Associated Press

A merged AT&T-Time Warner may not do consumers much good

AT&T and Time Warner are playing up how their $85.4 billion merger will lead to innovative new experiences for customers. But analysts, public-interest groups and some politicians are far from convinced. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said it should be killed. Sen Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Democratic vice presidential nominee, said less concentration in media "is generally helpful." And the Republican chairman and Democratic ranking member of the Senate's antitrust subcommittee said that the deal would "potentially raise significant antitrust issues."

The potential harm to consumers from this deal could be subtle — far more so than if AT&T were simply acquiring a direct competitor like a big wireless or home broadband company. Time Warner makes TV shows and movies; AT&T gets that video to customers' computers, phones and TVs. But the concern is that anything AT&T might do to make its broadband service stand out by tying it to Time Warner's programs and films could hurt consumers overall. The company certainly wants to do that. "With great content we believe you can build a truly differentiated service," said AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. "In particular, mobile." There's another way AT&T could favor its own media offerings. The company currently lets many of its wireless customers stream from the DirecTV app on their phones without counting it against their data caps, a practice known as "zero rating." AT&T has suggested it may also zero-rate its upcoming live-streaming DirecTV Now service, which doesn't require customers to install a dish on their homes.

This app promises privacy through encrypted messaging, but a US subpoena puts it to test

The company responsible for spreading top-of-the-line message encryption across the Internet has had a first legal skirmish with the US government. Open Whisper Systems — whose Signal app pioneered the end-to-end encryption technique now used by many messaging services — was subpoenaed for information about one of its users earlier in 2016. The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the company, said the small San Francisco firm didn't produce the user's name, address, call logs or other details requested by the government. “That's not because Signal chose not to provide logs of information,” ACLU lawyer Brett Kaufman said in a telephone interview. “It's just that it couldn't.”

Created by anarchist yachtsman Moxie Marlinspike and a crew of surf-happy developers, Signal has evolved from a niche app used by dissidents and protest leaders into the foundation stone for the encryption of huge tranches of the world's communications data. When any of WhatsApp's billion-plus users sees a discreet lock icon with the words, “Messages you send to this chat and calls are now secured with end-to-end encryption,” they have Signal to thank. Facebook's recently launched private chat feature, Secret Conversations, uses Signal's technology; so does the incognito mode on Google's messenger service Allo.

Mattel among companies fined for tracking data about children

New York's attorney general says he has reached settlements with Mattel, Viacom, Hasbro and Jumpstart Games stopping them from using tracking technology on their popular children's websites. The settlements require El Segundo-based Mattel, Viacom and Jumpstart to pay penalties totaling $835,000 following a two-year investigation into violations of the 1998 federal law that prohibits unauthorized collection of children's personal information on websites directed at users under 13.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says all allowed tracking technology such as cookies on their websites in violation of the law. Such technology can be used by marketers and advertisers. Hasbro says it cooperated with investigators, will closely monitor companies working on its behalf and that it is rolling out a stricter online privacy protection policy. The other companies didn't immediately reply to requests for comment.

Women, Minority TV Director Hiring Lags

The expanding world of TV series is creating more opportunities for female and minority directors, but they remain a fraction of those hired, a Hollywood guild report said. Women directed 17 percent and minorities 19 percent of the more than 4,000 episodes produced last season for broadcast, cable and high-budget streaming series, the Directors Guild of America said in its annual survey.

For both groups, that represents a 1 percent increase over the year before. "These numbers shine a light on the lack of real progress by employers in this industry, plain and simple. Of particular concern is the precedent being set by the fastest-growing category, streaming video," said Paris Barclay, the guild's president. The number of episodes from streaming services including Netflix, Amazon and Hulu increased by 120 percent last year, but just 8 percent of episodes were directed by minorities, the study found. Women directed 17 percent.

Study finds 'pervasive and systematic' issues of inequality in Hollywood

Despite widespread attention over diversity in the movie business, a new study finds that little is changing in Hollywood for women, minorities, LGBT people and others who continue to find themselves on the outside of an industry where researchers say inequality is “the norm.” A report by the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism offers a stark portrait of Hollywood's feeble to nonexistent progress in eradicating what researchers call “pervasive and systematic” problems in inclusiveness in front of and behind the camera.

For example, 31.4% of speaking characters in the analyzed films were female in 2015 — roughly the same number as in 2007. That's a ratio of 2.2 men for every single woman. Characters identified as lesbian, gay or transgender accounted for less than 1% of all speaking parts, or 32 out of 4,370 characters studied. That was a slight increase from 19 portrayals in 2014. After finding zero transgender characters in 2014, researchers could pinpoint one in 2015. From 2007 to 2015, the study finds no significant change in the percentage of black (12.2%), Latino (5.3%) or Asian (3.9%) characters in the most popular films. Off screen, of the 107 directors of 2015 films, four were black or African American and six were Asian or Asian American. Just eight were women, still the most since 2008.

