Washington Post

What House lawmakers still don’t get about control of the Internet

America is the reason why everyone thinks the Internet is awesome and, more important, it's why Russia and China haven't already taken over the Web and foisted their draconian rules on the rest of us.

That's apparently what some members of the House believe, at any rate. Republican lawmakers grilled officials about a recent proposal that would end the Commerce Department's business relationship with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the nonprofit charged with administering the Internet's system of names and numbers. This system syncs Web domains to IP addresses and makes sure that when you type in Google's address, you actually land there. Maintaining this system has technically been the US government's job.

But for more than a decade, it has contracted with ICANN to do the work. This contractual relationship is what people are talking about when they refer to the United States' "control" of the Internet. It also helps that ICANN's international headquarters are in California.

Now the Obama Administration may let that contract lapse, replacing it with a multistakeholder body composed of corporations, states, advocacy groups and other potential members. It's not yet clear what that body will look like, but this idea already has some members of Congress worried. They're concerned it means the United States is giving up its influence over the Web -- even though that critique has already been debunked.

The power over the Internet that some in Congress think the United States has to beat back authoritarian regimes doesn't actually reside in the United States at all. But that reality is being obscured by a myth: that the United States, having played a pivotal role in the Internet's creation, has a magical power to thwart speech-stifling regimes.

Why so many want Aereo to beat broadcasters in the Supreme Court

Precious little is known about Aereo, the online video startup that doesn't say how many subscribers it has in its select number of markets.

Yet as it prepares to argue its legality before the Supreme Court in late April, the company has captured the attention and imagination of the media and technology world. That's because the company, funded in part by IAC chairman Barry Diller, could upend the television industry if the high court decides that its capture of broadcast television signals doesn't violate copyright law.

Turns out many want to change the way the television industry works -- where programmers such as Fox, NBC Universal and ABC (Disney) charge cable and satellite firms enormous licensing fees and cable companies push fat and expensive bundles of channels on consumers.

Aereo's supporters came out in force in a string of amicus filings to the Supreme Court ahead of an April 22 hearing. In the filings, Dish satellite, smaller cable firms and even some small broadcasters argued that Aereo isn't violating copyright laws as alleged by every major television broadcasting firm. They, too, would like to get broadcast content without paying for ever-increasing retransmission fees.

Why Amazon wants to rule your television

Where's the next major battleground for technology companies? For all the talk of drones, wearables, homes of the future and flying Internet networks, the truth is that tech companies are still keenly interested in the consumer electronics device that's been a fixture in the American living room for decades: the television.

Speculation has been flying for years that Amazon will release a streaming video device -- similar to Apple's Apple TV or Google's Chromecast -- that brings online video content, and potentially Android-based games, to the largest screen in your house.

Why? Despite what you may think, the TV is still where people turn for the bulk of their screen time, and Amazon wants to be a main portal for all of your entertainment.

According to the data from the Nielsen published in February, Americans still spend an average of 185 hours per month with their televisions, as opposed to 34 hours and 21 minutes with their smartphones. And while mobile use is on a steady rise -- up an average of six hours from the same time in 2013 -- much of that time is spent accessing entertainment, with Americans reporting 15 percent of all their mobile time is devoted to that exact purpose.

Companies e-mail sensitive data to law enforcement

There’s a lack of rules governing the secure handling of law enforcement orders for data, industry experts say. Documents posted on Twitter by the Syrian Electronic Army, a collective of hackers and online activists supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, included correspondence between Microsoft’s government compliance team and various law enforcement agencies around the world.

The documents contained criminal subpoenas, e-mail addresses of targets and “access keys,” presumably passwords, to the user packages Microsoft makes available to law enforcement. Other documents suggest the hackers also were able to access the account information Microsoft provides to law enforcement agencies, which includes the target’s name, location, Internet Protocol or computer address used by the target to sign-up for an e-mail account or to log-in to his e-mail account.

How a deal with Comcast could force Apple to cede tight control over its products

Apple is said to be seeking a dedicated fast-lane for its streaming product over Comcast's broadband pipes.

The "managed service" would separate programming bound for Apple's box from other Internet traffic going to the same home, enhancing the viewer experience. Apple's negotiating hard for this special carve-out, and with good reason. It'd be a major blow to the company if it launched a streaming TV service that stuttered and lagged because of congestion problems.

By demanding its own lane, Apple could ensure video quality wouldn't be affected by the same problems that befell Netflix customers before Netflix signed its own partnership with Comcast to improve streaming speeds. To make any streaming TV product work, Apple needs the cooperation of broadband providers.

