Microsoft

Microsoft Launches A Counterattack Against Russia's 'Fancy Bear' Hackers (thedailybeast.com) 64

Kevin Poulsen writes on the Daily Beast: It turns out Microsoft has something even more formidable than Moscow's malware: Lawyers. Last year attorneys for the software maker quietly sued the hacker group known as Fancy Bear in a federal court outside Washington DC, accusing it of computer intrusion, cybersquatting, and infringing on Microsoft's trademarks... Since August, Microsoft has used the lawsuit to wrest control of 70 different command-and-control points from Fancy Bear... Rather than getting physical custody of the servers, which Fancy Bear rents from data centers around the world, Microsoft has been taking over the Internet domain names that route to them. These are addresses like "livemicrosoft[.]net" or "rsshotmail[.]com" that Fancy Bear registers under aliases for about $10 each. Once under Microsoft's control, the domains get redirected from Russia's servers to the company's, cutting off the hackers from their victims, and giving Microsoft a omniscient view of that servers' network of automated spies. "In other words," Microsoft outside counsel Sten Jenson explained in a court filing last year, "any time an infected computer attempts to contact a command-and-control server through one of the domains, it will instead be connected to a Microsoft-controlled, secure server."
Businesses

Are Nondisparagement Agreements Silencing Employee Complaints? (cnbc.com) 132

cdreimer writes, "According to a report in the New York Times, 'nondisparagement agreements are increasingly included in employment contracts and legal settlements' to hide abuses that would otherwise be made public." The Times reports: Employment lawyers say nondisparagement agreements have helped enable a culture of secrecy. In particular, the tech start-up world has been roiled by accounts of workplace sexual harassment, and nondisparagement clauses have played a significant role in keeping those accusations secret... Nondisparagement clauses are not limited to legal settlements. They are increasingly found in standard employment contracts in many industries, sometimes in a simple offer letter that helps to create a blanket of silence around a company. Their use has become particularly widespread in tech employment contracts, from venture investment firms and start-ups to the biggest companies in Silicon Valley, including Google... Employees increasingly "have to give up their constitutional right to speak freely about their experiences if they want to be part of the work force," said Nancy E. Smith, a partner at the law firm Smith Mullin.
Three different tech industry employees told the Times "they are not allowed to acknowledge that the agreements even exist." And Google "declined to comment" for the article.
The Courts

Intel Accuses Qualcomm of Trying To Kill Mobile Chip Competition (cnet.com) 49

Intel has jumped into the fray surrounding the Apple-Qualcomm patent spat by accusing the world's biggest maker of mobile phone chips of trying to use the courts to snuff out competition. From a report: The chip giant made the allegation late Thursday in a public statement (PDF) to US International Trade Commission. The commission had requested the statement as part of its investigation into Qualcomm's accusation that Apple's iPhones of infringe six of Qualcomm's mobile patents. Specifically, Intel said, the case is about quashing competition from Intel, which described itself as "Qualcomm's only remaining competitor" in the market for chips for cellular phones. "Qualcomm did not initiate this investigation to stop the alleged infringement of its patent rights; rather, its complaint is a transparent effort to stave off lawful competition from Qualcomm's only remaining rival," Intel said in its statement. "This twisted use of the Commission's process is just the latest in a long line of anticompetitive strategies that Qualcomm has used to quash incipient and potential competitors and avoid competition on the merits."
Movies

Disney Facing VFX Firm's Injunction Bid on Three Blockbuster Films (hollywoodreporter.com) 93

From a report: 'Guardians of the Galaxy,' 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' and 'Beauty and the Beast' are now under the microscope for use of facial capture technology. Upping the stakes over a technology called "performance motion capture," Rearden LLC is going after The Walt Disney Company in a lawsuit filed this week. The plaintiff, a firm incubated by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Perlman, is demanding an injunction prohibiting Disney from distributing Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Beauty and the Beast. The new lawsuit comes a year after Rearden scored a startling injunction against two Chinese firms that purchased allegedly stolen technology known as MOVA, which was being licensed by Digital Domain 3.0. At the time, some legal observers were reading the ruling as notice to Hollywood studios that the facial motion capture technology was out of play. According to Rearden's latest lawsuit in California federal court, Disney didn't listen. "Disney used the stolen MOVA Contour systems and methods, made derivative works, and reproduced, distributed, performed, and displayed at least Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Beauty and the Beast, in knowing or willfully blind violation of Rearden Mova LLC's intellectual property rights."
The Courts

