gave up. He settled with the SEC, even though most lawyers think he could have beaten the charges. Then he ordered up an elaborate cleansing ritual to relaunch the firm of Goldman Sachs.

Several months later, the fruits of Goldman's sun salutations are out. A 67-page manifesto of self-purification proclaims that "our clients' interests always come first," and that "if we serve our clients, our own success will follow." But these pieties misrepresent the true nature of an investment bank just as surely as the SEC did.

Posted by jez at 8:01 AM

December 6, 2010

Regulators Look at Farming Landscape

Ian Berry

Food prices are back on the march, and the powerful U.S. farm lobby faces a day of reckoning on Wednesday as the Obama administration wraps up a yearlong study into competition and consolidation in the agricultural sector.

The Departments of Justice and Agriculture are holding their fifth and final workshop to review the competitive landscape in food production and livestock rearing after a unique collaboration that has left some of the industry's largest players looking nervously over their shoulders.

Monsanto Co. is already embroiled in a Justice Department investigation into alleged anticompetitive practices linked to the sale and distribution of genetically modified seeds that dominate U.S. farming. Dean Foods Inc., the country's largest milk producer, has also seen antitrust officials move to block a small acquisition.

Lawmakers already have had to wrestle with external forces on the sector, such as the rise of speculative funds that critics contend have inflated prices. The latest run-up in commodity prices has also reawakened the long-running food-versus-fuel debate as Congress decides whether to renew subsidies to the ethanol industry.

Posted by jez at 12:17 AM

December 3, 2010

Some Data-Miners Ready to Reveal What They Know

Emily Steel

Seeking to head off escalating scrutiny over Internet privacy, a group of online tracking rivals are building a service that lets consumers see what information those companies know about them.

The project is the first of its kind in the fast-growing business of tracking Internet users and selling personal details about their lives. Called the Open Data Partnership, it will allow consumers to edit the interests, demographics and other profile information collected about them. It also will allow people to choose to not be tracked at all.
When the service launches in January, users will be able to see information about them from eight data and tracking firms, including BlueKai Inc., Lotame Solutions Inc. and eXelate Inc.

Additional tracking firms are expected to join once the system is live, but more than a hundred tracking firms and big Internet companies including Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. are not involved.

Posted by jez at 9:47 PM

October 2, 2010

Rise of the Online Autocrats

Evgeny Morozov
The tweets started arriving in August, and they did not mince words. One of the first accused the South Korean government of being "a prostitute of the United States." The Twitter account, under the name "uriminzok," or "our nation," seemed to be part of a sprawling North Korean digital operation that included a Facebook account (registered as a man interested in "meeting other men," but solely for "networking purposes") and a series of YouTube videos meant to celebrate the might of the North Korean military.

A spokesman for the North Korean government quickly denied any involvement with the Facebook and Twitter accounts, but he acknowledged that they were the work of government supporters living in China and Japan. The owner of the Facebook page (which the Palo Alto, Calif., company eventually deleted, citing violation of its terms of service) told a South Korean news agency that it was run by a Pyongyang-based publishing outlet affiliated with the government. Apparently, even the notoriously isolated rulers of North Korea know how to practice what the U.S. State Department calls "21st-century statecraft."
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:45 AM

August 15, 2010

Google On the Future. Will It All Be Good In the Googlesphere?

Professor Sabena
The nice people of Rupert's world sat down with Google head man - Eric Schmidt. The Wall Street Journal team peppered Eric with lots of interesting questions. Some of his answers would make the usual PRHHM (Public Relations hacks handlers and minders) squirm.

In the Googlesphere it has become clear that all information should be held sacred as long as Google has a copy and is in charge of what gets shown and not shown. As Schmidt noted in the Techonomy conference on August 4, 2010 , all information should be subject to "much greater transparency and no anonymity." ... because he assumes that (Google) technology is ultimately good (as opposed to evil). I think that makes me very nervous. And thank you, I vote for my Government which I think is called a democracy. Going back to the WSJ article, Schmidt continues - "Most people..... They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next."

