Media Law Roundup: October 31st

Welcome to the Media Law Roundup October 31, 2014 — a survey of the week’s developing media news.

Brazil Is Disconnecting:

Brazil displayed one of the most vocal and actionable reactions to the 2013 Snowden revelations which revealed that the United States had been spying on the country’s communications for several years. Brazil has steadily been acting on its promise to disconnect from the American internet, including requiring Facebook and Google to build servers inside Brazilian borders and building an email system exclusive to Brazil. The country’s biggest advancement, however, is the construction of a transatlantic cable that will run from Brazil to Portugal. Brazil is to invest $185 million dollars into the cable project, and none of that money will be going to American vendors. The goal of the cable to is remove Brazilian internet traffic beyond the reach of America’s National Security Agency. Gizmodo questions the economic consequences of a Brazilian-American internet split, estimating that the United States could lose up to $35 million dollars. Other sources, such as the UK’s Register, see the building of the cable as an economic waste, as the NSA will likely be able to access the cable regardless of whether  or not it is located in US territory.


Hungary Internet Tax Proposed, Then Tabled:

Last week, Hungarians protested against Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s proposed draft law that would tax data traffic. In response to this proposed “internet tax,” the streets of Budapest were flooded with thousands of people hoisting their lit phones in the air outside of the economics ministry. Citing a report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, the New York Times reported that rising taxes on ICTs were likely to “impede economic growth and slow consumers’ adoption of smartphones and broadband internet access,” especially in developing economies.  Hungary’s proposed taxes on data would have raised its internet tariffs to over one percent. The tax was also criticized as being an “anti-democratic” move that would affect poor citizens. On Friday, October 31, Prime Minister Orbán stated that the government would no longer go through with the tax in its current form, citing several reasons, such as the tax’s lack of popularity and a lack of commonality between his party and Hungary’s defunct Socialist Workers’ Party.


The FTC Sues AT&T:

The Federal Trade Commission sued AT&T for placing limits on supposedly unlimited data plans in the United States. According to the lawsuit, AT&T has been engaging in the practice of “throttling”–slowing internet speeds–since 2011. The FTC found 25 million occasions on which AT&T had throttled internet speeds, sometimes up to ninety percent. AT&T claims that the FTC is suing over an established industry practice that is meant to offer all customers the best possible service “in a way that is fully transparent and consistent with the law and our contracts.” The FTC, however, found that AT&T researchers knew that customers considered throttling as not equivalent to an unlimited service. The same researchers encouraged salespeople that “saying less is more” regarding unlimited service. “They’re not allowed to promise one thing and deliver another,” said attorney John Bergmayer of public advocacy group Public Knowledge. “Unlimited is not unlimited when you put limits on it.”


Verizon’s Permanent Cookie:

In the US, Verizon has been inserting what the Electronic Frontier Foundation is referring to as a “perma-cookie” into the data connections of its mobile subscribers. The Unique Identifier Header (UIDH) is a string of letters, number, and characters that acts as “a kind of short-term serial number that advertisers can use to identify you on the web.” Any website that one visits can access the cookie and use it to determine one’s internet profile. There is no way for the cookie to be disabled, says Debra Lewis, a spokesperson for Verizon. The most a user can do is opt-out of Verizon’s Relevant Mobile Advertising program, which will keep the company from creating advertisements specifically tailored to the user. Jacob Hoffman-Andrews of the EFF says that this does not matter, since every website visited by a Verizon mobile subscriber is receiving the UIDH and could use it to create a user profile without consent. You can visit this website to see if your device is displaying an UIDH. The EFF is also scrutinizing AT&T after hearing that they may be running a similar cookie.


Verizon’s New Tech Blog Allegedly Prohibits Coverage of Domestic Surveillance/Spying:

Verizon Wireless has launched its own technology website called Sugarstring. The site, which design is evocative of other tech blogs such as Gizmodo and Wired, is populated with stories such as “Where Are Today’s Culture Cops?” and “Why the Future of Anonymous Browsing Lies in Hardware.” Some topics, however, will never be seen on Sugarstring. Patrick Howell O’Neill of the Daily Dot shared a recruitment email he received from Sugarstring editor Cole Stryker that said, “there are two verboten topics (spying and net neutrality).” The ban on discussing domestic US surveillance does not extend to coverage of the state surveillance in other countries. Verizon responded to requests for comment from ArsTechnica with the following statement: “SugarString is a pilot project from Verizon Wireless’ marketing group, designed to address tech trends, especially those of interest to our customers. Unlike the characterization by its new editor, Sugar String is open to all topics that fit its mission and elevate the conversation around technology.” When the ArsTechnica reporter requested further clarification on whether US spying and net neutrality stories were in keeping with Sugarstring’s mission, Verizon declined to comment.


Facebook Implements “Dark Web” Site:

Facebook has launched a version of its website that runs Tor, encryption software designed to protect users from surveillance. The new hidden site, only accessible to users running Tor, routes connections through a series of different computers in order to mask a user’s location. Though Tor users are still required to sign into Facebook, where they will have no anonymity, the hidden site will prevent any trackers from tracing the source of a login. Facebook had previously been difficult to access for users running Tor: the hoops that Tor sends network connections through look like the botnets that Facebook tries to avoid. The new Tor-enabled Facebook will not only be more welcoming to users running Tor, but will also provide an additional layer of security against “malicious exit nodes” (the final computer through which a Tor connection will be routed) since the connection will not exit the Tor network at all until it is safely inside Facebook. Facebook’s new connection with Tor also has global implications for users in more restrictive countries who use Tor to stay hidden. The International Business Times points to advocates who have fought for easier Tor connection so that “demonstrators and dissidents [can] make announcements and connect with other users in their country without fear of prosecution.”

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