Judge Rules That Government Can Force Glassdoor To Unmask Anonymous Users Online (arstechnica.com) 119

pogopop77 shares a report from Ars Technica: An appeals court will soon decide whether the U.S. government can unmask anonymous users of Glassdoor -- and the entire proceeding is set to happen in secret. Federal investigators sent a subpoena asking for the identities of more than 100 anonymous users of the business-review site Glassdoor, who apparently posted reviews of a company that's under investigation for potential fraud related to its contracting practices. The government later scaled back its demand to just eight users. Prosecutors believe these eight Glassdoor users are "third-party witnesses to certain business practices relevant to [the] investigation." The name of the company under investigation is redacted from all public briefs. Glassdoor made a compromise proposal to the government: it would notify the users in question about the government's subpoena and then provide identifying information about users who were willing to participate. The government rejected that idea. At that point, Glassdoor lawyered up and headed to court, seeking to have the subpoena thrown out. Lawyers for Glassdoor argued that its users have a First Amendment right to speak anonymously. While the company has "no desire to interfere" with the investigation, if its users were forcibly identified, the investigation "could have a chilling effect on both Glassdoor's reviewers' and readers' willingness to use glassdoor.com," states Glassdoor's motion (PDF). The government opposed the motion, though, and prevailed in district court.
United States

US Ends Controversial Laptop Ban On Flights From Middle East (theguardian.com) 79

The United States has ended a four-month ban on passengers carrying laptops onboard US-bound flights from certain airports in the Middle East and North Africa, bringing to an end one of the controversial travel restrictions imposed by President Donald Trump's administration. From a report: Riyadh's King Khalid international airport was the last of 10 airports to be exempted from the ban, the US department of homeland security (DHS) confirmed in a tweet late on Wednesday local time. Middle East carriers have blamed Trump's travel restrictions, which include banning citizens of some Muslim-majority countries from visiting the United States, for a downturn in demand on US routes. In March, the United States banned large electronics in cabins on flights from 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa over concerns that explosives could be concealed in the devices taken onboard aircraft. The ban has been lifted on the nine airlines affected -- Emirates, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Royal Jordanian , Kuwait Airways, EgyptAir and Royal Air Maroc -- which are the only carriers to fly direct to the US from the region. A ban on citizens of six Muslim-majority countries -- Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, -- remains in place, though has been limited after several US court hearings challenged the restrictions.
EU

EU Court to Rule On 'Right to Be Forgotten' Outside Europe (wsj.com) 181

The European Union's top court is set to decide whether the bloc's "right to be forgotten" policy stretches beyond Europe's borders, a test of how far national laws can -- or should -- stretch when regulating cyberspace. From a report: The case stems from France, where the highest administrative court on Wednesday asked the EU's Court of Justice to weigh in on a dispute between Alphabet's Google and France's privacy regulator over how broadly to apply the right (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source), which allows EU residents to ask search engines to remove some links from searches for their own names. At issue: Can France force Google to apply it not just to searches in Europe, but anywhere in the world? The case will set a precedent for how far EU regulators can go in enforcing the bloc's strict new privacy law. It will also help define Europe's position on clashes between governments over how to regulate everything that happens on the internet -- from political debate to online commerce. France's regulator says enforcement of some fundamental rights -- like personal privacy -- is too easily circumvented on the borderless internet, and so must be implemented everywhere. Google argues that allowing any one country to apply its rules globally risks upsetting international law and, when it comes to content, creates a global censorship race among autocrats.
The Courts

California Lawsuit Wants To Weaken Noncompetes (axios.com) 125

An anonymous reader shares a report: California already prohibits companies from enforcing noncompetes within the state, but a Bay Area life sciences company is asking a state court to go even further. Veeva Systems is suing three of its East Coast-based competitors and asking a California Superior Court judge to declare that it has the right to hire employees who have signed such agreements. Veeva also wants a court to limit the use of non-disparagement and confidentiality agreements. "Non-compete agreements are bad," the company said in its suit. "These agreements limit employment opportunities. They suppress wages. They keep employees trapped in jobs they do not want, and they keep employees from fairly competing with their former employers. These agreements restrict fair and robust competition for employees."
The Almighty Buck