In general I believe that personalization is part of the mix. My view is that 'context' is better term than 'personalization'. I don't think that everything needs to be/should be uniquely or personalized. That is not how we are in our work and personal lives. To assume that this is the case is blatantly arrogant in my view. What happens if you get this wrong? And yes people who should know better do get these sort of things wrong - frequently. Just look at credit reports. But Google doesn't seem to want to think about that because.... Mr. Schmidt is a believer in targeted advertising because, simply, he's a believer in targeted everything: "The power of individual targeting—the technology will be so good it will be very hard for people to watch or consume something that has not in some sense been tailored for them." ....This is a direct quote from the WSJ. Too bad that Big Brother Google will be the arbiter or this and thence directly or indirectly control and influence our tastes.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:04 PM

July 4, 2010

Insider Trading Inside the Beltway

Professor Bainbridge:
My new article, Insider Trading Inside the Beltway, has been posted to SSRN. Now it just needs to find a nice law review home somewhere in the top 50.

Abstract: A 2004 study of the results of stock trading by United States Senators during the 1990s found that that Senators on average beat the market by 12% a year. In sharp contrast, U.S. households on average underperformed the market by 1.4% a year and even corporate insiders on average beat the market by only about 6% a year during that period. A reasonable inference is that some Senators had access to – and were using – material nonpublic information about the companies in whose stock they trade.

Under current law, it is unlikely that Members of Congress can be held liable for insider trading. The proposed Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act addresses that problem by instructing the Securities and Exchange Commission to adopt rules intended to prohibit such trading.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:20 PM

June 28, 2010

Three privacy initiatives from the Office of Management and Budget The U.S. government has a new take on federated identity, storage and social networks.

Andy Oram:
Last Friday was a scramble for government security personnel and independent privacy advocates, and should also have stood out to anyone concerned with the growth of online commerce, civic action, and social networking. The U.S. government's Office of Management and Budget, which is the locus of President Obama's drive toward transparency and open government, popped out three major initiatives that combine to potentially change the landscape for online identity and privacy, not only within government but across the Internet.

In this blog I'll summarize the impacts of all three documents, as well as the next steps that I see necessary in these areas. The documents (all distributed as PDFs, which is not the easiest format to draw commentary) are:
  • A discussion draft of the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace. Comments can be viewed and entered on a feedback site.
  • An OMB Memorandum on Guidance for Online Use of Web Measurement and Customization Technologies.
  • An OMB Memorandum on Guidance for Agency Use of Third-Party Websites and Applications.
These documents are not long, but the complexity of the policy areas they address ensure that no blog could cover everything of importance, nor could a single commentator like me provide a well-rounded view. I'll focus on the changes they make to policies that are known to require change, with a "job well done" pat on the back. In highlighting gaps and omissions, I'll deliberately swim around the shoals that others have loudly pointed to already, focusing instead on problems that I believe deserve more attention.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:43 PM

June 6, 2010

Group cites study in push for Google antitrust case

Bloomberg:
Consumer Watchdog continues to push its case that Google Inc.'s behavior necessitates antitrust scrutiny, releasing a report that alleges that the company is abusing its dominance in online search to direct users to its own services.

The study cites online traffic data that the Santa Monica group claims show the Mountain View Internet giant seized large portions of market share in areas like online maps, video and comparison shopping after its search engine began highlighting links to its products in results.

Google called the report's methodology and premise flawed and said its practices are designed to benefit users.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:10 PM

May 31, 2010

Google has mapped every WiFi network in Britain

Duncan Gardham:
Google has mapped every wireless network in Britain in order to use the information for commercial purposes, it has emerged.

Every WiFi wireless router – the device that links most computer owners to the internet - in every home has been entered into a Google database.

The information was collected by radio aerials on their Street View cars, which have now photographed almost every home in the country.

The data is then used on Google's Maps for Mobile application to locate mobile phones such as iPhones in order for users to access information relevant to the area such as restaurants, cinemas, theatres, shops and hotels.

