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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Dark Side of New “Right to Be Forgotten”

Some industry experts argue that the recent EU judgment was a dangerous step in the wrong direction. The judgment in question was delivered by the European Court of Justice and allowed anyone to demand that a search engine remove unwanted data from its index, even if the data remains legitimate and publicly available online.


Once this ruling was made, people started to send their individual takedown requests to Google. Among them there were an ex-politician who seeks re-election, a pedophile, and a doctor who seeks to remove negative reviews from his patients. No-one denies that privacy is a universal right that must be protected at all levels, but this judgment may just aid the powerful to rewrite history, rather than afford individuals more influence over their online identities.

The EU ruling in a case brought by a Spanish individual, who wanted links to the auctioning of his home to disappear from search results, allows everyone to petition search engine operators, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yandex, and others. Moreover, the ruling puts companies in a close to impossible position of deciding what data can be deemed irrelevant enough to take it down from search results.

However, the suspicion is that people that have motivation and resources to pursue complaints will largely appear political and business elites who wish to hide their past. As a result, the search engines will face pressure to delete what they want or face the legal costs of challenging illegitimate requests.

The most serious implication of the court ruling is its impact on political speech and processes. Observers predict a wave of potential candidates for public office trying to curate their own bespoke search results to make sure that only flattering data remains readily available. In the meantime, the EU judgment exempts data processed “solely for journalistic purposes”, but this term lacks definition and therefore will fail to protect the practice of journalism.

Worse still, the industry experts point out that the ruling in question will have global implications, because European action is normally borrowed as a model by other countries across the world. According to Google’s content removal transparency report, there have already been some government officials seeking to remove search results and other information which could threaten their position.

People Want Their Details Wiped from Search Index

Google has received hundreds of requests from people seeking their details be wiped from the search index following a recent landmark ruling in the EU. The list includes an ex-politician who wants to re-elect, a pedophile and a doctor.


The recent decision by EU highest court stated that the right to privacy of individuals can outweigh the freedom of search engines to link to information about them. In other words, the information may remain online, but the search results should not show it.

Since then, Google was hit with a huge number of applications to remove links to outdated or irrelevant information: for example, one of them is a former British politician who is now seeking office and wants Google to remove information about their behavior while in office. The next applicant is an individual convicted of possessing child abuse images, who demands links to pages about his conviction be taken out of the search index. Finally, one of the doctors didn’t like negative reviews from his patients and wants them be not searchable either.

Google admitted that the court decision would have significant implications for the way they handle takedown requests. The company is already busy enough with removing millions of links every month from its indexes under requests from copyright holders over infringing content. At least, this kind of work is largely automated. But when people demand removal, the company has to consider each request individually.

The European court claimed that search engines must remove links to “irrelevant or outdated” data, while the original information itself can remain. The problem is that it can cause tensions between the search engines and news organizations, which may argue that links should not be removed. In result, the search engines face a risk of being sued by both the complainant and the original source of the information.

Apparently, all search engines that have operations in Europe, including Bing and Yahoo, will have to devise procedures to accept requests for link removal from people. As for Google, the company may consider offloading the task of taking decision on such requests to the local data protection commissioners – this would add significantly to the commissioners’ caseload.

Apple Took Offence at People Switching to Android

Apple faces lawsuits for punishing its former iPhone users for choosing to continue this life with Android. The lawsuit was filed by an ex-iPhone user, Adrienne Moore, who claims that since she changed to a non-Apple device, she for some reason stopped receiving text messages from her mates who stayed with Apple.


The lawsuit was filed in federal court in California and seeks class-action status. The plaintiff claims that Apple’s iMessage system for some reason retains text messages sent from other Apple devices and wouldn’t deliver them to her new Android-running device. At least, this is what Moore said in the complaint filed.

Media reports referred to this incident as the reminder that people who dare to replace their Apple devices with other wireless phones and tablets would be penalized and deprived of the right to get the full benefits of their wireless-service contracts. The problem is that text messages simply get “stuck” either briefly or permanently inside an iPhone’s iMessage system if they’re sent to someone who used to have an Apple device but have switched their number to an Android phone.

Indeed, users have claimed that they noticed their iPhones behave weirdly when sending text messages to non-Apple users – the texts were showing up late, or not at all. For instance, The New York Times’ David Segal also complained that he can’t receive messages from iPhone users altogether anymore. Apparently, this is somehow connected with the fact that he recently dumped the Apple device for an Android. Provided that most of his colleagues continue to use iPhones as part of their function as Apple’s unpaid press office, communication with them and life overall became a bit problematic for Segal.

Tech experts would say this is hilarious – the problem of such type would be easy to fix. After all, everyone else’s device can do ordinary texts without regard to the recipient, while Apple has always claimed that its software is superior. Either this is not true, or there’s just a lack of will on the company’s part. Industry observers are waiting for the outcome of the case, saying that perhaps the precedent would force Apple to stop behaving like a cult and punishing people who chose to leave the cult by breaking communications with their cult friends.

Australian Police Help United States Catch Hackers

The Australian Federal Police (aka AFP) was noticed helping the Federal Bureau of Investigation catch hackers. The FBI admitted that Australians are currently being targeted in a global raid on people who use software named Blackshades Remote Access Tool (RAT).