$12 Billion In Private Student Loan Debt May Be Wiped Away By Missing Paperwork (nytimes.com) 399

New submitter cdreimer shares a report from The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternate source): Tens of thousands of people who took out private loans to pay for college but have not been able to keep up payments may get their debts wiped away because critical paperwork is missing. The troubled loans, which total at least $5 billion, are at the center of a protracted legal dispute between the student borrowers and a group of creditors who have aggressively pursued them in court after they fell behind on payments. Judges have already dismissed dozens of lawsuits against former students, essentially wiping out their debt, because documents proving who owns the loans are missing. A review of court records by The New York Times shows that many other collection cases are deeply flawed, with incomplete ownership records and mass-produced documentation. Some of the problems playing out now in the $108 billion private student loan market are reminiscent of those that arose from the subprime mortgage crisis a decade ago, when billions of dollars in subprime mortgage loans were ruled uncollectable by courts because of missing or fake documentation. And like those troubled mortgages, private student loans -- which come with higher interest rates and fewer consumer protections than federal loans -- are often targeted at the most vulnerable borrowers, like those attending for-profit schools.

At the center of the storm is one of the nation's largest owners of private student loans, the National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts. It is struggling to prove in court that it has the legal paperwork showing ownership of its loans, which were originally made by banks and then sold to investors. National Collegiate is an umbrella name for 15 trusts that hold 800,000 private student loans, totaling $12 billion. More than $5 billion of that debt is in default, according to court filings.

Microsoft

US Appeals Court Upholds Nondisclosure Rules For Surveillance Orders (reuters.com) 53

An anonymous reader shares a report: A U.S. federal appeals court on Monday upheld nondisclosure rules that allow the FBI to secretly issue surveillance orders for customer data to communications firms, a ruling that dealt a blow to privacy advocates. A unanimous three-judge panel on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco sided with a lower court ruling in finding that rules permitting the FBI to send national security letters under gag orders are appropriate and do not violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution's free speech protections. Content distribution firm CloudFlare and phone network operator CREDO Mobile had sued the government in order to notify customers of five national security letters received between 2011 and 2013.
Media

Free Speech vs Billionaires: Netflix Streams A New Documentary About The Gawker Verdict (businessinsider.com) 199

Speaking of Netflix, last month they began streaming "Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press" -- a new documentary by Brian Knappenberger about the Gawker verdict. An anonymous reader shares this description from Business Insider: Knappenberger -- who previously made the movies "The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz," on internet activist Aaron Swartz, and "We Are Legion," about the hacker group Anonymous -- got in touch with Nick Denton and Gawker editor-in-chief (who also posted the Hogan sex tape video) A.J. Daulerio to be in the film as well as Hogan's lawyer David R. Houston... Knappenberger said he also tried to get Peter Thiel to be in the movie, but Thiel declined Knappenberger's numerous requests. And the movie shows how other people with money and influence can and do silence the media.

Knappenberger also showcases what happened to the Las Vegas Review-Journal at the end of 2015. The paper's staff was suddenly told that the paper had been sold, though they were never told who the new publisher was. A group of reporters found that the son-in-law of Las Vegas casino titan Sheldon Adelson was a major player in the purchase of the paper. According to the movie, Adelson had a vendetta with the paper's columnist John L. Smith, who wrote unflattering things about him in a 2005 book. Smith was even ordered after the paper was bought that he was never to write about Adelson in any of his pieces. For Knappenberger, there's no other way to look at it: The suppression of the media by billionaires is happening.

Knappenberger said if any legal documents arrive from the billionaires discussed in his movie, "We're ready for it." But he added that the bigger issue is getting people to understand that the loss of the free press is "the most important thing facing our country." Or, as a former Gawker editor says in the film, "If you're not pissing off a billionaire, what's the point?"
Businesses

Are America's Non-Compete Laws Too Strict? (nrtoday.com) 167

Slashdot reader cdreimer shared an article from the New York Times: Idaho achieved a notable distinction last year: It became one of the hardest places in America for someone to quit a job for a better one. The state did this by making it easier for companies to enforce noncompete agreements, which prevent employees from leaving their company for a competitor... The result was a bill that shifted the burden from companies to employees, who must now prove they have "no ability to adversely affect the employer's legitimate business interests." The bar for that is so high that Brian Kane, an assistant chief deputy in the Idaho attorney general's office, wrote that this would be "difficult if not impossible" for an employee to do...