The project had remained secret until an inquiry in Germany earlier this month in which Google was forced to admit that it “mistakenly” downloaded emails and other data from unsecured wireless networks where they we
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:40 PM

May 28, 2010

Identity cards scheme will be axed 'within 100 days'

BBC:
The National Identity Card scheme will be abolished within 100 days with all cards becoming invalid, Home Secretary Theresa May has said.

Legislation to axe the scheme will be the first put before parliament by the new government - with a target of it becoming law by August.

The 15,000 people who voluntarily paid £30 for a card since the 2009 roll out in Manchester will not get a refund.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:28 PM

April 21, 2010

The decline of the Great Writ: The sad history of habeas corpus

The Economist:
Habeas Corpus: From England to Empire. By Paul Halliday. Harvard University Press; 502 pages; $39.95 and £29.95. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk

WHEN discussing habeas corpus or the “Great Writ of Liberty”, as the most revered legal device of the Anglophone world is often known, jurists and civil libertarians tend to become misty-eyed. In 1777 Charles James Fox, a radical British politician, described habeas corpus during a parliamentary debate on its suspension as “the great palladium of the liberties of the subject” and deplored the “insolence and temerity” of those “who could thus dare to snatch it from the people”.

Nearly 230 years later, in an impassioned attack from the Senate floor on the Bush administration’s bill to suspend habeas corpus for anyone determined to be an “unlawful enemy combatant”, Barack Obama declared: “I do not want to hear that this is a new kind of world in which we face a new kind of enemy.” Another senator, Arlen Specter, roared: “The right of habeas corpus was established in the Magna Carta in 1215…what the bill seeks to do is set back basic rights by some 900 years.” In Britain, Lord Hoffmann, a law lord reviewing government “control orders” to detain terrorist suspects in 2007, thundered: “Such is the revulsion against detention without charge or trial, such is this country’s attachment to habeas corpus, that the right to liberty ordinarily trumps even the interests of national security.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:06 AM

April 7, 2010

The Europe roundup: Iceland, from the financial crisis to open data

Antonella Napolitino:
Iceland | From the financial crisis to open data
In 2008 in Iceland the financial system imploded. "Not surprisingly, this has led to a demand for more transparency, more access to public data and more effective communication by the government. All of a sudden Open Data is seen as a high priority among various lobby groups, branches of government and in restoration planning" says Hjalmar Gislason, an open data activist and member of the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Working Group on EU Open Data. In a long and detailed post, Gislason explains how this is not just part of the "momentum" open data is gaining in Europe, but a further step in a path that started in late '90s.
The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative and the presence of Wikileaks surely have a positive impact on the whole scenario and there is no doubt they will help boosting any future open data bill. The effects will be seen soon: "In December a rare cross-party parliamentary proposal (the first step in passing new legislation) was made, proposing a “default open” strategy for any public sector data. The Prime Minister’s Office has formed a committee that is to propose changes and improvements in legislation and suggest how to define the boundaries between data that is to be open and data that shall remain closed."
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:06 AM

April 5, 2010

German Government Minister's Letter to Facebook

German Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner:
Dear Mr. Zuckerberg,

I was astonished to discover that, despite the concerns of users and severe criticism from consumer activists, "Facebook" would like to relax data protection regulations on the network even further. Your current privacy policy states that in future user data is to be automatically passed on to third parties. These parties are supposed to comprise previously vetted operators of websites and applications. Anyone who does not want this to happen must take action themselves and use the opt-out function. I use the Internet every day, both professionally and privately, and am a member of several social networks, including Facebook. Social networks are an enrichment and it is difficult to imagine our lives without them. Networks such as Facebook link millions of people across national boundaries, and it is for this very reason that particular importance must be attached to protecting privacy. As you know, I, in my capacity as Federal Minister of Consumer Protection, am striving to ensure that personal data on the Internet is protected. Private information must remain private - I think that I speak for many Internet users in this respect. Unfortunately, Facebook does not respect this wish, a fact that was confirmed in the most recent study by the German consumer organisation "Stiftung Warentest". Facebook fares badly in this study. Facebook was graded as "poor" in respect of user-data policy and user rights. Facebook also refused to provide information on data security - it was awarded a "5" (= poor) in this category as well.