That's a market Apple has neither the scale nor the expertise to enter on its own, which makes its streaming TV product dependent on a third party in a way few, if any, Apple products have been before. For the first time in a long time, Apple is putting some of its fate in the hands of another company.

Tor usage in Turkey surges during Twitter ban

Since Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan implemented a ban on Twitter, Tor usage in the country has surged -- with connections nearly doubling from around 25,000 direct connects in the country to over 40,000, according the anonymous browsing tool's internal metrics.

While Twitter now appears to be blocked at the IP level, there are still a few ways to circumvent the ban, including using a Virtual Private Network to forge an encrypted tunnel outside of Turkey, using SMS (the method tweeted about by Twitter's policy account near the beginning of blocking efforts), and Tor. Because the anonymous browsing tool reroutes users' traffic through onion nodes throughout the world, it helps users bypass local censorship.

Why do governments keep banning social media when it never works out for them?

[Commentary] You'd think world leaders would know better. Shut down the Internet (or some services that it hosts), and the users will come after you.

But, faced with allegations of corruption, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan went ahead and banned Twitter anyway. Now Turks are pushing back. Twitter is facilitating the uproar by offering advice on how to evade the ban with text messaging. Other users have turned to virtual private networks (VPNs) to circumvent the blockage.

How do these leaders keep making the same mistakes? Don't they learn?

It shouldn't surprise us that these leaders have more in common than just an affinity for dropping the hammer on the Web. Many are also isolated, says Steven Cook, a Middle East scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations who met with Erdogan.

If the Internet creates filter bubbles that keep us from having to grapple with dissonant views, the filter that afflicts censor-happy regimes like Turkey's is arguably even worse. If Erdogan is convinced that he's the victim, and sees enemies everywhere, shutting down their ability to associate might seem like a perfectly rational move -- at least in the moment. It's an age-old move out of the dictators' playbook: Control the flow of information, and you control the people.

How the Washington Post reported on gender and video games in 1994

The portrayal of women in video games and the gender dynamics of the gaming community have received ample attention in recent years.

While now nearly half of gamers are female, examining the way girls and women are treated in the culture or commenting on the lack of their presence in professional gaming and e-sports can still ruffle feathers. But The Washington Post was already investigating the relationship between gender and the gaming industry back when Donkey Kong Country was still a new release. ("No hype: The graphics really are unlike anything else in the world of cartridge games.") Here's how then-staff writer Don Oldenburg tackled the topic in a story originally published on November 29, 1994 in his article, “The Electronic Gender Gap.”

“There is nothing at all virtual about the overriding priority given to boys in the video and computer game industries,” he wrote. “It's just plain reality. Unapologetically so.” He quoted one video game company executive as saying that the industry’s most popular products are biased toward boys because: "The bottom line is the dollar sign.”

Syria hit with a near nationwide Internet outage

Multiple Internet monitoring companies are reporting that Syria has been hit with a near country-wide outage. According to Renesys, the outage started at 12:26 UTC, and the only online link remaining is one via TurkTelecom that connects the city of Aleppo.

Aleppo, Syria's largest city, has been the site of some of the most intense fighting in the country's three-year civil war.

A group calling itself the "European Cyber Army" is claiming responsibility for the outage on Twitter and in a posting to text sharing site PasteBin. In the note on PasteBin, the group calls the outage retaliation for attacks on western systems by the Syrian Electronic Army -- an unofficial group of pro-Assad regime hackers that have gone after prominent western figures and media outlets, including The Washington Post.

The FCC and Rural Call Completion

The Federal Communications Commission is requiring phone companies with more than 100,000 domestic subscribers to submit aggregated reports on calls that customers make to rural areas. It's part of an effort to crack down on a problem known as "rural call completion," in which calls to remote parts of the country get dropped or never make it through. By requiring phone companies to submit those reports on rural call completion, the FCC thinks it has a shot at curbing what Sen Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has called an "unacceptable problem." Yet to a casual observer, the FCC's request could be easily mistaken for another, more insidious form of privacy intrusion. At its most basic level, the components are all there: A worthy goal everyone can get behind; corporate retention of user data; quiet, confidential reports to the government. But there are subtle differences between the NSA's systematic surveillance program and what the FCC is trying to accomplish. For one thing, the retention period is a lot shorter: Phone companies are obligated to retain the individual call records for six months before discarding them. What's more, the FCC doesn't have access to the individual call records, while the NSA has a giant database that it could query virtually anytime. Here's what the FCC sees in the reports it gets quarterly from phone companies: The number of attempted calls to rural phone providers per month; the number of those calls that were answered; and the number of calls that failed to complete.