For the most part, states have been moving toward making it easier for people to switch teams... The most extreme end of the spectrum is California, which prohibits noncompete agreements entirely. Economists say this was a crucial factor behind Silicon Valley's rise, because it made it easier for people to start and staff new businesses. But as states like Utah and Massachusetts have tried to move closer to this approach, legislators have run into mature companies trying to hold onto their best employees... A recent survey showed that one in five American workers is bound by a noncompete clause. They cover workers up and down the economic spectrum, from executives to hairdressers.

Two economists tell the newspaper that since 2000, U.S. workers have changed their jobs less and less, which is sometimes blamed on strict employment contracts as well as the occupational licensing laws which affect a third of America's workforce. The Times reports that noncompete clauses ultimately end up keeping workers' salaries lower, "because most people get raises when they switch jobs."
United Kingdom

UK Wifi Provider Tricks Customers Into Agreeing To Clean Sewers (upi.com) 71

An anonymous reader quotes UPI: Unwitting customers in the United Kingdom who didn't read the terms and conditions for use of a public WiFi hotspot agreed to perform 1,000 hours of community service, including unclogging sewers and scraping gum off the street. The gag was conceived by WiFi provider Purple. The company inserted the clause into its terms and conditions -- the technically legally binding agreement consumers approve in exchange for use of free Internet, though virtually few actually read the terms. The company said it did so to call attention to the fact consumers are regularly agreeing to terms that they may not actually like, including granting access to private information and data about their web browsing habits.
Other community service tasks agreed to by users included "providing hugs to stray cats and dogs" and "painting snail shells to brighten up their existence." The agreement also promised a prize to anyone who actually became aware of the prize's existences after reading the terms and conditions -- yet after two weeks only one person came forward to claim the prize.
Businesses

BetterWorks and CEO Sued By Ex-employee For Alleged Sexually Suggestive Assault (techcrunch.com) 79

From a report: Beatrice Kim is suing her former employer, BetterWorks, and its CEO Kris Duggan for allegedly assaulting her in a sexual manner during a company retreat. The lawsuit also implicates the performance management software startup's regional VP Matt Hart and VP of People Operations Tamara Cooksey for allowing sexual harassment in the workplace and not taking action against Duggan after the alleged assault was reported to the company. Kim is suing over sexual harassment and discrimination, assault and battery, demanding a jury trial, Kim's lawyer Conor D. Mack of Arena Hoffman LLP told TechCrunch.
Medicine

Vaccines May Soon Be Mandatory For Children In France (theverge.com) 252

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Last week, the French Health Ministry announced plans to make 11 vaccines mandatory for young children by 2018. French law currently mandates three vaccines -- diphtheria, tetanus, and polio -- for children under the age of two. The government's proposal would expand that list to include eight other vaccines -- including those against Hepatitis B, whooping cough, and measles -- that were previously only recommended. The proposal, which is to be presented to lawmakers by the end of this year, comes amid an ongoing measles outbreak across Europe, which the World Health Organization (WHO) attributed to low immunization rates. Italy passed a similar decree in May, requiring children to receive 10 vaccines as a condition for school enrollment. Germany, while stopping short of a mandate, has moved to tighten its laws on child immunization. But some experts question whether a vaccination mandate will sway public opinion in France, where distrust in vaccines has risen alarmingly in recent years. In a survey published last year, 41 percent of respondents in France disagreed with the statement that vaccines are safe -- the highest rate of distrust among the 67 countries that were surveyed, and more than three times higher than the global average.
Security

Swedish Security Company Boss Declared 'Bankrupt' After Identity Stolen (bloomberg.com) 41