It is therefore all the more astounding that Facebook is not willing to eliminate the existing shortcomings regarding data protection, but is instead going even further. Decisions such as this will not engender trust in an enterprise in the long term.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:05 PM

February 17, 2010

Why the Technology Sector Should Care About Google Books

Gary Reback @ TechCrunch:
Antitrust lawyer and Open Book Alliance leader Gary Reback has been called the “antitrust champion” and the “protector of the marketplace” by the National Law Journal, and has been at the forefront of many of the most important antitrust cases of the last three decades. He is one of the most vocal opponents of the Google Books settlement. I interviewed Reback a few months ago, and Google Books was one of the topics we discussed. In the column below, Reback discusses Google Books and its ties to Google search.

This Thursday leaders of the international publishing industry will watch with bated breath as a federal judge in New York hears arguments over whether to approve the Google Book Settlement.

More a complicated joint venture among Google and five big New York publishers than the resolution of pending litigation, the proposed settlement once promised unprecedented access to millions of out-of-print books through digital sales to consumers and online research subscriptions for libraries. But with the passage of time and the ability to examine the deal more closely, the promises proved illusory. The big publishers, as it turns out, have reserved the right to negotiate secret deals with Google for the books they claim through the settlement (pdf).

Meanwhile, torrents of outrage rained down on the New York court – from authors whose ownership rights will be appropriated through the settlement’s procedures, from librarians fearful of price exploitation by Google, from privacy advocates worried that Google will monitor the reading habits of library patrons, from libertarians incensed over the use of a legal procedure to effect the widespread appropriation of property, from digital booksellers concerned about Google’s unfair advantage in the marketplace.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:24 AM

February 12, 2010

Iceland aims to become an offshore haven for journalists and leakers

Jonathan Stray:
On Tuesday, the Icelandic parliament is expected to introduce a measure aimed at making the country an international center for investigative journalism publishing, by passing the strongest combination of source protection, freedom of speech, and libel-tourism prevention laws in the world.

Supporters of the proposal say the move would make Iceland an “offshore publishing center” for free speech, analogous to the offshore financial havens that allow corporations to hide capital from authorities. Could global news organizations with a home office in Reykjavík soon be as common as Delaware corporations or Cayman Islands assets?

“This is a legislative package to create a haven for freedom of expression,” Icelandic member of parliament Birgitta Jónsdóttir confirmed to me, saying that a proposal for comprehensive media law reform will be filed in parliament on Tuesday, and that whistle-blowing specialists Wikileaks has been involved in drafting it. There have been persistent hints of an Icelandic media move in recent weeks, including tweets from Wikileaks and a cryptic message from the newly created @icelandmedia Twitter account.

The text of the proposal, called the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, is not yet public, but the most detailed evidence comes from a video of a talk by Julian Assange and Daniel Schmitt of Wikileaks, given at the Chaos Communications Congress hacker conference in Berlin on Dec. 27:
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:00 PM

February 2, 2010

Microsoft's Police State Vision?

Lauren Weinstein:
Greetings. About a week ago, in Google and the Battle for the Soul of the Internet, I noted that:
Even here in the U.S., one of the most common Internet-related questions that I receive is also one of the most deeply disturbing: Why can't the U.S. require an Internet "driver's license" so that there would be no way (ostensibly) to do anything anonymously on the Net?

After I patiently explain why that would be a horrendous idea, based on basic principles of free speech as applied to the reality of the Internet -- most people who approached me with the "driver's license" concept seem satisfied with my take on the topic, but the fact that the question keeps coming up so frequently shows the depth of misplaced fears driven, ironically, by disinformation and the lack of accurate information.