The FBI confirmed that the malware in question had been sold and distributed to thousands of people in more than a hundred countries. According to their estimates, it has been used to infect over half a million computers all over the world. It is known that the program has already been used by attackers to steal personal information and carry out cyber attacks.

It should be noted that the Blackshades RAT software was uncovered during a previous international investigation dubbed Operation Cardshop. The latter targeted “carding” crimes and offences where the worldwide web was used to traffic and exploit compromised credit cards and bank accounts. The most obvious signs that you have been infected are that a cursor moves erratically without any input from you, a web camera light suddenly turns on, or monitor turns off while in use.

If this does happen to you, it can mean that your usernames and passwords for online accounts have been compromised. In result, there can be unauthorized logins to your bank accounts or unauthorized money transfers from them. Sometimes you can also notice a text-based chat window that suddenly appears on your desktop.

The co-developers of the malware have already been identified; their names are Michael Hogue and Alex Yucel. The latter is also the head of the company that sold the Blackshades. He has been arrested in Moldova and is currently awaiting extradition to the United States.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the malware performs unwanted actions on computer systems – for example, hack into your social media accounts, record the keystrokes, access documents and pictures stored on your PC and activate your webcam. Australian law enforcement authorities have confirmed that they are assisting the US with the investigation, but refused to reveal the extent of its involvement for operational reasons. Anyway, it is known that the Aussie cops have provided significant help to their American fellows.

Streaming App Users Sued by Copyright Trolls

Earlier in 2014, the Popcorn Time app brought easy downloading to the masses, though its sleek interface hid away the way it works. Nevertheless, its presentation made some users believe that it offered legitimate streaming technology – an illusion that recently shattered, with users starting to receive warning letters from copyright trolls.


Popcorn Time is known to many as an app massively simplifying the viewing of videos online through a Netflix-style interface. At the moment, the software exists in various forms, and one of the more successful ones is Spanish version called Cuevana. Now a few German users faced issues arising from its use.

A few days ago, German law firm GGR Law reported that it has three clients who had received demands for cash settlements based on allegations of copyright violation. All of the recipients insisted they had never installed any BitTorrent app on their devices but used only streaming services.

Industry experts confirm that the use of illegal streaming websites came to the forefront in the country last year, when RedTube users began receiving cash settlement demands from a law firm. As a result, a government had to announce that viewing pirated streams is not illegal. This makes some wonder whether the latest settlement demands over use of Popcorn Time is each just another effort of copyright trolls.

The problem is that the approached Popcorn Time users believe the content in question had been accessed through streaming rather than BitTorrent, which is not exactly true. Although the app interface gives the impression of server-to-client streaming, it in fact uses BitTorrent. In other words, while streaming video to the inbuilt player, the file is also being uploaded to other users. This explains why the warnings received from the plaintiffs accuse app users of uploading the file via BitTorrent without mentioning any streaming. Apparently, the law firms do not even know that the download was made over the streaming app.

As you can see, it is very important that you have at least a cursory understanding of how software you use operates. The rules are simple: streaming video server-to-client or server-to-browser is either legitimate or non-detectable in most Western countries, while uploading video to others without permission is normally against the law.

Encrypted Services Developed by US Universities to Protect against NSA

After the American spooks effectively closed Lavabit email service back in 2013, a really secure email system, unhackable by the surveillance agencies, has remained a holy grail for many. Now fresh experts from Harvard and MIT have created a new system dubbed ProtonMail. They claim that their new email service will be even more secure than Lavabit and 100% unhackable by the National Security Agency or other spy agencies.


Lavabit became popular after being promoted by Edward Snowden, who used to leak all the secrets in the world via Lavabit mailbox. However, soon the US authorities put an undue burden on the company and were forcing its founder, Ladar Levison, to hand over the SSL encryption keys. Unlike all other companies who did pass their users’ identities under the government’s request, Levison preferred to refuse and shut down his service. Litigation is still ongoing, where lavabit founder complains that the authorities violate a Fourth Amendment right which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

New service, ProtonMail, is based around using special codes or keys. In fact, such system is known as PGP and has been around for almost twenty years. The problem was that it was too complicated to gain widespread adoption. As for ProtonMail, not only does it offer end-to-end encryption, but is also based in Switzerland. The latter means that the service will not have to comply with US courts’ request to hand over user information. Even if a Swiss court ordered information to be revealed, the email service could only hand over piles of encrypted information because it doesn’t have an encryption key and never sees the user’s password.

ProtonMail launched as a public beta a week ago. Before, it was online for two weeks as an invitation-only private beta. Now anyone is offered to use ProtonMail to a limited extent for free. Harvard and MIT students also add that “power users” will be charged $5 per month to use the service.

According to Jason Stockman, a co-developer of ProtonMail, the service aims to be as user-friendly as the major commercial services, but will differ by its extra security. He explained that multiple users from China, Iran, Russia, and other countries worldwide have already shown in the past months that ProtonMail became an important tool for their freedom of speech. The team of developers is therefore happy to finally be able to provide their services to the whole world.


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