Apple boosts iPhone security after powerful spyware targets an activist

A botched attempt to break into an activist's iPhone using hitherto unknown espionage software has triggered a global upgrade of Apple's mobile operating system, researchers said Aug 25. The spyware took advantage of three previously undisclosed weaknesses in Apple's mobile operating system to take control of iPhone devices, according to reports published by the San Francisco-based Lookout smartphone security company and Internet watchdog group Citizen Lab.

Both reports pointed to the NSO Group, an Israeli company with a reputation for flying under the radar, as the author of the spyware. Such a compromise would give hackers full control over the phone, enabling them to eavesdrop on calls, harvest messages, activate cameras and microphones and drain the device of its personal data. Apple said it fixed the vulnerability immediately after learning about it, but the security hole may have gone unpatched had it not been for the wariness of a human rights activist in the United Arab Emirates. The malware was used to target journalists and activists in some cases, according to Citizen Lab.

What New York's free Wi-Fi kiosks mean to the city's homeless

An effort to replace obsolete pay phones with Wi-Fi kiosks that offer free web surfing and phone calls has been a hit with panhandlers and the homeless, the least wired people in the city. The city doesn't track who's using the new LinkNYC terminals, but anecdotal evidence suggests many users are living on the streets.

Kentucky’s high-speed network project runs into delays

KentuckyWired hit a speed bump when the planned fiber optic network meant to spread high-speed Internet throughout the state became entangled in longer-than-expected efforts to gain access to utility poles, lawmakers were told. As a result, completion of the project’s initial phases could be delayed by 10 to 12 months, said Chris Moore, executive director of the Kentucky Communications Network Authority, which oversees and maintains the KentuckyWired project. Now the target date for completing those first phases is the third quarter of 2017, he said. The entire project could be wrapped up by the first quarter of 2019 — about four to eight months later than anticipated, Moore said.

The slowdown in the initial phases drew concern as a Kentucky legislative panel received an update on the vast project’s progress. “Now why would it take that long?” said state Rep Rita Smart (D-Richmond). Moore said that 85 percent of the fiber optic cables will be attached to utility poles, mostly in rural areas. The rest of the cables will be placed underground, mainly in urban areas. Project managers had to obtain agreements from owners of the poles, he said. “We ran into delays in getting pole attachment agreements with two of the largest pole owners in the commonwealth,” Moore said. Those agreements are now in hand, he said. But another potential slowdown has been obtaining easements from private landowners, he said. Potential cost overruns are “yet to be fully developed,” but project managers are working to minimize any additional costs, he said.

Victims' families sue Facebook for $1 billion over Palestinian attacks

Israeli and American families of victims of Palestinian attacks filed a $1-billion lawsuit against Facebook, claiming the social network is providing a platform for militants to spread incitement and violence, their lawyers said. Shurat Hadin, an Israeli legal advocacy group, filed the suit on behalf of the five families in a New York court, alleging that Facebook is violating the US Anti-Terrorism Act by providing a service to militant groups that assists them in “recruiting, radicalizing, and instructing terrorists, raising funds, creating fear and carrying out attacks.” The lawsuit focuses on the Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and which has fought three wars against Israel since the Palestinian group overran the coastal territory in 2007.

The five families in the lawsuit lost relatives in attacks over the last two years. “Facebook can't sit in its stone tower in Palo Alto while blood is being spilled here on the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It has a social responsibility. It can't serve as a social network for Hamas,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the Israeli lawyer who is representing the families. She compared Facebook to a bank, saying that just as money may be transferred as a service for terror groups, so can content.

Islamic State's Twitter traffic drops amid US efforts

The Islamic State group's Twitter traffic has plunged 45 percent since 2014, the Obama Administration says, as the US and its allies have countered messages of jihadi glorification with a flood of online images and statements about suffering and enslavement at the hands of the extremist organization. Among the images: A teddy bear with Arabic writing and messages saying IS "slaughters childhood," ''kills innocence," ''lashes purity" or "humiliates children." A male hand covering a female's mouth, saying IS "deprives woman her voice." A woman in a black niqab (veil), bloody tears coming from a bruised eye, and the caption: "Women under ISIS. Enslaved. Battered. Beaten. Humiliated. Flogged." US officials cite the drop in Twitter traffic as a sign of progress toward eliminating propaganda they blame for inspiring attacks around the world.