So when someone who really should know better starts to push this sort of incredibly dangerous concept, it's time to bump up to orange alert at a minimum, and the trigger is no less than Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer for Microsoft.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos two days ago, Mundie explicitly called for an "Internet Driver's License": "If you want to drive a car you have to have a license to say that you are capable of driving a car, the car has to pass a test to say it is fit to drive and you have to have insurance."
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:15 AM

January 17, 2010

Other People's Privacy

Nicholas Carr:
In the wake of Google's revelation last week of a concerted, sophisticated cyber attack on many corporate networks, including its own Gmail service, Eric Schmidt's recent comments about privacy become even more troubling. As you'll recall, in a December 3 CNBC interview, Schmidt said, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place. But if you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines - including Google - do retain this information for some time and it's important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities."

For a public figure to say "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place" is, at the most practical of levels, incredibly rash. You're essentially extending an open invitation to reporters to publish anything about your life that they can uncover. (Ask Gary Hart.) The statement also paints Schmidt as a hypocrite. In 2005, he threw a legendary hissy fit when CNET's Elinor Mills, in an article about privacy, published some details about his residence, his finances, and his politics that she had uncovered through Google searches. Google infamously cut off all contact with CNET for a couple of months. Schmidt didn't seem so casual about the value of privacy when his own was at stake.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:51 PM

January 1, 2010

Banking after the kindness of strangers

Francesco Guerrera:
”Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers”. The last line of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire – uttered by its desperate heroine to the doctor taking her to a mental asylum – is an apt summary of the US financial sector in 2009.

As the crisis abated, banks took maximum advantage of the kindness of taxpayers and regulators to return to their core business: making money for shareholders and employees.

Ultra-low interest rates, dwindling competition and pent-up demand for their services sparked a renaissance in profits and share prices of the financial institutions that emerged from the turmoil in reasonable shape.

The question is whether history will repeat itself, or even just rhyme, this year. Here are my ten, utterly personal and non-exhaustive, predictions for the year ahead in US finance.

1) Strangers will be a lot less kind. With banks boasting about their new-found health, regulators will pull the plug on most of the measures they introduced to drag the financial industry back from the brink. A host of acronyms (Tarp, Talf, PPIP, TLGP) will be forgotten but not missed.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:56 AM

October 27, 2009

The Inside Story of Wal-Mart's Hacker Attack

Kim Zetter:
Wal-Mart was the victim of a serious security breach in 2005 and 2006 in which hackers targeted the development team in charge of the chain’s point-of-sale system and siphoned source code and other sensitive data to a computer in Eastern Europe, Wired.com has learned.

Internal documents reveal for the first time that the nation’s largest retailer was among the earliest targets of a wave of cyberattacks that went after the bank-card processing systems of brick-and-mortar stores around the United States beginning in 2005. The details of the breach, and the company’s challenges in reconstructing what happened, shed new light on the vulnerable state of retail security at the time, despite card-processing security standards that had been in place since 2001.

In response to inquiries from Wired.com, the company acknowledged the hack attack, which it calls an “internal issue.” Because no sensitive customer data was stolen, Wal-Mart had no obligation to disclose the breach publicly.

Wal-Mart had a number of security vulnerabilities at the time of the attack, according to internal security assessments seen by Wired.com, and acknowledged as genuine by Wal-Mart. For example, at least four years’ worth of customer purchasing data, including names, card numbers and expiration dates, were housed on company networks in unencrypted form. Wal-Mart says it was in the process of dramatically improving the security of its transaction data, and in 2006 began encrypting the credit card numbers and other customer information, and making other important security changes.

“Wal-Mart … really made every effort to segregate the data, to make separate networks, to encrypt it fully from start to finish through the transmission, ” says Wal-Mart’s Chief Privacy Officer Zoe Strickland. “And not just in one area but across the different uses of credit card systems.”