The man running Sweden's biggest security firm was declared bankrupt this week after his identity was hacked. Though the sub-optimal branding implications were hard to miss, Securitas AB was able to put the whole awkward incident behind it by the end of the day. From a report: Alf Goransson, the company's 59-year-old chief executive officer since 2007, won an appeal of the July 10 bankruptcy decision by the Stockholm District Court, according to a statement late Wednesday. The perpetrator used the CEO's identity to seek a loan of an undisclosed amount, after which a bankruptcy application was filed in his name. The identity theft took place in March. Goransson didn't know he'd been hacked until this week, the company said. The hack attack "has no effect on the company, other than that our CEO has been declared bankrupt," spokeswoman Gisela Lindstrand said. "And that will hopefully only last until later today, depending on how soon they can remove the decision."
AI

'World's First Robot Lawyer' Now Available In All 50 States (theverge.com) 79

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: A chatbot that provides free legal counsel using AI is now available in all 50 states starting today. This is following its success in New York, Seattle, and the UK, where it was invented by British entrepreneur Joshua Browder. Browder, who calls his invention "the world's first robot lawyer," estimates the bot has helped defeat 375,000 parking tickets in a span of two years. Browder, a junior at Stanford University, tells The Verge via Twitter that his chatbot could potentially experience legal repercussions from the government, but he is more concerned with competing with lawyers.

"The legal industry is more than a 200 billion dollar industry, but I am excited to make the law free," says Browder. "Some of the biggest law firms can't be happy!" Browder believes that his chatbot could also save government officials time and money. "Everybody can win," he says, "I think governments waste a huge amount of money employing people to read parking ticket appeals. DoNotPay sends it to them in a clear and easy to read format."

Google

Google Spared $1.3 Billion Tax Bill With Victory In French Court (bloomberg.com) 56

New submitter Zorro shares a report from Bloomberg: Google won its fight against a 1.12 billion-euro ($1.3 billion) French tax bill after a court rejected claims the search-engine giant abused loopholes to avoid paying its fair share. Google didn't illegally dodge French taxes by routing sales in the country out of Ireland, the Paris administrative court decided Wednesday. Judges ruled that Google's European headquarters in Ireland can't be taxed as if it also has a permanent base in France, as requested by the nation's administration. "Google Ireland isn't taxable in France over the period 2005-2010," the court said in a statement. Google said in a statement: "The French Administrative Court of Paris has confirmed Google abides by French tax law and international standards. We remain committed to France and the growth of its digital economy."
Data Storage

Western Digital Gets US Court Order To Access Toshiba Databases, Chip Samples (reuters.com) 12

Western Digital won a temporary U.S. court order on Tuesday saying that Toshiba must allow Western Digital's employees to access databases and chip samples as part of a joint venture with Toshiba around flash memory chip plants in Japan. Reuters reports: Toshiba is scrambling to sell its flash memory business and Western Digital is among the bidders. In a sign of high tensions around the deal, Toshiba threatened to lock Western Digital out of shared databases and quit sending chip samples. Western Digital sued Toshiba in San Francisco County Superior Court saying that its joint venture with Toshiba means Toshiba must get its consent for a sale. It asked the court for two separate orders: An injunction to stop the sale, and a temporary restraining order forcing Toshiba to give its workers access to shared databases. A judge granted the temporary order for access to the shared databases Tuesday and set a further hearing on July 28.
The Courts

Twitter Users Blocked By Trump Sue, Claim @realDonaldTrump Is Public Forum (arstechnica.com) 429

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A handful of Twitter users, backed by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, sued President Donald Trump on Tuesday, claiming their constitutional rights are being violated because the president has blocked them from his @realDonaldTrump handle. The suit claims that Trump's Twitter feed is a public forum and an official voice of the president. Excluding people from reading or replying to his tweets -- especially because they tweeted critical comments -- amounts to a First Amendment breach, according to the lawsuit.

"The @realDonaldTrump account is a kind of digital town hall in which the president and his aides use the tweet function to communicate news and information to the public, and members of the public use the reply function to respond to the president and his aides and exchange views with one another," according to the lawsuit (PDF) filed in New York federal court. "Defendants' viewpoint-based blocking of the Individual Plaintiffs from the @realDonaldTrump account infringes the Individual Plaintiffs' First Amendment rights. It imposes an unconstitutional restriction on their participation in a designated public forum," the suit says. "It imposes an unconstitutional restriction on their right to access statements that Defendants are otherwise making available to the public at large. It also imposes an unconstitutional restriction on their right to petition the government for redress of grievances."

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