Wal-Mart uncovered the breach in November 2006, after a fortuitous server crash led administrators to a password-cracking tool that had been surreptitiously installed on one of its servers. Wal-Mart’s initial probe traced the intrusion to a compromised VPN account, and from there to a computer in Minsk, Belarus.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:52 AM

The Best Summary (to date) of Taxpayer Funded Events that Lead to Goldman Sachs' Survival and Recent Large Payouts

Joe Nocera:
A few weeks ago, shortly after Goldman Sachs reported its latest blowout quarter, the firm’s chief executive, Lloyd Blankfein, spoke at a Fortune magazine breakfast.

In normal times, Mr. Blankfein might have been forgiven for bragging a bit about the just-reported quarter — over $3 billion in profit on $12 billion in revenue. It had generated some $6 billion just in one division: fixed income. It had more than $160 billion in cash or cash equivalents on its balance sheet. And of course it had long since repaid, with interest, the $10 billion it had accepted from the Treasury Department during the darkest days of the crisis.

But of course those weren’t the numbers the media and the public had focused on in the wake of Goldman’s earnings. Instead, people were fixated on the $5.3 billion the firm had set aside for its executives’ year-end bonuses. Added to first and second quarter set-asides of $4.6 billion and $6.6 billion, the firm had put aside $16 billion so far this year for employee bonuses. Nearly 50 percent of the firm’s revenue was going toward compensation. And there was still one more quarter to go!

Was it fair, commentators kept asking, that barely a year after the taxpayers had essentially saved the financial system, this firm that took government capital should now be paying multimillion-dollar bonuses? Was it right? Which, not surprisingly, is what Fortune’s managing editor, Andrew Serwer, asked Mr. Blankfein within minutes of taking the stage.

In private, Goldman executives are scornful of the sentiment behind this question. Their view, in essence, is that they should be applauded for being able to pay such big bonuses, because it means their business is successful. People who want them to pay less, they believe, want them to fail.

But Mr. Blankfein, a charming, funny man who has been Goldman’s boss since 2006, is far too smart to say that out loud. Nonetheless, what he did say was revealing. Treasury’s original decision to use the Troubled Asset Relief Program to shore up the banks’ capital, Mr. Blankfein said, “was a sensible thing to do at the time.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:45 AM

August 21, 2009

Flickr vs. Free Speech

Mike Arrington:
One thing I’ve learned over the years is this - screwing over your users while yelling “the lawyers made me do it!” rarely ends well. Particularly when the lawyers are just being lazy, and free speech rights are at stake.

Flickr really stepped in it this time. And they’ve sparked a free speech and copyright fascism debate that is unlikely to cool down any time soon.

Sometime last week they took down a photoshopped image of President Obama that makes him look like the Heath Ledger (Joker) character from The Dark Knight. The image was created and uploaded to Flickr by 20 year old college student Firas Alkhateeb while “bored over winter school break.” It was also later altered yet again by someone else and used to create anti-obama posters that went up in Los Angeles.

Thomas Hawk has a good overview of some of the other details, but the short version is the image was removed by Flickr sometime last week due to “due to copyright-infringement concerns.”

People are angry over the takedown. There are lots of pictures mocking President Bush on a Time Magazine cover on Flickr that haven’t been removed. And of the Heath Ledger Joker character.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:23 AM

August 14, 2009

On Locational Privacy, and How to Avoid Losing it Forever

EFF:
Over the next decade, systems which create and store digital records of people's movements through public space will be woven inextricably into the fabric of everyday life. We are already starting to see such systems now, and there will be many more in the near future.

Here are some examples you might already have used or read about:
  • Monthly transit swipe-cards
  • Electronic tolling devices (FastTrak, EZpass, congestion pricing)
  • Cellphones
  • Services telling you when your friends are nearby
  • Searches on your PDA for services and businesses near your current location
  • Free Wi-Fi with ads for businesses near the network access point you're using
  • Electronic swipe cards for doors
  • Parking meters you can call to add money to, and which send you a text message when your time is running out
These systems are marvellously innovative, and they promise benefits ranging from increased convenience to transformative new kinds of social interaction.

Unfortunately, these systems pose a dramatic threat to locational privacy.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:47 PM

June 30, 2008

I've Seen the Future, and It Has a Kill Switch

Bruce Schneier:

It used to be that just the entertainment industries wanted to control your computers -- and televisions and iPods and everything else -- to ensure that you didn't violate any copyright rules. But now everyone else wants to get their hooks into your gear.

OnStar will soon include the ability for the police to shut off your engine remotely. Buses are getting the same capability, in case terrorists want to re-enact the movie Speed. The Pentagon wants a kill switch installed on airplanes, and is worried about potential enemies installing kill switches on their own equipment.

Microsoft is doing some of the most creative thinking along these lines, with something it's calling "Digital Manners Policies." According to its patent application, DMP-enabled devices would accept broadcast "orders" limiting capabilities. Cellphones could be remotely set to vibrate mode in restaurants and concert halls, and be turned off on airplanes and in hospitals. Cameras could be prohibited from taking pictures in locker rooms and museums, and recording equipment could be disabled in theaters. Professors finally could prevent students from texting one another during class.

The possibilities are endless, and very dangerous. Making this work involves building a nearly flawless hierarchical system of authority. That's a difficult security problem even in its simplest form. Distributing that system among a variety of different devices -- computers, phones, PDAs, cameras, recorders -- with different firmware and manufacturers, is even more difficult. Not to mention delegating different levels of authority to various agencies, enterprises, industries and individuals, and then enforcing the necessary safeguards.

Posted by jez at 6:19 AM

March 10, 2008

NSA's Domestic Spying Grows As Agency Sweeps Up Data

Siobhan Gorman:

Five years ago, Congress killed an experimental Pentagon antiterrorism program meant to vacuum up electronic data about people in the U.S. to search for suspicious patterns. Opponents called it too broad an intrusion on Americans' privacy, even after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

But the data-sifting effort didn't disappear. The National Security Agency, once confined to foreign surveillance, has been building essentially the same system.

The central role the NSA has come to occupy in domestic intelligence gathering has never been publicly disclosed. But an inquiry reveals that its efforts have evolved to reach more broadly into data about people's communications, travel and finances in the U.S. than the domestic surveillance programs brought to light since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Posted by jez at 11:05 AM

September 30, 2007

Prosecutor Over-Reaching

Dee Hall covers an issue vital to our democracy - over zealous prosecutors:

A Wisconsin State Journal investigation, however, found instances in which court records and transcripts back up his critics' claims that he has crossed ethical lines. Stretching back to the early 1990s, Humphrey has been the subject of criticism accusing him of ethical lapses, poor judgment and unreasonably aggressive tactics. Critics have included defendants, defense attorneys, judges and three of the four district attorneys who've supervised him.

The State Journal examined more than 2,000 pages of documents, including records from Humphrey's office files obtained under the open-records law. The newspaper also interviewed more than two dozen attorneys, judges, defendants, legal experts and law-enforcement officials.

The newspaper's investigation found that the veteran prosecutor:

— Wrongfully kept a young man in the Dane County Jail for a month, even after he was repeatedly notified of the error.

— Made false or misleading statements in affidavits, in correspondence and in court hearings to advance his case or to cover up mistakes.

— Charged two witnesses and had a third arrested for failing to show up for trials that had been cancelled — a tactic his boss had warned him was "an abuse of your authority."

— Aggressively pursued seven felony charges against a bankrupt father who was $2,846 behind in child support — a prosecution the judge said should "make one wonder about the integrity of (the) justice system."

— Twice pursued vehicular-homicide charges using speed estimates his own experts told him were inflated.

One of those cases was Humphrey's failed prosecution of Adam Raisbeck, a 17-year-old from Marshall. Humphrey's actions in the case prompted a blunt reprimand from his boss, and the misconduct findings that are headed to the Supreme Court.

US District Judge Lewis Kaplan recently expressed concern over "prosecutor's expansive power".

Posted by James Zellmer at 6:15 PM